[Last Updated: 14 March 2021]
3,500+ Hours Rainforest Testing—Trust Us
- We own all the headlamps you see here + many more.
- We know which headlamps have the best features because we’ve used them.
- Our recommendations are revised yearly to take into account new headlamps.
- We are unbiased, choosing the best based on our own and our coworker’s preferences.
- We answer questions anytime – just write and ask!
We’ve spent many hours in the tropical rainforest at night hiking and looking for wildlife like king cobras, pit vipers, bats, lizards and tons of other wildlife. We have used every headlamp we review here. See ThailandSnakes (com) for some wildlife we’ve found with these headlamps.
(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.)
Headlamp Selection Criteria
- Brands making quality headlamps for 10+ years.
- Well made, durable, with some level of water resistance.
- No catastrophic failure while in the rainforest.
- CREE bulbs with over 350 lumens rating.
- Best performance on criteria when compared to other headlamps.
- Convenient USB charging or store-bought battery option.
Best Headlamps of 2021 Guide
Overall Best Headlamp
MAX LUMENS: 900
WEIGHT: 123 grams (3.5 oz.)
REPLACEMENT BATTERY COST: $59.95
BEAM TYPE: CREE bulbs. Flood, spot, and combinations of all. 4 Levels of brightness. Red light for stealth for 4 lumens over 30 hours.
REACTIVE LIGHTING TECH? Yes. 900 lumens can be achieved in RLT mode. RLT has improved greatly from earlier versions.
BATTERY LIFE: 2 hours at 550 lumens on max standard mode; 2.5 hours at 900 lumens on max Reactive Lighting mode.
BATTERY TYPE: 2350 mAh Lithium-Ion USB (2.0) rechargeable.
PROS: Ultralight, very bright, reasonable price, Reactive Lighting Tech, long battery life, double strap in the back, perfect for nearly any activity, steady light brightness, batteries now have increased performance in cold weather.
CONS: Two ACCU SWIFT RL PRO batteries necessary for long runs.
WHY BUY? Petzl’s newest and most useful headlamp in 2021 promises to be a best-seller for many reasons. Ultralight and bright with good battery life makes this ideal for most people’s uses – camping, running, hiking, fishing, and working around the house.
The brand is solid, the price is competitive, and many beam functions including spotlight and red stealth light make this one of the most useful lights ever made. This SWIFT RL PRO will definitely be our top-selling headlamp in 2021. It comes in one Color – black.
If you want to save some money, the SWIFT RL standard model – without red light, and without cold-weather performance and spotlight beam, you can find it at Amazon HERE in orange, black, and blue.
Second Best Overall Headlamp 2021
OLight H2R Nova Cool White
MAX LUMENS: 2,300 lm. burst for up to 1 minute; 550 lm. regular high mode for up to 110 minutes.
WEIGHT: 100 grams (3.5 oz.)
REPLACEMENT BATTERY COST: $30
BATTERY LIFE: 110 minutes at 550 lumens on max, 45 days of 1-lumen emergency light.
BATTERY TYPE: 18650 proprietary NiCad battery with USB charger.
PROS: The OLight H2R NOVA is ultra-lightweight, rugged, highly waterproof, super-bright, long-lasting battery options, magnetic base, perfect for nearly any activity, excellent emergency options including strobe. The Price is very good!
CONS: A proprietary battery that must be inserted backward may trick you up a bit!
WHY BUY? This H2R NOVA ultralight headlamp has a couple of great features you may not be able to live without. The 2,300-lumen burst of light is handy for scaring dogs or intruders away. The magnetic base is very handy while working indoors or out. Perfect for camping, hiking, fishing, camping, and around the house jobs. The batteries are cheap and the build quality is strong and durable. Oh yeah, and the price is right.
Best Runners Headlamp
MAX LUMENS: 750 Lumens in auto-mode; 530 lumens in standard mode.
WEIGHT: 185 grams (6.5 oz.)
REPLACEMENT BATTERY COST: $60
BATTERY LIFE: 1.5 Hours on 530 lumens max; 6.5 hours on Reactive Lighting max and reaching up to 750 lumens.
BATTERY TYPE: Proprietary Petzl Lithium-Ion battery with USB charging.
PROS: Best light beam coverage for running, red strobe, Reactive Lighting extends battery, programmable BlueTooth option.
CONS: Price is a bit high, but it IS the best headlamp out there for runners.
WHY BUY? If you’re a runner who is out at night racing or training, the Petzl NAO+ Plus headlamp is the best for you for a number of reasons including battery life and programmable BlueTooth profiles. Red strobe on battery pack keeps you safe as you run. Comfortable and lightweight with long battery life.
2nd Best Runner’s Headlamp
Petzl Actik CORE 450
MAX LUMENS: 450
WEIGHT: 75 grams ( oz.)
REPLACEMENT BATTERY COST: $30 or store-bought AAA batteries.
BATTERY LIFE: 2 hours at 450 lumens on max.
BATTERY TYPE: Proprietary Lithium-ion or AAA batteries (NiCad or Lithium-ion).
