The Best Backpacking Headlamps of 2024

Your headlamp might be tiny, but chances are it’s one of the most crucial pieces of gear you own. Whether you’re a consummate night hiker or you just get up to pee a lot in the middle of the night, almost every thru-hiker needs convenient, hands-free lighting from time to time. There are several features to consider when shopping for the best backpacking headlamps for thru-hiking, from weight to battery life.

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The Best Headlamps for Backpacking:

NiteCore NU25 UL | All-Around Best
Black Diamond Spot | Best Dimmable
Petzl Actik Core | Best Rechargeable
Biolite 425 | Most Comfortable
Petzl Tikkina | Most Affordable
RovyVon Aurora A5R G4 | Best Ultralight Camp Headlamp
Petzl Swift RL | Brightest / Best Battery Life
Princeton Tec SNAP | Most Versatile

Backpacking Headlamp FAQs

How much should a backpacking headlamp weigh?
Rechargeable vs. Alkaline Battery
How bright should my headlamp be?
Should my headlamp have a red light setting?
What is the point of a locking feature on a headlamp?
Are there waterproof backpacking headlamps?

The Best Headlamps for Backpacking of 2024

Nitecore NU25 | All-Around Best Backpacking Headlamp
MSRP: $36.95
Weight with batteries: 1.6 oz.

Best headlamps for backpacking: Nitecore NU25.

“The Nitecore NU25 has been popular among ultralight backpackers for several years thanks to its slim, lightweight design and full suite of useful features. Nitecore made significant updates to the lamp in late 2022, and the new NU25 UL is fairly different from the beloved 2017 version, which has since been discontinued. It’s now brighter, lighter, and features longer battery life and a much anticipated USB-C charge port.” — The Editors


Light Output / Battery Life*:

  • High: 400 lumens / 2.7 hours
  • Medium: 200 lumens / 4.7 hours
  • Low: 60 lumen / 10.5 hours
  • Ultralow Flood: 6 lumens / 45 hours

Red light / Strobe / Locking: Yes / Yes / Yes
Batteries: USB-rechargeable
Beam pattern: Spot and flood
Watertightness: IP66 (dust-tight and should continue to work in heavy rain)

*Battery life based on mixed spot/flood beam

In late 2022, Nitecore updated the headlamp with a USB-C charger, longer battery life, additional beam patterns, higher peak brightness, a charge level indicator, and—thanks to a new ultralight shock-cord headband—a slightly lower overall weight.

The high-CRI auxiliary light has been eliminated, as has the secondary low-lumen red light. Unfortunately, the beam intensity at all brightness settings has also decreased significantly, as has the impact resistance (from 1.5 meters to just 1 meter in the new version). And while the battery capacity has improved, it’s still not that great compared to other headlamps with similar lumen outputs.

The new NU25 retains one 10-lumen red light, a locking feature, and excellent tilting range. The new USB-C charge port is probably the updated lamp’s most-hyped feature.

We like the NU25’s dual battery operation: one button controls turns the lamp on and changes the brightness, while the other cycles through spot, flood, mixed, and red light. Compared to the old NU25, the new version does a better job distinguishing the two buttons by size, shape, and texture.

The standard NU25 has all the same features of the UL version except for a more comfortable, traditional headband. It costs and weighs slightly more —an extra three dollars and 0.4 ounces, respectively.

Worth noting: the standard NU25 should not be confused with the old school 2017 version of the headlamp, which had a fairly different lighting pattern. If you hear other hikers waxing nostalgic about the old NU25, they’re probably talking about the 2017 version.

Pros: Ultralight; multiple headband options; multiple light modes/brightness settings; locking feature; power indicator; USB-C charge port; better-than-average water resistance; improved buttons; nice tilting range
Cons: Reduced beam intensity compared to original; lower impact resistance; now only one red light mode; battery life still not suitable for frequent night hiking

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Black Diamond Spot | Best Dimmable Headlamp
MSRP: $49.95
Weight w/ Batteries: 2.7 oz.

Best headlamps for backpacking

Best headlamps for backpacking: Black Diamond Spot.

