6 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Headlamp

A headlamp is an important piece of primary gear for outdoor activities. I always have one with me when I spend time hunting, camping, or backpacking. Light is not just comforting. There are many situations where it can be life-saving.

Choosing a good headlamp that meets your needs will ensure that you can safely operate in the outdoors. However, with so many different brands, models, and knock-offs on the market, it can be difficult to know what to look for or what to buy. This article will help you ask the right questions so you can find a headlamp that will elevate your outdoor experiences.

1. How Bright is It?

Brightness is one of the key components you need in a headlamp. Is it bright enough for you to confidently navigate in the dark?

Most headlamps have multiple brightness settings. If you’ve used multiple headlamps, you know that some are brighter than others and that Lumen ratings aren’t always accurate.

The last thing you want is to be hiking in the dark in grizzly country with only a 10-20-foot field of view because you bought an underpowered headlamp.

It’s also hard to pick your way through the countryside without a trail when you can’t see very far ahead. If you’re trying to navigate chutes or cliffs in the dark (be careful!) you’re going to want a brighter beam.

In general, brighter headlamps are more expensive. So before you opt for the budget option it might be a good idea to find out how bright it is.

2. How Long Does the Battery Last?

Even the brightest headlamp beams will fade as the battery wanes. Some cheap headlamps I’ve owned were only to maintain full power for an hour or two before the batteries began to drain.

What’s more, batteries cost money and add weight. Many headlamps still use AAA batteries. Some lamps burn through these batteries faster than others. That directly affects how much it costs to run your light and how much extra weight (in batteries) you have to carry on a trip.

There can even be issues with rechargeable batteries. Some rechargeables have low capacity and may perform worse than disposable batteries. The only thing worse than an underpowered headlamp is one with no power.

3. Is the Battery Rechargeable?

I still own two headlamps that use disposable batteries. I will never buy another. After using a rechargeable headlamp, I’m sold!I already carry around a battery bank to recharge my phone, In-Reach, and other devices. So it makes a lot of sense to recharge my headlamp the same way.

With a rechargeable battery, you often get better performance (a brighter lamp that lasts longer) and don’t need to carry around extra batteries.

Now, I’m sure there is still a need for lamps that use disposable batteries. If you have that need, then make sure you’re getting a lamp that’s going to meet the situation you are in.

4. How Adjustable is It?

Two kinds of adjustability are important for headlamps: the lamp’s brightness and the lamp’s angle.

As important as it is to have a bright light, the ability to dim it down is just as important. When you’re in the tent with your buddies, you don’t need a high beam that shoots out a hundred yards. You’ll blind people.

Also, you need to adjust the angle of the beam. You don’t want to crane your neck to see where your next scoop of oatmeal is coming from in the morning. If you’re wearing a hat or a hood, you’ll also need to adjust the light angle to compensate for how it sits on your head.

I’ve found that if the angle of my headlamp does not have enough adjustability I just end up using it like a flashlight.

5. How Durable is It?

It’s bad enough to have gear break before you feel like it’s paid for itself. It’s dangerous when gear breaks or doesn’t perform while you’re in the midst of using it, especially when it’s dark.

A headlamp is a small, maybe even overlooked, piece of gear, but it’s a very important piece of gear for operability, safety, and peace of mind. You want to be sure it’s reliable and will work when you need it to.

Unfortunately, durability is difficult to test without actually using a headlamp. So before you purchase one, be sure to read lots of reviews. Be critical of the reviews. I always read as many bad reviews as I can to determine what the potential downfalls of a product are and if they’ve been experienced by users who are novices or experts.

6. Do the Core Features Meet Your Needs?

Finally, there are a lot of different features available in headlamps. Make sure you choose one that has the features you need.

Do you need a red light? A strobe light? Extra long battery life? Glove/mitten-friendly operation.

Taking some time to think about how you’ll use the headlamp, what you’ll be wearing when you use it, what time of year you’ll be using it, etc., etc., etc., will help you identify the features you’ll need.

Once you identify the core features, be sure the headlamp you get has them. It’s better to get what you need the first time than to end up with a pile of headlamps, none of which are exactly what you need (that’s what I’ve done).

My headlamp recommendations

I’ve tried a lot of headlamps over the years and there are a couple of recommendations I would make. These recommendations are mostly for hunters and backpackers but may ring true with others as well.

The biggest thing I’ve found is that I want a headlamp with a rechargeable battery. I’m just plain tired of carrying around extra AAA batteries and changing them in the dark. I want something I can plug into a battery bank when it gets low.

Another important feature for me is ensuring a headlamp doesn’t turn on while it’s in my pack. There have been times I’ve pulled a headlamp out of my pack to find that somehow it was turned on — who knows for how long!

There is one headlamp that has outperformed anything I’ve ever used. It’s powerful, adjustable, and simple. However, it is on the pricey side. It’s the Peax Backcountry Duo. If you want a premium headlamp that’s durable, bright, and has a long battery life it’s worth looking into.

Konrad Hafen

Konrad is a natural resource scientist who spends much of his free time hunting, fishing, hiking and backpacking on America's public lands.

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