9 Best Headlamps For Backpacking in 2020

**If you are in a hurry I recommend the Nitecore NU25 Headlamp as the best headlamp for backpacking for its versatile design while still being backpacker friendly **

Getting up in the middle of the night to use the restroom while camping can be like walking through a minefield. But what makes your nighttime experience more comfortable is using a headlamp you can throw on while still freeing up your hands. Learn which one can work in any situation and hold up over the long term in the best headlamp for backpacking reviews below. 

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man with headlamp and starry night sky behind him

What Makes A Great Headlamp For Backpacking

Brightness

People used to use watts as being the main way to measure a bulb’s brightness but that has all changed in the past few years because watts only measured how much energy a bulb was producing. Now we use a term called lumens which measures the actual brightness that is produced from the bulb being used. 

The higher the number the brighter your backpacking headlamp is going to be. There are some options on this list that go as low as 30 lumens, which will be ok if you are hanging around your campsite and need a lightsource to grab gear or do some reading. 

But if you are heading on the trails you will want to stay above 100 lumens in order to light up the path ahead of you properly. 

Battery Source

There are some headlamps for hiking and backpacking on this list that you will be able to recharge using a USB cable that could be included with your purchase. There are even some that take rechargeable batteries but for all others you will only have the option of using regular AAA batteries. 

The battery source can also affect the weight of the headlamp causing it to increase substantially. We are essentially only talking about an ounce or two but if you’re looking to streamline your gear then it can make a difference. 

Run Time

Almost all headlamps will give you the run times but they will always depend on which light setting you have chosen. Most backpacking headlamps have at least three different light settings; high, medium, and low.

If you’re looking at a run time and it’s over 100 hours then the product description is referencing the low light setting. If you see an amount like 5 hours then that will reflect the highest light setting. 

Portability

All options on this list are portable enough for you to stick in your pocket and take off down the trails. But what we really want to consider is if you are looking to get as light as possible with your gear or you just need a light source for a weekend here or there. 

Some of the lightest headlamps for backpacking that you’ll see on this list will be below 1 oz and that usually means that they come with a cord instead of a full head strap. You can usually take the headband off and frankenstein your own lighter version. 

Most of the other headlamps here will be somewhere between 1 – 2.5 oz in weight. What you will find is that most of the weight is actually added by the batteries themselves. The heavier options are can be as heavy as 4 oz in weight but are extra durable to withstand an outdoor beating.

Durability

Most headlamps aren’t going to be that durable because of their small size but some on this list are specifically made for emergency situations. 

Look for the IP rating if you are wondering how your backpacking headlamp will do with water resistance. The higher the rating the more resistant to water your headlamp will be and you’ll see it written like IPX5. The X is substituted for a number and stands for the headlamps resistant to solid objects whereas the last number is for water resistance. 

To be able to withstand a few water splashes an IPX4 would be sufficient but if you are looking for full submersion protection you will want IPX6 or higher. 

Features

Multiple light settings are one of the most common features among headlamps for hiking and backpacking. You’ll usually have a high, medium, and low setting but you can also have a strobe, SOS, red light, and green light setting. Sometimes figuring out how to cycle through your light settings can be a whole task in itself and you’ll have to write down the solutions or keep the instructions nearby.

You can also choose between a traditional headband or some variation of an elastic cord. The cords won’t be as comfortable to wear but are easier to keep in good condition and will be more lightweight than a band. 

Best Overall: Nitecore NU25 Headlamp

The Nitecore is an ultralight backpacking option that comes with some considerate features that will help you in the outdoors. Although the product description will tell you that you can get up to 360 lumens in reality you’re going to get closer to 190 lumens. The max output is only relevant to the turbo light setting which won’t be your main source of light in the wilderness. You also get a high, med, low, aux white light, red light, SOS, and beacon so that you are truly prepared for any situation. 

The light itself weighs just a hair less than 1 oz but with the headband attached it’s more like 1.9oz. Not a huge difference but could be significant depending on how lightweight you need your gear to get. There’s a rechargeable USB battery built-in that is not replaceable and you get a micro USB cord included. You should get up to five hours of run time if left on the high setting. The versatility of the Nitecore is what sets it apart from other options and you’ll have no problem keeping this with you for the next several years.

