Update - May 2017
For 2017, our Best Buy winner, the Petzl Tikkina, receives an update to include information about its recent upgrades. As manufacturers up the ante, we work to confirm that award winners continue to earn their titles fair and square.
Best Overall Headlamp
Incredible brightness and beam control
Our favorite headlamp overall is the Coast HL7
. Combining an incredible 131-meter beam distance, a manageable 4.5-ounce weight, and top of its class floodlight optics, this product is a great asset in the dark. Coast
has even just dropped the list price our Editors' Choice winner to $50 if you need more convincing. The battery pack placement at the back of the head isn't for everyone, but this design does make the light more balanced and stable. The Coast's
beam distance and high scores in trail finding and close proximity increase its value relative to other high-priced lights, such as the $55 Petzl Tikka XP
, the $40 Black Diamond Spot
, or the $50 Princeton Tec Vizz
. Battery life when running the light on full power is somewhat lacking, but turning down the brightness when it's not necessary significantly extends the life of the 3 AAA batteries. Or, just carry an extra set of batteries, which weighs only 1.2 ounces, to double the 3.4 hours high-mode life.
Read full review: Coast HL7
Black Diamond ReVolt
Good spotlight capability
Above average in almost every category
Works with regular AAA batteries
Medium length distance beam
Convinced that rechargeables will lead the future of backcountry lighting, we are stoked to see the growing lineup of USB rechargeable alternatives to traditional batteries. The Black Diamond ReVolt
is our favorite
of these lights due to its unique combination of strong performance, light weight, and reasonable price. The ReVolt
is above average
in all categories except brightness. And, even in brightness, it's no slouch, casting a 56-meter beam (about 180 feet). Battery life is where this light really excels, especially for a rechargeable. Buyers should be aware that rechargeable batteries often perform better when new than old, but even with predictable declining performance, the ReVolt
can be expected to remain impressive. The ReVolt
is unique in also being able to accept regular alkaline AAA batteries for added flexibility. If you hate buying (and throwing away) batteries, travel to remote regions where battery replacement is impractical, or use your light at least weekly, you'll find the ReVolt
to be a solution that will pay for itself in reduced battery costs coupled with excellent performance.
Read full review: Black Diamond ReVolt
Best for Budget-Minded
Good battery life
Not as bright as alternatives
For now, the quality gap between low-end lights sold at outdoor retailers, such as the Petzl Tikkina
or the Black Diamond Gizmo
, and the entry level lights you'd find at Home Depot is just too big. But, each year competitive offerings at the low-end improve. Today, with the Energizer 3 LED
available for just $12, we find it impossible to ignore the great value it offers for those looking for basic utility lighting, though it still could not match the inexpensive offering from Petzl
. In 2015, with the Tikkina
being widely available for less than $17, and its batteries lasting longer than most other lights we tested, our choice for Best Buy was an easy one. The latest 2017 version of the Tikkina has recieved some fantastic upgrades. This already bomber product now features a washable headband, 150 lumens, and Hybrid battery technology which offers the option to use either AAA's or Petzl's rechargable Core battery sytem. You can learn more about these updates in the individual review.
Read full review: Petzl Tikkina
Top Pick for Trail Finding
Heavy with limited battery life at max power
The Fenix is now rechargeable!
Fenix confirmed with us that the HP25R, pictured above, replaces the original HP25. Yep, you guessed it, that "R" stands for rechargeable. Our individual review highlights the differences between the model we reviewed and this latest version, which includes more modes, lumens, and more money ($100 list price).
Robust, incredibly bright, and boasting good enough optics, the Fenix HP25R
is the one light we'd most want to have in our pack when a backcountry venture goes wrong. It absolutely dominates the other lights in brightness. While there are competing products that are lighter weight and almost as bright with better battery performance, none provide the sheer power provided by the Fenix
. It also provides one of the top performing floodlight modes, with an evenly lit low-beam that will run for days. The downside is fairly evident in terms of a relatively high price tag, heavy weight, poor high-mode battery life, and a more bulky size. But, if you found yourself caught out after dark, a long way from camp, with a storm coming in, there is no better choice than the HP25R
Read full review: Fenix HP25R
Top Pick for Ultralight
Lightest weight headlamp out there
Three lighting modes
Newer, lighter version now available
Petzl recently released the newest version of the e+LITE (pictured above), which claims an even lower weight, more lumens, and a more traditional headband. Our individual review of this product goes into more detail about the differences between the older and newer versions.
If light and fast
is your strategy, the Petzl e+LITE
fits the bill. It weighs only one ounce (30 g) and fits in the palm of your hand. It provides adequate light for work around the campsite and in the tent, and in its brightest mode will shine a reasonable beam distance of 28 meters (about 90 feet). If you keep it in low-mode, the battery holds up a long time. And, if you end up in an emergency situation, flip it to the flashing red LED for an emergency beacon that lasts for days. You might think the retractable zip-line headband would be uncomfortable, but due to the e+LITE's
featherweight, we found that it works well. It's perfect for ultralight backpackers, or anyone who values small size and/or light weight. At $30, the e+LITE
is a bit more expensive than other small low-end lights, and you'll want to pick up some extra packs of the Energizer 2032 Battery
before you head out of town (you may not find them easily in the mountains), but nothing comes close to this one on size and weight.
Read full review: Petzl e+LITE
Top Pick for Runners
Black Diamond Sprinter
Bright for such a diffused beam
Waterproof to 1m
No spotlight feature
Short battery life
The Black Diamond Sprinter
is perhaps the most purpose-built light in our test. While others we reviewed serve one of various specific purposes but also claim general appeal, the Sprinter
makes no apologies for its niche service. One tester pointed out that it sure seems as though someone at Black Diamond wanted this light for his or her own use, and went about designing it. It is that specific. It isn't the brightest, nor does the battery last too long. But the battery is fully integrated and rechargeable. The construction evenly balances the weight on a bouncing runner's head, and the light is constructed such that you can point a white light forward for illuminating your way and point a red light backwards for safety visibility. In short, this light is purpose built for road running in the dark. As such, it excels.
Read full review: Black Diamond Sprinter