Having the best headlamp for backpacking is essential for your nighttime outdoor adventures. Whether you're a wilderness backpacker, an ultralight backpacker, a car camper, an urban hiker, or just someone who is preparing an emergency survival kit for the zombie apocalypse, you're going to need a hands-free light. It's better to be wearing a bright lamp on your head when backpacking in the dark than to fumble around with a heavy flashlight. And let's face it, headlamps are way cooler.
The best headlamps today use LEDs for their light source. LED lights are energy efficient, rugged, and long-lasting. Most headlamps are also very lightweight. So what sets apart the best headlamp for backpacking from the rest? And how do you know which one to buy? You've got questions about headlamps? Well, we've got you covered!
What Should I Look for When Choosing the Best Headlamp for Backpacking?
Some of the key features that you should pay attention to when searching for the best headlamp for backing are price, lumens, the IP rating, max beam distance, weight, run time, and batteries. All of the lamps on our list this year are quite lightweight, and they all have IP ratings that make them water resistant. Some of them run on rechargeable batteries and some run on AAA batteries, while others are hybrids and can run on both.
What Are Lumens?
The brightness of the headlamp measured in lumens. Our picks for the best headlamp for backpacking this year range from a maximum output of 50 to 600 lumens. For some perspective, normal indoor lighting is usually 200 to 300 lumens, and candlelight is about 10 lumens. For doing normal things around the campsite like making dinner or washing dishes or reading, 40 to 50 lumens is plenty. But if you are planning on night running or hiking you will need a brighter light, around 100 to 150 lumens. It's important to note that the light quality will vary on different lamps. More lumens does not necessarily mean better. It depends mostly on what you are planning on doing while you're wearing your headlamp.
Another thing you should know is that your headlamp will not use the maximum lumens very often. Once the batteries fall below 100 percent charged, the lamp will dim and use fewer lumens. That means that most of the time you will not be using the maximum light output. All of the headlamps on our list also allow you to adjust the light to low, medium, or high.
What Should the IP Rating Be for the Best Headlamp for Backpacking?
The IP code is the International Protection Marking, also called the Ingress Protection Marking, and it tells you how resistant the headlamp is to dust particles and water. The IP rating will always be marked IPXY, with the X being a number from 0 to 6 denoting how resistant the light is to dust. The Y will be a number from 0 to 9 which will tell you how capable the lamp is at resisting water.
IPX4 is a typical rating for headlamps. It means that the lamp protects against splashing and rain but not submersion. The IPX8 rating says that the light is even more water resistant and can be submerged up to 1.1 meters. The truth is that no headlamp is entirely waterproof, no matter what the manufacturer says. When submerged, some water will get into the battery compartment on even the best headlamp for backpacking. But the lamps with IPX7 or IPX8 ratings will continue to work even when water gets into the chamber.
How Much Does the Best Headlamp for Backpacking Cost?
Price is one thing to consider when you're choosing the best headlamp for backpacking. They come in a wide range of price points and more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better. The headlamps on our list this year range in price from $ to $$. And they can all be purchased at your local sporting goods store or Amazon.
Our Review Process
In our search for the best headlamp for backpacking, we reviewed all of the top selling lamps. We also researched professional and consumer reviews, and we compared the price and features of each headlamp. This analysis was an independent review, and we have no business or financial ties to any of the companies on our list.
Our 6 Best Headlamp for Backpacking Picks for 2019
In no particular order, here are our favorite six headlamps for backpacking this year.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
The first contender for the best headlamp for backpacking this year is the Petzl Actik Core. It features a spotlight that can go low, medium, or high, a red light, and a red strobe. One reason that we liked the Actik Core is that it can run on three AAA batteries or the included rechargeable battery pack. It rates IPX4, which means that it is water resistant and it's very bright with a max light output of 350 lumens. The Actik Core weighs 3.2 ounces. And it has a max beam distance of 95 meters. If you use the rechargeable batteries, you can power this headlamp for 160 hours on low, at 5 lumens, or for 2 hours on full blast. It also comes with an emergency whistle.
One downside of this headlamp is that it will cost you a chunk of change. It's one of the most expensive on our list, going for $ to $. But it gets outstanding ratings. Amazon customers rate the Petzl Actik Core 4.2 out of 5 stars. Out of 99 reviews, 67 percent of them gave it 5 out of 5 stars. It made our list of picks for the best headlamp for backpacking this year because it has impressive beam quality, brightness, and run time. Also, it's very versatile.
Nitecore NU25 Headlamp
The Nitecore NU25 is one of our picks for the best headlamp for backpacking because it is super lightweight without sacrificing any key features. The Nitecore lamp weighs just 1.9 ounces. It comes with rechargeable batteries that use a micro USB charge. The beam distance for the NU25 falls short of the Petzl Actik, at 81 meters, and you can only use the 360-lumen "turbo" mode for 30 seconds at a time. But the "high" setting gives you 190 lumens, which is more than adequate for what most backpackers need. The Nitecore headlamp is rated IP66, and in head to head tests, it was more water resistant than most of the others on our list. It also has a max runtime of 16 hours.
