When work or play leaves you in the dark, a headlamp or flashlight can help, whether it’s with a laser-focused beam or a more dispersed glow. Having a headlamp or flashlight on hand for activities where you know it’s going to be dark, such as fall hikes or rides, work in poorly lit areas, as well as for emergencies like a power outage, can be the difference between success and failure. Keep a headlight or flashlight on hand to ensure you’re prepared for the unexpected as well as activities that require extra light.
Is a headlamp or flashlight right for me?
The biggest advantage of a headlamp is you don’t have to hold it to use it. Headlamps strap to your head or helmet, leaving your hands free for other tasks. A headlamp provides focused, directional lighting that follows the movement of your head. Because the light follows your eyes, it’s always shining where you need it. Most headlamps are lightweight and comfortable for extended use. Most come on an adjustable, elasticized strap. Some headlamps also have helmet mounts, for military, climbing, cycling, and other style helmets. Some clip to molle attachments, and some have other mounts as well. Many headlamps are compact—small enough to carry in a pocket.
The biggest downside of a headlamp is that when you’re wearing a headlamp in a group of people and you shift your gaze towards a friend or colleague, the light from your head can be blinding. Because the lamp is on your head, you may need to remove your headlamp to fiddle with buttons or to get beam color and pattern you prefer. And most headlamps aren’t as bright as a full-power, high-end flashlight.
Flashlights come in all shapes and sizes, and, as mentioned, typically have a more powerful beam and more ruggedized construction than a headlamp. Historically, flashlights used C and D-cell batteries. Now, more are rechargeable.
The downside of a flashlight is that you have to hold it, which means you can’t use your hands for other tasks. Some do come with head straps and various clips. Smaller flashlights can be easy to carry in your pocket, on a belt clip, or in a belt pouch, so, like a pocket knife, you always have your EDC light on you. Most flashlights are white light only, while headlamps often have multiple light colors to choose from including lights that preserve night vision, help hunters pursue prey, and add stealth to your mission.
How bright a light do I need?
Every headlamp and flashlight comes with a lumen rating. The higher the number, the brighter the light. Most headlamps also have modes, so you can run the lamp or light at a lower lumen and therefore lower power output to extend battery life. A lamp or light with more lumens will pierce deeper into the darkness and depending on the light pattern can make seeing at night feel more natural. But brighter lights are often larger and heavier. Explore the options to find your sweet spot.
What beam is best?
For focused work, a spot beam directs more intense light into a small and defined area. A broader beam will illuminate a larger area less intensely. Many headlamps and flashlights have both options. If a light beam is too narrow, it can give you tunnel vision, which at night can feel disorienting. When a light has a feathered edge, it allows you to see in the dark more naturally. Bu dispersed lights are often less bright than focused lights.
Why do I need red, green or blue light options?
Red light helps maintain natural night vision. The green light improves the human eye’s ability to discern detail at night. Blue light highlights blood. Blue light is often used by hunters to track prey.
Should I get a headlamp or flashlight with a rechargeable battery?
We prefer rechargeable devices if you use your headlamp or flashlight where there is a reasonable chance you can plug it into a reliable power source. A rechargeable battery lets you top off your lamp or light after each use so it’s always ready for action. It also keeps batteries out of the landfill. If you’ll be using your lamp or light somewhere where it’s easier to carry extra batteries than recharge your device, that’s a relevant consideration.
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Best dual fuel headlamp
Petzl Aria 2 RGB, $60
- Weight: 3.4 oz
- Brightness: 450 lumens (up to 600 lumens with rechargeable battery)
- Battery: 3 AAA or Petzl Core ($30, sold separately)
Compact and durable, the 450-lumen Aria 2 RGB is a dual-fuel headlamp that can handle being dropped, dunked, and dusted. The headlamp comes with an elasticized strap for wearing this lamp on your head, but it can be worn on your helmet or pack as well with other Aria mounting plates, sold separately. We loved this light for its easy use and bright beam. A glove-friendly single button let us access all light modes, including white, red, green, and blue lights. The lamp has a wide, uniform beam, great for close-range work, and a mixed beam for when you’re toggling between looking close and far. Three white lighting levels–max burn time, standard, and max power, sustained the battery for longer or provided more intense light on demand. The colored lights are continuous or strobe. We also love that this lamp can be run with Petzl’s rechargeable Core battery or three AAA batteries, so you can choose the power option that’s best for where you’re using it. The Core battery ($30, sold separately), give the headlamp a lumens boost from 450 to 600. The Core is equivalent to about 900 sets of AAA batteries. The lamp meets IP67 dust and waterproof ratings. It can be submerged for 30 min in up to three feet of water and it’ll work as good as ever. It meets FL1 ANSI standard for fall protection–the lamp can fall six to eight feet without damage. It’s also impact-resistant, meeting the IK07 rating. A lock mode prevents the lamp from accidentally getting turned on in your pack. If you want a more affordable light, or just don’t need the brightness this one delivers, check out Petzls Aria 1, which has 350 lumens and costs $40.
