The Best Headlamps of 2024

By Michael Lanza

A headlamp is unquestionably essential gear for hiking, backpacking, climbing, trail running, ultra-running and ultra-hiking and other backcountry activities that sometimes push into darkness (whether intentionally or not). But with so many to pick from, how do you choose which one to buy? Price? Brightness? Weight? Design and range of lighting modes? Go with a brand you know and trust? This review cuts through the information overload to help you pick the right headlamp for your adventures.

I selected the headlamps covered in this review based on extensive testing on backpacking, camping, long dayhikes, climbing, and other backcountry trips, and I’ve field-tested dozens of headlamps over more than a quarter-century of testing and reviewing gear, formerly as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine for 10 years and even longer running this blog.

The freshly updated picks below represent the best models for backcountry users.

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For dayhiking, backpacking, and similar pursuits, 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 in complete darkness—and if needed, for route-finding off-trail.
•    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 some rechargeable headlamps cost more up front (although not over time), and this review covers a variety of headlamps at a range of price points.

The headlamps below are listed in order of weight. Please share your experiences with any of these models, or another you like, in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.

The Best Headlamps

ModelPriceWeightMax PowerRechargeable
BioLite Headlamp 325$501.8 oz./51g325 lumensYes
Knog Bandicoot 250$452.1 oz./59.5g250 lumensYes
Black Diamond Spot 400$502.5 oz./70.9g400 lumensNo
Black Diamond Spot 400-R$652.6 oz./73.7g400 lumensYes
BioLite Headlamp 425$602.75 oz./78g425 lumensYes
Petzl IKO Core$1002.8 oz./79.4g500 lumensYes
Petzl Actik Core$803 oz./85g350 lumensYes
Princeton Tec Vizz$503.2 oz./90.7g420 lumensNo
BioLite Headlamp 800 Pro$1005.3 oz./150g800 lumensYes
Black Diamond Distance 1500$2007.5 oz./213g1,500 lumensYes
The Biolite Headlamp 325.
The Biolite Headlamp 325.

BioLite Headlamp 325
$50, 1.8 oz./51g

Look for an ultralight headlamp under two ounces and $40 or less and you’ll find very few choices—with the BioLite Headlamp 325, which I’ve used backpacking in the Wind River Range and elsewhere, arguably the best. It sports four all-you-need lighting modes—white spot and red flood LEDs, both with dimming capability, plus white and red strobe—and cranks out enough brightness (325 lumens) and lasts long enough on a full charge (three hours on high, 40 hours on low) for backpackers, dayhikers, trail runners, and others.

With its nearly weightless front housing integrated into the slender, easily adjustable, no-bounce head strap, the 325 goes almost unnoticed on your head—making it certainly among the most comfortable ultralight headlamps. Intuitive, single-button operation, lockout mode, four-position housing tilt, and an IPX4 waterproof rating complete a high-value package at a very good price.

Read my complete review of the BioLite Headlamp 325.

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Knog Bandicoot 250 ultralight headlamp.
Knog Bandicoot 250 ultralight headlamp.

Knog Bandicoot 250
$45, 2.1 oz./59.5g

I thought this headlamp’s predecessor, the Bandicoot, had the potential to upend this entire category. After using the more powerful and comfortable Knog Bandicoot 250 on a nine-day hike of nearly 130 miles through the High Sierra, mostly on the John Muir Trail, I still think this technology is a game changer.

The Bandicoot 250 is powerful, rechargeable, lighter than most competitors, and cheaper than many. Its unique, very light and durable silicone housing seamlessly merges the strap, body, and LEDs and adjusts to fit a huge circumference range of 30-70cm; you may forget you’re wearing it. Four LEDs—high beam, elliptical beams for broad ambient light, a red light for preserving your night vision, and downward-angled lights for reading—cover the needs of many users, including trail running and biking streets at night. It also has a lockout mode.

Read my complete review of the Knog Bandicoot 250.

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Black Diamond Spot 400
Black Diamond Spot 400

Black Diamond Spot 400
$50, 2.5 oz./70.9g

In any direct comparison, the Spot 400 offers an impressive feature set, power, and versatility at a competitive price. That includes the three modes a backcountry headlamp should have—white beam, white peripheral, and red—and the latest update of the Spot jacks the max brightness up to a powerful 400 lumens. It’ll project a beam 100 meters 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 little over a meter underwater for 30 minutes.

