How simple and inexpensive a headlamp do you want for the backcountry? Or to frame the question from a different angle: How complex a headlamp do you need? Using Black Diamond’s rechargeable Astro 300-R and the optionally rechargeable, battery-powered Astro 300 on a pair of backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies—the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park and the Nigel, Cataract, and Cline Passes Route in the White Goat Wilderness—as well as a four-day hike in the Wind River Range and camping at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, I became very acquainted with the strengths and shortcomings of two of today’s most affordable ultralight headlamps.
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.
By Michael Lanza
Sure, your backpack, boots, tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, and other backpacking gear matter a lot, and you should put serious thought into your choices when buying any of them. But little things matter, too. Various necessary accessories, convenience items, and small comforts accompany me on backcountry trips. Nearly three decades of field-testing gear—including the 10 years I spent as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog—has refined my sense of what I like on certain types of trips and what I will not do without anytime.
Black Diamond Spot 400
$50, 2.5 oz.
How do you choose a headlamp for the backcountry? If you’re looking for a range of modes that’s both basic and versatile, good brightness and dimming capability, and smart features that make it more useful while maintaining a design simplicity that doesn’t require an advanced science degree to operate it, Black Diamond’s Spot 400 is hard to beat. On evenings in camp on a five-day, late-summer hike in the Wind River Range, I found this latest update sustains and improves on the legacy of BD’s popular Spot line as an excellent value in an ultralight headlamp.
Rechargeable Ultralight Headlamp
Black Diamond Spot 400-R
$65, 2.6 oz.
Using Black Diamond’s Spot 400-R on various outings, from nights in camp on a nine-day hike of nearly 130 miles through the High Sierra in August, mostly on the John Muir Trail, and pre-dawn starts on a seven-day, nearly 70-mile walk in September in Glacier National Park, to dawn patrol backcountry skiing in Idaho’s Boulder Mountains and backpacking on a section of the Arizona Trail along the Gila River in the first days of April, I found this latest update continues the legacy of functionality and versatility that has made BD’s long-popular Spot line arguably the best value in an ultralight headlamp—while also demonstrating the strong value proposition of choosing this rechargeable model over a battery-powered headlamp.