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It doesn’t matter what outdoor activity I’m doing; I always pack a headlamp. Choosing the right hands-free light may seem like an easy task—just pick the brightest, right? However, there are a lot of options out there with a lot of different features. As such, I took it upon myself to find the best of the best. Night after night, I strapped on headlamp after headlamp, testing some of the most popular brands (like Coast, Petzl, and Ledlenser) in every lighting condition.

I need a rugged built headlamp that can take a beating and still perform. Though I love a budget buy, I have really begun to gravitate towards purchases of products that are high-quality, durable and have longevity of use. And that’s what I aimed to find in my tests. After hours and hours of hiking, hunting, and camping, these are the best headlamps for any outdoor adventure, according to our results.

The Best Headlamps

Best Headlamp Overall: Coast WPH34R

Pros

  • Waterproof IP68 rating
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Six light modes
  • Compatible with both rechargeable and alkaline batteries
  • Convenient battery charging indicator

Cons

  • Heavier than most headlamps I’ve used

The Coast WPH34R is a powerhouse in the world of headlamps. Coast—a brand that’s been making professional-grade optics and lights for over a century—packed a gamut of features into this one. I chose it as the best overall because, well, it was my favorite I tested. It offered the best blend of power, versatility, and durability.

With a maximum output of 2000 lumens, it an impressive beam distance of 639 feet. Its versatility is further underscored by six distinct light modes: power (full, mid, low), flood, spot, spot and flood, red and green. The wide range of lighting options allowed me to tailor the illumination to my specific needs.

Coast WPH34R Headlamp with red light
The red light setting is one reason I love this Coast headlamp. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

In terms of batteries, this headlamp has the best of both worlds. It can run on a Zithion-X ZX955 rechargeable battery or AAA batteries. I like having the option of either one. And the included rechargeable battery is surprisingly powerful. Out of all the headlamps I tested, this one had the longest runtime on high at 4.75 hours.

You can check the status of your battery’s charge level with the built-in charge level indicator. It was easy for me to see when I needed to recharge the headlamp prior to heading outdoors, which prevented me from getting stuck with a dead light.

Woman holding Coast WPH34R Headlamp
A close-up look of the Coast WPH34R headlamp. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

This Coast headlamp has a waterproof rating of IP68, so it’s waterproof up to five meters. It features an additional third strap that I found kept it securely in place while I was out and about. However, this adds some bulk, making it a little heavier than others I tested.

The exceptional performance, durability, and robust features undoubtedly outweigh the weight concern. Overall, the Coast WPH34R stood out as an obvious top choice. Plus, it’s backed by a lifetime warranty for peace of mind.

Specs

  • Weight: .5 pounds
  • Max Lumens: 2000
  • Beam Distance: 639 feet
  • Battery Type: Rechargeable or AAA
  • Runtime: 4.75(high) to 36 hour (low)

Best Budget: Coast FL1R Micro

Best Budget

Pros

  • Wide angle flood beam
  • Charging indicator
  • Quick cycle switch system
  • Red light mode

Cons

  • Low waterproof rating

If you want a compact and lightweight headlamp, I highly recommend the Coast FL1R. It’s very lightweight, weighing just 1.7 ounces—I hardly felt it on my hat during testing. Even better, it’s one of the more affordable choices out there. But don’t be fooled by the cheaper price. It punches well above its weight in terms of performance and features, offering a maximum output of 435 lumens and a beam distance of over 137 feet. I found it ideal for various outdoor tasks, from trekking back to the campsite to hooking up the boat in the pre-dawn hours.

Coast FL1R Headlamp on hat
The light weight of this Coast headlamp is what really sets it apart from others. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

The embedded rechargeable battery is both convenient and cost-effective, and it has a battery life ranging from 1.25 hours on high mode to 4.75 hours on low mode. I like the fact that the battery is integrated—no need to fuss with removing the battery to charge it.

During my tests, the wide-angle flood beam illuminated the surrounding area effectively, enhancing visibility and reducing my eye strain during extended use. Other user-friendly features I appreciated include the easy-to-read charging indicator and quick cycle switch system.