Beyond the Nitecore's excellent features and light weight, it may be the best headlamp for backpacking this year because of its affordable price. You can get the NU25 for $ to $. This headlamp also gets excellent professional and consumer reviews. Amazon customers rate it 4.7 out of 5 stars. Out of 79 customer reviews, 86 percent of them gave this headlamp 5 out of 5 stars. Another great thing about the NU25 is that it has more light modes than most of the other lamps on our list.
Petzl Tikkina Headlamp
The Petzl Tikkina is another of our favorites for the best headlamp for backpacking in 2019 because of its low price tag. It's lightweight, weighing just 3.0 ounces, and it's simple to use with only four light settings including low, medium, high, and strobe. The Tikkina is not the brightest headlamp on our list, but the 150-lumen high beam is plenty bright enough for most tasks. It is rated IPX4, but it didn't hold up very well in independent tests for water resistance.
Aside from that, if you're looking for a simple, cheap headlamp that works well, the Tikkina is an excellent choice as long as you don't get it too wet. It has a max beam distance of 55 meters. And it runs on three AAA batteries or a CORE USB rechargeable battery, sold separately. Depending on what setting you are using, the batteries will last for around 60 hours.
The Tikkina is a contender for the best headlamp for backpacking this year because of its excellent value. It costs from $ to $. And on top of that, it gets outstanding reviews. Amazon customers rate it 4.6 out of 5 stars. Out of 164 reviews, 80 percent of them gave the Tikkina 5 out of 5 stars. It doesn't come with a lot of frills, but it gets the job done.
Petzl e+Lite Headlamp
The Petzl e+Lite may be the best headlamp for backpacking this year because it is very affordable and super lightweight. It weighs just 0.95 ounces. It's not super bright with only 50 lumens on high, but it's bright enough for tasks like cooking dinner and other chores around your campsite. The e+Lite rates IPX7 and it is one of the best on our list for water resistance. It also has a max beam distance of 10 meters, and it runs on two CR2032 batteries. The e+Lite is an excellent option if you're looking for an emergency back-up headlamp. It's minimalist, simple to use, and extremely lightweight and small. You can run the e+Lite on the highest setting for 20 hours.
The Petzl e+Lite is quite affordable, costing from $ to $. And like the other best headlamp for backpacking picks on our list, it gets excellent customer reviews. Amazon customers rate it 4.3 out of 5 stars. Some people say that the e+Lite is not the best headlamp for backpacking because it only goes up to 50 lumens. But we love how small and light it is.
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
Another contender for the best headlamp for backpacking this year is the Black Diamond Spot. It is very bright with a max light output of 300 lumens. And it has a max beam distance of 80 meters. The Black Diamond Spot has an IP rating of IPX8, and the company boasts that it is waterproof. But in independent testing water got into the battery compartment when the headlamp was submerged. In runtime tests, the Spot ran at 200 lumens for well over 20 hours. It's a little heavier than some of the other picks for the best headlamp for backpacking, weighing 3.1 ounces. The Black Diamond Spot also runs on three AAA batteries.
The Spot headlamp costs from $ to $. In addition to being affordable and bright, it also gets outstanding ratings. Amazon customers rate it 4.5 out of 5 stars. Out of nearly 200 reviews, 73 percent of them gave the Spot 5 out of 5 stars. Most people love this headlamp. But one common complaint is that you can see yellow spots in the light beam. This lamp is plenty bright, but it doesn't produce the same light quality as the Petzl Actik Core.
Ledlenser MH10 Headlamp
The next contender for the best headlamp for backpacking in 2019 is the Ledlenser MH10. It boasts a crazy bright 600 lumens with a max beam distance of 150 meters. The Ledlenser MH combines a reflector and an adjustable lens which allows you to focus the light. By twisting the bezel, you can get a concentrated light beam without dark spots or too much dimming around the edges. And it is rated IPX4 for water resistance. One of the prices you pay for all of that bright light is that the rechargeable battery pack is big and bulky behind your head. You can run the MH headlamp on the highest setting for 10 hours. Another great thing about the MH is that you can run it with the rechargeable batteries that come with it or you can use AAA batteries.
One of the downsides of the Ledlenser MH10 is that it will cost you a chunk of change. It costs from $ to $$. But it gets excellent ratings. Amazon customers rate it 4.2 out of 5 stars. Most people love this headlamp because it is so bright, but some complained that it is too heavy, weighing 5.57 ounces.
A Final Thought on the Best Headlamp for Backpacking
We liked all of the lights on our list for different reasons. But our overall top pick this year for the best headlamp for backpacking is the Petzl Actik Core. It had the longest running time in head to head tests, and it's super bright with a max light output of 350 lumens. The Actik Core also produces the best light quality. The downside is the price. No headlamp is perfect, but the Actik Core is pretty close.
Do you have another favorite headlamp for backpacking that didn't make our list? We'd love to hear from you. Tell us about it in the comments section below.