Trail Running Headlamps Comparison (7 Best)

Trail runners need headlamps that are tough, have great battery life, and have perfect beam shape and color balance for running technical trails at night. The following 7 headlamps are used by trail runners across the globe and are evaluated on 21 criteria so you can see clearly which features each has. Don’t leave your choice of trail running headlamp up to chance or a flip of a coin!

We compare 7 of the best made headlamps on 21 criteria to determine which is best for trail running races and training.
The runner above is wearing a headlamp with the battery in the rear and the light in front. This is the most balanced system for long-distance trail running.

7 Best Trail Running Headlamps Compared

FeaturePetzl NAO RLPetzl NAO+ (Plus)Petzl SWIFT RL PROPetzl SWIFT RLAceBeam H30NiteCore HC65Petzl ACTIK CORE
Weight w/Battery (grams,oz)Coming Q1 2022185g, 6.5oz123g, 4.3oz100g, 3.2oz152g, 5.4oz133g, 4.7oz75g, 2.6oz
Optimal Balance? (Battery in rear, light up front)YesYesNo, but quite lightNo, but lightNoNoNo, all in front, but quite light
Water Resistance Rating (IPX)444468684
Max Output (lumens)100075090090040001000450
Max Sustained Output (lm/hours)Coming Q1 2022530lm for 1.5h constant lighting and 750lm for 6.5h on RL550lm for 2h constant or 900lm for 6.5h on RL550lm for 2h constant or 900lm for 6.5h on RL2200lm for 2.25h and 1100lm for 3h, and 380lm for 7.5h550lm for 2.75h450lm for 6h
Max Beam Distance (meters, yards)Coming Q1 2022140m, 153y150m, 164y150m, 164y210m, 230y110m, 120y90m, 98y
Reactive Lighting?YesYesYesYesNoNoNo
Shock Proof? (drop in meters)NoNoNoNoYes, 1mYes, 1.5mNo
Red Beam (front))NoNoYesNoYesYesYes
Red Light (rear)Yes, steady or flashingYes, steady or flashingNoNoNoNoNo
Flood Light (separate)YesNoNoNoYes, and small auxiliary lightYes, and small auxiliary lightYes
Flood Light / Spot ComboYesYesYesYesNo, but center weightedNo, but center weightedYes
Spotlight (separate)YesNoYesYesNoNoNo
Emergency Low Light (lm/hours)Coming Q1 2022120lm for 8h and 15lm for 2h reserve10lm for 100h and 10lm for 2h10lm for 100h and 10lm for 2h120lm for 23.5h and 3lm for 200h80lm for 16h and 1lm for 800h6lm for 130h
Emergency Strobe?Red rear flashingRed rear flashingNoNoYesYesYes
Time to Charge (hours)Coming Q1 20226+663+73
Pass-through USB Power?Yes!NoNoNoNoNoNo
Charging Port TypeUSB CUSB 2Micro USBMicro USBUSB CMicro USBMicro USB
Easy Battery Level Indicator?YesYesYesYesNoNoNo
Battery Charges Phone?YesNoNoNoYesYesNo
Vern's Trail Running Rating (10 highest)10998765
PriceComing Q1 2022$200$120-150$115$120$70$70
Check AvailabilityComing Q1 2022Check nowCheck nowCheck nowCheck nowCheck nowCheck now
We compare 7 of the best trail running headlamps on 21 different criteria to help you choose the right headlamp for your running needs.

Did Headlamp Batteries Just Become Obsolete?

Some of the criteria we used above in the chart will be important to you and others won’t. One of the things that bothers us about headlamps is the battery life never seems adequate, does it? Especially for ultra running. Ideally we’d have an ultralight headlamp and battery that could last at least 12 hours at full brightness, maybe 500-600 lumens would be enough. No headlamp has that. But, we’re getting closer.

If you look in the chart you’ll see one criterion labeled Pass Through USB Power. That means you can connect ANY rechargeable battery with a USB cable directly to your headlamp and run it. Battery size and strength just became obsolete with that move by Petzl. I reviewed another headlamp recently, the Fenix HM65R which also allows pass-through power for the headlamp. That one could be another alternative for ultra-runners if this feature is very important to you for long races or training runs.

RL – Reactive Lighting Tech from Petzl

Another thing I want to cover here for ultrarunners and other people who use their headlamps for many hours at a time is RL. Reactive Lighting is Petzl’s proprietary lighting solution that extends battery life and also cuts down on the wearer’s eyestrain.

The goal of the technology is to give just enough light as needed, and save the batteries for providing more light later. It works extremely well. The headlamp has a sensor which measures light coming back toward the headlamp. It assumes that the more ambient light coming back, the less it has to output so it dims the brightness a bit when more light is present. Keep in mind, this means the light the headlamp itself is giving out as well.

RL automatically and magically adjusts the headlamp brightness level to the correct brightness on the fly – instantly. It’s super fast and you’ll probably enjoy this feature if you run at night. The Petzl SWIFT RL, SWIFT RL PRO, NAO+, IKO CORE, and NAO RL headlamps all have this technology. In practice, it extends battery life around 300% of what it would be if constant lighting was used.

Cool tech!

Headlamp Charges Phone?

Recently a few companies – Petzl, AceBeam, NiteCore, and Fenix have implemented another nice battery feature where you can now charge your phone from your headlamp battery in an emergency. Everyone admits the phone is more important than a headlamp, and they’ve finally started to give us this tech. The strongest battery we have in the headlamps above is a 5100 mAh proprietary battery by AceBeam. When charged fully it will give you the most power for your phone.

Headlamp Water Resistance

Ideally you’d want to run with a headlamp that was 100% waterproof and impervious to water and dirt. In the real world, we don’t have that yet, but the AceBeam H30 and the NiteCore HC65 come close. The problem is, they are entirely front-mounted units with all the weight in the front. Some people can still use them for ultra-running. Others must have a lighter unit, or better balanced unit.

The headlamp worn most in long-distance ultra-running trail races has been the Petzl Nao+. It is not fully waterproof, but most people will either use it anyway and hope for the best or many people will cover it with a hat or a plastic bag in severe weather. To be honest, the comfort of the NAO+ and the soon to be released NAO RL make them very hard to beat for ultra-running on the trails.