Outdoor Headlamp Buying Guide

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From time to time, there are segments of every industry that show some promise when it comes to innovation. It typically starts with one brand making a significant change and the other brands waking up so they can stay in the game, and in some cases look to push innovation to grab that top spot. And the outdoor headlamp have recently been part of this innovation surge where the focus is around rechargeable batteries. A few years back, there were a number of brands who started making headlamps with rechargeable batteries which was a welcomed innovation for headlamps. One downside with the early rechargeable headlamps was that after the battery started to push past it’s useful life, the headlamp was deemed useless and ended up in the gear cemetery in a storage box that you rarely open.

To address this issue, most rechargeable headlamps have transitioned to a replaceable rechargeable battery. These batteries are able to be removed from the headlamp and replaced with a new rechargeable battery that is is sold by the headlamp manufacture. This is good from a financial and environmental standpoint because instead of tossing a headlamp that still works with exception to the rechargeable battery, all you need to do is swap out the rechargeable battery and you’re good to go.
Black Diamond Revolt 300 Petzl NAO + Petzl Actik Core 350 Nite Ize Inova STS Powerswitch Nathan Halo Fire BioLite HeadLamp 330 UCO Vapor+ Rechargeable
Price $59.95 $199.95 $69.95 $59.99 $79.99 49.95 $39.99
Weight 3.53 6.52oz 2.89oz 3.3oz 3.25oz 2.44oz 3.7oz
Lumens 300 750 350 280 288 330 300
Rechargeable battery Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Y micro USB Yes
Battery Watts 2600mAh 1250mAh 1100mAh 1500mAh 900mAh 520mAh
Battery up front or back Front Back Front Front Front Back Back
Separate rechargeable battery available for purchase Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
Regular battery compatible Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No
Battery life on high 6h low 30h high 25h low 6h, 30m high 2h high 160h low 76h low 2h 20m high 25h low 4h,15m high 40h low 3h,30m high 40h low 48m high
Charge time 6-8h 5h
Max light distance 80m 140m 95m 76m 51m 75m 63m
Blinking mode (strobe) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Red light mode Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Dimming mode Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lock mode Yes Yes No
Waterproof IPX8 IPX4 IPX4 IPX8 IPX4 IPX4 IPX4

Testing notes

BioLite 330

The BioLite 330 headlamp was conceived from a brand known for it’s innovation. This was the lightest headlamp that we tested and it was hard to tell it was even on our head. With the battery pack on the back, there was no bounce on the front of your head to speak while running, hiking, skiing, etc. In the past, the battery packs that headlamps used for the back of a headlamp were bulky and heavy, but the battery used with the BioLite 330 is incredibly light and packs a punch.

The band for the 330 headlamp is incredibly comfortable and easy to adjust on the go. For charging, there is an easy access micro USB port that has 4 little lights that show how much power the battery has.

The only downside that we found with this headlamp is the size of the button to turn the light on/off and use other features such as strobe and dimming. Unfortunately, I feel this is a pretty significant downside as it is hard to use with regular sized fingers. In the cold, this button can be really hard to use. bioliteenergy.com

Petzl Actik Core 350 – EDITORS CHOICE

The Petzl Actik Core 350 has been our favorite headlamp to test as it is lightweight, provides great lighting and battery life and is very easy to use. At it’s price point, this headlamp is also a great value for what you get compared to other headlamps on the market. The most notable feature on this headlamp is the on/off button which also controls the features of the headlamp. At 350 lumens, this headlamp lights up everything you need and at a weight of 2.89oz, it makes it the perfect companion for runners, hikers, backcountry skiers, and more. We honestly couldn’t find one downside to this headlamp. www.amazon.com/petzl

Nathan Halo Fire

The Nathan Halo Fire headlamp is one of the more pricey headlamps. This headlamp is average when it comes to headlamps, but it has one nice runner specific feature that it switches to strobe when its sensor encounters automobile headlights. A few of my big gripes with this headlamp is that it is hard to work the buttons, you really have to push down hard to turn it on and off and and the buttons are relatively small. To run with, I found this headlamp to be somewhat bulky and heavy to have on the front of your head while running compared to some of the other headlamps tested. Last but not least, the price is still too high for what you are getting compared to other headlamps on the market. While Nathan makes some really great running gear, this headlamp is not a product from Nathan that I would recommend.  nathansports.com