Buy it at: amazon.com
Best EDC Flashlight
- Weight: 7.2 oz
- Brightness: 3000 lumens
- Max Beam Distance: 1,558 feet (475 meters)
- Max Runtime: 48 hours
- Battery: Rechargeable li-ion battery
With a maximum output of 3000 lumens and a range of up to 1558 feet, the six-mode, aluminum casing Fenix TK20R is a powerful and adaptable flashlight that’s ready for a lifetime of use and abuse. Made for outdoor and tactical applications, the flashlight turns on with dual tail switches that also control the flashlight’s six modes, including five brightness levels and strobe. Fenix uses a proprietary technology they call the Advance Pulse Frequency Transmission System to give this flashlight max power for its size and weight. It’s blindingly bright, which is great for lighting the path ahead and also handy for self defense. The flashlight is sealed from the elements, including the cleverly concealed USB-C charging port which is encased in the flashlight’s hard anodized, anti-abrasive aluminum body. It has an internal dual-spring structure so that even if this light takes a severe impact, it’ll keep working. Customize your unit on Fenix’s website with your name, DOB, and select designs. Dustproof and waterproof, this flashlight comes with a pocket clip, a holster, and a lanyard.
Buy it at: amazon.com
Best full-power flashlight
- Weight: 15.2 oz. 431 g
- Brightness: 1082 lumens
- Max Beam Distance: 1558 feet/ 458m
- Max Runtime: 79 hours
- Battery: lithium iron phosphate rechargeable
The classic Maglite, a staple for law enforcement, now uses LED lights and it’s rechargeable–up to 80% in 30 minutes, and just as powerful as ever. The flashlight has a new patented heat sink that helps it shine brighter while using less power. As always, Maglite’s ML150LR uses a heavy-duty anodized aluminum body. Now instead of big disposable batteries, there’s a rechargeable lithium iron phosphate battery inside that’s safer and better-performing than disposable batteries. The flashlight has white light only, and it transitions from spot to flood with a ¼ turn of the head. With a click of the power button, the light toggles between five power modes and 12 functions, all of which can be user-programmed. Functions include full power, momentary power, eco, and strobe. It runs 3-plus hours at peak lumens and 79 hours in eco-mode. The Maglite ML150LR case is nearly indestructible. And if you ever have an issue, it’s likely covered by Maglite’s 10-year limited warranty. Charging this flashlight is simple and straightforward. Click it into the holder, and a charge status indicator lets you know the flashlight’s battery level, and when it’s at 100%. To charge this light from fully dead, it takes around 2.5 hours. But in 30 minutes it will be most of the way there. Another bonus: this maglite flashlight snaps into its charging port and it won’t fall out even in extremely rough conditions. The ML1505LR comes with a wall charger as well as a 12v power cord for vehicle charging. This battery will last for approximately 2000 charge cycles.
Buy it at: amazon.com
- Weight: 7.5 oz.
- Brightness: 1082 lumens
- Max Beam Distance: 384 feet with max power and boost
- Max Runtime: 40 hours
- Battery: Rechargeable Li-ion
Designed for ultrarunners who need a headlamp to help them navigate technical terrain when they’re already sleep-deprived, one that will last through the night, Black Diamond’s Distance is not only long burning, but it’s a headlamp that lets you swap batteries without taking the lamp off your head. A lot of headlamps have two modes–one that focuses the light close but has hard edges, and one that’s more diffuse, but not as powerful. This lamp has a highly engineered multifaceted optical lens that combines both modes so that you don’t have to choose between depth and spot lighting. At max output, the Distance emits 1500 lumens in a light pattern that has no edges, shadows, or artifacts. That reduced the trippy, vertiginous feeling that can come from navigating at night with a hard-edged beam. The lamp uses a touch-to-adjust button that toggles the lamp from any setting to max output. The lamp lasts eight hours at 300 lumens. If you want to swap it, just squeeze the release mechanism at the right side of the battery holder, to pop out the old battery and pop in a new one, all without taking the headlamp off your head. The battery pack is magnetic, so a replacement pack snaps in seamlessly. The battery pack and the light both come mounted on a stretchy strap with a broad rubber support at the forehead and a plastic stiffener at the back of the head. Both are low profile, shaped to contour naturally, and built to minimize bounce. An additional over-the-head strap is also provided. The Distance 1500 has two buttons. One turns the lamp on and off. The other toggles output from full power to reduced power, and into red, green, and blue modes. The headstrap is helmet-compatible. And this lamp has a submersible IP67 waterproof rating.
