Three Keys to Choosing Your Next Headlamp

Before your next adventure in the dark, make sure your light is up to the challenge.

Campers using Black Diamond Headlamps at a campsite at night.
Modern headlamps are light, bright, and much more energy efficient than their predecessors.Black Diamond

History doesn’t record who the first person was that decided to take a flashlight and strap it to his head, but the idea likely stemmed from the old mining days when men burrowed into dark, filthy caves and tunnels searching for minerals. For general hiking and camping, headlamps are useful for guiding you in and around unfamiliar areas, or location your companions after dark. For fishing, nothing beats being able to see what’s going on while still having both hands free to land a fish or tie on a lure. When choosing a headlamp, consider three factors—brightness, power sources, and other special features a headlamp might have to offer.

Brightness

Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
One quad-power LED and one double-power LED on this headlamp emit 350 lumens each.Black Diamond

Headlamp brightness is measured in lumens. While you can get scientific explaining how lumens are measured, in layman’s terms, a lumen quantifies the amount of light being put out by a light source—the more lumens, the brighter the light. Headlamps range from about 15 lumens all the way up to 500 lumens or more and choosing the right brightness for your preferred activity will make you happier with your headlamp. In general, lower lumen headlamps are great for working around camp and in groups, where a very bright light might be irritating to others. If you need to light up a large area, however, you’ll be better served by a more powerful headlamp.

Power Sources

Cobiz Headlamp Flashlight USB
This headlamp is USB rechargeable and features two 3200mhA batteries.Cobiz

Headlamps are powered by a variety of sources. Many operate on simple AA or AAA batteries. Others use the more expensive, longer lasting batteries like those used to power rangefinders and small, powerful flashlights. Still, other headlamps offer a mini-USB recharging option, allowing you to charge the headlamp at home between uses. Some even have external battery packs for extending the amount of time a unit can run before losing power. Related to power source is run time. While run time varies by the light’s brightness setting, it’s important to know the run time for various settings (low, medium, and high) so they’re not left in the dark at an inopportune time.

Functionality

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
A brightness memory function on this headlamp allows you to turn the light on and off at a chosen brightness without reverting back to full power.Black Diamond

A variety of other features make headlamps more or less useful for certain tasks. Multiple bulbs offer different brightness settings, which is very handy. Some headlamps even have different colored bulbs for use under different conditions. Very compact headlamps are great for hiking and backpacking trips, but if you’re just using one around camp, the size doesn’t matter much. Some headlamps offer a brightness memory function, which is useful as it turns the light back on at the last level it was used, keeping you from flipping through the various levels to find the one you prefer. Tilt features are also very handy, as they allow you to adjust the light to illuminate the ground while walking so you don’t have to look down at your feet. Some models even have lockout features, which keep headlamps from accidentally being activated and draining your battery when not in use.

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