Woman holding Coast FL1R Headlamp
A close-up look of the Coast FL1R Micro headlamp. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

One downside is that the Coast FL1R Micro has a relatively low waterproof rating compared to other models we tested. If you are looking for a budget-friendly option that doesn’t sacrifice functionality, this one is a great choice.

Specs

  • Weight: 1.7 ounces
  • Max Lumens: 435
  • Beam Distance: 137.8 feet
  • Battery Type: Rechargeable
  • Runtime: 1.25 hours (high) to 4.75 hours (low)

Best Rechargeable: Ledlenser HF8R Signature

Best Rechargeable

Pros

  • Waterproof rating of IP68—suitable for continual submersion
  • Very versatile with 10 different light settings
  • Dims and focuses automatically
  • Incredibly long battery life
  • Connects to app so you can control it remotely

Cons

  • More expensive and more complex than others tested
  • A bit bulkier

When I was unboxing the Ledlenser HF8R Signature, my first impression was that this headlamp is a hoss. The construction is on the bulky side; but the power-packed features make that heft and weight (6.8 ounces) well worth it. Between the overhead band and the silicone comfort pad, I was able to get it to stay in place just fine. It produces an output range of 20 to 2000 lumens and a beam distance of 656 feet. Not too shabby.

Ledlenser Signature Headlamp on hat
This Ledlenser headlamp has a ton of handy features I enjoyed using. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

It’s powered by a rechargeable battery, which can last up to 90 hours on low mode. I used it for a few hours every day and didn’t have to charge it for over a week. While I appreciate the long battery life, my favorite thing about this headlamp lies in its 10 light settings: Power, Mid, Low, Red, Green, Blue, SOS, Strobe, Blink, and Boost. Add to that the automatic dimming and focus adjustment and you get unmatched customization.

Woman holding Ledlenser Signature Headlamp
A close-up look of the Ledlenser HF8R Signature headlamp. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

This Ledlenser headlamp comes with an app that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth so you can control the light remotely without fumbling around and fiddling with buttons and knobs in the dark. I found it fairly easy to use and navigate. However, because it’s more complex, it took me longer to learn than the other headlamps—comparatively, it’s not the most user-friendly. It’s also more expensive due to all the added features. But with so much to offer, the price is well-justified, in my opinion.

Specs

  • Weight: 6.8 ounces
  • Max Lumens: 20-2000
  • Beam Distance: 656 feet
  • Battery Type: Rechargeable
  • Runtime: 3 hours(high) to 90 hours (low)

Best for Hunting: Princeton Tec Vizz 550

Best for Hunting

Pros

  • Dimmable settings
  • Waterproof up to 1 meter
  • Offers red, blue, and green light
  • Made in the USA with a lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Not rechargeable

I recently took this headlamp on a duck hunt. Everyone was telling me to walk in the front because my headlamp was the brightest. I was also able to use the dimmable settings when in conversation, so I didn’t blind the people I was talking to. We were able to walk-in, throw decoys and get set without any issues.

Princeton Tec Vizz 550 Headlamp on hat
This Princeton headlamp is my new go-to for hunting. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

With a maximum output of 550 lumens and a beam distance of 311 feet, this headlamp provides sufficient light for hunting navigation in low-light conditions. It has five light settings: high, low, red, blue, and green. I found myself often using the red light on my hunts.

Powered by three AAA batteries, it has a runtime ranging from 2.5 hours on high mode to an impressive 55 hours on the green setting. I didn’t have any issues with it dying on me and it’s easy enough to simply swap out the alkaline batteries when necessary instead of waiting for a battery to charge. This saves time when you’re out in the field or at camp.

Woman holding Princeton Tec Vizz 550 Headlamp
A close-up look of the Princeton Tec Vizz 550 headlamp. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

It’s waterproof up to 1 meter, which is ideal for waterfowl hunters like myself. I dropped it in the water a few times and it didn’t affect the performance at all. While the Princeton Tec Vizz lacks the rechargeable capabilities of many hunting flashlights, its exceptional durability and bright illumination make it a top contender for hunters seeking a dependable and hands-free light solution in the field.

