“Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
Headlamps are, by far, one of the dorkiest items I own (next to my stethoscope and otoscope), but these nifty lights have saved me countless times, especially when I fail to finish my hike by sunset. Whether you plan to hike in the dark or not, you should always keep a headlamp in your emergency pack, just in case. There have been so many times I was not planning on hiking in the dark but due to accidents, too many bottles of wine, a slower pace, or a late start back, I have ended countless hikes under the night sky. I also start the majority of my long hikes before sunrise and will use a headlamp to guide me along the trail until the sun rises. Also, night hiking, especially when there is a full moon, is a great experience. It is incredibly important to hike with your hands free (with the exception of trekking poles), therefore using flashlights and/or cell phones for illumination in the outdoors at night are not an option. Please keep your flashlights at home and your cell phone in your pack. Headlamps can range from $10 up to $50 and beyond however a decent headlamp made by a quality brand will run you about $20-$25 and much cheaper if you can score one on sale. Check out the REI online garage for sales everyday of the week, all year long. In terms of brands, we recommend sticking with Black Diamond or Petzl.
Let’s go over some common features you need to know when shopping for a headlamp.
Flood light vs. spotlight
- Flood (or Wide): Useful for general camp tasks, up-close repair work and reading. Flood beams ordinarily do not throw light a long distance.
- Spot (or Focused or Narrow): This tight beam best enables long-distance viewing. In most cases this is a better choice to navigate a trail in the dark.
- Flood / Spot: Adjustable headlamps are the most versatile.
Brightness does matter
Lumens are a unit of measure that gauges the total quantity of light emitted in all directions by a light source, therefore in MOST cases, the higher the lumens, the brighter the light. 200-300 lumens is a good rule of thumb to stick with when purchasing a headlamp.
Most headlamps have at least 2 modes: low and high.
- Low is the standard mode used for most tasks such as camp chores or walking along an easy trail at night.
- High (or Max) is a good option for situations where you simply need or want more light
Some headlamps have additional modes such as flash and red light mode
- Strobe (or Flash) mode acts as an emergency blinker. A few models even offer a choice of flash rates: slow and fast.
- Red light mode: Red light does not cause our pupils to shrink the way white light can, so it's good for nighttime use so others are not blinded by your bright white light. I literally had someone yell at me once because I accidentally shined my headlamp on their tent when they were "sleeping" (clearly they were not sleeping). Just to be safe, always get a headlamp with a red light mode.
Batteries: AA or AA or lithium?
Take your pick. Some headlamps are designed to work with lithium batteries, which are a good choice for cold-weather usage, since lithium batteries outperform alkaline batteries in cold conditions.
The following are a few great headlamps:
Sometimes it is nice to have a mini lantern when backpacking or camping to place in your tent or on your table/the ground. They make some really cool ones that are super small and lightweight and some that are even collapsible. Some are solar powered and can hang on the outside of your pack to charge whereas other are battery powered. (Don't forget your batteries)
“And God said, ‘let there be light’: and there was light.”
Thanks so much for reading and see you on the trails,