What are the factors to take into consideration when choosing a headlamp for hiking? Headlamps are a small piece of equipment that we often overlook in our travel and hiking gear checklists, but are nonetheless very important!
It may seem at first that a headlamp is just a headlamp and any of them with decent quality will do. However, as you start to research and dig, you come to realize that their quality, functionality, and performance do vary a lot from one model to another.
Soon enough, you will find yourself spending hours researching and comparing, and pulling your hair. Fret not! Luckily for you, you ended up on this page where you will learn all you need to know about headlamps.
Just scroll down and you will find a guide explaining what are the main factors to take into consideration when choosing one. So let’s get started!
What are lumens and what do they mean? What about the light beam?
Simply put, lumens are the measure of the amount of light that is emitted by a source (i.e. the LED on your headlamp). It describes how bright the light source is.
But be careful, to effectively know how bright your headlamp is you also have to take into consideration the beam width (if the light is concentrated on a spot or more spread out) and distance (how far the light is projected).
If you want a headlamp for hiking or caving, you might like better a wider beam; if you want to spot wildlife in the dark, you may want a tighter and longer beam of light.
What Are The Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Headlamp for Hiking?
Even though a headlamp might look like a fairly simple piece of gear, it is still worth taking a closer look at a few factors before deciding which one to buy – to make sure you effectively get the best equipment possible and avoid disappointments.
The first aspect to look at is the weight of the headlamp. Granted, it’s never going to be super heavy but sometimes a few extra inches and the weight of the batteries is enough for the headlamp to feel a little bulkier than it should.
Ease of Use
Believe it or not, nowadays some headlamps are getting a little confusing in the way they work, with many different modes and buttons that need to be pressed for a long time / a short time or pressed a certain number of times to eventually get to the desired mode. Better stick to something simple.
This is an important point. You basically have the choice between normal batteries and rechargeable batteries. Normal batteries are powerful and tend to last longer, but it also means you will have to keep spending money on buying new batteries- without even talking about the environmental issues with disposing of old batteries…
Rechargeable batteries free you of this hassle but they tend to need to be recharged more often and last less time. You just need to get into the habit of recharging your headlamp fully every time you plan to use it. Some newer models can be recharged by USB which is really convenient, especially when you are traveling!
In my opinion, rechargeable batteries are the best option, but again it depends on your personal preference and your habits. Are you OK with recharging your headlamp as you do with your smartphone? Or do you prefer to just put batteries inside and don’t bother until they die out?
If you travel/hike with a power bank as I do, then it really makes sense to choose a rechargeable battery.
Night Vision Mode
You may or may not need this feature, but I think it is always good to have it. The purpose of such modes is to preserve your night vision.
Imagine you are outside in the dark, stargazing, for example, your eyes gradually got used to the dark luminosity, and over time you are able to spot more and more stars, even the dimmest ones. It takes about half an hour to reach this state.
Then you suddenly need to find something in your bag: you turn on your light and boom! Instantly, your night vision is gone! After you turn off your light, your eyes will need to go through the entire process again to re-attain night vision.
That’s where a night vision mode comes in handy. By using a dim red or green light instead of normal white light, you can look for your stuff in your bag and preserve your night vision.
It is useful to have a specific button for night vision because if you first need to go through the powerful white light modes before getting to the red light mode, it’s quite useless! Your night vision would be damaged already.
As for the colors, red is traditionally used, but we see more and more green lights too. Honestly, I doubt you would be able to tell the difference, both are fine and work well at preserving your night vision if the light is dim.
If you are using your headlamp for hiking, you will inevitably get caught in the rain someday (unless you only hike in the Atacama Desert or something). Thus, a headlamp should be able to work under all kinds of conditions, including rain.
See the next question for more details.
What Are Waterproof Grades and What Do They Mean?
You may have noticed that in the reviews above I am referring to some weird codes to describe how waterproof the headlamps are.
These “waterproof grades” actually are IP codes (International Protection Marking codes) which determine the degree of protection against intrusion they offer. Let’s take a look at 5 of them:
IPX4: Headlamps with an IPX4 grade can take splashing water such as light or moderate rain without being damaged.
IPX5: Headlamps with an IPX5 grade are able to work under heavier rain (they resist water jets with some pressure).
IPX6: Headlamps with an IPX6 grade can take water jets of water with stronger pressure. They are able to work under a heavy downpour without being damaged, but cannot be immersed.
IPX7: Headlamps with an IPX7 grade can be immersed in water up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes.
IPX8: Items with an IPX8 grade can be immersed in water deeper than 1 meter and for more than 30 minutes (depending on the manufacturer’s goal).
Most headlamps nowadays have at least an IPX4 grade and are able to withstand rain without any problem. But some can withstand being immersed (IPX7 or even IPX8), which can be a good thing if you accidentally drop it in the water, and it is more reassuring if you find yourself under a really heavy downpour.
However, also bear in mind that any humidity that can’t go in, can’t go out either. If for some reason humidity ends up getting trapped inside the lamp, the more waterproof it is, the more difficult it will be to get rid of it.
At the end of the day, I would not be too particular about the waterproof grade of the headlamp as long as it is at least IPX4 – it will be able to work under the rain. Then it’s a matter of personal preference – if you know you have a strong tendency of dropping your gear in the water, for example 🙂
That’s it for this article! Here you have the most important factors to consider to get yourself a good headlamp. It’s not easy (even virtually impossible) to find a headlamp that is absolutely perfect, but I believe you can now find a really good lamp for your next hike.
No matter which one you end up choosing, you can be confident that you’re making a great choice and you will be well equipped for amazing night hiking.