“Lightweight and it gives you a lot of options as far as lighting for different scenarios with white and red light. Plus, I’m still partial to carrying backup batteries vs. having to charge a headlamp.” — Alex Murphy


Light Output / Battery Life:

  • High: 400 lumens / 2.5 hours
  • Medium: 200 lumens / 5 hours
  • Low: 6 lumens / 200 hours

Red light / Strobe / Locking: Yes / Yes / Yes
Batteries: AAA (3)
Watertightness: IPX8 (no data on solid particle ingress, but should survive total submersion to a depth of 1.1m)
Beam pattern: Spot and flood

The Black Diamond Spot headlamp is dimmable between 6 and 400 lumens, so you’re not boxed into fixed high, medium, and low settings. We love the ability to fine-tune the brightness. This headlamp has a strong battery that, in our usage, consistently lasts a week or more between charges when used for camp chores and a few hours of night hiking each day. Since AAA batteries power it, you can bring a spare set along with you to quickly re-up the charge and ensure you never run out of juice.

The Spot isn’t the lightest headlamp on our list, but it’s incredibly functional and durable. It’s also the most waterproof headlamp we’ve featured and the only one capable of withstanding total submersion in water.

Pros: Dimmable; strong battery life; excellent water resistance; battery indicator lights
Cons: No rechargeable battery option; on the heavy side

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Petzl Actik Core | Best Rechargeable Headlamp
MSRP: $84.95
Weight w/ CORE rechargeable battery: 3.1 oz.

Best headlamps for backpacking

Best headlamps for backpacking: Petzl Actik Core.

“I’ve put my Actik Core through a lot over the years, including hiking with it for hours during a literal hurricane. It’s one of the best backpacking headlamps out there. I love the flexible charge options and that the brightness automatically steps down when the battery gets low. I start hiking at least an hour or two before dawn most days, and although the specs say the battery lasts just seven hours at medium brightness, in my experience, a single charge consistently lasts 10 hours or longer on medium.” —Kelly Floro


Light Output / Battery Life:

  • High: 600 lumens / 2 hours
  • Mid: 100 lumens / 7 hours
  • Low: 7 lumens / 100 hours

Red light / Strobe / Locking: Yes / Yes / Yes
Batteries: USB-rechargeable 1250 mAh CORE (included); also AAA-compatible
Beam pattern: Spot and flood
Watertightness: IPX4 (no data on solid particle ingress but should resist light to moderate rain)

The Actik Core distinguishes itself from most other headlamps on this list because of its flexible charging options. It’s compatible with both rechargeable and AAA batteries, so you can decide which style suits you best. If you’re anxious about running out of power and getting stranded in the dark, this may be the headlamp for you. By carrying a battery bank to recharge the Petzl CORE battery and a set of spare AAAs, you can make it virtually impossible to run out of power.

Also, when the battery gets low, the headlamp will flash a few times and then automatically switch to the lowest brightness setting to conserve the battery. The step-down feature prolongs its life and gives you ample warning that it’s about to die. Incidentally, the rechargeable CORE battery weighs roughly half an ounce less than the three AAAs it would take to power the headlamp otherwise.

The Actik Core isn’t the lightest headlamp on the list, but it’s versatile and has proven extremely durable in our testing. It’s also one of the brightest headlamps featured here, having been recently updated to churn out as much as a whopping 600 lumens (up from 450 in the old version). The latest version also (finally!) has a locking feature. Our biggest beef is that $85 is a little ridiculous for something as simple as a headlamp.

Pros: USB-rechargeable and AAA-compatible; good battery life; super-bright.
Cons: Expensive; only moderate water resistance; 600 lumens = overkill for backpacking.

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Biolite HeadLamp 425 | Most Comfortable Backpacking Headlamp
MSRP: $59.95
Weight w/ Batteries: 2.8 oz.

Best headlamps for backpacking

Best headlamps for backpacking: Biolite HeadLamp 425.

“Biolite is known for its super comfortable headlamps, sleek aesthetic, and long-lasting battery life. The new 425 steps it up with a max brightness of (you guessed it!) 425 lumens, dimmable all the way down to just 5.” — The Editors


Light Output / Battery Life:

  • High: 425 lumens / 4 hours
  • Low: 5 lumens / 60 hours

Red light / Strobe / Locking: Yes / Yes / Yes
Batteries: USB-rechargeable
Beam pattern: Spot, flood, and combo
Watertightness: IPX4 (no data on solid particle ingress but should resist light to moderate rain)

Unlike most headlamps, Biolite separates the battery pack for their 425 HeadLamp and places it at the back of the headband. This results in a balanced, streamlined fit (although, in fairness, our reviewer found the bulky rear battery pack a little annoying). The headband fits snugly and, once properly adjusted, won’t slip down and require constant adjustment.

We like that this headlamp has the ability to combine the spot and flood beam patterns so you can get wide-angle, diffuse light and a long, focused beam simultaneously for maximum illumination. The battery life on the Biolite 425 is middle-of-the-road but should be adequate as long as you’re not a heavy night hiker.