Buy it at: blackdiamondequipment.com
Best headlamp for on-duty/off-duty
- Weight: 3.2 oz.
- Brightness: 550 lumens
- Max Beam Distance: Up to 256 feet
- Max Runtime: 50 hours
- Battery: Three AAA
It’s impossible to know where and when you’ll need a headlamp, and what conditions you’ll encounter when you do. We recommend Princeton Tec’s 550-lumen Vizz MPLS because it transitions seamlessly from work to life, from camping with the kids to being on the job, and back again. It’s light and compact and out of the way when you don’t need it, and easy to always have on hand for when you do. This AAA battery-powered headlamp is perfect for users who don’t have a reliable place to recharge. It comes on an elastic head strap, like most other headlamps, but it’s also compatible with Princeton Tec’s Modular Plated Lighting System (MPLS), which allows the headlamp to mount to molle, rail, helmet, and more. In addition to being compatible with a variety of mounts, this headlamp can also be paired with accessories like Princeton Tec’s Switch MPLS or Switch RGB, sold separately. The lamp has an easy-to-locate and operate oversized, textured button on top that illuminates the headlamp and also lets you toggle between modes, including selecting from red, blue, and green lights, and full power and dimmed white light. With the lamp at full power, it has a four-hour battery life. Used on the dimmed setting, the battery life is 50 hours. The light is programmable – it lets you choose which order the lights toggle. Directions are printed on the back of the headlamp body, so they’re always close at hand. When the lamp is mounted on the headstrap, it rotates nearly 90 degrees so you can point it where you need it. The lamp has five LEDs inside, including a max bright dimmable white LED and ultrabright red, blue, and green LEDs. A screw mechanism opens and closes the battery chamber. It can be finger-tightened or opened and closed using a flathead screwdriver. With the battery compartment closed this headlamp is rated IPX7 waterproof. A lock mode prevents you from turning it on accidentally.
But it at: amazon.com
Best headlamp for camping
- Weight: 2.75 oz.
- Brightness: 425 lumens
- Max Beam Distance: Up to 279 feet
- Max Runtime: 60 hours
- Battery: Rechargeable 1000 mAh Li-Ion
A headlamp that’s easy to stash in your backpack, tuck in your glove compartment, or just have on hand for days when you have time to sneak in a quick run after dark, you’re still on the trail a few clicks after sundown, or you need to navigate to the privy from your campsite. Biolite’s Headlamp 425 is so light that you’ll forget it’s on your head, but it’s still bright enough to light up the night, with soft edges to its flood, laser brightness with the spot, plus the ability to use both together. It’s a lamp that lights up the road or trail in front of you, while also illuminating you from behind to make motorists or other trail users aware you’re there. The USB-C rechargeable lamp has five front light modes and two rear light modes. Front light modes include a dimmable white spot, a dimmable white flood, a dual dimmable spot flood mode, a white strobe, and a red flood that’s also dimmable. The back has both red strobe and red flood settings. Unlike other headlamps that use a light mounted on a removable elastic strap, Biolite’s Headlamp 425 is inset into the strap with wiring to the rear harness sewn in. The design keeps the front light extremely low profile. The front light extends less than 0.4 inches from the wearer’s forehead, and the back of the head light brick is just over 0.5 inches thick. A single click of the front control button turns the front light on, and double clicks toggle between modes. The front light can be tilted down more than 45° for map reading and other tasks. The back-of-the-head light has its own on/off button that also toggles the rear light between spot, strobe, and off. The rear light also houses the lamp’s USB-C charging port, as well as a headlamp battery level indicator. A lock mode keeps the lamp from accidental illumination. It’s not waterproof, but it is rated IPX4 water-resistant. Not all headlamps can be used while charging. This one can. Plug it into a portable powerbrick in your pocket or pack to extend its battery life while you’re wearing it.
Buy it at: amazon.com