I'm looking for a decent head lamp, with a bright light and good battery life. Most on the market these days seem to be LED based, but aside from those three (perhaps obvious) considerations are there other things to look out for when selecting a purchase?

It's really for general hiking use - so setting up camp at night, generally for light in the tent at night and the odd bit of night hiking (not so much biking.)

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    What are you going to use it for? Night hiking, Night biking (on or off road?), setting up camp at night, etc.?
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 3:11

4 Answers 4


Here is what I look for in a good headlamp:

  • LED is best for most uses, but you need to decide if you want a "spot focused" LED (usually one high powered LED in the center) or "diffuse light" LEDs (usually an array of many small LEDs). I like headlamps that have both, but sometimes you want one over the other (do you want maximum distance vision on a dark trail, or a more pleasant diffuse light for getting around inside a tent at night?)
  • How many brightness settings does it have? Some have many, some have only a few. A powerful LED with many settings can still have long battery life at the dim settings - one without good "dim" settings will always eat through its batteries quicker.
  • What kind of battery does it take? If you are only doing short trips, it may not matter, but if you are using it for longer periods of time, you may need to choose between common AA or AAA, or a less common size, like lithium photo cells, or 2032 coin cells. If I were traveling, I'd prefer the more common sizes.
  • Strap on top of the head or not - personal preference, but on a larger headlamp (bigger battery pack) a top strap is nice. It can also get in the way of some hats or helmets.
  • Helmet compatible? If you need to wear a helmet with it, some models are specifically intended to be helmet compatible (usually larger straps or clips that allow it to fit over the helmet).
  • Note that since this answer was posted, focussed LED lights have got much better; there are also zoom LED headlamps that give you both spot and flood lighting (at the expense of some weight) and a few that use different emitters for different tasks
    – Chris H
    Commented Oct 22, 2021 at 11:10
  • Rechargeable lithium in the newer headlamps is great--you can top off the batteries before use and start with a full charge each trip. With some you can run off of a standard USB battery pack for longer, more flexible use.
    – Dave X
    Commented Oct 22, 2021 at 12:24
  • AAA/AA batteries with the possibility to recharge would be the best option IMO as far as batteries go. Then one can carry spare batteries when going to really remote areas. And it is still possible to recharge as/when needed.
    – ahron
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 16:20

For me, feature number one is regulated light output. When I bought my first head lamp I was quite surprised that the brightness significantly dropped after a few initial hours. This is called unregulated light output: the brightness simply decreases as the battery level goes down. It means that you will only enjoy decent brightness for the first 20 % of time or so and then the light output falls below a decent level and gets progressively worse. Regulated lamp keeps the brightness at constant level and then stops working more or less suddenly at the end of the battery lifetime. Here’s a graph comparison taken from Princeton Tec:

regulated vs. non-regulated LED

I much prefer the regulated mode, to the point I don’t get why decent outdoor stuff manufacturers like Petzl still sell unregulated lamps at all.

Second most important thing would be the power source. I’m happy with a compact lamp that includes the batteries in the same box as the light source. Depending on your requirements you might need a separate battery box. It offers more power and you can keep it under your jacket in cold weather to keep the batteries warm and happy. On the other hand it’s another thing to keep somewhere on your body and another possible point of failure (the cables between the battery pack and the light are known to be pretty flimsy).

If you decide for a compact lamp where the batteries are in the same box as the light source, you still have the choice at least between AA, AAA and special batteries. I have a lamp that requires 3 AAA batteries and wouldn’t choose the same type again, because I can’t easily change batteries between my gear (the GPS and camera use regular AAs), the AAAs are little less common (so you might be out of luck when looking for cold-weather Lithium batteries, for example) and the odd number of batteries is a nuisance when charging. For similar reasons I don’t want a lamp powered by special batteries.

I mostly don’t care for other things. Waterproof body is always a good idea. And there’s always the question of how much light power is enough. The simple answer is any modern LED lamp will probably do for you, unless you have some extra requirements like fast movement (biking, skiing or running in the night). If you do have these extra requirements, it’s good to see what other people in your target group use, and test in the real conditions.

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    Generally I much prefer non-regulated mode. I can generally tell when my light is getting dim and I MUCH prefer that to sudden loss of light without warning. Also your graph is a little misleading. Regulated gives more even light at a cost of either a lower maximum lumens or shorter time span (usually both). The graph they created just fills in a flat line at max light out to max time and that's not really what regulated does. Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 20:49
  • For me the main problem is that the non-regulated lamp I had went too dim after the first 20% of the total time or so. It simply did not make good use of the batteries. And my current regulated one flashes several times when the batteries are getting low and then it keeps going for a few more minutes, giving me time to change the batteries. While I agree that the regulated mode might not be perfect for everybody, I think it's a better default than the non-regulated circuits.
    – zoul
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 6:14
  • I'd say that's a function of the lamp you had. I have a couple of non-regulated ones that do not have that problem. It sounds much more like an issue of "low quality" vs. "high quality" than "regulated" vs. "non-regulated". Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 14:57
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    Lithium or Alkali batteries? Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 16:12
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    In my opinion, regulated output is a must. Some lights these days even have a battery level indicator. My headlamp (Black Diamond Revolt) has a small LED on the side that goes from green to orange when the battery life drops. The indicator light only turns on for 3 seconds after you turn the headlamp on, so it doesn't waste much power. Many lights are practically useless after the first hour or so. I'll take a regulated light that puts out 70 lumens over an unregulated light that puts out 100 any day.
    – nhinkle
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 21:00
  1. Beam spread -- Wide, narrow, adjustable? (depending on what you want)
  2. Angle (generally up/down) -= Can you direct it where you want?
  3. Ease of turning on/off and changing settings -- I personally hate lamps that make me cycle through strobe to get to another setting (yes a few do)
  4. Strap & Comfort -- Is your head going to ache after wearing it for hours?
  5. Red light -- It's not supposed to bother your nightvision, but I've never found it to be a critical feature. I just dim mine with white light and do fine.
  6. Weight -- Ounces make pounds, as they say.
  7. Batteries -- As others have pointed out, the compatibility with other power sources is important so that you can carry fewer types of batteries.

Some look for replaceable bulbs, but headlamps are so cheap and long lasting that I do not. After all, who can say there will be bulbs available for it 10 years from now when I need them.

You've already mentioned battery life and brightness.

Some LEDs cannot be used with Lithium batteries, if that matters to you.

  • Red light is actually kinda useful inside the tent. If you need to look for something in your backpack and your tent mates are all sleeping, white light (of any brightness) is more likely to disturb their sleep compared to red light.
    – ahron
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 16:22

There are several things that should be considered while purchasing excellent headlights. A good headlamp, on the other hand, should be comfortable, lightweight, and robust, and it should provide enough light for your needs.

In general, look for a headlight that can produce at least 200 lumens at its highest setting. Lumens are units of measurement for the intensity—brightness—of light. Higher lumen lamps (300 and up) are excellent for trails and starless evenings.

There are several best headlamps in a 2021 review site.

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    cristy, please do not post links to commercial sites, they can be seen as spam and may get you banned from this site. I have edited out the link but you should update/edit the answer so that the now gone link is not needed.
    – Willeke
    Commented Oct 22, 2021 at 14:34
  • @Willeke -- Is that some new rule that i missed or did you just make it up? There must be thousands of links to commercial sites on the SE network.
    – Martin F
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 18:55
  • @MartinF, not a new rule but one that is often ignored. If you post a very noticable link people or even the system flag as spam.
    – Willeke
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 20:48
  • Links to review sites look especially spammy.
    – rclocher3
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 0:13

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