Back when this writer was a kid going out on family camping excursions, we used giant lights. Giant, hot, fragile propane powered lanterns and giant, heavy, dim 12V flashlights. The propane lanterns were the standard while the flashlight was used sparingly.
Lanterns and flashlights have evolved, becoming brighter, safer, more durable and smaller, but now all of the cool camping kids have learned a new trick: the headlamp. Some naysaying “traditionalists” call these a dorky overkill…until they try one.
Freeing your hands, illuminating exactly what you’re looking at without blinding everyone else and being incredibly compact makes a headlamp a must-have tool for any hiker, backpacker or camper.
What To Shop For In a Headlamp
A headlamp seems like such a simple device, yet there are a variety of options to consider before purchasing.
- Brightness: Anything over about 50 lumens will work for the typical outdoor activity. If you know your activity requires seeing additional distance (night mountain biking perhaps), go for a brighter lamp. Brighter typically either means less battery life or more weight due to larger/more batteries. Some headlamps will have multiple bulb options, usually with one extra bright bulb for wide angle, long range light. Other smaller LED’s allow for dimmer, up close tasks.
- Color: Most headlamps these days are powered by LED bulbs, so they tend to be a cool white light. But some headlamps feature either a red filter or red LED’s. Red light doesn’t damage night vision as much as white light, so this is a good option if you’re trying not to blind your friends or need to be a bit more stealthy on your adventure.
- Battery: Since headlamps are worn on your head, they don’t typically pack a giant battery. There are rechargeable headlamps available, but most simply take between 2 and 4 AA or AAA batteries with most working perfectly fine with rechargeable batteries. For typical hiking and camping activities, a 3 AAA size is popular.
- Mount: All headlamps have one strap that goes around your head. Some, typically those with brighter lights and more/heavier batteries, will also have a strap over the top of the head to help with weight distribution. Some can be mounted to helmets. For basic camping and hiking use, a single strap around the head should be plenty for most people.