Best Headlamps for Hiking 2018 - Expert Review and Buyers Guide

Best Headlamps For Hiking 2018 – Expert Review (With Comparison Table)

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Looking for the best hiking headlamp for your next trip?

This guide will help you navigate through the endless and sometimes overwhelming options available. We have singled out 10 headlamps that we think should cover everyone’s needs, including the Best Overall Headlamp, our Editor’s choice and the Budget Friendly options.

All the information you need can be found in the comparison table, headlamp buyers guide and individual reviews below.

Best Headlamp

 (Mountain IQ #1 Choice)

The Petzl Reactik+ is our pick for the best overall headlamp because of its intuitive reactive lighting mode and reliability at a reasonable price.

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Best Headlamps For Hiking - Comparison Table

Headlamp

Rating

Weight

Max. Brightness (Lumens)

Max. Beam Distance (m)

Price

#1

Petzl Reactik+

(Best Overall Headlamp)

115g

300

110m

#2

Black Diamond Spot

(Editor's Choice)

91g

300

80m

#3

Black Diamond Revolt

(Best Rechargeable Headlamp)

96g

300

70m

#4

Petzl Tikka

(Best Budget Headlamp)

86g

200

60m

#5

Shining Buddy LED

(Best Kids Headlamp)

85g

50

27m

1. Best Overall Headlamp

Petzl Reactik+

5/5 Overall Rating
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The Petzl Reactik+ is the most innovative headlamp in this review making it well worth the average price of $110 and earning it the best overall headlamp award. The Reactik+ has high-end features, such as 110m beam length, without compromising on comfort.

The Petzl Reactik+ has the three main types of beams, described in the key features section below,  but reactive lighting mode is what sets this lamp apart from the others in this review.

In this mode, the lamp uses a sensor to monitor the ambient light and adjust the beam pattern accordingly.

It alternates between Max Power, Standard and Max Autonomy battery modes resulting in optimal battery usage but you can still change between these modes manually.

This function also dims the light when you look down to read something or if another headlamp is detected.

In addition to controls on the lamp, the Bluetooth chip which allows you to control the different settings from the MYPetzl Light app on your phone.

The app can control the beam pattern, brightness and battery life. Like the Black Diamond Spot it has the useful lock setting to prevent battery wastage.  

The battery itself is rechargeable but can be replaced with disposable batteries (with an adapter) if need be.

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Main Features
  • Reactive lighting mode
  • Connects to MYPetzl Light app
  • Rechargeable
What we like
  • Partially padded, washable, adjustable, two-part headband
What we dislike
  • Bluetooth can be unreliable
Key Takeaway

The Petzl Reactik+ is our pick for the best overall headlamp because of its intuitive reactive lighting mode and reliability at a reasonable price.

2. Editor's Choice Headlamp

Black Diamond Spot

4.5/5 Overall Rating
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Black Diamond Spot’s lightweight, compact design makes it one of the most comfortable in this review. It boasts the highest waterproof rating, IPX8, making it the most reliable in heavy rains.

Brightness memory allows you to turn the lamp on and off at the same brightness setting so it won’t revert to default setting each time.

Useful extras include the battery level indicator and lock function, which prevents the lamp turning on in your bag.

The Black Diamond Spot includes all three lighting options, namely the QUAD power LED, a DoublePower LED and a SinglePower red LED. These options make this lamp extremely versatile and suitable for most uses.

To change between the beams and brightness settings requires just a tap of the PowerTap technology on the side of the lamp.

However, the PowerTap is hypersensitive and this along with number of different settings makes the operation of the lamp overly complicated at first.

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Main Features
  • Brightness memory
  • Lightweight - 3 AAA batteries
  • Spot, flood and red lighting options
  • plus
    Highest water resistance rating
What we like
  • Best value for money
What we dislike
  • Complicated single button operation
Key Takeaway

The Black Diamond Spot finds the perfect balance between durability, brightness, weight and price.

3. Best Rechargeable Headlamp 

Black Diamond Revolt

4.5/5 Overall Rating
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Despite the Petzl Reactik+ being awarded the best overall headlamp, the Black Diamond Revolt takes the award for the best rechargeable headlamp.

