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Headlamp and flashlight buying guide

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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 has great advice to help you sort through the mountain of options.

Petzl Tikkina ($20): The Petzl Tikkina is known for its reliability and simplicity. Powered by three AAAs, the Tikkina's two LED bulbs throw 23 lumens of light and can run for 55 hours on the brightest mode. 2.8 ounces.

Petzl Tikkina ($20): The Petzl Tikkina is known for its reliability and simplicity. Powered by three AAAs, the Tikkina’s two LED bulbs throw 23 lumens of light and can run for 55 hours on the brightest mode. 2.8 ounces.

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.

BSA 40-Lumen 5-LED headlamp ($18): The most affordable headlamp here is the BSA 40-Lumen 5-LED Headlamp. It uses two AAA batteries (included) and provides four brightness modes, with 40 lumens of LED light on high. 3 ounces.

BSA 40-Lumen 5-LED headlamp ($18): The most affordable headlamp here is the BSA 40-Lumen 5-LED Headlamp. It uses two AAA batteries (included) and provides four brightness modes, with 40 lumens of LED light on high. 3 ounces.

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.

Princeton Tec Byte ($20): The Princeton Tec Byte is the lightest-weight headlamp here but still powerful, providing 50 lumens of white LED light. You'll get up to 96 hours of runtime from two AAA batteries. The Byte also has a red light for better night vision and a lockout switch that prevents the headlamp from accidentally turning on and draining your battery. 2.3 ounces.

Princeton Tec Byte ($20): The Princeton Tec Byte is the lightest-weight headlamp here but still powerful, providing 50 lumens of white LED light. You’ll get up to 96 hours of runtime from two AAA batteries. The Byte also has a red light for better night vision and a lockout switch that prevents the headlamp from accidentally turning on and draining your battery. 2.3 ounces.

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.

Goal Zero Black Flash  ($40): A rechargeable lithium ion flashlight, the Goal Zero Black Flash is powered up by an USB source to provide you two hours of 90-lumen white LED light. The flashlight is 4.75 inches long and comes with a wrist lanyard. 3.5 ounces.

Goal Zero Black Flash ($40): A rechargeable lithium ion flashlight, the Goal Zero Black Flash is powered up by an USB source to provide you two hours of 90-lumen white LED light. The flashlight is 4.75 inches long and comes with a wrist lanyard. 3.5 ounces.

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.

Black Diamond Cosmo ($30): The brightest headlamp in our roundup, the Black Diamond Cosmo  blasts 70 lumens of white LED light and gives you 150 hours of runtime on the highest setting from three AAA batteries. The light is dimmable and includes a strobe option or red LED light that preserves your night vision. 3.2 ounces.

Black Diamond Cosmo ($30): The brightest headlamp in our roundup, the Black Diamond Cosmo blasts 70 lumens of white LED light and gives you 150 hours of runtime on the highest setting from three AAA batteries. The light is dimmable and includes a strobe option or red LED light that preserves your night vision. 3.2 ounces.

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.

Mini Maglite Pro ($25): The Maglite has long been considered the standard for flashlights. This new Mini Maglite Pro is updated with a super-bright LED bulb powered by two AA batteries. You get a whopping 226 lumens of light and 2 hours 30 minutes of runtime. 4.2 ounces.

Mini Maglite Pro ($25): The Maglite has long been considered the standard for flashlights. This new Mini Maglite Pro is updated with a super-bright LED bulb powered by two AA batteries. You get a whopping 226 lumens of light and 2 hours 30 minutes of runtime. 4.2 ounces.

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.

MORE GREAT LIGHT OPTIONS

Myth Cap Light ($20): Headlamps are great, but they don't always work well with hats. That's where the Myth Cap Light comes in. A sturdy metal clip attaches the mini-flashlight to the bill of your cap. The light features two LED brightness settings (12 lumens and 5 lumens), plus a 9-lumen green stealth lighting mode. 2 ounces.

Myth Cap Light ($20): Headlamps are great, but they don’t always work well with hats. That’s where the Myth Cap Light comes in. A sturdy metal clip attaches the mini-flashlight to the bill of your cap. The light features two LED brightness settings (12 lumens and 5 lumens), plus a 9-lumen green stealth lighting mode. 2 ounces.

Nite Ize BugLit LED Micro Flashlight ($13): One of the coolest lights we've ever seen, the Nite Ize BugLit LED Micro Flashlight is a mini flashlight with flexible legs that can be bent and wrapped around objects to hold the light exactly where you want it. The BugLit also comes with a handy mini-carabiner clip to attach it to a zipper pull on your jacket or tent. 0.6 ounces.

Nite Ize BugLit LED Micro Flashlight ($13): One of the coolest lights we’ve ever seen, the Nite Ize BugLit LED Micro Flashlight is a mini flashlight with flexible legs that can be bent and wrapped around objects to hold the light exactly where you want it. The BugLit also comes with a handy mini-carabiner clip to attach it to a zipper pull on your jacket or tent. 0.6 ounces.

UCO Clarus LED Lantern ($20): Powered by three AAA batteries, the UCO Clarus LED Lantern gives off 150 lumens of diffused white light that's perfect for cooking or hanging out in your tent. You get up to 70 hours of runtime with three brightness levels, plus a strobe function, and the lantern can be slid down to become a 4.5-inch flashlight. 4 ounces.

UCO Clarus LED Lantern ($20): Powered by three AAA batteries, the UCO Clarus LED Lantern gives off 150 lumens of diffused white light that’s perfect for cooking or hanging out in your tent. You get up to 70 hours of runtime with three brightness levels, plus a strobe function, and the lantern can be slid down to become a 4.5-inch flashlight. 4 ounces.

L.L. Bean Stowaway Collapsible Lantern ($20): The 5-inch-tall L.L. Bean Stowaway Collapsible Lantern runs on three AA batteries and throws 72 lumens of light on the high setting. It's a diffused light that's plenty bright but still easy on your eyes. The lantern also collapses to a small disc for easy packing or for use as a handheld flashlight. 6 ounces.

L.L. Bean Stowaway Collapsible Lantern ($20): The 5-inch-tall L.L. Bean Stowaway Collapsible Lantern runs on three AA batteries and throws 72 lumens of light on the high setting. It’s a diffused light that’s plenty bright but still easy on your eyes. The lantern also collapses to a small disc for easy packing or for use as a handheld flashlight. 6 ounces.

JUST FOR FUN

Uncle Milton National Geographic Expedition Shoe Lights ($20): These twin flashlights attach to your shoes for handfree illumination. Powered by 6 AAA batteries, the Shoe Lights include both white and red LED lights. 6.4 ounces.

Uncle Milton National Geographic Expedition Shoe Lights ($20): These twin flashlights attach to your shoes for handsfree illumination. Powered by 6 AAA batteries, the Shoe Lights include both white and red LED lights. 6.4 ounces.

96 Comments on Headlamp and flashlight buying guide

  1. 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.)

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

  3. why dont you got pictures

  4. 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.

  5. i got one from walmart it is not durable

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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

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