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How to Buy a Great Headlamp or Flashlight

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.

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.

BLACK DIAMOND SPOT ($40, blackdiamondequipment.com): 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)

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 SYNC ($30, princetontec.com): 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)

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.

PETZL ZIPKA ($40, petzl.com): 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)

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, surefire.com): 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)

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.

GOAL ZERO LIGHTHOUSE MINI LANTERN ($60, goalzero.com): 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)

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.

36 Comments on How to Buy a Great Headlamp or Flashlight

  1. Trusty scout // December 11, 2015 at 8:43 pm // Reply

    The petzel headlamps are really amazing trust me.Anothor rececamendation is the hats at the scout shops with lights they’re really bright and very good for cold weather TRUST ME

  2. I highly recommend the Princeton Tec Fuel headlamp. It is light, super durable and really bright. it is also affordable(around 20-30 bucks)

  3. Point of order: if you go with the headlamp, remember not to shine it in people’s eyes when you’re out.

  4. I have the black diamond and the bugLITE and would recommend them both strongly. The black diamond is so great because it is very bright and is very durable. The bugLITE is great too because if you are playing cards or reading a book in the dark you can set it up with the wire legs.

  5. Pico is the way to go baby!

  6. The Black Diamond is the Best. The LED Crank Flashlight is good when you’re in a pinch or backup mode, Otherwise,when in Doubt, Use fresh Batteries(lithium).

  7. If you want a VERY good flashlight for a GREAT price get the duracell durabeam 500 lumen 2 pack at costco ( they also have a 3 pack of mini duracell 250 lumens for $20 ) for $25! It shines about 750 feet and is very bright it has low high and strobe(be careful!). Amazon is more expensive than costco for it.

  8. tactical dude // June 30, 2013 at 1:35 pm // Reply

    get a surefire g2

  9. Princeton Tech makes an awesome headlamp. I recently got it and it is great.

  10. streamlights,pelican,and maglites are good flashlights that come in a compact size but are very bright and basically bulletproof.

  11. Streamlights are awsome!!!

  12. If you guys want a good flashlight,
    Then you should get a maglite.

  13. Off-Trail Monkey // April 26, 2012 at 10:50 pm // Reply

    Mag lite 4 life.

  14. Pelican memo 2000 very bright Xeon bulb can be submerged under water 500 feet and has a gear clip comes in yellow and black $40.00 but well worth it

  15. i dropped a maglite in a puddle and it still works

  16. Ninjaman123 // April 1, 2012 at 6:20 am // Reply

    Buy a maglite their awesome

  17. u want a good bright flashlight but u dont want to change the batteries every campout cause mine does that, it just dies after 2 hours of use

  18. get a mag charger 221 lumens 3 hour run time includes battery pack and charger and adjustable beam $100.oo very bright very durable

  19. Get a maglite

    • Mag lights work great but kinda heavy. I have 2 life gear flashlights they are at Walmart in sporting goods, they were $5.00 a piece they are a whistle,spot light, and signaling light. I have had a blue one for 3 years and it still works like brand new. I just Invested in a new red one they come in many colorz

  20. i want a good crank light for under 20$

  21. where do you find the price for the head lamps?

  22. Where can you purchase the BSA LED Handy Lantern in Massachusetts?

  23. Pepperthechessmaster // August 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm // Reply

    were to get a good crank light for cheap (under 20 bucks)

    • I have a LED crank flashlight that i got at Wall mart for
      around $15. ive had it since 2nd grade and im in 7th grade
      now it still works.

  24. People get a grip, Walmart is cheap, so spend the extra money and go to rei and get a petzl or a BD (black Diamond). and skip the flash light and get a head lamp and use lithium batteries

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