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How to Buy a Great Headlamp or Flashlight


If people had the night vision of owls, we wouldn’t need headlamps, flashlights or lanterns. Unfortunately, for finding our way around a campsite or adventuring after dark, we need artificial lights.

Lights come in a dizzying array of sizes and shapes, but Gear Guy has great advice to help you buy a headlamp, flashlight and lantern tough enough to illuminate your outdoor adventures.


Lights come in many shapes and sizes. Handheld flashlights are the most common. They are versatile because you can easily direct the light and focus it closer to the ground when hiking.

Headlamps are like flashlights you wear on your head. Headlamps are the standard for any outdoorsmen who need to have their hands free for climbing and handling gear.

Battery-powered lanterns are used to light up larger areas for cooking and hanging around camp.

Finally, signal lights are flashlights that come with several different colored lights and special blinking options that can help you call for help when necessary.

BLACK DIAMOND SPOT ($40, For hands-free activities, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value than the Spot. It’s one of the brightest ultralight headlamps around — with a max power of 200 lumens — and can illuminate up to 260 feet away. The Spot also has multiple white and red LED modes (red for maintaining your night vision), a locked setting to avoid accidentally draining batteries and a unique PowerTap feature — tap the headlamp’s side to cycle among brightness levels. 3 oz. (including three AAA batteries)


You get what you pay for. Cheap lights usually are not durable and won’t last long. Expect to spend at least $10 to $15 to get a quality flashlight. Headlamps are more expensive — you can get an entry-level headlamp for about $20 to $25.

PRINCETON TEC SYNC ($30, Looking for affordable simplicity? Check out the Sync. Its max power of 90 lumens (range: up to 190 feet) casts enough light for hiking after dark. It has five beam settings, white and red modes, and an intuitive dial with a locking function — no clicking through modes. Plus, it will run up to 150 hours on a set of batteries. 3 oz. (including three AAA batteries)


If you mainly keep the light in your pack for emergencies or for getting around camp at night, get a smaller light. Some of the newer, more expensive small lights can pack as much power as the older big ones.

PETZL ZIPKA ($40, The self-adjusting retractable cord makes this one of the most compact headlamps on the market. Switch between the Zipka’s two white-bulb modes (100 and 20 lumens) with a click. The cord zips back into the casing, so the entire unit disappears in your fist. A set of batteries will last up to 180 hours at 20 lumens. 2 oz. (including three AAA batteries)


Most flashlights use alkaline batteries, but if you can afford lithium batteries, they last longer. Rechargeable batteries are another choice to consider since they are better for the environment, but they don’t hold their charge as long as other types.

As you’re shopping, it’s important to consider a light’s runtime — the number of hours of continuous light provided from a fresh set of batteries. This information is often included on a light’s packaging.

SUREFIRE TITAN PLUS ($100, A keychain light less than 4 inches long that’s this bright is almost unheard of, but the 300 lumens cast by the Titan Plus could freeze a deer in its tracks. Twisting the Titan’s head will switch to the LED bulb’s two other settings: 75 lumens and 15 lumens. Its wide beam shines evenly. The rechargeable NiMH battery lasts up to seven hours and can be replaced with one AAA battery in a pinch. 2 oz. (including battery)


Think about what you’ll be using your light for. If you just want a light to read by in camp, consider a small flashlight or tiny lantern with LED lights. If you need it for hiking or mountain biking, a bright headlamp with a halogen or Xenon bulb might be a better choice.

As you shop for a light, you may see the word “lumens” on the packaging. What’s a lumen? A lumen is the total amount of light emitted from a flashlight or headlamp. In general, the more lumens, the brighter the light will be.

GOAL ZERO LIGHTHOUSE MINI LANTERN ($60, Illuminate the night — or charge your smartphone — with this ingenious lantern that folds up and packs down to 4 x 3 inches. The two-way dimmer switch throws either 360 degrees of light (max 210 lumens) or 180 degrees (max 105 lumens). Charge it using Goal Zero’s solar panels (sold separately) or from a USB outlet. Good for one full phone charge. 8 oz. (including battery)


When you’re buying a light, ask yourself: Over a few camping trips will it be able to hold up to wear and tear?

