Gear Review: The 5 Best Headlamps
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? Having tested dozens of headlamps, 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 of 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 throwing away batteries.
With the exception of being rechargeable—which costs more, and I review headlamps at a range of price points—I generally apply those standards when choosing which headlamps I’ll review at The Big Outside. So 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.
Click on the name or photo of each headlamp to read its complete review at The Big Outside.
|Model||Price||Weight||Max Power||Burn Time||Rechargeable|
|Princeton Tec Sync||$30||3 oz.||90 lumens||75-200 hours||No|
|Black Diamond Spot||$40||3 oz.||200 lumens||Up to 200 hours||No|
|Princeton Tec Vizz||$50||3 oz.||205 lumens||110-160 hours||No|
|Black Diamond ReVolt||$60||3.5 oz.||130 lumens||12-190 hours||Yes|
|NiteRider Adventure Pro 180||$70||3 oz.||180 lumens||Up to 37 hours||Yes|
Princeton Tec Sync
$30, 3 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.
BUY IT NOW: You can support The Big Outside by clicking this link to purchase a Princeton Tec Sync at backcountry.com.
Black Diamond Spot
$40, 3 oz. (with 3 AAA batteries, included)
In any direct comparison, the Spot offers high-performance features 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 200 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.
BUY IT NOW: You can support The Big Outside by clicking this link to purchase a Black Diamond Spot at moosejaw.com.
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Princeton Tec Vizz
$50, 3 oz.
The high-performance, waterproof Princeton Tec Vizz—updated since I posted my review to a maximum power of 205 lumens, making it the most powerful of these five lights (but just barely)—is the clear choice if you’re going after versatility and ultra 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.
BUY IT NOW: You can support The Big Outside by clicking this link to purchase a Princeton Tec Vizz at backcountry.com.
Black Diamond ReVolt
$60, 3.5 oz.
If price is no object, I’m at a loss to make a case for buying anything other than the USB-rechargeable ReVolt (which can substitute AAA alkaline batteries in a pinch). It has adequate brightness for ultra-hiking, backpacking, or even climbing at 130 lumens—although other lamps are much brighter, making this the ReVolt’s Achilles heel. It also has a variety of modes and dimming capability, a power meter; and a lockout mode. On a full charge, the rechargeable batteries will light your way for 12 to 190 hours, depending on modes used.
Read my complete review of the Black Diamond ReVolt.
BUY IT NOW: You can support The Big Outside by clicking this link to purchase a Black Diamond ReVolt at moosejaw.com.
NiteRider Adventure Pro 180
$70, 3 oz.
With four white modes (high, medium, low, and low diffuser) and two red modes (steady and flashing), an impressive 180 lumens max brightness, and a USB rechargeable lithium polymer battery, the Adventure Pro 180 delivers high performance in an intuitive, simple design. From backpacking trips in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and Utah’s Dirty Devil River canyon, to a mid-July rafting and kayaking trip on the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument, car-camping in southern Utah, and early-morning runs in the dark, this headlamp proved itself versatile, comfortable, and stable on my head.
Operation is simple: Hold the power button down for two seconds to switch between red and white LEDs, then make single clicks to scroll through the four white and two red modes; depressing the button for a second in white mode turns it off, while in red mode it simply turns on and off with a normal click. It’s a bit inconvenient that the default on mode is red light, and you have to hold the button down to switch to white light, rather than the other way around. It takes over two hours to recharge from fully drained, and operates on a full charge for 2.5 to 37 hours, depending on modes used. There’s no lockout mode, but the inset design of the power button prevented it from ever turning on accidentally in my pack.
See also my stories “My 10 Most-Read Gear Reviews,” “The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun,” “Buying Gear? Read This First,” “5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear,” and “Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?”
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.
Do you like The Big Outside? I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by a USA Today Readers Choice poll and others. Subscribe for updates about new stories and free gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box at the bottom of this story or in the left sidebar, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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