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Gear Review: Headlamps

Posted by Jessi Loerch at Jun 24, 2019 11:58 AM |
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What you need to know to find the right one.

If you’re a hiker, you need some sort of flashlight. It’s essential. In fact, it’s one of the Ten Essentials — and for good reason. For hikers, a headlamp is the logical choice for lighting. You can wear it on your head, so it’s always shining where you’re looking and it leaves your hands free. (Only downside, don’t look directly in the face of your companions. They won’t thank you for that.)

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Illuminating the Ape Caves. Photo by Dylan Priddy.

If you’re in the market for a new headlamp, here are some factors you’ll want to consider:

  • Lumens: A lumen indicates how much overall light a headlamp produces. In general, a higher number means that you’ll end up with more light. However, how well that light is focused also plays a big factor. Additionally, a light with a higher lumen will go usually through batteries faster than a light with a lower lumen. Many headlamps offer adjustable illumination levels.
  • Illumination distance: This means how far ahead a flashlight can throw light. If you’re going to be regularly using a light for night hiking, you’ll appreciate a longer distance — especially if the trail may be faint. If it’s mostly for in-camp use, a shorter distance should work fine.
  • Illumination width: Headlamps can throw light in a wide or narrow arc. Adjustable headlamps are particularly useful.
  • Battery: Until recently, most headlamps had removable batteries. Now, there are some models on the market with non-removable rechargeable batteries. Whatever option you choose, remember a few things. Manufacturers often list how long a battery will last, but remember that battery life can be affected by many factors, including temperature. Lithium batteries work better than alkaline in cold conditions. Rechargeable batteries also work well in the cold, but can lose charge over time. Always have a backup.
  • Red light: Some headlamps offer a red-light feature. Red light doesn’t make you lose your night vision, which makes it an especially great option for those hoping to do some night photography or stargazing.
  • Tilt: A headlamp that tilts makes it a lot easier to use, especially for close in tasks like cooking or for reading a map or book.

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Biolite HeadLamp 330

Biolite’s new headlamp is exceptionally comfortable. The battery pack is on the strap at the back of the head, giving it excellent balance. It stays in place, even for trail running. Features: 330 lumens, adjustable light levels, red-light option, tilt light, charge via micro USB, 2.43 oz. $49.95; rei.com.

Ledlenser MH3

This headlamp can also be used as a multipurpose light. The light comes off the headstrap easily and you can clip it to yourself or your tent. Features: 200 lumens, adjustable light levels, tilt light, AA battery, 3.25 oz. $30; ledlenserusa.com.

Inova STS Powerswitch

The Powerswitch has the nifty feature of being able to use two different power sources, a USB-chargable battery or three AAA batteries. The light is also easy to control with a simple swipe. Features: 280 lumens, adjustable light levels, tilt light, red-light option, 2.3 oz, $60; niteize.com.

Nitecore NU25

This USB-rechargeable headlamp is popular with WTA staff because it’s both lightweight and affordable. It’s already very light, but if you’re worried about every gram, you can swap it out for a lighter strap, which makes the whole thing 1.17 oz. Features: 360 lumen, adjustable light levels, red-light option,1.8 oz, $37; nitecorestore.com.

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