Check out our full review of the Biolite Headlamp 425 here.

Pros: Battery indicator light; moisture-wicking adjustable headband; lightweight; dimmable
Cons: Expensive; single, small control button makes it hard to operate; rear battery is clunky

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Petzl Tikkina | Most Affordable Headlamp
MSRP: $24.95
Weight w/ Batteries: 3.2 oz.

Best headlamps for backpacking

Best headlamps for backpacking: Petzl Tikkina.

“I used the Petzel Tikkana on my AT thru-hike. It lasted the whole way with one battery change and is still going strong on my hike of the Vermont Long Trail this year. I did turn the batteries the wrong way on purpose when I wasn’t using it to ensure it wouldn’t turn on in my pack by accident. My only complaint is the single button for every type of light— at times, it would take a few presses to get to the kind I wanted.” — Julia Gladstein (“Puma”) AT 2019*

*The Tikkina has since been updated with an additional medium brightness setting and a strobe feature.


Light Output / Battery Life:

  • High: 300 lumens / 2 hours
  • Medium: 100 lumens / 10 hours
  • Low: 7 lumens / 100 hours

Red light / Strobe / Locking: No / Yes / No
Batteries: 3 AAA; also compatible w/ USB rechargeable Petzl 1250 mAh CORE (not included)
Beam pattern: Flood
Watertightness: IPX4 (no data on solid particle ingress but should resist light to moderate rain)

The Tikkina is a straight-ahead headlamp. It doesn’t have many bells and whistles (no locking feature, red light, or spot beam pattern), and it’s on the heavier side. But at just $25 (with no price hikes over the past year, despite inflation), the price is right. It has decent battery life across its three brightness settings. Output ranges between seven and 300 lumens, which is more than adequate for most thru-hikers’ purposes.

The Tikkina’s one extravagance is that it does have flexible charging options. You can power it with AAAs or with the Petzl CORE rechargeable battery (sold separately). This makes it more versatile than most headlamps when it comes to the power supply.

Pros: Inexpensive; strong battery life; flexible charging options
Cons: No red light or locking; flood pattern only; on the heavy side; not the best light quality (very blue and low CRI)

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RovyVon Aurora A5R G4 | Best Emergency/UL Camp Headlamp
MSRP: $37
Weight w/ Batteries: 0.6 oz

best backpacking headlamps

Best headlamps for backpacking: RovyVon Aurora A5 G4

“Multiple brightness settings, red light, lockability… check, check, check. The RovyVon’s battery life and functionality are limited compared to some on this list, but it has high lumen output, a good range of features, weighs very little, and won’t break the bank.

“It isn’t so much a headlamp as a conveniently-shaped mini flashlight with a clip on the back so you can stick it on the brim of your hat. The hat clip trick can be a bit disorienting at first since it does limit your field of vision, but the weight savings are worth it for hardcore ultralighters.” — The Editors


Light Output / Battery Life:

  • High: 650 lumens / 1.5 hours
  • Medium: 200 lumens / 2 hours
  • Low: 25 lumens / 8 hours
  • Moon (extra low): 0.6 lumens / 72 hours

Red light / Strobe / Locking: Yes / Yes / Yes
Batteries: USB-C rechargeable
Watertightness: IPX6 (no data on solid particle ingress but should resist heavy rain)

The RovyVon Aurora weighs under an ounce altogether yet has most of the standard features hikers look for, including multiple brightness settings and a red light. The polycarbonate body even glows in the dark, which is fun.

The Aurora has high-output front light as well as diffuse side lighting. For the front light, you can choose between a higher output LED or a high-CRI one (the former produces more lumens overall while the latter renders colors more accurately). For the side light, you can choose between white/UV or white/red. If you want red light and strobe functionality, you must select the latter.

Our biggest beef is that it’s not super functional for night hiking. The design isn’t headband compatible, so you’ll have to clip it onto the brim of a hat if you want to use the light hands-free (and it doesn’t tilt). The battery life is also limited; 8 hours on the low setting actually isn’t too bad, but you can’t get much done at 25 lumens. The 200-lumen medium setting is bright enough for night hiking, but you’ll need to be very careful with the battery because RovyVon reports just two hours of run-time at that output.

But if you rarely hike at night and only need a just-in-case headlamp for peeing in the dark, etc., you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more functional light in this weight range.