Pros
  • 190 lumens brightness level
  • Weighs 1.9 oz with headband
  • Rechargeable battery built-in
  • Have 7 different light settings
  • Micro USB cord for charging included
  • 5 hours of run time on high
Cons
  • Product description not clear for lumens and weight

Best Value: EverBrite 5-Pack LED Headlamp

Not your typical looking backpacker’s headlamp, the EverBrite LED Headlamp comes with not one… not two… not three… but five headlamps! All for a price that is lower than some of the other options on this list. Granted, these don’t come with an IP rating or any lumen information but what they do come with is five headlamps! And weighing in at 2.5 oz a piece, they actually weigh less than some other backpacking options you’ll find above. 

You get four different light modes and the light itself swivels 90 degrees so you can aim it wherever you need some extra vision. And you can hand them out like hot cakes as soon as you open the package because the EverBrite comes with 15 AAA batteries. Each one will last up to 5 hours of continual use. This option lets you get a bunch of friendly backpackers together to hit the trails at any time of the day. 

Pros
  • Five headlamps included!
  • Great price for the value
  • 5 hours of continue use
  • 15 AAA batteries included
  • Light rotates 90 degrees
  • Average 2.5 oz weight
Cons
  • Not highest quality of materials
  • Not very durable

Best Budget: UST Tight Light LED Headlamp

If you’re looking for an ultralight headlamp for backpacking while still getting one of the best prices possible then there is no better option than the UST Tight Light LED Headlamp. It weighs less than 1 oz with batteries included and has an adjustable elastic cord that makes it easy to attach to your head and tighten. But there’s also a clip on the back of the light itself so you could put it on a backpack strap or your belt loop if you needed.

The lightweight means your headlamp is not going to have the power of a heavier option and that shows up in the 30 max lumens the UST can provide. This is a fairly low output but will be enough to light up your campsite when looking for gear or reading in the dark. The IPX6 rating makes it one of the most waterproof options on this list. You will enjoy the simplicity, portability, and durability of the UST as a headlamp for your outdoor trip. 

Pros
  • Very lightweight at less than 1 oz
  • Batteries included
  • Clip on back of light
  • Adjustable elastic cord instead of headband
  • IPX6 water resistant
  • Extremely affordable
Cons
  • Very low 30 lumens brightness output

PETZL Rechargeable and Compact Headlamp

Forgoing the actual headband and adding in its place a durable string the PETZL Compact Headlamp is one of the lightest options on this list for headlamps for backpacking. Coming in at an impressive 1.23 oz of weight you’ll be able to carry this with you on any backpacking journey without worrying even knowing it was there. There are three different light settings including proximity, distance, and movement and the highest can produce up to 200 lumens of brightness. 

One of the best features of the PETZL is the rotating lamp so that you can wear it around your neck and angle it where you need illumination. You also get a rechargeable built-in battery and a micros USB cord so you don’t have to worry about replacing batteries or pulling them in and taking them out. The battery source can be finicky with the PETZL because the entry point for the charger isn’t rhombus shaped so it doesn’t protect the micro USB cord from bending as much as other designs that include this shape. And for the price point you would have thought this type of detail would be taken care of. But if you need a solid outdoor option for backpacking that you can wear on your head or neck I would add the PETZL to the top of your list.

Pros
  • Impressive 1.23 oz of weight
  • Up to 200 lumens on high setting
  • Rotating lamp so you can wear around your neck
  • Rechargeable battery built-in
  • 3 different light settings
Cons
  • Battery source doesn’t protect charging cord well
  • Expensive

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

The Black Diamond Spot Headlamp is a reliable option that will hold up over the years but can be difficult to operate due to its many different light settings. It produces 300 lumens at max output and can run up to 30hours on the highest light setting. But the reason it can boast such impressive numbers is because it requires three AAA batteries in order to function. And as you can imagine this weighs the Black Diamond down significantly and ends up being about 3.2oz. That’s one of the heaviest options on this list. 

One of the problems with this headlamp for backpacking is the large yellow spot that is in the center of the white light. It can be very distracting when you’re trying to concentrate in the middle of your headlamp and is a source of many backpackers pain when getting the Black Diamond. You’re also going to deal with several different light settings and different ways of turning on the headlamp. This is going to get confusing if you don’t write it down or spend some time remembering how it functions. It is waterproof though and can handle submersion up to 3.3 feet. So its durable to last you several seasons in the outdoors but figuring out how to use it is going to take some time. Perfect for campers who are specific about their light settings but need something durable and powerful. 

