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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.

WATCH OUR FACEBOOK LIVE VIDEO

At the beginning of December, we demonstrated some of these great flashlights and gave them away to lucky readers.

18 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.

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