Pros: Ultralight; versatile; magnetic base; USB-C rechargeable; full suite of features; very bright on the highest setting
Cons: Limited battery life; not headband compatible

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Petzl Swift RL | Brightest Headlamp / Best Battery Life
MSRP: $139.95
Weight w/ Batteries: 3.5 oz.

Best headlamps for backpacking: Petzl Swift RL

The Petzl Swift RL is the brightest light on our list by far, maxing out at a searing 1100-lumen output. Most hikers don’t need even a third of that brightness, but if you have vision limitations or just happen to want the brightest headlamp on the face of the earth, this thing is bright enough to turn night into day.

Designed for high speed sports like skiing and mountain biking, this performance headlamp uses Petzl’s reactive lighting technology to conserve battery, often stretching the run time by nearly an order of magnitude compared to standard lighting. — The Editors


Light Output / Battery Life:

  • High reactive: 1100 lumens max / 2 – 35 hours
  • High standard: 700 lumens / 2 hours
  • Medium reactive: 275 lumens max / 7 – 45 hours
  • Medium standard: 160 lumens / 7 hours
  • Low reactive: 100 lumens max / 10 – 70 hours
  • Low standard: 10 lumens / 100 hours

Red light / Strobe / Locking: Yes / Yes / Yes
Batteries: 2350 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable
Beam pattern: Spot and flood
Watertightness: IPX4 (no data on solid particle ingress but should resist light to moderate rain)

Eleven hundred lumen max light output is flashy, but Petzl’s reactive lighting technology is the Swift RL’s most enticing feature for thru-hikers. The headlamp has a sensor that adjusts the LEDs’ beam pattern and light output based on reflected ambient light. For instance, if you’re traveling through an open field under a full moon, the headlamp will automatically dim itself since you already have a decent amount of light around you. When you pass into dense forest cover, the light output will increase again on its own.

This optimizes power consumption—extending the battery life dramatically—and makes the headlamp hands-free. The battery is rechargeable, but it’s important to note that it’s not interchangeable with the CORE battery that powers other Petzl headlamps like the Tikkina and Actik Core.

The Swift RL is one of the few Petzl models to come with a locking feature to stop it from turning itself on in your backpack, which is nice. The updated version finally features red light and a strobe pattern and the overall brightness and battery life have been improved, all without increasing the total weight. 3.5 ounces is a bit heavy compared to many headlamps on this list, but you get a lot for your ounces.

Pros: Ergonomic, detachable headband; insanely bright; strong battery; locking; reactive lighting; versatile
Cons: Freaking expensive; heavy; rechargeable battery not interchangeable with other Petzl batteries; excessively bright for thru-hikers

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Princeton Tec SNAP Modular Headlamp | Most Versatile Headlamp
MSRP: $51.99
Weight w/ Batteries: 3.5 oz.

Best headlamps for backpacking

Best headlamps for backpacking: Princeton Tec SNAP.

The SNAP headlamp’s claim to fame is its modular design. It’s really a headlamp kit that comes with accessories for attaching the light to bike handlebars or hang it inside your tent. The light detaches easily from the headband so you can use it as a bike light, lantern, or handheld light as needed.

This is one of the best backpacking headlamps for multi-sport enthusiasts who want a headlamp that works equally well for cycling, backpacking, and car camping. It’s also great as a lantern if you plan to spend a lot of time in your tent. The Editors


Light Output / Battery life:

  • High: 300 lumens / 10 hours
  • Low: 10 lumens / 155 hours

Red light / Strobe / Locking: No / Yes / No
Batteries: AAA (3)
Beam pattern: Spot
Watertightness: IPX4 (no data on solid particle ingress but should resist light to moderate rain)

The SNAP modular headlamp comes with mounting brackets, so you can attach the light to a headband (included in purchase) or your bike handlebars or hang it like a lantern. It also comes equipped with a strong magnet that will attach to most metal surfaces. This clever, multifunctional design should appeal to backpackers who want to do more with less gear.

The SNAP headlamp also has one of the longest-lasting batteries on our list for the high setting. Compare the SNAP’s purported 10 hours of battery life at 300 lumens to the Biolite 425’s 4 hours at 425 lumens, for instance. Ten hours’ capacity is more than enough for most night-hiking backpackers, and 300 lumens is plenty of output for the task. The headlamp is dimmable, so you can easily adjust the brightness to your needs.

On the other hand, the SNAP is on the heavy side and is light on features (no flood, locking, or red light, though it does have a strobe function for emergencies and high-vis applications). At least this streamlined simplicity makes it easy to use: with relatively few settings, toggling through with the single control button is very intuitive.