Pros
  • Batteries are included
  • Impressive 300 lumen max output
  • Can submerge in water up to 3.3 feet
  • Run time up to 30 hours on max setting
  • Brightness memory turn on light at last setting
  • 5 different light settings
Cons
  • Heavy at 3.2oz of weight
  • Big yellow spot in middle of light

PETZL ZIPKA Headlamp

The PETZL ZIPKA is another lightweight backpacking headlamp that comes with a string instead of actual headband. The only difference is the string is attached to a retractable cord system that quickly expands or retracts if you are using it or not. This is incredibly useful for a number of reasons and can provide more versatility by attaching your headlamp to your neck, arm, leg, or any inanimate object in your campsite. 

It weighs about 2.4 oz with the three included batteries so it’s a little heavier than other built-in battery options. You also get five different light settings including proximity, movement, and distance with about 3-5 hours of run time on the highest setting. It’s not a lot of run time but if you consider the impressive 300 lumens of brightness output then the math starts to add up. The PETZL is a fantastic headlamp for backpackers who need a very compact option they can rely on to perform in the outdoors.

Pros
  • Retractable cord system
  • Includes batteries
  • 5 different light settings
  • 300 lumens of brightness
Cons
  • Not waterproof

PETZL, e+LITE Headlamp

Although this was built for emergencies the PETZL e+LITE Headlamp is a great tool in any backpackers arsenal because of it’s lightweight size and great durability. It has one of the easiest light setting identifiers of any headlamp on this list and there’s a visual aid to help you know which setting you’re on. And it includes a lock out setting so that your headlamp won’t turn on if it’s in your bag or pocket. It’s also meant to last for up to a decade if stored away so you can always be sure its going to perform during your trip. 

It comes with batteries included and still weighs less than an ounce and comes with a emergency whistle as well. You can use it in temps as low as -22 degrees fahrenheit and submerge it in water up to 3 feet of depth. There is no question the PETZL is going to hold up for you in any outdoor scenario. The only downside is the super low 50 lumen max output but for backpackers looking to have something they can use around their campsite, this is going to be a great fit.

Pros
  • 5 different light settings
  • Very lightweight at .99 oz
  • Comes with battery
  • Waterproof up to 3 feet submersion
  • Emergency whistle included
Cons
  • Very low 50 lumens

Energizer VISION LED Headlamp

The Energizer brand has come a long way since focusing solely on batteries and this headlamp has had just about as many iterations. The product didn’t produce much positive feedback when introduced to the market but Energizer has continued working to improve the current model. It’s one of the brightest headlamps producing up to 400 lumens as max capacity. The rechargeable battery comes with a USB cable and should last for about 4 hours on high light setting. There’s also an impressive seven different light modes including high, low, wide, wide low, night vision red and green, and flashing for emergencies.

It has an IPX4 rating so it will do well with some water splashes but you don’t want to submerge it under water for any reason. There isn’t a product weight listed but the shipping weight has 4 oz so you should expect a little lighter than that amount. It’s important to know which style of headlamp you are getting because you could get the Vision Ultra or Vision HD. I would recommend the Vision HD if you want rechargeable batteries. 

Pros
  • 7 different light settings
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Up to 400 lumens
  • 4 hours of run time on high light setting
  • IPX4 water resistant
Cons
  • Low battery light can be annoying
  • Smart dim feature can get in the way
  • Heavier option at 4 oz shipping weight

Princeton Tec Remix LED Headlamp

One of the more unique aspects of the Princeton is the fact that you can choose how many lumens you are looking to get. Anywhere from 100-700 is available although I recommend sticking with the 300 option. This will give you enough brightness in the outdoors for any situation while still giving you different light settings so that you can adjust it to your needs.

It’s about 2.8 oz so it’s middle of the pack for weight and you’ll still be able to bring it with you anywhere you go but if you’re looking for ultralightweight then you would want to look elsewhere. It comes with three AAA batteries and can run up to 150 hours on the lowest light setting so you should have no issues worrying about performance. It is more fragile than other headlamps though so keep it close to your chest and away from hard impacts.

Pros
  • You can pick between different lumen outputs
  • Batteries are included
  • Up to 150 hours on low setting
  • Middle of pack at 2.8 oz in weight
Cons
  • Fragile to medium-hard impact

Summary

My choice for the best headlamp for backpacking is the Nitecore NU25 Headlamp for its versatile design while still being backpacker friendly. You get seven different light settings and a built-in battery you can easily recharge with the included USB cable. It has just enough light for the outdoors without being blinding and you’ll get up to five hours of run time on the high light setting. If you need a backpacking headlamp you can rely on that will be useful in almost any outdoor situation then the Nitecore fills all your boxes.

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