Choose the Right Headlamp: 8 Factors to Consider

Cave lightingThere are a lot of different headlamps on the market, and it’s important to know how to choose the right one. Unless you know what to look for, lumens may be the only thing that you base your decision on. There’s more than just brightness, however, to choosing the right headlamp for you. Here are a few things to keep in mind when buying your next headlamp.


While lumen count isn’t the only factor, it is important when choosing a headlamp. Lumens are a measurement of brightness, and the higher the lumen count on a headlamp, the brighter that light will be. While you certainly want a headlamp that is bright enough for your needs, you don’t always need to have the brightest light money can buy.

Why do you need your headlamp?

The type of activities you do will determine how bright your headlamp should be. If you’re a weekend warrior who gets out for a night of car camping every month, you can get by with a pretty modest headlamp. Professional cavers, however, will need a headlamp that generates as much light as possible. Think about the things you do, and how much light is really required. Night climbing, trail running before the sun comes up, and pre-dawn alpine ascents require a headlamp with a lot of lumens, whereas camping, household tasks, and an emergency light in your car do not.

What features do you need?

Again, the types of activities that you do may require certain features in a headlamp. A red light helps preserve your night vision, and is a great feature when you just need light to find something in your pack, or if you’re sitting around a campfire with friends (no one wants to be blinded by your headlamp when you’re talking to them). Here are some features that may interest you:

  • Green lights are great for hunters looking for a blood trail, but don’t really benefit a camper.
  • Blue lights are useful for reading topos at night.
  • Strobe mode works well as a distress signal.
  • Have a boost or reserve power mode gives you control for more light when you need it, and less light when you want to conserve battery power.
  • A flood or disperse feature provides a wider field of vision.
  • Regulated or constant lighting keeps your light at the same brightness, regardless of how much charge your batteries have.
  • A battery indicator is a very useful feature on lights that don’t grow dim over time as your battery drains.
  • The headlamp mount, or how the headlamp sits on the headband, can be important. Headlamps with a pivot mount can be used to put the light exactly where you need it. Tilt the lamp down to light up the trail, or tilt it up to place the light in your line of sight. Check the mount design to make sure that it won’t grow loose over time.
  • Watertight and weather resistance are features that anyone can benefit from. It is more valuable, however, for those who find themselves in or around water, or out in inclement weather on a regular basis.


This isn’t going to be an issue for most people, and the weight of a headlamp is negligible for 99% of the population. However, for that 1% that obsesses over every ounce and gram in their pack, how much a headlamp weighs is valuable information.


Make sure that you get a headband that suits your needs. Try on headlamps to make sure that they’re comfortable. Elastic bands might stretch over time, but static bands tend to be less comfortable.

Burn time

How long your headlamp generates light depends on things like how often you use it, the lighting mode you choose, and even temperature. This information will be more important to people who spend long periods of time outdoors, or who use their headlamps for extended periods of time.


A majority of recreational headlamps use AAA batteries. Some headlamps, however, use less common batteries, or are not compatible with rechargeable batteries. Make sure that you know what type of battery your headlamp uses, and know how easy it will be to get a replacement.


Most outdoor brands make gear that’s built to last, and they provide a warranty to reflect that. The Princeton Tec Remix for example comes with a 5 year warranty, and the Petzl Tikka XP boasts a 3 year warranty. Both of these companies make great headlamps, and it’s not likely that you will need to take advantage of the warranty. It is nice to have that peace of mind, though.

This guide is a good place to start, but there’s no replacement for getting your hands on some headlamps, trying out the features, and picking the brain of someone who knows their stuff. Stop by the shop and check out our great selection of headlamps!

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