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 bulky light that weighs more than three to four ounces.
•    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 apply those standards when choosing which headlamps I’ll review at The Big Outside, with the exception of being rechargeable, because rechargeable headlamps usually cost more up front (although not over time), and I cover a variety of headlamps at a range of price points.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip. Please follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.


 

The headlamps below are listed in order of cost, and some of these reviews are longer and complete, while the shorter ones below link to my longer, complete review of that headlamp.

Please share your experiences with any of these models, or another you like, in the comments section at the bottom of this story.

ModelPriceWeightMax PowerRechargeable
Knog Bandicoot$352 oz.100 lumensYes
Black Diamond Spot325$403 oz.325 lumensNo
Black Diamond Storm375$504.2 oz.375 lumensNo
Princeton Tec Vizz$503.2 oz.420 lumensNo
Petzl Actik Core$703 oz.350 lumensYes
The Knog Bandicoot headlamp
The Knog Bandicoot

Knog Bandicoot
$35, 2 oz.

The Knog Bandicoot is the kind of new product that has the potential to upend an entire category, for multiple reasons—beginning with the fact that it’s a rechargeable headlamp that’s lighter and cheaper than many competitors that use batteries. The Bandicoot’s unique silicone housing seamlessly merges the strap, body, and LEDs, stretches to fit any noggin, and is so so light that you may forget you’re wearing it. Its five modes with four brightness levels include high-power, proximity, and red, and it’s bright enough for trail running and biking city streets after dark.

On late-summer backpacking trips on the Teton Crest Trail and in Yellowstone, the Bandicoot proved it has the stuff and the stamina for multi-day backcountry trips. It held a charge for up to four nights and early mornings of normal use (with early sunsets), including one morning when we rose two hours before first light for an early start hiking, when it illuminated camp chores and the trail quite well. With a lockout mode, easy-open housing to plug directly into any USB port (no cable needed) for recharging, and a charge indicator, the Bandicoot multi-use headlamp that makes giving up the battery habit, well, very affordable.

Read my complete review of the Knog Bandicoot.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking either of these links to purchase a Knog Bandicoot at Moosejaw.com or Eartheasy.com.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up now for my FREE email newsletter!

 

Black Diamond Spot325
Black Diamond Spot325

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—which is not only convenient, but so easy that you’ll power down more often, thus prolonging battery life. The lockout mode prevents 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.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a Black Diamond Spot325 at moosejaw.com, ems.com, blackdiamondequipment.com, or rei.com.

I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Click here now to learn more.

 

Black Diamond Storm375 headlamp
The Black Diamond Storm375

Black Diamond Storm375
$50, 4.2 oz.

When you want more brightness, versatility, and battery life, BD’s updated Storm375 is s smart upgrade. I chose this over other headlamps to illuminate the trail at the start and for the last four hours of a 42-mile, 22,000-vertical-foot, one-day, rim-to-rim-to-rim run-hike across the Grand Canyon and back, hiking up the South Kaibab Trail back to the South Rim after dark; and I used it at night in huts on a five-day trek through northern Spain’s Picos de Europa Mountains.

Its 375 lumens rank it among the brightest ultralight headlamps, casting a beam 100 meters—excellent for route-finding on a peak or searching for a campsite. As with BD’s Spot325, the PowerTap technology lets you to tap the right side of the casing to cycle between max brightness and whatever dimmed level you’ve already set. It sports high-power, proximity, and red, green, and blue night-vision LED modes, all with dimming and strobe options—and all controlled by two buttons that are intuitive, quick to learn, and easy to find with your fingers in the dark.

Battery life ranges from 150 hours at low power (eight lumens) to five hours at max power (375 lumens). The lockout mode activates and deactivates by holding both buttons, and it’s rated IP67 as dustproof and waterproof up to one meter deep for 30 minutes.

At a price in the mid-range for ultralight headlamps—and a slightly higher weight, explained by having four batteries instead of three—the Storm375’s feature set makes it a top performer at a good price. Dollar for dollar, hard to beat.

Read my complete review of its predecessor, the very similar Black Diamond Storm.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a Black Diamond Storm375 headlamp at moosejaw.com, ems.com, blackdiamondequipment.com, or rei.com.

Plan your next great backpacking adventure using my downloadable, expert e-guides.
Click here now to learn more.

Princeton Tec Vizz
The Princeton Tec Vizz

Princeton Tec Vizz
$50, 3.2 oz.

The high-performance, waterproof Vizz delivers strong value if you’re after versatility and brightness in an ultralight headlamp. Its maximum power of 420 lumens is unmatched on this list, and it has three dimmable modes: white spot beam, white proximity beam, and red. It’s also simple to operate, compatible with lithium batteries for better life in freezing temperatures, and it has a lockout mode.

A strong choice for hikers and climbers as well as high-speed users like trail runners and skiers, the Vizz offers a bit more brightness than the identically priced BD Storm375—although many users may not notice much difference—and somewhat simpler operation, but fewer mode options and less versatility. At an ounce lighter, it may be most noticeable on your head, including that it bobs a bit less than the Storm375 when you’re hiking fast or running.

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.

Get the right daypack for your hikes. See my “Gear Review: The 8 Best Hiking Daypacks.”

Petzl Actik Core headlamp.
The Petzl Actik Core

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.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a Petzl Actik Core at moosejaw.com, ems.com, or rei.com.

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 at right, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.

 

See all of my reviews of headlamps, hiking gear, and backpacking gear at The Big Outside.

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.

—Michael Lanza

Did you find this review helpful? Get full access to ALL stories at The Big Outside. Join now!

 

Not sure you’re ready to join, but want to support my blog?

Click here to leave a tip for The Big Outside! Thank you.