When I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona, my boyfriend used to joke that headlights were local basic fashion. It wasn’t uncommon to see two people around town – even in a bar – with a forehead adorned with light. If you’ve ever visited Flagstaff, you know that the world’s first international dark sky city lives up to its name: mountain town It limits night light production, and because Arizona does not follow daylight saving time, the sun sets early. When I first moved there, I found myself burning through cheap hardware store headlights and fumbling with portable flashlights. Learn from my mistakes: Get a reliable, bright headlight, and consider a rechargeable option.
Why do you need a headlight
What if you don’t live in the dark, wooded mountain town? Do you still need a headlight? definitely. While the flashlight works on your phone when necessary, hands-free headlights are invaluable for a variety of tasks.
I live in Phoenix now, and for a large part of the year it is too hot to exercise outdoors during daylight hours. Without a headlight, I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking my dogs before sunrise or running at night. And for weekend warriors like myself, Friday nights often involve setting up a camping site in the dark—a tough task, but more hands (unburdened by flashlights) make the work faster. Hunters, trail mechanics, and nighttime cyclists all know the benefits of a good headlight—even mail carriers wear them.
What to consider when shopping for headlights
Before you go out and throw money on the light, think about when and how you will use the headlight. First, what level of light output do you need? When measured in lumens, these numbers can reach huge heights—with correspondingly higher prices. (The selections below range from 40 to 1,600 lumens.) Many headlights also have flood and beam light patterns, both of which are useful: Flood patterns illuminate a large area, while beams focus light exactly where you’re looking.
Maintaining night vision is often critical. So consider a headlight with color light modes – red being the most common – that won’t cause the pupils to constrict once the light is on. If you’re backpacking or away from power for extended periods, many of the lights can run on both rechargeable and disposable batteries, giving you more options for avoiding the dark. Pro tip: If you go the rechargeable route, bring a mobile phone charger to give you extra juice off the grid.
Finally, the comfort, weight and size of the headlights are also worth considering in your decision. Although elastic headbands are the industry standard, not all are created equal, and companies like Petzl push alternative headband options like those used on Bindi or Iko below. And while modern options are very lightweight, sometimes batteries aren’t. If you’re concerned about weight and fitness, be sure to try a few different headlights to see how they feel on your head.
In this guide, I’ve compiled a list of headlights that should work in almost any situation. Whether you’re looking for the best and brightest that light money can buy or you want something reliable that can be stowed in your car’s center console for emergencies, headlights are a valuable tool and worth adding to your gear list. I keep one hanging by the front door and two in my SUV at all times – that way I’ll never be in the dark without being able to use my hands.
Best headlights for 2022
For access to exclusive equipment videos, celebrity interviews, and more, Subscribe to YouTube!
Discussion about this post