Flashlight vs. Headlamp – 13 Pros and Cons

[Page updated: 1 June 2022]

Some people love headlamps and some love flashlights. My main activity is looking for venomous snakes at night in the rainforests of Thailand. I’ve said that a few times here at Headlamps 101 already. I used flashlights for a couple of years. Actually, for 6 years before I switched! Now I have happily switched over to using headlamps only and I’m enjoying them a lot more. Here’s more about the advantages and disadvantages of both to help you decide which is better.

Pros and Cons of Using Flashlights Vs. Headlamps

Flashlight Pros

  1. Many flashlights, even the newer ones will accept store-bought batteries, so this makes them easy to find and gives you emergency power when needed. You can use these batteries for a backup when your lithium ion batteries are drained.
  2. You can usually stand a flashlight up on the back end and have it point to the ceiling if on a flat surface. We have constant power outages here at our house, so we’re doing that quite a bit.
  3. Many flashlights have zoom features, enabling quick zooms which focuses and brightens the beam in a small spot so you can see something much further away. Control of the beam with zoom and wide options can be advantageous.

Headlamp Pros

  1. Almost all headlamps have rechargeable batteries which makes them good for the environment and cheaper than buying expendable AAA’s or AA’s at the store.
  2. Using a headlamp frees up both hands – for doing things, or for falling – both of which will help you immensely.
  3. Your head doesn’t get tired of having a headlamp on it. Most headlamps are light enough to use for many hours.
  4. At any time you can pull the headlamp off your head and carry it like a flashlight anyway. This negates three of the four Headlamp Cons below.
Petzl IKO Core headlamp on black background.
IKO CORE. Ultra-light and great for most activities.
These are some of the best headlamps made. We highly recommend them.

Flashlight Cons

  1. It is so much easier to drop flashlights. I usually drop mine over water for some odd reason! I have never dropped a headlamp. I have had one catch on an overhead branch and get pulled off my head though.
  2. Heavy flashlights tire the hand out after a few hours. Note: C and D size batteries are completely out of date. Don’t use them, they are heavy and bulky and don’t put out much power. Use rechargeable AA batteries or a lithium-ion battery instead.

Headlamp Cons

  1. You cannot zoom the beam even on most high-quality headlamps. At least not for the past six years.
  2. If there are many bugs at night and you’re not moving much, you will get more bugs in your eyes than with a flashlight held lower. You can always take it off your head for a while and replace it on your head when the bug numbers go down.
  3. You cannot turn your head without lighting up the area so you have to be careful not to blind others standing close-by.
  4. Your neck may get tired turning so much, for instance, in the case of looking for wildlife in the forest.

Conclusion – Which is Best? Headlamps or Flashlights?

I think the best thing to do is always to buy a headlamp because you can take it off your head anytime you want, and use it as a flashlight – using your hand to point in the direction you choose to light up. A headlamp enables you to shoot photos, handle snakes or other wildlife, fall and use both hands to brace yourself, read a book easily, and so many other activities!

Is a Headlamp or a Flashlight Better for Hiking?

I’ve hiked all over Hawaii and Thailand in the middle of the night and early on I was using a flashlight because headlamps were not widely known or used. Once I tried headlamps I realized that the difference it makes when hiking is huge. While hiking it’s important that your hands are free for other things. You might be taking a photo, or drinking something, or looking at a map. Many activities require both hands and make the headlamp ideal for hikers.

The angle of the light beam in a headlamp can be adjusted up or down to match your preferences as you hike. You can even run at night with a headlamp, and many ultra-runners do just that. If you’re curious which headlamps they use, they tend to use the best brand – Petzl.

Which is Better for Camping?

Again, the headlamp is better for most camping activities because it is always available on your head and you don’t even need to think about where it is. You don’t have to search for it. It’s there, on your head! While camping I’ve found the headlamp to be better in almost all situations. It’s important to get a headlamp that has low-light features for reading a book in your tent, and then a bright beam to help you scout far into the trees to see what made a noise, or to signal friends to tell them where you are.

My first recommendation for a headlamp for you for camping, hiking, or running is the Petzl SWIFT RL PRO headlamp here. It’s durable, bright, and has long battery life. You’ll love some of the other special options too. Check it out and see if it’s something that fits your needs.

What do you use – headlamp or flashlight? Why?