Black Diamond Revolt 300

I’ve been using Black Diamond headlamps for a while now and true to their history of making quality gear, this headlamp does not disappoint. The BD Revolt 300 has all the features that you want in a headlamps such as a good amount of lumens (300), it’s easy to operate with or without gloves on, and is lightweight in a small package for what it provides. One feature that I like about this headlamp is that it comes with 3 rechargeable 3A black diamond batteries that you can charge inside the headlamp. You can also swap these batteries out and put into another device while out in the field as well. I think this one is a good value for what you get in a headlamp.  blackdiamondequipment.com

UCO Vapor+ Rechargeable Headlamp

I had not tried or heard of UCO before, so when this headlamp showed in the mail for testing I was excited to see what it was all about. My first impression when I opened the box was that the headlamp was pretty light for a 300 lumen headlamp. This headlamps uses a dial to turn the headlamp on and off and adjust the lighting features. This dial is the easiest out of the group we tested for adjusting your light on the go. This is also the easiest to use with gloves or mittens when the weather is cold, even with big bulky mittens. Another feature I like with this headlamp is the battery located on the back. This keeps the headlamp super light on the front of your head which eliminates any bounces while running.

The one thing that I would like to see in this headlamp is an elastic headband versus having to use a velcro strap that you need to adjust. In the winter, I wear different thickness hats which means you have to adjust this strap every time you wear a different hat. With an elastic band, you typically don’t need to make that many adjustments. www.amazon.com/ucogear

Petzl Nao +

The Petzl Nao + is a complete beast. This headlamp is designed for the athlete who wants the best of the best in gear and doesn’t want to sacrifice. At 750 lumens of light, this headlamp provides enough light for almost any situation. I’ve found it most useful for night skiing while skinning up and skiing down at the resort. The additional blinking red light on the back helps you to be seen from the rear in case people don’t see the light shining in front of you. This is also where the battery is stored, so it balances out the weight on your head. If you want to reduce the amount of weight on your head, you can purchase the Kit belt Nao + for $34.95 which allows you to clip the battery to a pack or your waist and run a wire to the lamp.

Instead of using the traditional elastic hand to fit to your head, the Nao + headlamp uses an elastic string like cord that cuts down on weight and is easy to make adjustments to. The headlamp is highly customizable using the Petzl app, which is an upside and a downside depending on who you talk to. While a lot of the adjustment can be done through the headlamp itself, not everyone wants to have to download an app to make additional adjustments that takes up storage space and drains the battery on your phone.

I found the headlamp to be very easy to use in the field as it has an easy to use nob that allows you to turn the light on and off and adjust the light settings.  For skiing, the headlamps is easy to use on a helmet and stays in place.  This headlamp can also be used for ultra running where you want good light and and a good battery life. At it’s price, this headlamp is not for everyone. For a basic headlamp, there are many other good options at a lower price. If you’re looking for a headlamp that can provide max lighting with the most features, I am a big fan of the Petzl Nao +. www.amazon.com/petzl

Nite Ize Inova STS PowerSwitch Dual Power

The INOVA STS PowerSwitch is the first ever rechargeable, two-color LED, multi-mode headlamp that can run on either the included Lithium Ion battery pack or three AAA batteries. With the lithium ion battery, the unit weighs in at a very light 2.3 oz, but shines the least bright of the headlamps tested at only 280 lumens.

Winter adventures may not have been the best testing grounds for a headlamp which functions with a touch pad on/off switch. To use, I had to remove my gloves, but was easy once mastered. The sturdy design held up admirably during testing which included cold and wet conditions. Even with a couple of falls on a snowboard the strap held firmly. It functioned very well in temps not requiring gloves. The light was sufficient for foot speeds on trail. I would, however recommend supplemental light for high-speed trail adventures, as with any headlamp under 500 lumens.

Overall, I was pleased with how the light functioned, the battery life (when managed) and the light provided. My only complaint is the on/off/dimming switch. If you are a cold weather adventurer, I recommend a traditional on/off button. The Nite Ize headlamp is a great value when compared to the other lights tested. I would choose this light for warm weather backpacking, running or to supplement a mounted bike light. www.amazon.com/niteize

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