At almost half the price of the Reactik+ it still boasts above average performance and is highly practical.

The Black Diamond Revolt  can be recharged with a micro-USB charger that can be used in car-chargers, solar chargers, power banks and many other power sources.

The rechargeable batteries can be replaced with disposable batteries without the use of an adapter, making the Revolt especially useful on long hiking trips where you don’t have easy access to electricity.

This headlamp has six different modes namely the proximity, distance, dimming, strobe, red and lock modes. Being able to turn on the red mode without first activating the white modes prevents unnecessary strain on the eyes.

A useful feature is the three-level power meter that allows you to monitor battery levels, however this is only a very rough indication.

The tilt function helps you adjust the angle of the light for different uses. The only downfall of this lamp is its below average beam length.

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Main Features
  • Rechargeable but works with regular batteries
  • Three-level power meter
  • Highest water resistance rating
What we like
  • Excellent battery life for a rechargeable headlamp
What we dislike
  • Midrange beam length
Key Takeaway

The Black Diamond Revolt is an affordable rechargeable headlamp. It has a practical, USB charger which can be used in many devices.

4. Best Budget Headlamp

Petzl Tikka

3.5/5 Overall Rating
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The Petzl Tikka bridges the gap between high performance headlamps and entry level lamps. It is a lower-end headlamp which is does not skimp on quality.

This model which is suited for beginner level hiking and camping. It is slightly less powerful than the black diamond spot, producing only 200 lumens and a beam length of 60m, even after its recent update.

However, Petzl Tikka now comes equipped with a washable headband and a compact design.

As with the other two Petzl models before, the Tikka can accommodate disposable and rechargeable batteries but requires a CORE USB kit which is sold separately.

The Tikka is equipped with a white and red floodlight but lacks the useful spotlight function. The single button operation, in this case, is simple and easy to use because there are only four different modes of operation.

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Main Features
  • Rechargeable but works with regular batteries
  • Easy to use
  • Phosphorescent reflector making it easy to locate in the dark
What we like
  • Lightweight
  • Easy operation
What we dislike
  • Not a standout in any category
Key Takeaway

Despite not being a standout in any categories, the Petzl Tikka is perfect for beginner hikers that need a functional yet simple headlamp that doesn’t break the bank.

6-9 More Great Headlamps

Petzl Nao Plus

4.5/5 Overall Rating
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The Nao+ like the Petzl Reactik+ includes a reactive lighting mode, can connect to the MYPetzl Light app and is rechargeable.

However, the main difference is that it can produce more than double the number of lumens allowing you to see 30m further than the Reactik+.

The Petzl Nao+ has a spot and flood light setting on the headlamp as well as a visibility/emergency light on the battery back at the back of the head.

Its multi-beam lighting combines a wide beam for proximity lighting with a focused beam for long-range vision for a great trail finding function.

Despite this headlamp being one of the heaviest we reviewed it is still very comfortable. This is due to batteries being placed at the back of the head giving the headlamp a balanced feel.

The batteries can also be detached and clipped onto a belt to lighten the headlamp. A top strap ensures that the lamp doesn’t move around. Unfortunately, only rechargeable batteries can be used in this lamp and their battery life is below average.

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Main Features
  • Reactive lighting mode
  • Detachable battery compartment
  • Connects to MYPetzl Light app
What we like
  • 140m beam length
What we dislike
  • Most expensive in this review
  • Poor battery life
Key Takeaway

Despite the hefty price, the Petzl Nao+ proves itself in terms of quality, durability and performance. It is the perfect choice for experienced hikers and advanced trails.

Black Diamond Storm

4/5 Overall Rating
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The Black Diamond Storm is one of the most well equipped lights on this list. It has a spot and flood mode as well as three different night-mode colors (blue, green and red).

The night-modes have a dimming and strobe setting and can be activated without turning on the white light.

It is extremely water resistant, has brightness memory and, like the other Black Diamond headlamps, has a lock mode.

The Storm outperforms the other Black Diamond headlamps on this list in lumens but still only has a maximum beam length of 80m.

