Gear

Light the Way: 8 of the Best Backpacking Headlamps

by Mac Misseldine

backpacking headlamps
Photo: Nick Fisher

A headlamp is one of those underrated items you don’t know you need until you use one — then you can’t live without it.

They’re useful for any low-light outdoor activities from pre-dawn trail jogs to evening bike rides, but they’re a total game-changer for backpackers.

With a headlamp, campsite chores are a breeze in the dark, you’ll enjoy effortlessly illuminated paths on the trail, and you can shed unnecessary weight by ditching the old flashlight.

Buyer’s Guide

Headlamps can get technical when you’re spelunking or climbing, while illumination needs for backpacking are generally pretty straightforward. After all, your lighting needs are a little simpler when you’re ambling along the Appalachian Trail than when you’re 200 feet up a cliff looking for a foothold.

There are a handful of factors you’ll want to keep in mind when searching for a backpacking headlamp:

  • Weight: as with anything related to backpacking, you want to strike a balance between weight and functionality. A good backpacking headlamp should be around three ounces or less, though you’ll have to add an ounce or two if you want more light output.
  • Light Output: A headlamp with limited lumens will provide basic flood lighting for close-range activities, while a headlamp with more lumens affords a larger floodlight area with the option for long-distance spotlighting.
  • Power: rechargeable batteries may be convenient, but old-fashioned AAA batteries tend to last longer in lightweight headlamps. More importantly, AAA batteries are easy to swap out when you’re on a multi-day backpacking trip and don’t have access to a charger.
  • Light Modes: every backpacking headlamp should offer basic floodlighting, while some will offer advanced spotlighting. Strobe lighting is helpful in emergency situations when you need to attract attention. Colored lighting (red, green, or blue) is also helpful in emergencies, though its primary purpose is to preserve your night vision, avoid blinding your fellow backpackers, and save battery power.

Only you know your specific needs out on the trail and around camp. Take a few notes about what you need from your headlamp and the continue on to our selections below.

Our Picks for the Best Backpacking Headlamps

The eight headlamps on this list are well-suited for backpackers. They strike an optimal balance between light output and weight, offering a range of light output from 50 to 350 lumens to suit your needs.

We’ve selected headlamps that have what it takes to survive adventures through the rain and snow, and there are even a few fully waterproof options you can take for a dip in the lake. Whether you’re looking for a premium headlamp with maximum lighting or a simple, budget-friendly option, we’ve got you covered on all fronts.

Black Diamond Spot 325

Black Diamond Spot 325 Headlamp

The Black Diamond Spot 325 is the newest iteration of the award-winning Spot headlamp. Featuring a smaller design, an updated user interface, and an improved multifaceted optical lens design that saves power, it’s a solid upgrade to an already impressive platform.

The Spot 325 delivers up to 325 lumens of LED light, enough to light up to 80 meters ahead of you for 65 hours. You can cut the brightness in half to 160 lumens on medium power mode, drop it to the 6 lumen power-saving mode for over 600 hours of soft light, or switch to red LED mode to preserve your night vision.

The headlamp’s PowerTap Technology enables instant transition between power levels, while the brightness memory allows you to restart the headlamp without reverting to full power.

The Spot 325 is waterproof to 1.1 meters and can operate submerged in water for up to 30 minutes. In fact, it still works when water enters the battery compartment, so it’s incredibly reliable in any type of wet weather.

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Tech Specs

  • Max Output – 325 lumens
  • Beam Type – flood + spot
  • Max Distance – 80 meters
  • Run Time – 65 hours (high), 600 hours (low)
  • Power – 3 AAA batteries
  • Weight – 3 ounces
  • Water Resistance Rating – IPX8
  • Specialty Modes – red night vision

Black Diamond Storm

Black Diamond Storm Backpacking Headlamp

Fans of the Black Diamond brand looking for additional brightness and functionality will love the Black Diamond Storm. As the name suggests, this headlamp is engineered to withstand anything mother nature throws your way. The Storm’s sealed housing is completely dustproof and waterproof, packing a powerful 350 lumens to shine through the darkest weather.