Pros: Modular/easily detachable; bright; excellent battery life on high; dimmable
Cons: No red light or locking; spot pattern only; heavy

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Best Backpacking Headlamps of 2024: FAQs

How much should a backpacking headlamp weigh?

Headlamps weigh anywhere from one ounce to over half a pound. Every ounce counts for thru-hikers traversing thousands of miles. That’s why the best headlamps for backpacking weigh three ounces or less. Make sure you’re looking at the weight with batteries to get the most accurate numbers for your base weight spreadsheet.

Looking to shave grams wherever you can? Remove the headband and replace it with a length of shock cord to save about an ounce. Swapping out the headband is straightforward on some headlamps, like the NiteCore NU25, and challenging on others, like the Petzl Actik Core.

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Rechargeable vs. Alkaline Headlamp Batteries

Rechargeable headlamps eliminate the need to carry spare batteries. If you have a battery bank in your pack, you’ll virtually never have to worry about running out of juice. You’ll pay a premium for this feature, however. You’ll also swap the weight of extra AAAs for yet another charge cable.

Also worth noting: powering a rechargeable lamp takes time and requires forethought and planning. If you’re the type to run your headlamp to zero accidentally, you’re better off with a AAA-powered headlamp. That way, you can instantly swap out dead batteries and get back on track.

You should also consider battery life when shopping for a headlamp. If you plan to do a lot of night hiking, you’ll need more battery capacity than someone who just needs sporadic light around camp. Eight to 10 hours of moderate (50-100 lumen) output on a single charge is adequate for most thru-hikers.

READ NEXT – The Ultimate Guide to Thru-Hiking Electronics

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How bright should my headlamp be?

Lumens are a unit of brightness. Most backpackers want a headlamp that offers a range of brightness settings between five and 200 lumens. That way, you can toggle between lumen outputs depending on your needs, conserving battery.

  • 10 lumens and under: enough for camp chores and getting up to pee in the dark
  • 80-150 lumens: enough for night hiking
  • 200-400 lumens: useful if you want to throw a long beam into the woods (“what was that sound?”) or search the ground for something you dropped
  • Above 400 lumens: probably overkill for backpacking. Drives up weight and price while gobbling battery. The exception is if you want one headlamp that works for adventure sports (trail running, mountain biking, climbing, etc.) in addition to hiking, or if you’re vision impaired and struggle in low light settings.

You should also pay attention to your headlamp’s beam pattern. A spot pattern is a narrow, focused beam of light that can illuminate things a long way away. Spot lighting is helpful for night hiking. Meanwhile, flood lighting casts a more diffuse beam that’s most useful for up-close tasks, like camp chores, and area lighting inside your tent.

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Should my headlamp have a red light setting?

Other people’s headlamps are super annoying. Bright white LEDs can blind fellow campers and impair peripheral and night vision (including for the wearer). They create a tunnel vision effect that can persist even after switching the light off.

Many headlamps come with a red light setting for use around camp or on smooth footpaths where you don’t need a lot of illumination to navigate safely. Not only are they gentler on the eyes, but red lights also conserve battery and attract fewer insects.

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What is the point of a locking feature on a headlamp?

There’s nothing more annoying than having your headlamp turn itself on inside your pack, killing the battery long before you reach camp. Power is precious on the trail, which is why the best headlamps for backpacking have a locking function to keep this from happening.

If you use a AAA-powered headlamp with no locking feature, you can also just remove the batteries or turn them the wrong way around to prevent the lamp from turning on accidentally. It’s a little more labor intensive but works just as well.

Are there waterproof headlamps?

Yes, and they’re worth looking into, but remember that waterproofness is relative. If you spend enough time on the trail, everything you own will have a run-in with moisture at some point, and your headlamp is no exception. That’s why it’s so important to pick one that’s reasonably waterproof or at least water-resistant.

The headlamp’s IP (Ingress Protection) code denotes its waterproofness. Here’s how to interpret it:

  • IPx4: Resists splashing from any direction. Enough to protect from light to moderate rain.
  • IPx5/IPx6: Resists “water jets” and “powerful water jets,” respectively. Enough to protect from heavy rain.
  • IPx7/IPx8: Resists total immersion up to one meter or deeper than one meter, respectively. Only the best backpacking headlamps are this waterproof.

The x in that code represents solid particle ingress protection (i.e. dust and dirt). An x means there’s no data, while a number between zero and six represents the level of protection. Zero means no ingress protection, and six means it keeps out everything up to and including fine dust particles.

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Why should you trust us?

