Gear Review: The 5 Best Headlamps of 2019
By Michael Lanza
A headlamp is unquestionably essential gear for hiking, backpacking, climbing, trail running, and other outdoor activities. But how do you choose which one to buy? Price? Brightness? 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 my freshly updated picks for the five best models available today.
I favor models that meet five simple criteria:
• Lightweight (no dayhiker, backpacker, 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.
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The headlamps below are listed in order of cost, and each capsule review here has a link to my longer, complete review.
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|
|Black Diamond Spot325||$40||3 oz.||325 lumens||65-300 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 Bindi||$60||1.2 oz.||200 lumens||2-50 hours||Yes|
|Petzl Actik Core||$70||3 oz.||350 lumens||2-160 hours||Yes|
Black Diamond Spot325
$40, 3 oz.
In any direct comparison, the Spot325 offers an impressive feature set and brightness at a competitive price. It offers the three modes a backcountry headlamp should have—white beam, white peripheral, and red—and this new overhaul of the Spot jacks the max brightness up to a powerful 325 lumens. It’ll project a beam at least 200 feet, and has dimming capability in all modes. It features BD’s neat PowerTap technology that allows you to tap the right side of the casing to cycle between max brightness and the dimmed level you’ve already set, and a lockout mode to prevent accidental turning on in a pack. Plus, it’s waterproof up to a meter underwater for 30 minutes. No, it’s not rechargeable, but the Spot325 may be today’s best value in a backcountry headlamp.
Read my complete review of the Black Diamond Spot325.
Black Diamond Storm375
$50, 4.2 oz.
At a price in the mid-range for ultralight headlamps—and a slightly higher weight because it uses four batteries instead of three, which also confers advantages—the Storm375’s feature set makes it a top performer at a competitive price. Those include a powerful 375 lumens of brightness in its two LED bulbs, a spotlight and a proximity beam. It has BD’s Power Tap and Brightness Memory technologies, three night-vision color modes, plus a locking feature. And it’s also dustproof and waterproof to one meter for up to 30 minutes. Dollar for dollar, hard to beat.
Read my complete review of its predecessor, the very similar Black Diamond Storm.
Princeton Tec Vizz
$50, 3.2 oz.
The high-performance, waterproof Princeton Tec Vizz delivers strong value if you’re going after versatility and brightness in an ultralight headlamp. Updated in 2018, it now has a maximum power of 420 lumens—unmatched on this list—and three dimmable modes: white spot beam, white proximity beam, and red. 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.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase a Princeton Tec Vizz at nrs.com.
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$60, 1.2 oz.
“Crazy ultralight” describes this rechargeable headlamp, which weighs barely more than an ounce and fits in a closed fist. Petzl achieved this surgical weight reduction by eliminating batteries, shrinking the housing, and replacing the head strap with an adjustable, stretch cord (that’s comfortable and helmet-compatible). While it has less versatility than others, it still sports three white brightness levels with an impressive max power of 200 lumens, projects a beam at least 100 feet, two red modes (proximity and strobe), and is waterproof.
Read my complete review of the Petzl Bindi.
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.
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Want to make your pack lighter and all of your backpacking trips more enjoyable? See my story “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of that story for free, or click here to download that full story without having a paid membership.
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 my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.