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We Tested 4 Popular Backpacking Headlamps

We compared four headlamps so you can see the advantages and disadvantages of the different types. The ideal headlamp for your hike will depend on your individual needs.

Paul Bodnar      Educational     6/25/2021
Educational
6/25/2021

There are now hundreds of different types of headlamps on the market today.  We couldn’t test every one so we tested four popular backpacking headlamps to illustrate the differences. By seeing the advantages and disadvantages of each type of headlamp you should be able to focus on the best type of headlamp for your next hike.  We evaluated the headlamps based on cost, weight, battery type, brightness levels, burn time, water resistance level, and viewable distance.

Left to right: PETZL e+Lite (30 lumens), Princeton Tec Byte (100 lumens), PETZL Tactikka (300 lumens), and Princeton Tec Byte (200 lumens).

The illumination of a given area is measured in lux. The greater the distance from the light source the lower the illumination of the area. The Illumination or lux value decreases exponentially as the distance from the light source increases. The illumination or lux values at different distances was measured at various distances from the headlamps. The minimum illumination or lux value for hiking should be at least 5. As expected the best illumination was seen from the PETZL Tactikka (300 lumen) headlamp. The poorest illumination was observed with the ultralightweight PETZL e+Lite (30 lumen) emergency headlamp.

Recommended Lux Values

Different tasks require different levels of illumination or lux. In general the more detailed the task the more illumination or lux is required. Detailed drawing work can require 1,000 lux while navigating a stairway at night only requires 15 lux.


Headlamps Compared

*not including the cost of the rechargeable battery ($29.95).

Four very different headlamps were compared to illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of headlamps.

Summary

The ideal headlamp for your hike will depend on your individual needs. A 300 lumen or more rechargeable headlamp with the ability for use of AAA batteries as a backup and three lighting levels is likely the best choice for most long distance hikers. This is because a rechargeable headlamp will save money by replacing the use of disposable batteries and the higher lumen output will be provide better illumination for hiking in the night.

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A lake reflects a nearby wildflower meadow and trees.
Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

Download our popular hiking and biking guides!
About the Author
A man wearing an Arizona Trail baseball cap stands in a field in front of a mountain.

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the PCT again in 2010 to do research for his guide book, Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the PCT.