Things to Consider When Buying a Hiking Headlamp
Flood/Wide – Ideal for night around camp and reading in the tent, but not the best for illuminating paths for any great distance.
Spot – The best beam for hiking in the dark. Offers maximum beam distance and a narrower, more concentrated output.
Both Flood and Spot – The best case scenario. Offers greater versatility by allowing you to adjust the beam to suit your needs in different situations.
All headlamps will come with a maximum beam distance, usually measured in meters.
This tells you how far ahead your lamp will provide illumination.
For most hikers, a maximum beam distance of 50-80 meters will be more than enough.
A headlamp’s number of lumens tell you how much light the headlamp emits – the higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light.
While it’s good to have a high lumens count (100-350 is usually more than enough).
It’s worth bearing in mind that lamps with high lumens counts usually use up batteries much quicker.
Keeping a headlamp in your pack isn’t ever going to break you back, but the real difference comes when you’re wearing it.
Heavy headlamps can be more uncomfortable and, of course, require a tighter strap to keep them in place.
More powerful models usually weigh a few more ounces than mid-range and weaker headlamps.
Finding a balance between power and weight is the way to go.
Most headlamps will list anticipated battery life or duration in their specs.
Read these with caution!
In an effort to talk up their product, many brands list the maximum duration on the lowest output or in strobe mode.
Base your considerations on max output when weighing up the options.
How versatile a headlamp is depends mostly on its range of modes and dimming function.
Even the most basic models usually offer a full and low beam mode and at least one (red or white) strobe mode.
Low mode is used for general, up-close tasks and when you’re not on the move: cooking, pitching a tent, reading at bedtime.
High or Max mode uses a headlamps full lumens and beam power. It’s ideal when moving along the trail in the dark, rain, or attempting to locate features in the landscape.
The strobe mode is included for emergency situations in which you need to attract attention. It’s also handy if you happen to be doing part of your hike near a road and want want to make yourself visible to passing motorists.
A dimmer switch or dimmer ring, usually featured in more expensive headlamps, offers full adjustability between low and high modes. This allows you to set your beam to the output you require for any given task and is the greatest contributor to a lamp’s versatility.
Extra Headlamps Features to Consider
Headlamps always come with a water resistance rating given in the IPX format.
On this scale, IPX0 (no protection) represents the least water resistant and IPX8 (submersion in water deeper than 1 meter) the most water resistant.
For most hikers, an IPX rating of 4 or 5 should more than suffice.
Headlamps with these ratings are not suitable for full submersion but can deal with sustained heavy rain.
Many headlamps have very fiddly and/or small control buttons that are difficult to use, particularly with gloves on.
Others have sizable, user-friendly buttons and change from mode to mode with a simple click or turn of the dimmer ring.
This feature usually adds a bit of weight to a headlamp but is preferred by many users.
It can add stability and comfort by distributing the weight of the headlamp’s housing and is particularly useful, therefore, with heavier models.
Colored Light Mode
Some headlamps boast color modes (red, green or blue) for emergency situations in strobe mode or enhanced visibility in low or full mode.
Colored light causes less shrinkage in the pupils of our eyes and so allows us to see better when using and unnatural light source.
A very useful function that ensures you won’t run down your batteries by accidentally switching your lamp on while it’s in your pack.
Conclusion: What is the best hiking or camping headlamp for you?
When buying a headlamp, the four main factors we take into consideration are power, functionality, trail-readiness and value for money.
Although many of the items in our review have ticked all of these boxes, none have done so quite as well as the Black Diamond Spot.
The Spot is relatively cheap, but offers many of the features we’d expect to find in a headlamp double its price: strong output, great max beam distance, a wide variety of modes and full-submersion waterproofing.
That’s enough for most people, but just in case it wasn’t Black Diamond threw in the fantastically practical touch-sensitive casing which, for us, was just the icing on the cake.
The Spot’s closest competitors were the Black Diamond Storm and Petzl Tikka, both of which offer outstanding value for money.
Compared to the Black Diamond Spot, however, the Storm was just a little bit too heavy and the Tikka a little short on lumens.
And both, of course, lack that super-handy touch sensitivity for beam adjustment.