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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.

The Gear Guy is currently researching new models and writing an update to this article. Watch for his updated tips and reviews in the December 2016 issue of Boys’ Life.
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.

37 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.

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