|BEST CAMPING HEADLAMP||DECATHLON FORCLAZ HL 500||SEE IT||
Available in a variety of colors and cost-effective for weekend warriors
|BRIGHTEST||ACEBEAM H50 2.0||SEE IT||
At 2000 lumens, this is bright enough to see just about anything
|BEST LIGHTWEIGHT||BIOLITE HEADLAMP 325||SEE IT||
Lightweight and comfortable for long days on the trail
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Headlamps top the list of outdoor gear. A hands-free light frees you up to do whatever you need to do with your hands when it’s dark, from setting up a tent to tying on a bass popper to dragging a deer out of the woods. The best headlamp to get depends on what you want to do, because of factors such as weight, brightness, battery life, ruggedness, and of course price. We’ve scoped out all the information you need to track down the best headlamp for you.
- Best for Hunting: Black Diamond Storm 500R
- Best for Fishing: Black Diamond Storm 400
- Best for Camping: Decathlon Forclaz HL 500 Rechargeable 200 Lumens
- Brightest: Acebeam H50 2.0 Rechargeable
- Best Lightweight: BioLite Headlamp 325
- Best Ultralight: Nitecore NU25 UL
How We Chose the Best Headlamps
Outdoor Life has been testing and reviewing headlamps for activities ranging from fishing to hunting to backpacking for years. Here we’ve compiled our top picks from our test of the best headlamps for hunting and the best headlamps for fishing as well as other headlamps that staff members of Outdoor Life have tested out in the field.
The Best Headlamps of 2023: Reviews and Recommendations
Best for Hunting: Black Diamond Storm 500R
- Lumens: 500
- Lights: White, red, green, blue, strobe LED
- Max beam distance: 120 meters
- Max run time on high: 7 hours
- Tested total run time: 26 hours
- Full recharge time: 2 hours
- Dual switch controls and beams
- IP67 Submersible
- Battery meter
- Long max beam duration
- Rugged design
- Fast recharge
- Intuitive operation
- Excellent battery life
- Headband isn’t the tightest of the list
The Black Diamond Storm 500R excelled in max battery life, max beam duration, and total recharge time, which made it an obvious choice for the best overall pick during the OL test of the best headlamps for hunting. Black Diamond claims that this headlamp will run for 20 hours on reserve, but I actually found this one to run for 26 hours, which was a nice surprise. And the max beam duration of seven hours was the greatest by a long shot (the next closest only lasted 3 hours). And recharge time, from stone dead to full charge, required just shy of 2 hours.
The Storm 500R also includes a dual LED beam option and red, green, and blue night vision lights. And the intuitive, two-button controls make it easy to run through the settings. Not to mention, the Brightness Memory allows you to turn the headlamp on and off without reverting to the default setting. Next to the Surefire Maximus, this beam produced the brightest and most focused beam at 30 yards.
While the slim headband makes it easy to adjust the fitting, this also makes it easy to loosen while in use, and I had to readjust the strap when I used this lamp during hunting season. The price tag might seem a little steep, but for a rechargeable headlamp that’ll take whatever you can throw at it, you’ll save money that you would spend running through two to three cheaper options.—Adam Moore
Best for Fishing: Black Diamond Storm 400
- Weight: 4.2 ounces
- Lumens: 400
- Light Modes: Six
- Easy, single-button operation
- Locking button
- Requires four AAA batteries
When my last headlamp died, I searched Amazon for a new headlamp and discovered the Black Diamond Storm 400. Black Diamond is a respected manufacturer of climbing gear, so I knew the headlamp would perform well. I now own three of these, and I have used them surf fishing, kayak fishing, and for late nights on the boat. This headlamp is OL‘s pick for the best headlamp for fishing.
The headband is easy to adjust and fits comfortably. One button controls all the functions, and it features a wide and spot beam. The blue and red lamp settings are perfect for protecting your night vision and won’t blind your buddies. And my favorite feature is the lock out setting that locks the power button so I don’t accidentally turn on the lamp in my bag and burn up the batteries. The only downside is the lamp takes four AAA batteries. But the extra battery adds extra battery life for those times when the sun is long gone and you’re not ready to call it quits.—Ric Burnley
Best for Camping: Decathlon Forclaz HL 500 Rechargeable 200 Lumens
- Lumens: 200
- Water resistant to IPX5
- Rechargeable via micro USB
- Affordably priced
- Simple button operation
- Not as bright as other options on this list
- Fewer features
There are several reasons why campers should consider snagging a headlamp in addition to one of the best camping flashlights. They allow you to handle various tasks hands-free. The beam travels wherever you look. And it’s harder to misplace something strapped to you head than held in your hand during a midnight bathroom break. But you also don’t need 500 lumens to find the campground restroom, and the other campers would prefer you stuck with something dimmer, too (they are trying to sleep).