Specs

  • Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Max Lumens: 550
  • Beam Distance: 311 feet
  • Battery Type: 3-AAA
  • Runtime: 2.5 hours(high) to 55 hours(green)

Best for Hiking: Petzl Aria 2 RGB

Best for Hiking

Pros

  • Shock-resistant and waterproof
  • Red, green and blue light
  • Can tilt light up and down
  • Comfortable fit

Cons

  • Rechargeable battery not included

Petzl is known for producing high quality headlamps. My husband, who has been serving in the military for 13 years, has used Petzl headlamps for years. I honestly don’t remember him packing for a hike or field opt without one. Having now tested one out myself, I understand the obsession.

The Petzl Aria 2 RGB is one of the most comfortable headlamps I’ve ever worn. The lightweight design and stretchy headband made for a barely noticeable fit during extended wear.

Petzl Aria 2 RGB Headlamp on hat
I wore this Petzl headlamp all day long with zero discomfort. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

The headlamp’s maximum output is 450 lumens with a beam distance of 328 feet. Its battery life ranges from 2 hours on high mode to a remarkable 100 hours on low mode. It provided reliable and sufficient illumination for the entire duration of my testing, without the need of battery replacements. It is worth noting that this headlamp requires AAA batteries and does not include a rechargeable battery. You have to purchase one separately from Petzl.

Woman holding Petzl Aria 2 RGB Headlamp
A close-up look of the Petzl Aria 2 RGB headlamp. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

This headlamp features three white light levels and three color light options (red, green, and blue). You can also tilt the light plate up and down to direct the beam in different directions. I really liked this feature—it came in handy when I was wearing the headlamp to do work outside in dim lighting. The IK07 shock resistance and IP67 waterproof ratings make this headlamp durable enough to withstand the rigors of outdoor conditions without issue. Based on my personal testing and experience, I would highly recommend the Petzl Aria 2 RGB headlamp for casual and advanced hikers alike.

Specs

  • Weight: 3.74 ounces
  • Max Lumens: 450
  • Beam Distance: 328 feet
  • Battery Type: AAA or rechargeable
  • Runtime: 2hour(high) to 100 hour(low)

Best for Backpacking: Nitecore NU25 UL

Best for Backpacking

Pros

  • Ultra lightweight
  • IP66 water rating
  • Durable and tough
  • Affordable

Cons

  • No blue or green light option

If you are a backpacker, chances are you want compact and lightweight gear. The Nitecore NU25 headlamp is just that, weighing only 1.6 ounces—the lightest of all the headlamps on this list. It’s portable without compromising on performance, with an output of 400 lumens and a beam distance of 210 feet. It provides plenty of light for hiking the trails late at night or early in the morning.

The rechargeable lithium-ion battery eliminates the need for disposable batteries, overall reducing your environmental impact. It’s also very affordable, offering excellent value for money. It has a red light setting but lacks blue or green light options. Fortunately, at least in my experience, most hikers don’t require those light settings anyways, so that’s not a dealbreaker. Overall, the Nitecore NU25 stands out as a top-rated headlamp for backpacking thanks to its micro size.

Specs

  • Weight: 1.6 ounces
  • Max Lumens: 400
  • Beam Distance: 210 feet
  • Battery Type: Rechargeable ‎lithium ion
  • Runtime: 2 hours
Headlamps lined up on grass at night turned on
A few of the headlamps we tested out for this article lit up at night. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

How We Tested Headlamps

To choose the best headlamps, we evaluated various factors to pick lights that are suitable for a range of outdoor activities, from hunting and fishing to hiking and backpacking. We considered battery life, lumens, durability, and price, among others. Here’s an overview of how we tested and then picked the best headlamp:

  • Battery Life: We prioritized headlamps with reliable and long-lasting battery life. Whether for a short camping trip or an extended backpacking adventure, a headlamp with a long runtime ensures a consistent and reliable light source. Choose a headlamp with extended battery life and a power source that aligns with your usage.
  • Price: Getting the most bang for your buck might be a cliche, but it’s also a priority. No need to overspend when you can buy a budget option that performs the same. Decide on a budget and find a headlamp within that range with the features you need.
  • Brightness: This is obviously one of the most important things we evaluated during our testing. We wanted to find the brightest headlamps for any scenario, so we looked at lumens and real-life performance.
  • Durability: Outdoor conditions can be unpredictable, so durability was a crucial factor in our selection process. We focused on headlamps that could withstand the rigors of the elements, prioritizing resistance to water and impact.