Because we’re so incredibly intelligent, of course! Attractive, too. (Not to mention extremely humble).

But if that isn’t enough to impress you, there’s also the fact that everyone who contributed to this article is an experienced thru-hiker with thousands of on-trail miles under their belt. We’re gear nerds who love putting our equipment to the test on trails long and short, and we’ve tested dozens of headlamps in pursuit of better illumination in the backcountry.

Moreover, we do our best to stay plugged into the trail community’s gear preferences (we are definitely those obnoxious people on trail who always want to know what everyone else is packing). That means our picks for the best backpacking headlamps aren’t just our opinions: they’re based on years of feedback from the thru-hiking community. To all you people in the comments section: we’re listening to you too. Thanks to everyone who commented on last year’s list—we incorporate your suggestions and requests in the list as often as possible.

Competence and backpacking proficiency personified.

Alex “GPS” Brown and Rachel Shoemaker contributed to this list.

Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm (@chris.helm).

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Comments 26

  • Seth "Osprey" Schumacher : Sep 4th

    Ditto to the Nitecore NU25. However, I’d add the Petzl Zipka to this list. While only IPX4 rated, at 66g (2.3oz) it’s a great little lamp. Bright enough with red light options and the ability to use the Petzl CORE rechargeable battery or AAA batteries as needed. It’s similar to the Tikka from Petzl but with the retractable “headband” it can be worn not just on the head, but the wrist, on a backpack strap, etc. which I LOVE.

    MAX 300lm for 2h
    MED 100lm for 9h
    MIN 6lm for 120h
    Red 2lm for 60h

    • Kelly Floro : Sep 4th

      Thanks for reminding us of a great headlamp! The Zipka was actually the first headlamp I ever owned way back in the day. Another great offering from Petzl.

  • FM : Sep 4th

    If you anticipate doing any lengthy night hiking on a trail like the AT, consider the following:

    Parabolic reflector headlamps generate some flood light for close up (at your feet) and throw a spot of concentrated light for distance (usually 10 ft ahead of you) and are prefered for hiking. Flood is best for close up work. LEDs with no reflector cast only even flood light.

    For the average 7mm diameter, dark adapted pupil (DAP), 15 lumens is marginal, 30 lm is practical and 75 lm is plenty.

    The limit of your headlamp burns your battery at an enormous rate, so if you want to use 75 lumens all the time for a long time before reaching battery depletion, make sure your maximum setting is about 5 times higher (in this case 375 lm). Lower settings are more efficient. 375 lm is still great to have to momentarily light up that tree branch that just fell near you that you thought was a carnivorous hiker eating bear.

    Dark adapted pupils diameters can vary from 4-9mm. Your optometrist can measure you, or you can use methods described at various places online to do this yourself.

    If you are the typical kid thru-hiking a trail out of college or high school, 7mm is a good guess. As you become older, DAP diameter decreases. If you have smaller daps than 7mm, you will need more light. How much more depends on a square rule. If you are a retiree and have a 5mm DAP, then you need [(7/5)^2]*Lumens, roughly 2x the light needed for your typical high school graduate–30 lm marginal, 60 lm practical, 150 lm plenty.

    Lithium batteries (primary and ion rechargeable) hold even brightness over most of the battery life, then drop off quickly. Alkaline batteries (unless regulated by the flashlight) decrease gradually over time.

    • Kelly Floro : Sep 4th

      ^THIS. Thanks for this phenomenally detailed and specific comment FM!

      • FM : Sep 4th

        Thanks. Just added a little more info to this thread. Hope you find it just as helpful.

    • FM : Sep 4th

      Addendum to above:

      For the AT, blazes in most areas are usually spaced 40-50m apart except in wilderness areas where they are a tenth to a quarter mile apart. To see a typical blaze at 50m with practical light having a youthful 7mm DAP, a flashlight with a max intensity rated at least 950 candela (cd) is required. For an old f*rt 5mm DAP, 1900 cd is required.

      These intensities are available on many headlamps (make sure yours does). But the flood from the headlamp hits nearby objects and causes the pupil to contract somewhat dimming long distant objects (test your headlamp on a dark trail at night before going). Using a miniature handheld flashlight not only backs up a headlamp failure, but if you add a taped sliding chipboard tube to the cowling, you can block the flood component of the light and see farther without affecting the spot component of the light.

      You can find a 10,000 cd intensity handheld thrower at 2.8oz (Astrolux S1 XPL 18350 bat). You can hike with the appropriate setting on your headlamp and momentarily click on your handheld for blaze searches. And seeing that only 10-20% of max setting is required to see that blaze, the battery should last a long time.

