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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.

36 Comments on Headlamp and flashlight buying guide

  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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