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Headlamp and flashlight buying guide

Whether you’re finding your way down a mountain in the dark or finding your way on a midnight run to the bathroom, a reliable light is one of the most important pieces of gear a guy can carry. Lights come in a dizzying array of sizes and shapes, but your Gear Guy sorted through the mountains of lights to bring you 10 great options.

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THE BASICS

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.

PRICE

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.

SIZE AND WEIGHT

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.

BATTERIES

Most flashlights use alkaline batteries, but if you can afford lithium batteries, they last up to 10 years. 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.

BRIGHTNESS

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.

DURABILITY

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.

WHAT’S HOT

96 Comments on Headlamp and flashlight buying guide

  1. i have a head lamp a crank light and a mini mag

  2. i got a COLEMAN aluminum light two AA(they discontinued the two AA but still make the others) it is very bright and very durable i dropped it a couple times barley got a scratch on it was $25$ at WAL-MART

  3. I think Coast LED is the only way to go they make a flashlight that puts out 1,000 Lumens! The Quality is amazing and the price is fairly cheap compared to other brands. Mag lights are awesome as well if you do not want the ‘King of the Hill’ flashlight.

    • bobthecactus // September 7, 2011 at 7:55 am // Reply

      Olight has the SR90 which puts out 2,200 lumens,but I doubt that anyone would want to spend that much money on a flashlight.

  4. petzel headlamps are very reliable and come through when you need it most :)

  5. I have a Dorcy led flashlight its 200 lumen’s and is bright

  6. Petal headlamps work great,and anything with a red setting is better- it doesn’t screw up your night vision.

  7. HippieScout151 // July 27, 2010 at 9:00 am // Reply

    I have a maglite 6P with an LED head. It has like, 300 lumens! The US army used them in the gulf war but without the LED head. It can blind you!!!

    • HippieScout151 // July 27, 2010 at 9:05 am // Reply

      Sorry, I meant SUREFIRE

      • Random Person in the comments // December 5, 2010 at 9:15 pm //

        yeah no kidding! maglite doesnt make anything that awesome. although i do carry a small one that i like

    • this is right the mag lights are awesome i have the one without the led it is bright and has a belt holder great for camp and it never fails

  8. what is a GOOD STRONG, AND BRIGHT. flash light that doesnt use a million batterys.

    • try a mini maglite led two double A batteries and they last while (the batteries and light) at sports authority thy cost 25 bucks

      try WAL-MART

  9. Fenix lights haveto be the best lights i’ve ever had and their reasonably priced too

  10. troop185scout // May 25, 2010 at 10:39 pm // Reply

    MAG-LITES:really good flashights check them out
    there are lots of brands to chose from
    i go with mag’s but i use other brands to.

  11. I use a Energizer headlamp, and it has been through night hiking, caving, and regular camp use. You can find it at a Wal-Mart for about $10 at the most. It is really cheap but has lasted quite a while. I also have a hand-held XPG flashlight from Cabela’s that works great.

  12. middie football // January 27, 2010 at 8:14 am // Reply

    stream light makes the best light in the world i wouldnt trust any other light

  13. Where Oh Where are replacement Lightbulbs 1501 // October 13, 2009 at 5:06 pm // Reply

    Replacement lightbulbs for mag-lites may be sometimes placed on back order with the customer service department of Bass Pro Sports Shops. Extra lightbulbs sometimes come with brand new mag-lite flashlights. Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Target Pharmacy Stores do not have replacement lightbulbs in stock and have no retail pipeline to order replacement lightbulbs for people who need to replace lightbulbs for mag-lite flashlights. Or, just purchase a completely new flashlight–what’s the big deal with purchasing another new flashlight?

  14. i bought a cheap headlamp and it broke in half while i was caving

  15. ssssssssssssssssssssssss // August 23, 2009 at 1:34 pm // Reply

    I am looking for A new light to use on general campouts and I am going to use the info found here to buy 1

  16. Where can replacement lightbulbs for mag-lites be purchased to replace a no longer working mag-lite lightbulb? Mag-lite flashlights are not disposable flashlights like Energizer flashlights or Everready Flashlights where the lightbulb is sealed intact and a new Energizer flashlight costs less than $20.00 for the entire flashlight at a camping store or Walgreens or Rite-Aid.

  17. mag-lites all the way! the one i have adjusts for a wider area of coverage.

  18. go with a mag lite. but a leatherman light is still good.

  19. Are “Shake Lite Flashlights” good as usuable flashlights. They don’t require any flashlight batteries and produce energy for a flashlight by having a magnet slide inside a metal coil “slinky” type coil within the flashlight. Crank flashlights require someone to wind a crank for up to 90 seconds to produce enough energy to light a flashlight lightbulb. For flashlights which use batteries, it is easy to find replacement batteries for a flashlight–however, where can someone find replacement lightbulbs for flashlights which contain removable lightbulbs?

  20. I have a surfire e1e it only ways two ounces and it works great

  21. For christmas i got two 9 LED flashlights. Both metal. Both from HUSKY. I also got a awesome 1-3 LED streamlight headlamp. ( It has different settings, 1. one LED 2. 3 LED 3.Xenon bulb.) They are all very reliable.

  22. qualitycamper // April 9, 2009 at 8:44 am // Reply

    Wallmart may be CHEAP but they do NOT have quality flashlights!! I bought one the night before my first camping trip and it did not even work!!! BEWARE!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. Hallelujah // April 5, 2009 at 5:34 pm // Reply

    I bought one of those weird national zoo crank lights where you squeeze it and it charges. I wouldn’t recommend getting one of those. I dropped mine onto its side and the gears dislocated. Now the charging setting doesn’t work. Don’t trust National Zoo gift shops!!!

  24. troop637scout // April 4, 2009 at 3:13 pm // Reply

    hey king tut and papa smurf, you can get a lithium version of that for 8 bucks more. it has twice the battery life.

    by:troop637scout

  25. troop637scout // April 4, 2009 at 3:11 pm // Reply

    this is another one of those things where there’s so much to choose from. i reccomend that you buy a wide beam flash light. it works great for any occassion wheather your hiking in the mountains or going from your tent to a tree for a restroom break. it lights up the night and dosen’t eat up battries quick.

    by:troop637scout

    also, if you have any questions for me, just type them here in the blog but put question for troop637scout. thanks.

    • Just like troop637scout said, you want a wide beam.
      I reccommend maglite led 3 watt,I have one and it works
      very well.

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

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

  27. 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.

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

    MAG LITES ALL THE WAY! NO WAY I WOULD USE ANY OTHER FLASH LIGHT.:)

  29. 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

  30. 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.

  31. 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.)

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

  33. why dont you got pictures

  34. 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.

  35. i got one from walmart it is not durable

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

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

  39. 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.

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

    GREAT ADVISE

    FOR SCOUT CAMP THE LED LIGHTS WORK BEST

    GET EM FROM ACADEMY CAUSE WALMARTS WELL THEIR NOT DEPENDABLE

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

    thanks, Jesus follower!

  42. 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.

  43. 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

  44. mAG LIGHTES ARE OK AND ARE CHEAP BUT YOU CAN GET MUCH BETTER ONES

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

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

  46. 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.

  47. Awesome!!!

  48. Why have I not heard about this before?

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

    boring lol

  50. 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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