The Decathlon Forclaz HL 500 Rechargeable 200 Lumens is a great option for campers looking for a better lighting solution for the evening hours. It’s affordable, easy to recharge via USB-A and with enough lumens to see to the edge of your campsite (without waking up your neighbors in the campsite over). I also appreciated that it uses a simple “+” and “-” system to power up and down, starting with a simple red light, before going up to 80 lumens, and then 200 lumens. That makes it a lot easier to get out of your tent without waking up the kids, and helps to extend the battery life as well.—Laura Lancaster
Brightest: Acebeam H50 2.0 Rechargeable
- Lumens: 2000
- 170-degree radius
- Rechargeable via USB-C
- Waterproof to IP68
- Extremely bright
- Uses the more common USB-C port
- Slightly more difficult to adjust to your head than standard models
For plenty of people, the best headlamps means just one thing: the brightest headlamp. If that’s your main criterion, then the Acebeam H50 2.0 is an excellent choice. During testing it was easily one of the brightest headlamps I have ever tried (be careful not to look at it when you turn it on for the first time), and the side floodlights provided plenty of visibility in my periphery.
Despite the addition of the third strap over the top of the head, however, I found the weight of the Acebeam H50 2.0 to be much less comfortable than other headlamps I’ve used in the past. I did appreciate, though, the convenience of using the USB-C port for charging.—Laura Lancaster
Best Lightweight: BioLite Headlamp 325
- Lumens: 325
- Rechargeable via micro USB
- Water resistant to IPX4
- Can be difficult to toggle through settings
- Less battery life than I had hoped for
Backpackers know that every ounce counts. At 1.75 ounces, the BioLite Headlamp 325 is light enough for any thru-hike while also providing plenty of functionality for weekend warriors and even car campers. With an IPX4 water rating, this is also suitable for hiking through the rain with (although it’s not waterproof enough to drop into a river crossing).
During testing my biggest struggle with the BioLite 325 was the settings. If you try to quickly turn off and on this headlamp it will start to toggle through all of the different light options, including the strobe option. You don’t want to be accidentally hitting the strobe option while you are groggily unzipping the tent for a predawn start. But after a few days I finally mastered hitting the button at the right time such that I could stay on the brightness level that I needed.
Best Ultralight: Nitecore NU25 UL
- Lumens: 400
- USB-C rechargeable
- Water resistant to IP66
- Uses the more common USB-C
- Less comfortable strap
When your pack is stuffed to the brim with camping gear, it’s smart to cut weight wherever you can. That mindset should start at the top with your headlamp. The best headlamps for backpacking are not only lightweight, they are amply bright, with enough energy to last a long time. Traditional batteries let you pack replacements, but backpacking headlamps with micro-USB charging could actually save some pounds if you’ve got a lightweight portable energy supply.
The Nitecore NU25 weighs only 1.6 ounces—making it the best headlamp for backpacking, when every ounce makes a huge difference. While the tilt of this rechargeable headlamp is limited, and a dimmer is absent, the 400 lumens will brighten the spirits—and the trails ahead—of anyone carrying a heavy pack.
Features to Consider When Shopping for the Best Headlamp
While headlamps improve each year—with new iterations boasting brighter outputs, better battery life and greater customization—the essential features you need to look for when shopping for a headlamp remain relevant: Light output, run times, color/dimming settings, weather protection, and comfort.
Light output is measured in lumens, a metric that explains the capacity of total light a lamp can emit. Typically, the higher the lumen count—which for headlamps can range from the low hundreds into the thousands—the brighter the light. But the focus of that light can also determine how bright it appears.
A related element is beam type. Flood beams are wider (allowing you to see the campsite) while spot beams are tighter (allowing you to focus on the trail in the distance). Many headlamps let you toggle between both types of beams.