What to Look for in a Headlamp

Brightness and Beam Distance

Brightness refers to the intensity of the light produced by the headlamp which is measured in lumens. The higher the lumens, the brighter the headlamp. Consider when you’ll be using the headlamp. If you’re hiking on rugged trails at night, you’ll likely need a headlamp with higher lumens for better visibility. On the other hand, if you’re reading in a tent, a lower lumen headlamp may suffice to avoid blinding yourself or disturbing others.

Along the same lines of brightness, take into consideration the light color of your headlamp. Some have a crisp white light, while others have softer yellow. Still others might have red or green options, ideal for hunters.

Coast WPH34R Headlamp with red light on hat
This Coast headlamp has a red light setting I love to use for hunting. (Photo/Bethany Beathard)

Beam distance determines how far the light from the headlamp can reach before it diminishes to the equivalent of the light of a full moon. This is particularly important for outdoor activities where you need to see a significant distance ahead. A headlamp with a longer beam distance can provide better visibility and help you navigate more safely in the dark.

Battery Life and Power Source

Battery life—which is how long the headlamp can operate continuously on a single set of batteries or a rechargeable battery pack—is incredibly important. Longer battery life is essential for extended outdoor adventures that require prolonged use of a headlamp, such as backpacking trips. Consider the estimated runtime provided by the manufacturer and whether it meets your needs for your intended use.

Most headlamps run on one of the following: disposable batteries (normally AAA), rechargeable batteries, or integrated rechargeable battery packs. Each power source has its advantages and disadvantages. Disposable batteries offer convenience as they can be easily replaced, but they may result in higher long-term costs and produce more waste. Rechargeable batteries or integrated battery packs are more environmentally friendly and can save money in the long run, but they require access to a power source for recharging.

Comfort and Fit

A headlamp could be the best and brightest in the world but if it’s not comfortable, it’s not worth buying. Finding one that fits your head shape and size well is key. For maximum comfort, choose a headlamp that remains securely in place without being too tight and fits snugly across your head to prevent bouncing or chafing. Adjustable straps and bands help you get a more customized fit.

The weight of the headlamp plays a significant role in comfort, especially for extended wear. I have noticed some of the headlamps with a lot of features are on the heavier side. A more lightweight design reduces strain on your head and neck. Water- and sweat-resistance also improve fit in wet or humid conditions by preventing moisture buildup and slippage.

FAQs

Q: What is the best lumens for a headlamp?

The ideal lumens depends on what you’ll be using the headlamp for. If you’re just hanging out around the campfire or in your tent, around 100 lumens will suffice. For gathering firewood or campsite navigation, 200+ is suitable. If you plan on doing more strenuous nighttime activity like hiking, trail riding, or hunting, I recommend a minimum of 300 lumens (but the more, the better).

Q: What is the red light on a headlamp for?

The red light on a headlamp is often used to preserve night vision, minimize disturbance to others, read maps or documents without excessive glare, or serve as a signal or safety light. It can also conserve battery life as it requires less power than white light.

Q: How do you clean headlamp lenses?

To clean a headlamp lens, turn off the headlamp, remove the batteries, and gently wipe the lens with a damp, soapy cloth, or window cleaning solution. Use cotton swaps to get too hard-to-reach areas, if needed. Dry thoroughly with a dry cloth before reassembling the headlamp and storing it properly.

What is the Best Headlamp?

After hours of testing—on top of years of personal experience—I was able to narrow my search down to the six best headlamps. I prioritized weight, ruggedness, battery type and life, brightness, and light settings. I chose the Coast WPH34R rechargeable headlamp as the best overall due to its exceptional performance, tough design, and six light modes. The dual battery options were just icing on the cake.

Why Trust Us

For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.