      Seeing a 2x6in blaze beyond 175 meters is impractical without a mini-scope. 20-20 vision resolves a 2x6in blaze into a desirable minimum required 3 stacked pixels. 175 meters is about the short end of the blaze separations in designated wilderness areas. To see that far with practical illumination of target, a youthful 7mm DAP needs about 80,000 cd and 5mm DAP needs 160,000cd.

      Flashlights of these intensities can weigh up to 11oz without batteries and cost over $120 (and you know how you feel about that discarded protein bar wrapper in your trash Ziploc). Navigating in wilderness areas with your GPS smartphone and a free app like Guthook (AT map costs $60) is a much more practical option. The additional weight is zero, mapped GPS navigation easily cuts through mountain fog (haha) and you save $60 to boot.

      • FM : Sep 4th

        Corrections and clarifications to previous post:

        I should not have said “practical” illumination for the 950cd and 1900cd figures. I normally use “marginal” for my maximum range calculations. Marginal in this case means 1) stop at a blaze 2) scan the 50m range for the next blaze 3) take a few moments to discern the next blaze–it’s right on the border of non-detection. “Practical” illumination means doubling the marginal intensity figure. It means you can easily and readily discern the blaze. In that case, you need 1900cd and 3800cd for youthful and geriatric DAP respectively.

        And unfortunately, my geriatric brain miscalculated the intensity needed for detecting a white blaze at max range for 20-20 acuity. For ‘marginal’ detection of a blaze at 175m, you need 135,000cd and 270,000cd for 7mm and 5mm DAP, respectively. For ‘practical’ (readily seen) detection, you need 270,000cd and 540,000cd respectively. Those figures make the required handheld flashlight virtually weight-wise impractical for most backpackers UNLESS you can find a flashlight tech to modify a zoomie thrower to those specifications. Weights in the range of 6-12oz is not unrealistic but still too high for the tastes of most backpackers.

        Sorry for the confusion. I’m having a ‘slow Joe’ moment, lol.

  • Mikeycat : May 15th

    You’ll have to pry my Nitecore NU32 from my cold dead hands. And it’ll retain its original headstrap.

    • Elmig : Feb 15th

      Completely agree and wonder why it’s not on this list. Rechargeable, lockout mode, IP67 rating, 1 meter impact resistant, with 3 different light sources, ie primary white LED, high CRI auxiliary LEDs (ideal for reading, cooking and other campsite chores) and red auxiliary LEDs. Cost is $39.95. Weight is 3.51 oz which is heavy for this list, but battery runtimes more than make up for it:

      Setting Output Runtime
      Turbo 550 lumens 1 hr
      High 190 lumens 17 hr
      Mid 33 lumens 50 hr
      UltraLo 1 lumen 330 hr
      Aux Hi CRI 19 lumens 25 hr
      Red 9 lumens 38 hr
      Red Flashing 9 lumens 45 hr

  • jozayKOF : Feb 4th

    The discussion of lumens and run times can be simplified this way. (1) Battery life (run time) is like a bottle of water. It’s measured in mAh (milli-amp hours). The brighter the beam (measured in lumens), the faster you drink the water. There is no magic to it. (2) Lumens are lumens – a measure of brightness. You can shine your light in various directions and flood or distance, but it’s just lumens, drinking the water. If two headlamps have 3AAA batteries, and both are turned on at 100 lumens, both will last about the same amount of time. There are some differences in LED efficiency but most of the brands in the article use similar LEDs. (3) You can’t really compare the run times apples-to-apples between the various headlamps. Maybe +/- 30%. There is a difference in how the brands measure run time. The industry standard measure is, the light is considered “out” when 90% of the brightest setting is elapsed. Not all the brands listed follow this standard. And 10% of 300 lumens is 30 lumens is a lot of light. (4) Lights with alkaline and rechargeable batteries will begin to dim as soon as you turn them on. But rechargeable li-ion batteries are designed to shut off quickly when they approach 90% empty. This is to protect the battery, so it can be recharged. Alkaline batteries do not shut off quickly, because you’re going to throw them away. They typically keep going for a long time at a very low brightness (10 lumens or less). So if you don’t need a lot of light, the run time with alkaline batteries can be twice as long as a rechargeable with equal mAh. It’s just that the run time you gain is at very low lumens. NET: to compare the run times, consider whether the battery is alkaline or li-ion rechargeable, and the total mAh of the battery set. Then it’s just a matter of how brightly you turn it on.