Perhaps intuitively, run time tells you how long your batteries—whether AAA or rechargeable—will effectively last. However, that answer is slightly more nuanced than it may sound. Run time is not equal to battery life. Instead, it marks how long a light can operate before losing 10% of its original brightness. So, a headlamp with a run time of a couple hours could actually offer some illumination for a couple of days. (Adding to the confusion, some manufacturers still use an old run-time number that measures how long a lamp provides any level of usable light).
Some headlamps will have you seeing red. And green and blue, for that matter. Color and dimming settings let you control the brightness. While such features might not matter as much for, say, the best running headlamps—which have the job of making you detectable to oncoming traffic—the best headlamps for hunting depend on stealthier settings. Color and dim light settings can also be useful around the campfire, where you want to be able to see what kind of beer you’re grabbing from the cooler, but you don’t want to blind your campmates in the process.
Waterproofing is often expressed as an IPX rating. Do you need the best waterproof headlamp (IPX8), which can survive being fully submerged? Or does IPX4, which protects against splashing water at every angle, suffice?
Finally, focus on fit and function. Do you need a lamp that can swivel in all directions? Do you need a sweat-wicking headband to keep you comfortable on big climbs? Or can you go with something a little cheaper (and bulkier) that will be just fine for rummaging around the shed? The function you intend for your headlamp dictates the kind of performance you need.
Of course, many headlamps offer extras—for instance, some lights can remember your previous brightness setting when you turn it back on—but having a good grasp on the basic features of hands-free lights will go a long way toward helping you locate the best headlamp for you.
Q: Do you need a headlamp for camping?
Whether you want to check if that burger’s done or find your way to the outhouse, you need a headlamp if you spend any time at campsites. The best headlamps for camping are versatile and easy to use. A wide-angle setting will help you see the whole picnic table, a spot setting will light the trail if you’re hiking in, and a red or dimmer light setting will allow you to read in the tent without disturbing your tent mates. Other determinations depend on where you typically spend your nights in the woods. A little waterproofing is always helpful, but if you prefer adventures in arid climes, you can probably scale down the IPX rating. Rechargeable and AAA batteries both have pluses and minuses, but if you’re typically at remote campsites, it’s a lot easier to pop in replacement batteries than it is to find an outlet to recharge depleted ones.
Q: How many lumens do I need for night hiking?
If you have a headlamp with at least 100 lumens, you’ll find the trails to be plenty bright for that nighttime hike.
Q: What headlamp does the military use?
The military uses tactical headlamps, which are compact and durable. They feature bright LED lights and seamless mode-switching to accommodate rapidly changing conditions.
Q: How do you know when headlights need replacing?
Sticky buttons or wear and tear on the head strap could signal it’s time for a replacement, but the bigger impetus for buying a new headlamp is typically a changing need. If you’re doing more night fishing than you once were, it’s likely time for a headlamp with different features.
Q: Do you need a headlamp for hunting?
Hunting deer from a tree stand typically involves walking into the woods before sunup, and leaving after sunset. You want to do that with the minimum amount of disturbance, so the best headlamp for hunting has all the functionality of a camping flashlight with the added option of stealth. Colored lights are the defining feature of hunting headlamps. Blue light is helpful for detecting a blood trail in the dark, and red and green are less likely to spook game and are easier on the eyes—an important factor if you want to be able to see well in first shooting light
Q: Do you need a waterproof headlamp?
Waterproofing is also an important component when searching for a headlamp for fishing, but if you do most of your angling from the boat and don’t think you’re likely to drop the lamp into the lake, you can actually skip the fully submersible options.
Why Trust Outdoor Life?
Since 1898, OL has been a leading authority in testing and reviewing hunting gear, fishing tackle, guns and shooting equipment, and much more. We have more than a century-long history of evaluating products, and we’re now bringing that expertise to online reviews. Our editors are experienced outdoorsmen and women, and most importantly, we’re trained journalists. We prioritize field testing and objective data when reviewing products. We conduct interviews with gear manufacturers and engineers as well as outdoor experts so that our readers have an understanding of how and why a product works—or doesn’t.
Advertising does not influence our gear reviews and it never will. While we always focus our coverage on standout products—because we want our readers to be aware of the latest and greatest gear—we also cover the flaws and quirks of any given product.
A Final Word on Shopping for the Best Headlamp
Lumens, battery life, expandable headband, lengthy beam. Locating the best headlamp comes down to focusing on the brightness, run time and comfort that will fit whatever activity you do in the dark.