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Which is better to use during a night trek - a flashlight or a headlamp? Which do you prefer? Would be great if recommend the one you use and tell me what made you buy it.

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Both, neither cost that much anymore. –  Liam Dec 30 '13 at 8:55
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I travel with 2 headlamps(1 on my head & 1 spare) and a beam flashlight attached to my belt. Yet if there's sufficient mood/start light i'll use neither. Modern led lights are very reasonable in weight, yet have a strong output. Having a strong(!) headlight or flashlight is also better to attract help over long distances in case of emergencies. –  Sdry Dec 30 '13 at 10:06
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I prefer no light, it takes about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust and then you're usually fine. Unfortunately this goes out the door if anyone else with you is using a flashlight. Plan B for me is to use a headlamp with a red filter so that I keep my night vision. Flashlights and headlamps create tunnel vision. –  furtive Dec 31 '13 at 4:39
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I prefer headlamps a great deal. I need my hands to do things. –  theJollySin Jan 2 at 16:52
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5 Answers

For night trekking, I use a headlamp. Couple of reasons:

  • Keeps your hands free. (Useful when you are walking up steep slopes)
  • No worry of dropping them flashlight (Had happened to me once where my flashlight rolled down the hill)

Advantages of a flashlight over a headlamp:

  • More powerful and directional. (No need to strain your head in weird angles to get the light to shine at something)
  • Headlamps are not meant for long distance lighting due to the wider and less focused light. Flashlights excel at this.

My choice is a headlamp while night trekking and a flashlight in my backpack in case my headlamp fails me for some reason. I use a petzl LED headlamp and a geonaute LED flashlight.

PS: You can use a trekking pole with a flashlight holder. But if you aren't someone who uses a trekking pole(I do not use most of the times), then you have to hold the flashlight with your hands.

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I tried out both options when I started night hiking and can share the following observations:

  • Flashlights are generally more powerful and directional - you can point a beam of light much further away; useful if you are trying to see further around you, for example to determine where each fork in the trail leads.
  • Headlamps are less powerful for the same price (though there are some very bright ones) and are primarily useful for seeing the ground in front of you, so you do not step into a ditch or something.
  • Flashlights have a narrow beam, whereas headlamps tend to have a wider one. Using a flashlight to see the ground close to you is not as comfortable, as there is one very bright spot and then darkness; a headlamp spreads the light around more.

These days I use trekking poles, which means my hands are full and thus the headlamp becomes the obvious choice. I still carry a flashlight but find that I almost never need to use it.

I use a high-power LED headlamp (with lights I find that less LEDs means it is of higher quality).

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Good summary. Although narrow-beam headlamps are available they may be uncomfortable to use because you have to move your entire head when you want to look around instead of just your eyes; I find pointing a flashlight where I am looking much more intuitive. Therefore I suggest using the flood-headlamp, throw-flashlight combination. –  Mr.Wizard Jan 2 at 6:50
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I have used both for night hiking, and I like a headlamp way better. The main reasons are that it leaves the hands free, and the light is aiming roughly in the direction I'm looking. I made my own headlamp with 4 white LEDs in series:

This seems to be a good brightness for hiking and seeing the ground in front of you. Having it built into a hat is also nicer than a separate deliberate headlamp. I used to have one of those (actually I still have it, just haven't used it since I made this headlamp), and it always felt somewhat uncomfortable on my head and never worked right with a hat and is fiddly with a wool cap.

One drawback of a headlamp is that since the light is coming from close to the same direction you are looking from, you don't get much help from shadows to get 3D cues. Everything looks "flat".

If you are deliberatly going night hiking, always take at least two independent means of making light, and at least one extra set of consumables for each. For example, you can use a headlamp as your primary light, but bring a hand-held flashlight to augment the headlamp in particular situations and as a backup. For example, when getting to a trail intersection, it can be useful to shine a more focused light around a bit. Bring a flashlight that you are willing to hike out with in case the primary light fails for whatever reason.

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"... since the light is coming from close to the same direction you are looking from, you don't get much help from shadows to get 3D cues. Everything looks 'flat'." Great point. It does help you see eye shine better however, for what that's worth. –  Mr.Wizard Jan 2 at 7:04
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A flashlight is in my experience much better for traveling at night. This because:

  1. It throws out a more powerful beam than almost any headlamp - The problem with a headlamp is that any bright enough beam to be useful on most trails is going to affect your vision (especially if you wear glasses)
  2. Most headlamps are only comfortable to wear for relatively short periods of time. You can always change hands with a flashlight. If your headlamp is too snug, you'll soon notice that it is an annoyance to wear.
  3. A flashlight is always useful as a bludgeon - Not knowing where you might be hiking and who or what you might encounter, having a solid object in your hands might come in very "handy" if things go south.
  4. Most flashlights have a flat base meaning that they can be set on end and used as an impromptu "lantern." - Obviously a headlamp really can't be used for this.
  5. A flashlight can used as signaling device in case of an emergency - While a headlamp could be in some situations, its inferior light output limits its effectiveness in this mode.

WHile I would always take two flashlights and a headlamp, I would prefer the flashlights as my "go to" lighting devices on a night trek.

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I don't really know what you mean by bludgeoning using a flashlight. Most of the times the flashlights are light and small in size. Not the huge metal ones (they are less preferred due to size and weight). And regarding comfort of headlamps, I've used headlamps umpteen times without any discomfort. Also, using a flashlight means your arms are not free (at least one of them). –  Unsung Dec 31 '13 at 8:57
    
Obviously, I meant a flashlight of some heft,although even the smallest of lights has the ability to be thrust offensively if/when the need occurs to do so. There's a brand of aluminum flashlight known for its club like capabilities. –  Mistah Mix Dec 31 '13 at 14:35
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I don't get the part about the brightness of a headlamp effecting your vision. The light from the headlamp shouldn't be shining into your eyes or onto your glasses, and yes, I do wear glasses. If it's foggy, then having a light not near your eyes, like a flashlight, is useful. But in normal conditions I don't see the issues. –  Olin Lathrop Dec 31 '13 at 14:43
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Honestly I would never carry a hefty flashlight just Coz it can be used as a club. Its weight/size disadvantage outweighs the club like usage aspect. I don't see any sense in using any flashlight as a safety weapon. –  Unsung Dec 31 '13 at 15:58
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If your headlamp is shining on the top rim of your glasses, then you have a poorly designed headlamp. I arranged the LEDs on my hat carefully so that none of the light gets into my eyes or on my glasses, but the hat rim causes no shadow within the normal field of vision. Having the light forward, like on the hat brim, helps with this. As for a flashlight as a club, the extremely slight advantage is far outweighed by having to carry a large and heavy club. In all the time hiking in my whole life, I've never encountered a situation where a club for defense would have been useful. –  Olin Lathrop Dec 31 '13 at 19:35
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In my personal experience, a headlamp is much better. It doesn't have the directional capabilities of a traditional flashlight, but it leaves your hands free for other tools. During an emergency hike/climb down a mountain in sub-zero temperatures I needed to use my hands to hold on to trekking polls and other hand-holds and the headlamp saved my life, I probably wouldn't have been able to get down without one.

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