  • WD : Feb 4th

    Just my experience of the Petzel CORE. I have had many Petzl headlamps, and never had a failure with one. I used the BINDI in 2019 for 630 miles, and it was fine, even wet. I switched to the CORE for my 2021 thruhike, due to the BINDI’s lack of usefulness with the red LED. It was just too dim for me at night (1 lumen just did nothing in the AT black of night).

    I got the CORE(shown above) with rechargeable battery (it will also use standard batteries). It’s IPX4 rated. Mine was exposed to water, during a really rainy day. Now, the headlamp survived, but the actual CORE battery was destroyed from the moisture. Of all the Petzel lights I have had, that was the first failure ever. But that is a major failure!!!

    I called Petzel and they sent me a new battery. In fact, the battery was on back order, so the agent actually pulled a used battery from a demo and mailed it to me. Later they sent me a new one also(so their support is amazing). But if you use that headlamp on the AT, which as you may know, you’re almost always a drowned rat early on, carry a spare CORE battery in a bag, or a set of spare AAA batteries. If that CORE battery gets wet and dies, you are SOL.

  • Russ : Feb 4th

    Forget any of these on the list and just get the Fenix HM50R v2.0. Weighs 2.75 oz including headband, 700 max lumens, red light features, waterproof to 2m, rechargeable or can bring spare lithium battery, aluminum housing for durability and only $60. Boom. I’ve been using it for awhile now and have no complaints.

    • WD : Feb 9th

      Seems this device gets a lot of comments about poor battery life, and not meeting it’s advertised capabilities. Maybe for $60, it just lacks some of the power management of the other devices… kinda looks like the Surefire a little.

      • Russ : Feb 10th

        I believe some of the battery comments might be related to V1.0 of this headlamp. I’ve only had V2.0 and mainly use the medium setting (130 lumens) for night hiking and it appears to get pretty close to the 8 hours listed. It does however drop off in brightness after awhile per the owner’s manual which is the same as most headlamps. I had the black diamond spot previously and that worked fine for a number of years but I was looking for something with more lighting options and a rechargeable battery and settled on the Fenix. This one also has a small clip for attaching to a hat rather than utilizing the headband to save a few ounces. For me the pros outweighed the cons.

  • Drew Boswell : Feb 6th

    If you wear a ball cap on trail, consider one of the clip-on lights instead of one with a headband. I’ve grown fond of my Nite Ize model R 170 RH. It’s got everything I need in terms of red and white lights, high and low and blinking modes, is rechargeable and attaches firmly to the bill of the cap I wear all the time anyway.

    Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with Nite Ize in any way, shape or form.

  • RonG : Feb 16th

    Nitecore HA11: 1xAA, 1.3oz, 240 Lumens, 40 hours on low.
    Great article. I don’t know why so many 3xAAA units made it on the list though. In fact; I cannot figure out why manufacturers are still making headlamps that require 3 AAA batteries. What could possibly be more inconvenient? What I look for in a headlamp, first and foremost, is that it takes a single AA battery. So why a single AA battery? First; a spare Lithium AA only weighs 15.5 grams. Second; my eTrex uses 2 AA batteries. My UCO Leschi takes 1 AA battery. My Nitecore HA11 takes 1 AA battery. By sticking with the most common battery in the world, I ALWAYS have one available that I can take out of another device to use somewhere else. Can’t do that with rechargeables, or with AAA units. I might feel differently if I didn’t normally hike alone in very remote wilderness areas. As such, there’s no one to depend on but myself. Yes, I also carry backup fire, as well as light. (One is none, Two is one).

  • Neet and angel : Mar 18th

    Great roundup of the best backpacking headlamps for 2024! As an avid hiker, I can attest to the importance of having a reliable and efficient light source on the trail. I’m excited to check out some of these new models and see which one will be my new go-to for future adventures. Thanks for the informative post!

  • Kyle : May 31st

    Coming from a flashlight tinkerer. If you wear a ballcap a flashlight like the Emisar D3aa makes an ideal headlamp. 2.3oz with battery. With a vapcell H10 it has 1000mah, 50% more capacity than the nitecore and an extremely efficient driver. Can also take regular AA batteries. Ramping mode allows for setting brightness whatever you want.

    Lithium 14500 batteries like the vapcell F12 or H10 blow alkaline batteries out of the water. Lights like the D3AA and Skilhunt H150 can use those and common AA batteries with high efficiency. Seconding the guy above, ditch the AAAs.

    Like for the princetontek snap you could get some 18650 lights to match that weight and have 6x the battery life.


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