If the light is made of aircraft-grade aluminum or super-strong plastic, the answer is yes.

It’s also best to pick a model with a push-button switch because lights with sliding buttons can accidentally be turned on in your pack, killing the batteries or bulb — and leaving you with no light.


At the beginning of December, we demonstrated some of these great flashlights and gave them away to lucky readers.

25 Comments on How to Buy a Great Headlamp or Flashlight

  1. powerchimp // March 30, 2009 at 5:29 pm // Reply

    oh, and crank lights can break so be careful. :]

  2. powerchimp // March 30, 2009 at 5:27 pm // Reply

    princeton tec lights may be a little on the pricey side. but I found one called aurora thats somewhere between 20-45$ [can’t remember had it for so long (still works)]. it’s one of the brightest in my troop and i’ve yet to break it. p.s. MAG lights are great around home and camp but dont recomend for backpacking due to metal frame.

  3. real world 96 // March 24, 2009 at 8:38 pm // Reply


  4. jesus rocks // March 12, 2009 at 10:14 pm // Reply

    petzls are good $20-40 but well worth prise black diamond also good headlamps
    maglite aa’s model are also one of my favorites
    maglite sells converter kits for their flashlight like led and bottom push button
    maglites can also be used like a candle or lantern if you take off cap and put it on bootom

  5. It’s better if you actually get a crankable light , since you never have to change the batteries or light bulbs. Plus its useful for emergencies.

  6. Princeton Tec is a great flashlight and headlamp brand.(Their flash lights are so small, I fit it in my survival kit.The lights have a low, med,high, and flash modes.)

  7. i have an energizer one that i bought from wal-mart and it works fine for me.

  8. why dont you got pictures

  9. I used one of the Energizer LED head lamps from Wal Mart for 6 months while through hiking the Appalachian Trail. Used it every night and only changed the batteries 3 times! Great head lamp.

  10. i got one from walmart it is not durable

  11. flash light trouble // June 27, 2008 at 1:49 pm // Reply

    i’ve found out that when you are sleeping on a campout it is easier to put your flashlight in a boot or shoe than on the ground next to you becouse if nature calls and you cant find your flashlight than your in trouble.

  12. camper 101 // June 27, 2008 at 8:44 am // Reply

    i have a light weight aluminum one that is great for backpacking, then i have an l.e.d lamp for summer camp, and a larger flashlight for camping trips.

  13. I bought an energizer headlamp that works great…it has four settings and the power lasts long….good

  14. bobert the robert // June 20, 2008 at 5:26 pm // Reply

    I have a nice crankable flashlight that is slightly dimmer than some others, but it’s good for outdoor camping. I’m not sure about caving, however. And bobscout 45, was caps lock on and you were looking at the keyboard, or were you using caps lock on purpose? I want to know, because all caps is bad internet etiquiite.

  15. botscout45 // May 29, 2008 at 3:59 pm // Reply




  16. love guns // May 19, 2008 at 9:56 pm // Reply

    thanks, Jesus follower!

  17. Yeshua Lives // May 11, 2008 at 6:52 pm // Reply

    I have a wind up flashlight and it is great for reading in the Tent!!!!(for all you readers out there) It’s great but it runs out of juice really fast.

  18. i would suggest getting one of those flashlights that all u have to do is charge it up using a little crank on the side. it not brightest but will keep you out of dark


  20. Jesus follower // May 4, 2008 at 10:16 am // Reply

    i agree love guns, i have a mag lite too and its great!

  21. Walmart sells a single AA cell LED flashlight that is light and small and will last all night for about $5. I keep one in my search and rescue packas a spare.

  22. Awesome!!!

  23. Why have I not heard about this before?

  24. PEssist scout // April 30, 2008 at 4:11 pm // Reply

    boring lol

  25. mag-lights work very well, have a life time warenty, and they have a extra light bulb

    in the bottom! I have one and it lastid for 5 years!

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