Last week we gave you our recommendations for camping lanterns, and this week we’re back at it with our list of the best headlamps for camping and outdoor sports. But before we dig into our top picks, you might be wondering what makes a headlamp “good” for camping.
Not all headlamps are created equal, and you certainly don’t want to be caught prepared out in the back country. Take a quick run through our tips for picking out a camping headlamp before diving into our list of the best headlamps for camping & outdoor sports.
What to look for in a camping headlamp
How bright is bright enough? Although it’s one of the most common questions we get asked, the frustrating answer is that it really does depend on what you’re doing. That said, there are some general guidelines you can follow to make it easy to find what you need.
- Below 100 lumens: Headlamps at this level are most used for close-range tasks like reading. In pitch dark, this will be plenty of light to find objects or read a map, but won’t be so bright that it bothers others or leaves bright spots in your vision.
- 100 – 300 lumens: Getting brighter, these headlamps are ideal for walking, running and hiking. You’ll have enough light to see several yards ahead of your path, but not so bright that you risk blinding oncoming vehicles or alert the entire forest to your presence.
- 300 – 1000 lumens: If your journey is headed somewhere especially dark or your eyesight needs an extra boost, a headlamp with a max output in this range will do the trick. Still not so overpowering that you’ll get harsh glare, the increased brightness will make sure you can safely see your surroundings and potential obstacles. You’ll likely find yourself using these headlamps on a mid or low setting and relying on Turbo for a quick burst as-needed.
- 1000+ lumens: Sometimes, you just need the brightest. In this instances, you’ll want to look at a headlamp capable of 1000 lumens or brighter. At this level, outputs are similar to what you can expect from a car headlight!
Headlamps of this variety clearly give you the most light possible, but come at a tradeoff as they tend to be bigger and more cumbersome than their lower output counterparts. The other advantage of these high performance headlamps? The brighter output and larger body design allows it to throw light farther, so if distance is your thing, look here.
Speaking of size … trust us when we say you want to find the slimmest headlamp available to suit your needs. The very last thing you want to be worrying about is a bulky or heavy headlamp constantly getting in your way. Fortunately, headlamps these days are coming in smaller and smaller bodies, so finding something that balances performance and size shouldn’t be difficult.
For the brighter headlamps, look for something like the Fenix HP25R or NITECORE HC70 which shifts the weight of the battery to a battery pack you can carry in your pocket, backpack or clipped to a belt.
As we hinted to above, the majority of your headlamp’s size and bulk is going to come from the battery supply. If you want to keep things lightweight, look for something that uses an internal, rechargeable li-ion battery like the NITECORE NU25 or a removable 16340 like the Fenix HM50R.
The downside to these smaller batteries, you guessed it, is their runtime. Although you can easily get several hours of use out of these headlamps on a single charge if you’re not running them on Turbo the entire time, we understand you might need a longer running option.
For the longest runtimes, look at headlamps using a removable 18650 (or 2) to power the light. Not only will get a longer runtime and brighter output with these larger capacity batteries, but swapping out tired batteries for a fresh pair can keep you going for hours on end.
Some campers we talk to consider any headlamp without a red light option to be an automatic no. Why is this option so important, you wonder? Red light is naturally much dimmer and doesn’t distort your night vision the way that white lights do. From searching through your gear in a shared space to photography and star gazing, a red light option is a welcome addition on any headlamp in our book.
Top 5 Camping Headlamp Picks for 2019
Why we love it: Minimalist doesn’t have to mean limited, and NITECORE proves it with the NU32 rechargeable headlamp. Not only does this lamp have a powerful 550 lumen white output, there’s also secondary red and high CRI LEDs for up close reading and searching. Trust us, you’ll appreciate the versatility and options the NU32 gives you.
Why we love it: If you’re going to be moving around a lot, we really like the Olight H1R for its super compact size that still provides a bright, 600 lumen max output. The H1R can also be converted to a handheld flashlight and positioned thanks to a magnetic charging tail cap.
Why we love it: The Fenix HL32R headlamp is a slightly beefier alternative to the NITECORE NU32 and gets you a 600 lumen max output and secondary red LED option that’s ideal for camping and outdoors. USB charging means no specialized batteries to mess with and a variety of charging options no matter where you are.
ArmyTek Elf C1
Why we love it: Stepping up the size a little bit from the Olight H1R, the ArmyTek Elf C1 headlamp will surprise you with its powerful 1050 lumen output for those who need a really bright light. Once again, the ability to carry this as a headlamp or flashlight makes this rechargeable torch a top consideration.
Why we love it: At 1800 lumens bright on Turbo, the NITECORE HC33 is the most powerful headlamp on our list while staying compact and small enough to pocket carry. Using a single 18650 battery as a power source to keep the weight of the unit down, the HC33 also boasts some of the longest runtimes and batteries can easily be swapped out for extended wear.