If you head out in the dark hours of the night, when you're setting up your tent at night, trail running at dusk, or just looking for something in your attic, you can't beat the hands-free lighting convenience offered by a headlamp. But which headlamp should you choose? There are many headlamps available for different purposes and environments, so it can be hard to know what is best for your needs. In this article, we'll walk through how to pick an LED head lamp that suits your preferences and lifestyle.
How to Choose the LED Headlamps for You
Purpose of headlamp: What will you primarily be using the headlamp for? Suppose you need a headlamp mainly for outdoor activities such as camping, running, or hiking. In that case, you will want to consider one with features like a red light mode that won't disturb your night vision and long battery life.
Environment: Where will you predominantly be using the headlamp? If you are mostly going to be using it indoors, you don't need as much brightness as if you were doing an activity like caving where there is little to no natural light.
Lumens are a measure of the headlamp's brightness. The higher the lumen rating, the brighter the headlamp will be. A light with a higher lumens count than a light with a lower lumens number will consume electricity faster.
So, does the higher the lumens, the brighter the light? In most situations, yes—but not always. How effectively a headlamp manufacturer directs and focuses that light can impact how those lumens are utilized.
A headlamp's lumens are important to consider because, depending on what you need, you will want to pick one with higher lumens for more visibility. For example, suppose you need headlamps ideal for outdoor activities like camping, hiking, or mountaineering. In that case, the headlamp should have a minimum of 100 lumens because it offers enough brightness in most situations.
Headlamp Beam Type
There are three different types of headlamp beams: flood, spot, and adjustable.
Flood headlamps give you a wide beam perfect for close-up tasks like reading or tying knots.
Spot headlamps emit a tight beam great for seeing long distances and are ideal for activities where precision is key such as walking on a dark trail.
Adjustable headlamps have both a floodlight and spotlight beam, which can be used for multiple purposes.
Some headlamps come with more than one type of light bulb. For instance, the Black Diamond Spot Head Lamp comes with LED bulbs (spot) and incandescent bulbs (flood). If you want to buy a headlamp specifically for outdoor activities, we recommend purchasing one with LED bulbs because they are brighter and have a longer life span than incandescent bulbs.
Headlamp Beam Distance
Beam distance is the headlamp's ability to illuminate far-away objects. It is expressed in meters, and it can be affected by light beam type, LED brightness, headlamp brightness, and optics (the headlamps lens).
Headlamps are tested to determine how far (in meters) they can project usable light. While lumens tell you how brightly a headlamp glows (at its source), headlamp beam distance tells you how far it goes (to a surface you want to be illuminated).
The higher the beam distance rating of a headlight/headlamp, the further you will see when using it. Headlights with more lumens typically have greater distances than those with fewer lumens; however, many other factors such as headlight design also affect how well they project their beams.
Headlamps designed for outdoor activities like camping or hiking should have a minimum beam distance of 50m, while others that are meant for close-up work may only need 25m because you do not need to see as far away.
The majority of headlamps, including those with batteries, weigh less than 7 ounces and are comparable in size. You won't notice a significant difference in headlamp size or weight until you start looking at some extremely high-powered versions. Some have top straps and external battery packs, which add bulk. Such products are intended for special purposes (e.g., mountaineering) rather than everyday use.
This spec tells you how long your headlamp will last once it's completely charged. However, the headlamp industry has recently started to evaluate this differently, so if you're comparing one headlamp to another, you may see some odd figures. Why? Manufacturers previously determined run duration until a headlamp could no longer generate functional light at 2 meters (the light of a full moon).
The revised standard employs 10% of a light's original brightness as the time limit. For example, a 350-lumen headlamp with a 40-hour run time is one example under the old criteria. Under the new criterion, the same headlamp's run duration might be just 2 hours. So, if you find two seemingly identical headlamps with significantly different run times, neither may have been tested using the newer criteria yet.
Headlamp Brightness Modes
Most headlamps have at least a high and low setting. Others may include three or more settings.
Strobe mode acts as an emergency blinker. A few models even offer a choice of flash rates: slow and fast.
Low is the mode used for most tasks such as camp chores or walking along an easy trail at night.
Mid is provided on some models simply to give people more choices.
High is a good option for situations where you simply need or want more light.
Boost (or Zoom) is found on just a few models. This mode is ideal for when you really want to know what's making the rustling noise in the bushes next to you. Just keep in mind that this option consumes a lot of power.
Extra Headlamp Features to Look Out For
Regulated headlights offer a consistent brightness level throughout the life of the batteries, rather than dimming as batteries deplete. This is a welcome - and justly popular - feature.
However, when a battery dies, the light from a regulated headlamp can go out all of a sudden. This may leave you in the dark trying to replace batteries. An unregulated headlamp's dimmer light provides you with an early indication that your batteries are running low.
Red Light Mode
A red-light mode is available on many headlamps. Because red light does not have the same effect on our pupils as white light, it's preferable for use at night.
The headlamps should be able to withstand some amount of rain and snow. A few can handle shallow, short-term immersion.
Another nice feature is the ability to move the headlamp unit up and down. It makes it easy to target the beam exactly where you want it. When reading by headlamp, this is quite useful.
Try the buttons on your headlamp if you're shopping for one to see if you like how it cycles through its modes (from high to low, or vice versa). Some switches also lock to prevent the headlamp from being switched on inadvertently inside a pack.
Because lithium batteries outperform alkaline batteries in cold weather, headlamps designed to work with lithium batteries are an excellent option for chilly-weather use.
Rechargeable nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries are also excellent with headlamps and function well in cold weather.
Rechargeable batteries lose their charge when left unused, so keep alkalines on hand as backups.