The Black Diamond Storm offers eight lighting options including full strength in proximity and distance modes, dimming, strobe, red, green, and blue night vision. The Storm’s touch-sensitive housing allows you to transition between full and dimmed power with a simple tap, and there’s an intuitive lock mode to prevent the light from switching on in your pocket or backpack.

When you turn the headlamp on, the brightness memory will recall the last setting so you don’t have to start at full power and cycle through white light modes. Check out our Black Diamond Spot vs. Storm comparison for a side-by-side look at these two fantastic headlamps.

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Tech Specs

  • Max Output – 350 lumens
  • Beam Type – flood + spot
  • Max Distance – 80 meters
  • Run Time – 22 hours (high), 160 hours (low)
  • Power – 4 AAA batteries
  • Weight – 3.9 ounces
  • Water Resistance Rating – IXP7
  • Specialty Modes – strobe, red, green, blue

Petzl Tikka Headlamp

Petzl Tikka Headlamp

As Petzl’s original LED headlamp, the Tikka Headlamp has been extensively field-tested and refined over the years. It’s compact, lightweight, and designed for simple operation with a one-button operation system.

The LED bulb delivers a wide, uniform beam of light for comfortable close-range vision, with an extended burn time to keep you on the trail longer. The adjustable elastic headband fits comfortably around your head, and includes an integrated emergency whistle as an added bonus.

The Petzl Tikka Headlamp delivers 200 lumens at max power, enough to light up to 60 meters for 60 hours. On the low end of the scale, the Tikka can emit 5 lumens for up to 240 hours when you need to conserve battery power. The headlamp also offers a red LED mode to preserve your night vision, and a phosphorescent reflector that’ll help you find the Tikka Headlamp in the dark.

The Tikka Headlamp operates on standard AAA batteries, though it’s compatible with the Petzl Core rechargeable battery if you’d like to avoid burning through batteries. We wouldn’t recommend taking a dip in the lake with this headlamp, but its IPX4 water resistance rating means it can handle the rain just fine.

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Tech Specs

  • Max Output – 200 lumens
  • Beam Type – flood
  • Max Distance – 60 meters
  • Run Time – 60 hours (high), 240 hours (low)
  • Power – 3 AAA batteries
  • Weight – 3 ounces
  • Water Resistance Rating – IPX4
  • Specialty Modes – red night vision

Petzl Actik Core Headlamp

Petzl Actik Core Headlamp

The Petzl Actik Core Headlamp is an ideal choice for outdoor activities like backpacking, running, and climbing. The powerful headlamp delivers 350 lumens of bright white light, with wide and mixed beam lighting modes to suit your needs. It includes a red LED mode to preserve your night vision and avoid blinding fellow backpackers, and a reflective headband to improve your own visibility at night.

The Actik Core Headlamp comes with the Petzl Core rechargeable battery, though it’s also compatible with AAA batteries (no adapter necessary). It doesn’t offer a very long burn time, but you can bring a power bank or an extra pack of AAA batteries on longer trips to extend its life.

Should you find yourself in an emergency situation and need assistance, the Actik Core has a strobe light feature and an emergency whistle.

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Tech Specs

  • Max Output – 350 lumens
  • Beam Type – flood + adjustable
  • Max Distance – 95 meters
  • Run Time – 2 hours (high), 7 hours (standard)
  • Power – 1250 mAh Core rechargeable battery
  • Weight – 2.9 ounces
  • Water Resistance Rating – IXP4
  • Specialty Modes – red night vision, strobe

Black Diamond Cosmo 225 Headlamp

Black Diamond Cosmo 225 Headlamp

The Black Diamond Cosmo 225 Headlamp is a great lightweight alternative for backpackers who don’t need the full 300+ lumens of a premium headlamp. The compact, low-profile headlamp features a multifaceted optical lens design. It’s watertight, with an IXP8 waterproof rating that can withstand at least 30 minutes underwater up to 1 meter deep.

The Black Diamond Cosmo 225 Headlamp features an updated interface with a variety of settings, including proximity and distance modes, dimming, strobe, and red night vision. Even the red night vision offers dimming and strobe modes, and can be activated without cycling through the various white LED modes.