Considering the difference in performance is not drastic, the addition of an extra battery increasing the weight of the storm is unnecessary.

This added weight is the reason for it being the lowest of the three Black Diamonds on this list. Another downside is the buckle on the inside of the strap which makes the headlamp less comfortable.

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Main Features
  • Three night-mode colors
  • Completely water resistant
  • Brightness memory
What we like
  • Easy to use
What we dislike
  • Extra weight makes it less comfortable
Key Takeaway

The Black Diamond Storm has all the main features of the other two Black diamond headlamps in this review and is an excellent choice. However, it is the heaviest of the three making it slightly less comfortable.

Coast HL7 Focusing

4/5 Overall Rating

The Coast HL7 Focusing headlamp provides outstanding performance at around the same price as the Black Diamond Revolt.

The focusing ring allows you to adjust between the flood and spot modes effortlessly and in spot mode the beam length reaches 120m out performing even our best overall headlamp.

The HL7 Focusing only scores a four-star rating because of its weight and battery life.

In high power mode, the battery can last as little as 3 hours and this just does not measure up to the standards set by the headlamps higher on this list.

The battery pack is positioned at the back of the head to balance out the weight but since there is no top strap there is not significant support for longer treks.  

Main Features
  • Extremely durable
  • Excellent trail finding capabilities
What we like
  • Focusing ring to adjust between modes
  • Lifetime Warranty
What we dislike
  • Poor battery life
  • Heavy
Key Takeaway

The Coast HL7 Focusing headlamp boasts excellent performance with an intuitive focusing ring making it the perfect lamp for trail finding on short to medium distance hikes.

Fenix HP25R

4/5 Overall Rating

The Fenix HP25R has the most powerful maximum setting (1000 lumens) in this review. It features separate spot and flood lights each with 4 brightness settings making the it extremely versatile.

The two different beams have their own individual controls and can be used together. Unfortunately, using the headlamp in this combined light mode drains the battery very quickly.

The headlamp is made from an aluminum alloy making it durable but quite heavy.

Despite its casings weight the Fenix HP25R is not completely water and dust resistant, unlike the Black Diamond models in this review.

Main Features
  • Spot, flood and red lighting options
  • Rechargeable with a micro-USB
  • All metal housing
What we like
  • Turbo mode - both the flood and spot running at the same time
  • Longest beam distance in this review
What we dislike
  • Extremely heavy
Key Takeaway

The Fenix HP25R provides a unique turbo mode and variety of settings making it a premium product for advanced hikers. However, it is very heavy and we therefore do not recommend it for long night hikes.

Princeton Tec Apex

3.5/5 Overall Rating

This headlamp was designed with extreme outdoorsmen and cavers in mind. It has spot and flood light functions and boasts a 120m maximum beam length.

Like the Fenix HP25R each function has its own control, making it easy to use. It features 4 Ultrabright LEDs, in white, red and green, as well as a central Maxbright LED.

The biggest problem with the Princeton Tec Apex is that it is one of the heavier headlamps on the market (and the heaviest in this review).

Although it has an extra support strap, it is not ideal for serious mountaineers and we would rather recommend the Fenix HP25R because the 50g weight difference is very noticeable.

Main Features
  • 350 lumen brightness
  • Compatible with alkaline, lithium and rechargeable batteries
  • Spot, flood, green and red lighting options
What we like
  • Reasonably priced
What we dislike
  • Limited to shorter trails due to its weight
Key Takeaway

The Princeton Tec Apex is an excellent option for hikers who value brightness and versatility but because of its weight we do not recommend it for long trails or vigorous activities.

10. Perfect Kid's Hiking Headlamp

Shining Buddy LED Headlamp

3/5 Overall Rating

The Shining buddy features four different lighting options a high beam, low beam, red beam and red flashing beam.

The single button operation makes this lamp easy for kids to flip through the different lighting options. 

What makes it perfect for kids is that it is extremely lightweight and comes with a non-slip strap making it one of the most comfortable options in this review.

It is also durable and reasonably waterproof so it can withstand a bit of rough treatment.

