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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.

37 Comments on How to Buy a Great Headlamp or Flashlight

  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.


  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.


    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.

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