A headlamp is one of the most important 10 essentials for backpacking, hiking, and any kind of outdoor adventure sport. Using your smartphone as a flashlight doesn’t cut it. But the days of old-school AA and AAA battery-powered headlamps are history. USB rechargeable headlamps have become ubiquitous and are less wasteful because you don’t need to throw out dead batteries or wonder if the ones you have already have any power left in them.
Here are our top 10 picks for the best rechargeable headlamps for backpacking and hiking. While there are some familiar company names listed below, the companies that used to dominate the headlamp market have been eclipsed by smaller more innovative companies offering less expensive and higher functioning products. You simply don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get a great headlamp anymore. Be sure to check out our advice below about what to look for when buying a rechargeable headlamp for backpacking, hiking, and trail running
1. Petzl Actik Core Rechargeable Headlamp
2. Biolite Headlamp 330 Rechargeable Headlamp
3. LEDLenser MH5 Rechargeable Headlamp
4. Black Diamond Astro 300-R
Black Diamond is not known for making simple-to-use headlamps, but the new rechargeable Astro 300-R breaks the mold. This single-lens single-switch headlamp has a white lite and three brightness levels: high, medium, and low with full strength, dimming, and strobe modes. It’s powered by a 1500 mAh Lithium-ion rechargeable battery that recharges with a micro-US charge port and has an IPX4 rating stormproof to withstand rain and sleet from any angle. This headlamp also has a digital lockout to prevent accidental activation.
5. Fenix HM 50R V2 LED Rechargeable Headlamp
6. Petzl Tactikka Core 450 Rechargeable Headlamp
7. Nitecore NU32 Rechargeable Headlamp
8. Biolite Headlamp 750
9. Nite Ize Radiant 300 Rechargeable Headlamp
10. Princeton Tec Axis Rechargeable Headlamp
How to Choose a Rechargeable Headlamp
Here are the most important features and considerations to evaluate when comparing different rechargeable headlamps.
Check the capacity of the headlamps you’re interested in to see how much power, measured in mAh, they can hold. If you plan on using a headlamp on a multi-day trip, it’s useful to bring one with a large battery capacity so you don’t have to recharge it from a portable power pack. Smaller capacity batteries are fine for short runs, but you will also have to recharge them more frequently, which can be a hassle if you use them a lot.
Dual Power Headlamps
Most rechargeable headlamps bundle in a cold-resistant lithium-ion battery, although there are also dual-power headlamps that can also be powered by old-school alkaline or lithium-ion batteries. If you already carry a USB-enabled power pack to charge your other electronic devices, then the latter is probably unnecessary, although it might be useful if your power pack runs out of juice and you can’t recharge it. This isn’t a priority for me, but some people prefer having the ability to switch to regular batteries as a contingency.
All of the headlamps listed above have battery packs that are integrated with their light sources, so a single headband strap is all that is needed to wear them. Multi-strap headlamp headbands are only necessary for very heavy headlamps or ones with remote battery packs that are carried separately from the light source and linked by an external wire.
If you plan to trail run or hike at night, it’s important to get a headlamp that tilts in its strap bracket so you can direct the spot or floodlight onto the ground and out front, ahead of you.
The latest generation of LED lights available in headlamps are very powerful and the lumen outputs often exceed what’s required for nighttime use in camp or even for nighttime running. Anything headlamp with 150 lumens or more should be sufficient for general purpose backpacking and hiking. When purchasing a headlamp, the maximum light output is much less important than the length of time the headlamp can burn on low power, since that’s the setting you’ll use most often in camp or in your tent.
Red Light Mode
Headlamps with a red light mode are good for preserving your night vision if you want to read in your tent or star gaze. They also help you avoid blinding your companions in camp or around the campfire. The red light mode also uses far less energy than white light modes and is a good way to converse your battery power between charges.
While gear weight is important, it’s often less important than a headlamp’s features, efficiency, or battery life. For example, if you need to carry a heavier power pack to recharge a lighter weight headlamp more frequently, you probably haven’t saved as much weight overall as you might like. Focus on your needs, if you know them, and let that guide your decision as to which headlamp you select.
Headlamps with manual or digital on-off locks are useful to prevent the accidental activation of a headlamp when it’s packed. I won’t buy a headlamp without one, but that’s just my personal preference.
Some sort of battery indicator is useful on a rechargeable headlamp so you know when to recharge the battery and when it’s finished recharging. Without it, you’re more likely to try to use a headlamp that is out of power when you need it.
Check Out All of SectionHiker’s Gear Guides!
Editor’s note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed or recommend on SectionHiker, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we may (but not always) receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!