Read my complete review of the Black Diamond Spot 400.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a Black Diamond Spot 400 at, or

Want a reliable, basic, easy-to-operate headlamp at a good price? See my review of the Black Diamond Astro 300 and rechargeable Astro 300-R.

Planning your next big adventure? See “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips
and “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.”

Black Diamond Spot 400-R headlamp.
Black Diamond Spot 400-R.

Black Diamond Spot 400-R
$65, 2.6 oz./73.7g

Virtually identical to BD’s Spot 400, the Spot 400-R adds a feature that keeps on delivering value: it’s rechargeable. Powered by a 1500 mAh Li-ion battery with micro-USB charging port, the Spot 400-R throws a beam 100 meters at its maximum brightness of 400 lumens; that’s bright enough to hike off-trail, search for your route in the dark, or identify the large animal going for your cached food. And a full charge lasts for four hours at max power.

Plus, it sports all the versatility of the Spot 400: three white and red modes with dimming capability, intuitive two-button operation, PowerTap technology, lockout mode, and it’s waterproof up to a little over a meter underwater for 30 minutes. But most impressively, at just 15 bucks more than the Spot 400, the rechargeable Spot 400-R soon pays for itself through the money saved not buying (and throwing away) batteries.

Read my complete review of the Black Diamond Spot 400-R.

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The Biolite Headlamp 425.
The Biolite Headlamp 425.

BioLite Headlamp 425
$60, 2.4 oz./78g

On early-spring backpacking trips on a section of the Arizona Trail and in Arizona’s Aravaipa Canyon, the rechargeable Headlamp 425 shined for being ultralight, very bright, easy to use, and comfortable—and having a long enough charge life for multi-day trips.

The Headlamp 425 has four modes, all with dimming capability, plus a lockout function and a rear-facing light on the battery pack with three modes, ideal for biking streets after dark. Its max brightness of 425 lumens is certainly powerful enough for backpackers, dayhikers, trail runners, and climbers. The low-profile front housing rests flush against your forehead, without bouncing, and has four-position tilt. The 425 turns on in the mode and brightness it was last turned off, and the battery pack has a four-bulb battery indicator. Finally, it lasts four hours at max brightness and 60 hours at low power—I burned through only about half its charge over six days.

Read my complete review of the BioLite Headlamp 425.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase a BioLite Headlamp 425 at,, or

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The Petzl IKO Core rechargeable headlamp.
The Petzl IKO Core rechargeable headlamp.

Petzl IKO Core
$100, 2.8 oz./79.4g

When you compare max brightness, weight, and other features, few ultralight headlamps match the rechargeable IKO Core’s appeal to backpackers, dayhikers, climbers, trail runners, and backcountry skiers. From ski touring to a backcountry yurt on a dark, snowy winter night to backpacking in the Wind River Range and the Grand Canyon, its max brightness of 500 lumens—exceptional for a headlamp weighing under three ounces—illuminated objects 100 meters distant.

The IPX-4 rating means the headlamp is resistant to splashed water but not waterproof—not as good as the water resistance of other ultralight headlamps. But three brightness levels, a combined spot beam and proximity light in two of them, simple operation, the versatility to substitute AAA batteries in a pinch, a lockout mode, and the bendable, adjustable, hydrophobic headband’s comfortable and secure fit—all in a light weighing under three ounces—make the IKO Core one of today’s most unique headlamps.

Read my complete review of the Petzl IKO Core.

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Get the right gear for your trips. See “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs
and “The 10 Best Backpacking Tents.”

Petzl Actik Core headlamp.
The Petzl Actik Core

Petzl Actik Core
$80, 3 oz./85g

If you’re willing to spend more up front for a rechargeable headlamp—which eventually pays for itself—the Actik Core ranks among the very best. Equipped with white and red modes and spot and proximity beams, it stands out among rechargeables for two attributes: putting out an impressive maximum brightness of 350 lumens even when using the rechargeable battery and maintaining constant brightness over the duration of a charge—both of which you’ll appreciate on a long slog after dark.