When stashed in your pocket or backpack, you can activate the lock feature to ensure the light doesn’t accidentally turn on and waste battery power.

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Tech Specs

  • Max Output – 225 lumens
  • Beam Type – flood + spot
  • Max Distance – 72 meters
  • Run Time – 70 hours (high), 300 hours (low)
  • Power – AAA batteries
  • Weight – 2.9 ounces
  • Water Resistance Rating – IXP8
  • Specialty Modes – red night vision, strobe

BioLite Headlamp 330

BioLite Headlamp 330

Tired of headlamps that slip and bounce while you’re on the trail? Check out the BioLite Headlamp 330. Thanks to a proprietary 3D SlimFit design, ultra-slim 9mm front profile, and sub-2.5 ounce weight, the BioLite Headlamp 330 sits flush on your head and stays in place all day.

No matter how long or hard the journey, the moisture-wicking fabric strap will keep your forehead cool and dry. It’s a top-tier headlamp that’s worth every penny.

The BioLite Headlamp 330 produces up to 330 lumens of bright white light, with additional dimming, red light, and strobe functions. Use the spot function to create a beam up to 75 meters, or activate flood mode for 16 meters of floodlighting. It’s easy to direct the light using the one-handed tilt, and the rechargeable battery will provide you with up to 40 hours of flood light (or 3.5 hours on high).

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Tech Specs

  • Max Output – 330 lumens
  • Beam Type – flood + spot
  • Max Distance – 75 meters
  • Run Time – 3.5 hours (high), 40 hours (low)
  • Power – rechargeable battery
  • Weight – 2.43 ounces
  • Water Resistance Rating – IXP4
  • Specialty Modes – red night vision

Best Ultralight Headlamp: Petzl e+LITE Headlamp

Petzl e+LITE Headlamp

Ultralight backpackers will love the Petzl e+LITE Headlamp. Weighing just one ounce, it’s hands-down the lightest headlamp you’ll find. You’re sacrificing brightness and range to save on weight, but it’s worth it under the right conditions where you need a headlamp so light you’ll forget you’re wearing it.

The Petzl e-LITE Headlamp delivers up to 50 lumens of white LED light, enough to illuminate 10 meters for 9 hours on the highest setting. The headlamp features a red light mode for night vision and emergencies, as well as an emergency whistle for when you need to attract attention. It’s completely waterproof, and can withstand extreme temperatures from -22°F to 140°F.

Given its compact size and emergency capabilities, the Petzl e+LITE is a great addition to an emergency kit or bug-out bag. When you’re not using it on the trail, consider keeping it in your glove compartment for roadside emergencies.

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Tech Specs

  • Max Output – 50 lumens
  • Beam Type – flood
  • Max Distance – 10 meters
  • Run Time – 9 hours (high), 12 hours (low)
  • Power – Lithium CR2032
  • Weight – 1 ounce
  • Water Resistance Rating – IXP8
  • Specialty Modes – red night vision

Best Value: Petzl Tikkina Headlamp

Petzl Tikkina Headlamp

Think of the Petzl Tikkina Headlamp as the Tikka Headlamp’s little sibling. It’s just as simple, lightweight, and compact, stripping the bells and whistles you’ll find in the Tikka for a more economical package. Given its affordable price point, the Tikkina Headlamp is an excellent choice for backpackers on a budget.

The Petzl Tikkina Headlamp delivers 150 lumens at max power, enough to light up to 50 meters for 60 hours. On the lowest of three settings, the Tikkina can emit 5 lumens for up to 220 hours to preserve battery power. Like the Tikka, the Tikkina Headlamp operates on either AAA batteries or the Petzl Core rechargeable battery. It’s also rated IPX4 for water resistance, so it can handle a little rain and moisture.

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Tech Specs

  • Max Output – 150 lumens
  • Beam Type – flood
  • Max Distance – 50 meters
  • Run Time – 60 hours (high), 220 hours (low)
  • Power – 3 AAA batteries
  • Weight – 3 ounces
  • Water Resistance Rating – IPX4
  • Specialty Modes – N/A

Gearing up for your next backpacking trip? We’ve got you covered with the best 3-person backpacking tents, the best backpacking cookware, and the best backpacking pillows.

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