It doesn’t matter if you hunt, fish, or stockpile supplies like a doomsday prepper—few pieces of gear are as critical as a reliable, hands-free light. Fortunately, the market is flush with choices, from straightforward units to feature-packed pods. This test includes hybrid batteries, waterproof units, and prices ranging from inexpensive to expensive.
We were pleased to see mostly accurate battery runtime claims from manufacturers; some have historically overstated performance. With that in mind, we aimed to provide data from real-world tasks. And while quantitative performance is useful, personal preferences and needs play a large role, too. Anglers will appreciate waterproof models; hunters require red LEDs for pre-dawn slogs to the stand and bright beams for blood tracking.
Editor’s Choice: Black Diamond Storm | Score: 82.2
Black Diamond Storm • Score: 82.2 Nick Ferrari
Total Score: 82.2
Performance: Beam Distance: 7.6 Brightness: 6.7 Flood Area: 10 Runtime: 8.1 Design: Adjustability: 10 Comfort: 8 Durability: 10 Ease of Use: 6 Weight (score): 6.8 Value: 9 Specs: Battery type: 4 AAA Beam Distance (yd.): 51 Brightness (lux): 23.6 Runtime (min.): 300 Weight (oz.): 4.0
If you’re into bombproof gear with all the bells and whistles, the Storm is the headlamp for you. It’s got every possible feature built into it but the kitchen sink—and if you do drop it in the sink, it’ll survive just fine. This slick headlamp has powerful floodlights for superb peripheral lighting, three color modes, and a strobe function. It also has a trio of innovative features: multi-light dimming, a button lock (so the unit doesn’t accidentally turn on in your pack and run down), and PowerTap, which lets you toggle light intensities just by touching the housing and works even when you’re wearing gloves.
All those features come at a cost, though: This headlamp is confusing to use out of the box, and you must learn how to navigate the numerous light modes. (For example, you press the button three times to turn on the strobe, but hold it for four seconds to lock the light.)
There’s also a memory function that remembers your last light setting when you next turn it on, but that makes trying to recall the light mode order more challenging. The control button isn’t the easiest to press, and it becomes difficult when you’re wearing mid-weight gloves. The elastic headband on our test model also lost its sizing slightly with each removal and required readjusting over time.
But the Storm has sleek and solid housing, it withstood battering and a 30-minute submersion, and it’s the coolest-looking headlamp in the test. Other thoughtful touches include a curved forehead plate, a battery extractor lever, a battery and lock indictor light, and four color options. The bottom line? This light is for gadget lovers and anyone who’s hard on their gear.
Great Buy: Cyclops HL210
Cyclops HL210 • Score: 77.9 Nick Ferrari
Total Score: 77.9
Performance: Beam Distance: 6.9 Brightness: 7.5 Flood Area: 8 Runtime: 9.4 Design: Adjustability: 7 Comfort: 7 Durability: 5 Ease of Use: 8 Weight (score): 9.1 Value: 10 Specs: Battery type: 3 AAA Beam Distance (yd.): 44 Brightness (lux): 33.5 Runtime (min.): 360 Weight (oz.): 3.1
This headlamp may be basic, but it packs a punch for the price. After the high-end Coast, the Cyclops HL210 proved to be the brightest headlamp in the test. It also burned longer than two-thirds of its peers, running for six hours on its brightest setting.
Operating the unit is a no-brainer: One button cycles through the white LED spotlight modes (high, low, and strobe), while the button beside it cycles through white, red, and green floodlights.
While this model is light (3.1 oz.) and bright, it’s also the cheapest headlamp in the test for a reason: The housing feels more like a toy than a piece of gear, and we don’t expect the unit to endure much abuse over time. The interior battery compartment is crude, although the closed unit did survive the drop tests and a quick (1 second) submersion. The forehead plate isn’t very comfortable, and, while bright, the spotlight beam isn’t ideal for longer distances.
But there’s no denying this headlamp is a useful unit that will get the job done—and burn long after the job is finished—on a budget. The HL210 is a smart choice for a kid’s headlamp, a backup unit to leave in camp, or even an emergency light to stash in the glove compartment or a bug-out bag.
Coast FL75R | Score: 76.3
Coast FL75R • Score: 76.3 Nick Ferrari
Total Score: 76.3
Performance: Beam Distance: 10 Brightness: 10 Flood Area: 7 Runtime: 5.9 Design: Adjustability: 8 Comfort: 8 Durability: 7 Ease of Use: 7 Weight (score): 7.4 Value: 6 Specs: Battery type: 3 AAA Beam Distance (yd.): 44 Brightness (lux): 33.5 Runtime (min.): 360 Weight (oz.): 3.1
The FL75R is a pocket-sized lighthouse beacon. Once you get over the sticker shock, you’ll notice this headlamp thumped every model in the beam distance and brightness tests. Our runtime test confirmed Coast’s claim (195 minutes on high with alkaline batteries); however, the unit actually still emits useful light beyond that time frame (see “How We Test”), unlike many of the other lights tested. You can load it with a rechargeable lithium battery or standard alkaline batteries, and adjust the beam with a twist focus. Cons include reduced flood lighting and fewer features (like waterproof housing) compared to models half its price. But if you need a bright, far-reaching beam, this is a fine choice.