On a September night in the Wind River Range, at max brightness, the Actik Core illuminated trees 300 feet away across a meadow. It’s easy and intuitive to use with one power button to click between modes and the dimming function. It also runs on three standard alkaline, lithium, or Ni-MH AAA batteries and the battery compartment is accessed by lifting a tab—no tool needed. A charge lasts up to 160 hours, long enough for most multi-day hikes.

Read my complete review of the Petzl Actik Core.

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Get the right daypack for your hikes. See “The 10 Best Hiking Daypacks.” 

The BioLite Headlamp 800 Pro.
The BioLite Headlamp 800 Pro.

BioLite Headlamp 800 Pro
$100, 5.3 oz./150g

From an 18-mile, 13-hour, four-summit hike in Utah’s Wasatch Range to many evenings biking city streets after dark, I’ve found that BioLite’s rechargeable Headlamp 800 Pro stands out for a rare combination of ultra-bright power, a wide range of modes, and a modest weight for a backcountry headlamp that packs this much power and versatility.

For starters, its multiple lighting modes include dimmable white spot and white flood plus the two combined; white strobe; dimmable red flood, and on the battery pack, rear-facing red solid and red strobe visibility beams, for biking streets after dark (plus a lockout function). The max brightness of 800 lumens in 30-second burst mode exceeds that of virtually any ultralight headlamp—very useful for hikers, climbers, backcountry skiers, and others moving off-trail. For its complexity, operation is very intuitive.

Perhaps most uniquely, it offers a constant mode, an option for setting the headlamp to maintain its brightness level rather than dimming as the charge or batteries drain, which is called regulated power and common in most headlamps for the backcountry.

Read my complete review of the BioLite Headlamp 800 Pro.

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The Black Diamond Distance 1500.
The Black Diamond Distance 1500.

Black Diamond Distance 1500
$200, 7.5 oz./213g

Comparing any hiking-oriented headlamps to the rechargeable Black Diamond Distance 1500 headlamp feels rather like comparing a Honda Civic to a Bradley armored fighting vehicle. At 7.5 ounces/213 grams and putting out a supernova-like 1,500 lumens at max power, the Distance 1500 is at least twice the price, weight, and brightness of most of today’s best backcountry headlamps. Testing this beast hiking, climbing, mountain and road biking, and backcountry skiing demonstrated that, while it’s certainly overkill for many activities, it’s invaluable for both route-finding and high-speed sports after dark.

The headlamp achieves 1,500 lumens only for bursts of 15 seconds using BD’s Power Tap Technology, activated by double-tapping the side of the headlamp. Its maximum sustained power is 800 lumens—still very bright and useful in certain backcountry scenarios (in other words, when you really need a bright light). The Comfort Cradle, with the light on the forehead and a battery pack in the rear, is quite comfortable and works great with any headlamp-compatible helmet. Caveat: Expect to invest some time into learning its many modes and functions.

Read my complete review of the Black Diamond Distance 1500.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a Black Diamond Distance 1500 Headlamp at or, or the Black Diamond Distance Headlamp Battery at or

See all reviews of headlamps, hiking gear, backpacking gear, and ultralight backpacking gear at The Big Outside. And don’t miss my popular reviews of “25 Essential Backpacking Gear Accessories” and “The Best Backpacking Gear” of the year.

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”

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


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Leave a Comment

10 thoughts on “The Best Headlamps of 2024”

  1. Hi there!
    Thanks for sharing a great article.
    I’ve bought Black Diamond headlamp to replace my old one that somehow went missing. It is an amazing headlight. Very bright and exactly as describe above.

    • Hi Chris, no, sorry, I have not used the Nitecore headlamps. At a glance, they look bright, lightweight, and affordable, but I don’t know anything about their performance or durability.

    • I have used both models and like them and have no complaints, they are very simple both offer lockout so the light doesn’t turn on accidentally in your pack and easy to turn on. On another note my wife left her nu20 in her pocket, put it through a full wash and dry cycle and the light functions like normal. The Nu25 compares pretty much equally to the others in the reviews and I use it on backpacking and daily evening walks for almost two years with no issues.

  2. Instead of point-source light (like lanterns & headlamps), I like the Big Agnes MtnGLO string of lights–they give a more diffuse, homey light for your tent.

    Plus, they’re super lightweight (about 3 ounces), though there are other lightweight lights/lanterns.