PROS: Ultralight, easy to operate, red strobe, bright enough for most activities, red beam (2 lumens for 60 hours) and red strobe (400 hours).
CONS: Long charging time of 3 hours. AAA batteries are not ideal, they lose brightness quickly. OK for emergency.
WHY BUY? The Petzl ACTIK CORE headlamps are ultralight and inexpensive, ideal for almost any activity and simple to operate. The light is pure white and great for reading, running, hiking, fishing, and really just about anything you might be doing outside at night.
Best Expensive Headlamp
MAX LUMENS: 1,100 lumens for 5-second burst; 700 lumens for 3.5 hours.
WEIGHT: 370 grams (13 oz.)
REPLACEMENT BATTERY COST: $160
BATTERY LIFE: 10-second burst of 1,100 lumens and 3.5 hours at 700 lumens.
BATTERY TYPE: ACCU, ACCU 2, ACCU 4, proprietary Lithium-ion.
PROS: Shockproof, waterproof, auto-dim won’t blind friends, very bright, flood and spotlight beams, long battery life, fast charging, good for almost any activity, ACCU 4 battery option doubles battery life, body harness and helmet accessory options.
CONS: Pricey, and a bit on the heavy side – better for slow activities.
WHY BUY? If working with others in a close environment – underground, in a cave, in a factory, the auto-dimming capability is worth it alone. Petzl makes the best headlamps in the world in our opinion. This Petzl DUO S headlamp is rugged and has exceptional features and possibilities.
Best Herpetology Headlamp
Petzl Ultra Rush
MAX LUMENS: 760 lumens for 2 hours.
WEIGHT: 370 grams (13 oz.)
REPLACEMENT BATTERY COST: $129.95
BATTERY LIFE: 2.5 hours at 760 lumens on max; 38 hours at 65 lumens on low.
BATTERY TYPE: ACCU 2, ACCU 4 proprietary Lithium-ion.
PROS: Perfect color-balanced white light for wildlife expeditions, very bright, long battery life and ACCU 4 battery option doubles life, waterproof, fast charging, rugged, optional accessories for helmet, and harness.
CONS: Discontinued model, Petzl DUO S is now recommended. A bit more expensive, but many new features.
WHY BUY? We have two of these Ultra Rush headlamps and we couldn’t be happier with them. It is the perfect wildlife headlamp because the light balance and spread of the beams is perfect. A very long-lasting battery, fast charging, and waterproof and shockproof durability means we’ll be using ours for many years.
Click link below to see our recommended upgrade (DUO S) for the Petzl Ultra Rush because it was recently discontinued…
Best Cool Features Headlamp
MAX LUMENS: 500
WEIGHT: 300 grams (10.6 oz.) with batteries.
BATTERY LIFE: 20-30 minutes at 500 lumens before batteries start fading.
BATTERY TYPE: Four AA – store-bought Ni-Cad or rechargeables.
PROS: Multiple colored-lights some may find useful for stealth while hunting or fishing, easy battery options, dimming, exceptional waterproofing.
CONS: Not well balanced on head, light swivel doesn’t point straight down, light brightness fades with weakening batteries – not ideal.
WHY BUY? Many people like the Black Diamond brand, and have been buying the lights for decades. This Black Diamond Icon light features a handy touch-dimming section on the right side of the headlamp. Multiple colored lights including blue, green, and red. Easy battery options – AA rechargeables or store-bought.
Best Budget Headlamp
MAX LUMENS: 370
WEIGHT: 170 grams (6 oz.)
BATTERY LIFE: Less than 1 hour at 280 lumens max; 13 hours at 60 lumens on low.
BATTERY TYPE: Three AA batteries, rechargeable or storebought.
PROS: Lightweight, choice of a focused beam or flood beam, easy battery options.
CONS: High setting of 370 lumens is just a burst, beams dim as batteries lose charge.
We were blown away recently by a pair of ultra runners traversing over 1,000 kilometers of mountainous terrain in Nepal in the fastest known time. Which headlamp was one of them wearing? The Petzl MYO. I hadn’t taken this headlamp so seriously in the past, thinking that ultra-runners I saw wearing them in races stateside just couldn’t afford a better headlamp like the Nao+. Apparently, some LOVE the ultra-light and reliable MYO.
2nd Best Budget Headlamp
MAX LUMENS: 950
WEIGHT: 121 grams (4.1 oz.)
REPLACEMENT BATTERY COST: $15
BATTERY LIFE: 48 minutes at 950 lumens on high, 100 hours at 1 lumen on red beam emergency setting.
BATTERY TYPE: One 18650 or two CR123A. Please use Fenix batteries, they seem better than other brands.
PROS: Ultralight, easy to operate, red and white strobe, bright enough for most activities, waterproof to 2-meters submerged.
CONS: Slightly orange-tinted color balance, gets warmer than we’d like in hot climates.
WHY BUY? The Fenix HL60R is a tried and trusted headlamp that has been around for half-a-dozen years. It is ideal for almost any activity and simple to operate. This headlamp is bright enough for almost any activity – reading, running, hiking, fishing, and really just about anything you might be doing outside at night.