Where the Shining buddy LED headlamp falls short is that it is not very powerful and has a maximum beam length of only 27 meters.

While this headlamp serves its purpose in the campsite or very relaxed evening hikes it is not ideal for more serious hiking trips.

Main Features
  • High, low, red and red flashing beams
  • IPX5 rating
What we like
  • Easy operation
  • Inexpensive but still good quality
  • Lightweight
What we dislike
  • 27m maximum beam length
Key Takeaway

The Shining Buddy is perfect for parents who don’t want to break the bank on headlamps for their kids but value good quality.

Buyer's Guide For Hiking Headlamps (Key Features)

There are hundreds of headlamps on the market, all boasting different features, designs and specs, making the selection of a suitable headlamp quite a daunting task.

The following key feature guide will hopefully provide some clarity as to what is important when purchasing a headlamp and make choosing the right headlamp that much easier.

It is essential that your headlamp can withstand the rainy conditions that can occur on trails. Waterproofing ratings range from IPX1 to IPX8. IPX7 offers protection from submersion up to 1m for 30 minutes and IPX4 offers protection from splashes of water. Anything between IPX4 and IPX 8 should be suitable for rainy trails.

Brightness

Each year headlamp manufacturers are bringing out more powerful lamps, which leaves us with the question: how bright should a headlamp be?

Lumens measure the amount of visible light a certain headlamp can produce, although this does not always translate to brightness or quality.

All the products on this list are, however, high quality and lumens do give a good comparative idea of the brightness of the lamps. Beam distance is also a good indication of the quality of the optical lens system in a headlamp.

When choosing a headlamp, it should be noted that you will not be operating it at the maximum brightness setting for extended periods of time as it drains the battery very quickly.

For general use around the campsite and casual hiking we recommend a headlamp with a range between 25 and 150 lumens.

If you are planning on doing hikes or trail runs in complete darkness we recommend any lamps with 250 lumens and above.

LED Type

There are three common LED types, namely spot, flood and red lights. Most headlamps come standard with a spot beam. Spot beams focus the light allowing you to see further down a trail or look features in the distance.

Flood lights, on the other hand, are useful to see what is near you and come in handy particularly on the campsite.

And lastly, red lights are useful to provide soft light which doesn’t disturb the eyes of those around you and can function as emergency or visibility light.

Weight and Comfort

The weight of a headlamp can make or break a user’s experience. Generally, the more powerful the lamps are heavier due to extra batteries and an aluminum or thick plastic casing.

For example, Princeton Tec Apex has a 350-lumen rating and weighs in at 283g. We recommend that you should opt for the lightest option available that is still suitable for your purpose. This is typically the more comfortable option and will allow you to move more freely.

The weight distribution of the headlamp is also a key factor contributing to comfort. This is where the design of straps come into play. Lighter more compact lamps tend to have a single elastic nylon strap that wraps around the sides of your head.

Heavier lamps employ a second strap that runs over the top of your head. This provides a more secure fit suitable for more vigorous activities. As the lamps become more powerful batteries stored in the front tend to unbalance the headlamp leading to the light moving up and down as you walk.

When opting for more powerful lamps be sure that the battery pack is situated at the back of the head or that it has the necessary support straps.

Battery Life

When it comes to battery life there are often discrepancies in the figures reported by suppliers. For this reason and because each lamp has different settings making their battery life’s difficult to compare, we have not included a battery life section in the comparison table above.

For long hiking trips, we recommend headlamps with disposable batteries as it is easier to carry around replacement batteries than a power bank or solar charger.

Another factor to consider is the type of lighting technology. Constant lighting technology provides steady brightness, even when the battery has reached lower levels, resulting in a shorter battery life.

On the other hand, headlamps without this technology provide poor illumination when the batteries begin to reach lower levels.

Water Resistance

It is essential that your headlamp can withstand the rainy conditions that can occur on trails. Waterproofing ratings range from IPX1 to IPX8.

IPX7 offers protection from submersion up to 1m for 30 minutes and IPX4 offers protection from splashes of water. Anything between IPX4 and IPX 8 should be suitable for rainy trails.

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