Gear Review: The 5 Best Headlamps of 2018
By Michael Lanza
How do you choose which headlamp to buy for hiking, backpacking, climbing, trail running, and other outdoor activities? Price? Design and range of lighting modes? Go with a brand you know and trust? I’ve tested dozens of headlamps over the years. Here are, in my opinion, the five best models on the market today.
I favor models that meet five simple criteria:
• Lightweight (no hiker, runner, or climber needs a heavy, bulky light).
• Versatile and bright enough for everything from reading in the tent and managing camp chores to hiking rugged trail or route-finding off-trail in complete darkness.
• Intuitive and easy to use, so I don’t have to consult instructions more than once, take off my gloves to operate it, or use a tool to change batteries.
• Projects a beam that’s focused and even, not blotchy and uneven.
• Preferably rechargeable so I’m not repeatedly buying and throwing away batteries.
I generally apply those standards when choosing which headlamps I’ll review at The Big Outside, with the exception of being rechargeable—which costs more up front (although not over time), because I choose to review headlamps at a range of price points.
To help you find the right model for yourself or someone else, I’ve put together this list of the five best headlamps I’ve reviewed at this blog, listed in order of cost, along with a comparison chart.
Please share your experiences with any of these models, or another you like, in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
|Model||Price||Weight||Max Power||Burn Time||Rechargeable|
|Princeton Tec Sync||$30||2.9 oz.||150 lumens||75-200 hours||No|
|Black Diamond Spot||$40||3.1 oz.||300 lumens||30-175 hours||No|
|Black Diamond Storm||$50||3.9 oz.||350 lumens||40-120 hours||No|
|Princeton Tec Vizz||$50||3.2 oz.||420 lumens||110-160 hours||No|
|Petzl Actik Core||$70||3 oz.||350 lumens||2-160 hours||Yes|
Princeton Tec Sync
$30, 2.9 oz.
With white and red modes, five brightness levels, enough power to light a rocky trail on a night hike, and an easy-to-operate dial that includes a lockout mode—all for 30 bucks—it’s hard to go wrong with the Sync. It’s a well-built, basic headlamp for users who only occasionally need a headlamp for any purpose beyond finding their way around camp in the dark.
Read my complete review of the Princeton Tec Sync.
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Black Diamond Spot
$40, 3.1 oz.
In any direct comparison, the Spot offers an impressive feature set and brightness at a hard-to-beat price. Its modes include white LED TriplePower, SinglePower, and strobe, and red LED SinglePower and strobe. Its max brightness is a powerful 300 lumens, and it sports dimming capability, a locking feature to prevent accidental turning on in a pack, and a unique PowerTap technology that allows you to tap the right side of the casing to cycle between the TriplePower LED and SinglePower LED. Plus, it’s waterproof up to a meter underwater for 30 minutes. Only demerit: It’s not rechargeable, but it’s still hard to beat.
See my complete review of the Black Diamond Spot.
Black Diamond Storm
$50, 3.9 oz.
At a price in the mid-range for ultralight headlamps—and a slightly higher weight, explained by having four batteries instead of three—the Storm’s feature set makes it a top performer at a competitive price. For starters, it sports a powerful 350 lumens of brightness in its two LED bulbs, a spotlight and a proximity beam. But it’s also dustproof and waterproof to one meter for up to 30 minutes. It has BD’s Power Tap and Brightness Memory technologies, three night-vision color modes, plus a locking feature. Dollar for dollar, hard to beat.
Read my complete review of the Black Diamond Storm.
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Princeton Tec Vizz
$50, 3.2 oz.
The high-performance, waterproof Princeton Tec Vizz—updated since I posted my review to a maximum power of 420 lumens—is a well-priced choice if you’re going after versatility and brightness in an ultralight headlamp. But it’s also simple to operate, compatible with lithium batteries, and has a lockout feature to prevent accidental turning on. A strong choice for hikers and climbers as well as high-speed users like trail runners and skiers.
Read my complete review of the Princeton Tec Vizz.
Get the right daypack for your hikes. See my “Gear Review: The 7 Best Hiking Daypacks.”
Petzl Actik Core
$70, 3 oz.
Equipped with white and red modes and two beam patterns—a focused beam for seeing straight ahead and a proximity beam for illuminating a wider area—the Actik Core stands out among ultralight, backcountry headlamps for its maximum brightness of 350 lumens. More significantly, unlike rechargeable headlamps, it delivers that much brightness even when using the rechargeable battery. Petzl’s Core battery also maintains constant brightness over the duration of a charge, and it can run on three standard alkaline, lithium, or Ni-MH AAA batteries.
Read my complete review of the Petzl Actik Core.
Read my review of another multi-featured, rechargeable headlamp that’s $10 cheaper than the Petzl Actik Core, the Black Diamond ReVolt.
Tell me what you think.
I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons below, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See a categorized menu of all of my reviews at my Gear Reviews page.
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