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? 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. 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.
|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.||300 lumens||6-175 hours||Yes|
|Petzl Actik Core||$60||3 oz.||350 lumens||2-160 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.
Be comfortable on your hikes. See my review of “The 5 Best Rain Jackets For the Backcountry.”
Black Diamond Spot
$40, 3 oz.
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.
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—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.
Black Diamond ReVolt
$60, 3.5 oz.
While it costs more up front than non-rechargeable models, the newly updated for 2017, USB-rechargeable ReVolt delivers superior performance and value over time. It can use AAA alkaline batteries in a pinch, and produces a superior max brightness of 300 lumens with alkaline batteries and a very bright 175 lumens with the rechargeable batteries. It also has a variety of modes, dimming capability, a lockout function, and BD’s useful PowerTap technology, where you can tap the right side of the headlamp casing with a finger to instantly toggle back and forth between two brightness settings. All in all, a great choice for ultra-hiking, backpacking, trail running, or climbing.
Read my complete review of the Black Diamond ReVolt.
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.
Petzl Actik Core
$60, 3 oz.
Petzl’s Actik Core competes with the BD ReVolt for performance and value; they simply have different strengths and weaknesses. 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.
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.
This blog and website is my full-time job and I rely on the support of readers. If you like what you see here, please help me continue producing The Big Outside by making a donation using the Support button at the top of the left sidebar or below. Thank you for your support.
Subscribe to the Big Outside
Enter your e-mail address for updates about new stories, reviews, and gear giveaways!