Best Headlamp for backpacking-1

The best lightweight and ultralight headlamps for backpacking

A headlamp for backpacking is essential for both safety on the trail, and utility at camp. But what makes any particular model better than any other, an ultralight headlamp, or perhaps even the best headlamp? While virtually any headlamp is passable, we believe you should choose from among those that meet the following criteria:

  1. Rechargeable battery (mandatory)
  2. At least 300 lumens (mandatory), ideally 400 (preferred)
  3. Above average power and battery lifespan (strongly preferred)
  4. Weighs less than 3.5 ounces (mandatory), weighs less than two (preferred)
  5. USB-C charging port (preferred)

One more important note is that, based on our statistical comparisons and meta analysis of aggregate expert and consumer reviews, the Black Diamond headlamps are beating out competing models form Petzl. And of course, that’s reflected in the assortment. Keep scrolling to view the headlamps, and while you’re here, why not spend a moment to browse more electronics, like power banks and satellite communicator devices!

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Best Ultralight Headlamp (<2 oz)

Best Headlamp For Backpacking

Best Battery For Recharge

Best Headlamp For Backpacking Comparison Table

*Mobile users rotate device for full-width table view

Headlamp Price ($) Weight (oz) Battery (mAh) mAh/oz Lumens Protect Plug Hrs on High Hrs on low
BD Deploy 325 60 1.4 680 486 325 IPX4 USB-C 2.5 30
Nitecore NU25 37 1.6 650 406 400 IP66 USB-C 2.7 10
BD Spot 400R 65 2.6 1500 577 400 IPX7 M-USB 4.0 225
BD Storm 500R 75 3.5 2400 686 500 IP67 M-USB 7.0 350

Best Ultralight Headlamp

Nitecore NU25 400L ultralight headlamp for backpacking

Nitecore NU25 UL 400

For its incredible blend of ultralight weight, backcountry performance, value, high lumen output, and ingress protection, we award Nitecore NU25 UL 400 our medal for best ultralight headlamp for backpacking. The stats speak for themselves, and the only time we wouldn’t choose this headlamp is during shoulder season/winter when a larger battery is desirable for more frequent use.

We also respect the 2.0 oz non-UL version which is the same headlamp, only with a wider, sportier headband. The UL version is overall preferable, but the heavier version is a bit comfier and superior to wear while hiking.

  • Price: $37
  • Weight: 1.6 oz
  • Max Lumens: 400
  • Battery: 650 mAh
  • mAh/oz: 406
  • Dust/Water Protection: IP66
  • Plug: USB-C
  • Avg battery life on high: 2.7 hours
  • Avg battery life on low: 10.4
  • Light Modes: Spotlight, Floodlight, Red Light
  • Pros: Ultralight. Bright. Affordable. USB-C. All of the features. Good ingress protection.
  • Cons: Mid-tier battery. UL headband is better for static use than hiking.

Next Best Ultralight Headlamp

Black Diamond Deploy 325 ultralight headlamp for running

Black Diamond Deploy 325

The Black Diamond Deploy 325 is our next favorite ultralight headlamp for backpacking, and weighs about 12.5% less than our top pick from Nitecore. It also has a similar battery, and full elastic headband (as opposed to two elastic cords). However despite the high efficiency on low power mode, its max output is dim (325 barely qualified for our guide), and it drains power inefficiently when used on bright setting. What more, the sport headband does not allow for extra downward tilt to avoid blasting your fellow campers with light when sitting around cooking dinner.

  • Price: $60
  • Weight: 1.4 oz
  • Max Lumens: 325
  • Battery: 680 mAh
  • mAh/oz: 486
  • Dust/Water Protection: IPX4
  • Plug: USB-C
  • Avg battery life on high: 2.5 hrs
  • Avg battery life on low: 30 hours
  • Pros: Ultralight. USB-C. Sporty fit. Long lasting battery on low output.
  • Cons: Dim. Expensive. Inefficient when used on high. Cannot be adjusted to point farther downward.

Best Headlamp For Backpacking

Black Diamond Spot 400 headlamp for backpacking

Black Diamond Spot 400-R

Choose the Black Diamond Spot 400-R because it delivers exceptional stats, user experience, and comes with more positive user reviews and expert accolades than any other headlamp for backpacking. The 400 lumen output is perfect for all but the darkest of outings, and its 1500 mAh battery is powerful and sufficient for four hours of use on high to get you through the entire evening. The only knocks we have for it are that lighter weight models exist, and that it’s still on micro-USB, which is slower than USB-C, and keeps you stuck in multi-cord limbo.

  • Price: $65
  • Weight: 2.6 oz
  • Max Lumens: 400
  • Battery: 1500 mAh
  • mAh/oz: 577
  • Dust/Water Protection: IPX7
  • Plug: Micro-USB
  • Avg battery life on high: 4.0 hrs
  • Avg battery life on low: 225 hrs
  • Pros: Great all-around. Bright. Good battery life. Great for shoulder-season.
  • Cons: Still on micro-USB. Lightweight-not-ultralight.