UltrAspire Lumen 115c | Score: 74.2
UltrAspire Lumen 115c • Score 74.2 Nick Ferrari
Total Score: 74.2
Performance: Beam Distance: 5.8 Brightness: 5 Flood Area: 8 Runtime: 6.9 Design: Adjustability: 7 Comfort: 9 Durability: 7 Ease of Use: 9 Weight (score): 9.5 Value: 7 Specs: Battery type: 1 AA Beam Distance (yd.): 33 Brightness (lux): 2 Runtime (min.): 240 Weight (oz.): 2.9
Okay, so this isn’t a headlamp, but it is a wearable light—and a pretty good one at that. UltrAspire designed this waist clip with runners in mind, but it has plenty of applications for the hook-and-bullet crowd. It’s small and simple (one battery, one button) and fastens comfortably with a strong magnet, so you could also slap it on your truck or other surface while you work. It’s best suited for illuminating where you put your feet and wouldn’t be out of place on a late-night pack-out, but it’s not ideal for distance or hands-on work.
Princeton Tec Vizz | Score: 73.6
Princeton Tec Vizz • Score 73.6 Nick Ferrari
Total Score: 73.6
Performance: Beam Distance: 7.5 Brightness: 6.8 Flood Area: 7 Runtime: 5 Design: Adjustability: 9 Comfort: 7 Durability: 8 Ease of Use: 8 Weight (score): 8.3 Value: 7 Specs: Battery type: 3 AAA Beam Distance (yd.): 50 Brightness (lux): 25 Runtime (min.): 150 Weight (oz.): 3.4
The Vizz is a solid, durable headlamp with plenty of settings and a few quirks. The battery compartment is secured with a screw, which is easy enough to open and close with bare hands, but if the screw drops into the grass or the plastic headband adjuster (which doubles as a screwdriver) gets cracked, you’ve got problems. The unit passed the drop and 30-minute submersion tests, and it’s reasonably bright and versatile. Battery runtime on high, however, was poor, which kept this model from ranking higher.
Cabela’s Alaskan Guide RGB | Score 71
Total Score: 71
Performance: Beam Distance: 6.5 Brightness: 5.3 Flood Area: 6 Runtime: 10 Design: Adjustability: 7 Comfort: 7 Durability: 6 Ease of Use: 7 Weight (score): 9.2 Value: 7 Specs: Battery type: 3 AAA Beam Distance (yd.): 40 Brightness (lux): 5.5 Runtime (min.): 390 Weight (oz.): 3.0
If this headlamp looks familiar, that’s because it’s made by Princeton Tec. The Alaskan Guide RGB is a basic unit with five modes: red, green, blue, and a high and low spotlight. It’s not powerful , but that helped it produce the longest runtime in the test (6.5 hours). Our model exhibited a few fluctuations: As the batteries wore down, output would dip sharply; tapping the housing would restore it. Although the battery compartment is secure—almost too secure, as it can be painful to pry open—the headband guides can snap off with hard use.
Browning Epic | Score: 70.7
Browning Epic • Score: 70.7 Nick Ferrari
Total Score: 70.7
Performance: Beam Distance: 7.5 Brightness: 5.9 Flood Area: 6 Runtime: 5 Design: Adjustability: 8 Comfort: 10 Durability: 7 Ease of Use: 8 Weight (score): 7.3 Value: 6 Specs: Battery type: 1 AA / USB Beam Distance (yd.): 50 Brightness (lux): 13 Runtime (min.): 150 Weight (oz.): 3.8
Instead of the all-purpose button you find on most headlamps, the Epic has an on/off switch and a separate dial with five modes: off, green, and 2, 4, or 10 hours of burn time, which we confirmed. This prevents accidental power-ons (the bane of most headlamps) and eliminates the mystery of how long the lamp will last. It’s lightweight, with a soft-molded forehead plate (the comfiest in the test). But the battery compartment cap is easy to lose, which would render the unit useless. With its shorter runtime and narrow beam, we thought it was a touch expensive compared to competitors.
Tactikka Core | Score: 69.2
Tactikka Core • Score: 69.2 Nick Ferrari
Total Score: 69.2
Performance: Beam Distance: 6.8 Brightness: 6.5 Flood Area: 8 Runtime: 5 Design: Adjustability: 7 Comfort: 6 Durability: 5 Ease of Use: 8 Weight (score): 10 Value: 7 Specs: Battery type: 3 AAA / USB Beam Distance (yd.): 42 Brightness (lux): 20.5 Runtime (min.): 150 Weight (oz.): 2.7
We wanted to like this cool-looking light, but the lack of features compared to many cheaper units cost it points, along with the poor runtime and durability results. It’s not rated for submersion (though it handled a 1-second dip), and the plastic feels flimsy—the first drop onto a hard floor popped open the housing and sent batteries flying. The forehead plate and crisp headband are hard-edged and uncomfortable. The headlamp does come with a longer-running USB-chargeable lithium battery (the eponymous “Core”) that you can use in lieu of AAA batteries. This helps justify the higher price, as it would ultimately save cash on batteries over time.
Foxelli MX500L | Score: 66.2
Foxelli MX500L • Score: 66.2 Nick Ferrari
Total Score: 66.2
Performance: Beam Distance: 5 Brightness: 5.1 Flood Area: 8 Runtime: 8.1 Design: Adjustability: 7 Comfort: 6 Durability: 8 Ease of Use: 5 Weight (score): 5 Value: 9 Specs: Battery type: USB Only Beam Distance (yd.): 24 Brightness (lux): 3 Runtime (min.): 300 Weight (oz.): 4.7
A bit of an oddball, the MX500L is the only headlamp in the test that does not accept alkaline batteries and uses an over-the-head strap and back-of-the-head battery. It charged quickly (in about two hours), survived a 30-minute submersion, and performed reasonably well in the runtime tests. But it lost points for beam distance, brightness, comfort, and weight (it was the heaviest model in the test). The control button is hard to press and maddening at times: Just when you think you’ve shut the unit off after cycling through it, one of its blinking modes flashes you in the eye. But it’s a good value for the relatively inexpensive price.