3rd Best Budget Headlamp
MAX LUMENS: 400
WEIGHT: 121 grams (4.1 oz.)
REPLACEMENT BATTERY COST: Not replaceable.
BATTERY TYPE: Proprietary Lithium-ion.
PROS: Ultralight, easy to operate, touch dimmer on the right side of strap, USB charging, excellent battery meeter, comes with case and comfortable strap.
CONS: Cannot replace battery.
WHY BUY? This OLight HS2 is a smart-looking headlamp with 400 lumens that is good for many activities. The dimming switch is nice, as is the side-mounted power and brightness control button. Comes with a handy case.
See the OLight H2R upgrade at Amazon below. Or, the HS2 here.
Headlamp Buyer’s Guide Extras
The Technology of Headlamps
Headlamps have changed a lot since the early 1980’s when Ferdnand Petzl was making tungsten headlamps for climbing.
How to Decide Which Headlamp is Best for You?
The best way to figure out which headlamp you need as you look to purchase in 2020, is to reverse engineer it. First – figure out what activities you’ll need your light for. Camping? Non-technical trail running? Road running? Skiing? Mountain biking? Spelunking?
Some people need light for many varied uses, and there might not be a headlamp that does EVERYTHING. Which criteria are you willing to compromise on? Battery life is probably a good compromise because you can always buy more batteries.
It can get expensive, but if you find a headlamp that does everything you need, but the battery life isn’t up to par – you should probably just bite the bullet and grab an extra battery too.
Beam Type – Quality and Shape of Light
What kind of beams will you need – and how bright – will be the next questions. If you’re hunting, you’ll want a strong center spotlight beam like provided on the Fenix HL60R. If you will be reading at night in your tent, or want a tent light, you can be fine with the Petzl Actik Core, MYO, or Black Diamond Icon.
The Petzl Nao series is best for runners and those who want a light unit with bright light for a long time – hours. If you’re exploring caves, you probably want a NAO+ or DUO S – or two of them to give you redundancy so you’re not stuck without light at some point. If you want a headlamp to strap on your bike occasionally, the Ultra Rush is great for that.
What About the Shape of the Light Pattern?
You may not have even thought about it yet, but the shape of the light cast is one major factor that you’ll need to take into account when choosing your headlamp. The shape you want depends on the activity you’re doing.
For looking for wildlife in the rainforest and on the road, the Nao series or the Ultra Rush works perfectly for me. The beam is bright in the center and gradually gets lighter on the sides. The beams have a nice width to them. Recently we found the OLIGHT H2R NOVA – it has a nice beam that is a combination of flood and spot – and it’s ideal for most activities.
Do you need very long battery life, and are you willing to sacrifice a light pattern with a constant brightness level? The Reactive Lighting Technology by Petzl was created to save battery and provide great lighting when you need it. Petzl has definitely succeeded – and their lights with RLT are definitely some of the best on the market. Personally, we feel they are the gold standard by which we judge other headlamps. RLT is not a gimmick, it works for most activities.
Two Headlamps with Reactive Lighting Technology:
Batteries – Many Options
If you’re going on an extended trek across mountains in Nepal or the Rockies, you’ll want to have either an excellent solar charger to charge your batteries, or you’ll want to stock up on AA or AAA batteries to provide you ample light over that long time-frame. Here are the battery options for the top headlamps listed above:
- OLight H2R NOVA – uses a custom 3000 mAh lithium-ion 18650 battery. Cheap $20 replacements. Highly recommended in every category.
- Petzl NAO+ Plus– One proprietary rechargeable lithium-ion 18650 battery. Programmable battery life with the smartphone app. Can get maximum brightness or type of beam for any activity. Quite amazing.
- Petzl Ultra Rush – One proprietary ACCU 2 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack with two 2600 mAh 18650 batteries. Can also upgrade to ACCU 4 for twice the battery life.
- Fenix HL60R – One Fenix 18650 rechargeable battery, or two CR123A store-bought batteries.
- Petzl ACTIK CORE – One CORE 1250 mAh battery, hybrid – can also use AAA batteries.
Headlamps are not really made for underwater use, though of course there are diving lights that can be used for that purpose. Headlamps maximum water resistance is at a depth of around 2 meters for 30 minutes. Any of the headlamps above will do well in the hard rain. Here are the ratings…
- OLight H2R NOVA – IP 8 (IP X8) – severe weather, and submersion for a long time.
- Petzl DUO S – IP 67 – very waterproof, submersible, and shock-proof.
- Petzl NAO+ Plus– IP X4. One proprietary rechargeable lithium-ion 18650 battery.
- Petzl Ultra Rush and Black Diamond Icon – IP 67. One meter deep for 30 minutes.
- Fenix HL60R – IP 8. Two meters deep for 30 minutes.
We hope this page helped you choose one of the best headlamps! If you can come up with any other information that would make it easier for you to choose a headlamp for your preferred activities – do let us know!
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