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By Michael Lanza
How do you choose which headlamp to buy for hiking, backpacking, climbing, trail running, and other outdoor activities? Price? Design and range of lighting modes? Go with a brand you know and trust? I’ve tested dozens of headlamps over the years. Here are, in my opinion, the five best models on the market today.
I favor models that meet five simple criteria:
I generally apply those standards when choosing which headlamps I’ll review at The Big Outside, with the exception of being rechargeable—which costs more up front (although not over time), because I choose to review headlamps at a range of price points. So to help you find the right model for yourself or someone else, I’ve put together this list of the five best headlamps I’ve reviewed at this blog, listed in order of cost, along with a comparison chart.
With white and red modes, five brightness levels, enough power to light a rocky trail on a night hike, and an easy-to-operate dial that includes a lockout mode—all for 30 bucks—it’s hard to go wrong with the Sync. It’s a well-built, basic headlamp for users who only occasionally need a headlamp for any purpose beyond finding their way around camp in the dark.
Read my complete review of the Princeton Tec Sync.
BUY IT NOW: You can support The Big Outside by clicking any of these links to purchase a Princeton Tec Sync at moosejaw.com or rei.com.
Be comfortable on your hikes. See my review of “The 5 Best Rain Jackets For the Backcountry.”
In any direct comparison, the Spot offers high-performance features and brightness at a hard-to-beat price. Its modes include white LED TriplePower, SinglePower, and strobe, and red LED SinglePower and strobe. Its max brightness is a powerful 200 lumens, and it sports dimming capability, a locking feature to prevent accidental turning on in a pack, and a unique PowerTap technology that allows you to tap the right side of the casing to cycle between the TriplePower LED and SinglePower LED. Plus, it’s waterproof up to a meter underwater for 30 minutes. Only demerit: It’s not rechargeable, but it’s still hard to beat.
See my complete review of the Black Diamond Spot.
BUY IT NOW: You can support The Big Outside by clicking any of these links to purchase a Black Diamond Spot at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today and others. I invite you to get email updates about new stories and gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box in the left sidebar, at the bottom of this post, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The high-performance, waterproof Princeton Tec Vizz—updated since I posted my review to a maximum power of 205 lumens—is a well-priced choice if you’re going after versatility and brightness in an ultralight headlamp. But it’s also simple to operate, compatible with lithium batteries, and has a lockout feature to prevent accidental turning on. A strong choice for hikers and climbers as well as high-speed users like trail runners and skiers.
Read my complete review of the Princeton Tec Vizz.
BUY IT NOW: You can support The Big Outside by clicking any of these links to purchase a Princeton Tec Vizz at moosejaw.com, leftlanesports.com, or rei.com.
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While it costs more up front than non-rechargeable models, the newly updated for 2017, USB-rechargeable ReVolt delivers superior performance and value over time. It can use AAA alkaline batteries in a pinch, and produces a superior max brightness of 300 lumens with alkaline batteries and a very bright 175 lumens with the rechargeable batteries. It also has a variety of modes, dimming capability, a lockout function, and BD’s useful PowerTap technology, where you can tap the right side of the headlamp casing with a finger to instantly toggle back and forth between two brightness settings. All in all, a great choice for ultra-hiking, backpacking, trail running, or climbing.
Read my complete review of the Black Diamond ReVolt.
BUY IT NOW: You can support The Big Outside by clicking any of these links to purchase a Black Diamond ReVolt at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.
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Petzl’s Actik Core competes with the BD ReVolt for performance and value; they simply have different strengths and weaknesses. Equipped with white and red modes and two beam patterns—a focused beam for seeing straight ahead and a proximity beam for illuminating a wider area—the Actik Core stands out among ultralight, backcountry headlamps for its maximum brightness of 350 lumens. More significantly, unlike rechargeable headlamps, it delivers that much brightness even when using the rechargeable battery. Petzl’s Core battery also maintains constant brightness over the duration of a charge, and it can run on three standard alkaline, lithium, or Ni-MH AAA batteries.
Read my complete review of the Petzl Actik Core.
BUY IT NOW: You can support The Big Outside by clicking any of these links to purchase a Petzl Actik Core at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.
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See all of my reviews of headlamps, hiking gear, and backpacking gear at The Big Outside.
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See a categorized menu of all of my reviews at my Gear Reviews page.
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