Best Winter Backpacking Headlamp

Black Diamond Storm 500

Black Diamond Storm 500-R

When it’s time to break out the big guns, we recommend Black Diamond Storm 500-R, our preferred headlamp for winter and/or use during extended periods of darkness. The 500 lumen output is exceptionally bright and increases safety when visibility matters most. And did we mention the battery? 2400 mAh delivers seven hours of use on high, and pretty much goes infinite on low to medium. Seriously, 2400 mAh, is by itself 50% of a small power bank.

While this headlamp is overkill and not recommended for everyday backpacking, it’s a great specialist of extremely high quality to have access to in your 4-season quiver. Our biggest complaint, aside from 3.5 oz weight and larger than average chassis, would be the micro-USB charging port. All headlamps, especially those costing $75, should now be on USB-C. No excuses.

  • Price: $75
  • Weight: 3.5 oz
  • Max Lumens: 500
  • Battery: 2400 mAh
  • mAh/oz: 686
  • Dust/Water Protection: IP67
  • Plug: Micro-USB
  • Avg battery life on high: 7.0 hours
  • Avg battery life on low: 350 hours
  • Pros: Massive battery/battery life. Very bright. Water & dust-proof. Great for fall & winter.
  • Cons: Relatively heavy, and a bit clunky to wear. Still on micro-USB. Expensive.

Nitecore NB10000 Gen 2

Nitecore NB10000 Gen 2

With an impressive mAh-to-weight ratio of 1887, the Nitecore NB10000 Gen 2 has better stats than any other backpacking battery pack. It offers two or more complete phone recharges for only 5.3 ounces. It’s the most ultralight unit in the 10k mAh-class, and certainly the best overall performer.

What’s more, it can charge two devices at once, includes a USB-C port, and gets rave user reviews across the board. It even offers a low current mode for charging smaller devices. Did we mention that its carbon fiber casing is also water resistant (IPX5), and puncture, impact, and abrasion resistant? Carbon fiber also helps prolong the battery life in cold temperatures.

  • Price: $60
  • Power: 10,000 mAh
  • Weight: 5.3 oz
  • mAh/oz: 1887 mAh
  • Ports: 1 USB-A, 1 USB-C,
  • Built-in Cable: None

Expanded Criteria For Hiking Headlamp Shoppers

Choose a Rechargeable Headlamp

If your headlamp runs on AAA batteries, it’s time to upgrade. Not only are traditional batteries wasteful, heavier, and more expensive in the long term, they are simple less effective. The ability to recharge in the backcountry with a power bank means you never have to bring spare batteries, or worry about running out of juice. Simply put, rechargeability is now mandatory, everyone should carry a power bank, and headlamps without rechargeability are officially obsolete.

Choose a bright headlamp >300 Lumens

When choosing or forced to hike at night, you do not want to be stuck with a dim headlamp. It is a safety and navigational liability. And because there are plenty of good, lightweight, economical, bright headlamps available on the market, there is simply no reason to settle for something dim. We recommend models with at least 300 lumen output at minimum, but prefer to have access to 400 if possible.

Choose an Ultralight Headlamp

We define an ultralight headlamp as any model weighing less than two ounces. While the more standard three ounce models are only one ounce heavier, that represents a 50% to 100% weight increase over models in the 1.5-2.0 oz range. With headlamps, a minimalist headband can often save as much weight as a lighter lamp. For the typical person embarking on a bog standard backpacking trip in the middle of hiking season (May-September), there just aren’t many good reasons to not choose an ultralight headlamp.

Choose a Long Lasting Headlamp

When choosing models for this guide, we analyzed battery power, mAh/weight ratio, and battery lifespan on high and low using manufacturer provided stats. This data had a big influence on our selection, and it should for you too. Many popular ultralight headlamps and lightweight headlamps for backpacking were cut based on having merely average lifespan. If it’s not better than average, there’s no reason to settle.

Choose a headlamp for backpacking with USB-C Port

At time of publication, most electronic gear is transitioning from micro-USB charging ports to USB-C charging ports. USB-C is faster, and uses more modern tech. We expect all models to switch to USB-C in the coming years, but for now, it can be annoying to have to bring both cords. While not a strict requirement, we prefer USB-C because it’s a step towards future, rather than the past, and soon enough all gadgets will share this cord.

Choose a backpacking headlamp with water and dust protection

When shopping for a headlamp for backpacking, you probably noticed stats that look like IP67 or IPX6. IP stands for “ingress protection” and the following numbers refer to its rating against penetration from dust and water. A model that is rated IP67 scores a six on dust resistance and a 7 on water resistance. Other models may read as IPX6, for example. In this case, the X implies it has not been rated for dust, but has been rated for water protection. The X does not necessarily mean it is easily compromised by dust or sand, but simply that it has not been rated. Read more about IP code on Wikipedia.

Other nice to have headlamp features

In no particular order:

  • button lock – okay this is mandatory, but they all now have it
  • gradient dimming/brightening spectrum, as opposed to incremental settings
  • red/blue/green lighting, which can be useful in the tent to avoid waking a partner
  • strobe lightning for emergency signaling
  • downwards tilt frame, so as not blast light into your friends eyes at camp

Conclusion To The Best Headlamp For Backpacking

Thank you for reading our guide to the best headlamp for backpacking. These are the models we have had the best experience with, are most statistically superior, and positively reviewed by customers and experts alike. While for most backpacking we recommend an ultralight headlamp, there are scenarios where something brighter is completely justified, especially in fall and winter. Happy hiking!

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