Features To Look for / How to Choose a Headlamp

Before you go shopping for a headlamp, you will need to figure out how it will be used. Will it be for caving, trail running, camping, reading a book, biking, sailing or hunting? Your answer will determine where you begin looking for your headlamp.

For example, if you want a headlamp for serious sports like biking, you will need a helmet first and foremost. Your headlamp will need to fit on or over your helmet, so that will be a consideration.

If you will be using your light to walk around your campsite without tripping over your tent stakes, it’s a little different than going trail hiking or running in which you’ll need for your light to shine a distance ahead to keep you from running into a bear or a tree. You will also want to know this for comfort’s sake.

If you will be running in 90 degree weather, you will want straps that are cool and comfortable, but it won't be as much of a concern if you are in a cave that is only 50 degrees. Here are some other considerations when shopping for a headlamp:

  • Cost – If you are purchasing this for a one time casual use and safety is not of prime concern, you may not want to invest as much as if you are taking up a long term hobby.
  • Portability – How cumbersome will your headlamp be, and is it suitable for your activity? For example, if you are rock climbing and your life is on the line, you may not want something that is irritating your scalp or is too heavy on your head.
  • Battery Type – What type of battery does it have? Lithium batteries tend to be a hassle to replace because they are so expensive and hard to find. Rechargeable or alkaline batteries will likely be your better choice. However, you should not consider rechargeable if you do not have a means to recharge them in between uses.
  • Kind of Bulb – LED "bulbs" are compact, bright, long lasting and use less battery power. However, they are not ideal for long distance lighting and those who need a straight beam. Xenon and halogen are a little bigger, but they are better at shining straight beams or long distance and wide angles. The downside to xenon and halogen bulbs is that they use more energy.
  • Brightness – Choosing the brightest bulb may seem like a good idea, but it may not be. If you are using it for reading for example, the glare from excess light may hurt your eyes. Some people prefer to purchase a headlamp that has adjustable light levels on it. Make sure to compare the lux amount on a bulb instead of lumen. Lux is considered a more reliable measurement.
  • Added Features – Consider what added features a model has. Some may prove useless, but others may be worthwhile. For example, some models are waterproof, which can prove useful while engaging in sports near water. Another useful feature some lights have is a strobe light for emergencies to draw attention and get help should an accident occur.

Whichever headlamp you decide to purchase, make sure to shop and compare different brands as well as different models. Try looking in sections of the store that specialize in whatever sport you plan to engage in with your headlamp. Ask salespeople who are working at the store for their personal experiences and advice. Talk to friends who share your hobbies. Then make your purchase with confidence.