How to Choose a Headlamp: The Complete Buyer's Guide

August 17, 2020

How to Choose a Headlamp: The Complete Buyer's Guide

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Are you ready to buy a headlamp, but you aren't sure where to begin? This guide will help you determine which features you will need to consider before picking out your headlamp. 

When choosing a headlamp, you should consider the headlamp's price and features and the activities you plan to use the headlamp for. Some important features to contemplate include the headlamp's lumens, beam-type, modes, size, weight, run time, fit, power source, and water resistance

Below you will find a comprehensive guide that will help you pick out the perfect headlamp. 




Decide on a Budget 

Headlamps range in price, from about $15-$100. Standard headlamps typically cost around $15-$35, whereas high-end headlamps cost $45-$100. 

Headlamps in this higher price range tend to have more features and higher quality than those in the lower price range. However, headlamps in the lower-price range can still be of good quality, depending on the brand you select.

When choosing a headlamp, deciding on a budget will be a useful tool to help you narrow down your options. 




Think About the Purpose of Your Headlamp

The headlamp you buy should have features suited for the activities you plan to use it for. Once you know your headlamp's purpose, it will be much easier to narrow down your options since only some headlamps will have all of the features you are looking for. 

Listed below are some common activities that headlamps are used for and headlamp features that are useful for each activity. 

  • Running with a headlamp is a great idea. It illuminates your surroundings, lets you see what's ahead, and can alert drivers of your presence. Some important features to look for when buying a headlamp for running are a good fit, low weight, and far beam distance.
  • Hiking and backpacking both require you to wear a headlamp for extensive periods. Therefore, you'll want a headlamp with a battery that has a long run time so you won't be in the dark halfway through the trail! 
  • Climbing requires a headlamp with good beam distance and strong light output to brighten your route. Having a bright path and good visibility will help you avoid slipping off the side of a mountain! 
  • Paddling and other water sports require you to get a headlamp that is either water-resistant or waterproof. If there is a chance you will become completely submerged, then a fully waterproof headlamp is probably your best bet. 
  • Camping with a headlamp makes your experience much more enjoyable. It provides you with light while cooking, going for a hike, or taking a midnight stroll to the bathroom. Camping conditions vary depending on your location. Therefore, the features you need will vary depending on if you are camping in an RV, at a campsite, or in a bungalow. 
  • Mechanics and DIY users often find a high-quality headlamp a must.  Whether you are working on a vehicle, or in an engine room, the most important feature of a light is hands-free use.  A headlamp is the best solution.  The headlamp must be durable, chemical resistant, and comfortable enough to be worn most of the day if necessary.  It is also nice to be rechargeable so the user can show up to work every day with a fresh charge.
  • Construction workers have similar demands to mechanics and DIY, but they may also be required to wear a hardhat while on the job site.  If you have these requirements, you will want to find a headlamp that is designed to be mounted on a hardhat, or has hard hat clips so it can be mounted on the hardhat.  




Consider How Many Lumens You’ll Need

Lumens measure the amount of visible light coming from a light source.  Basically, how much total light a headlamp can produce. Typically, the more lumens you have, the brighter your light will be. Lumens can range from 5-3000. However, headlamps typically have lumens that range from 50 to 1,000

Lumens are not the end-all-be-all when it comes to lighting. Even if you buy a headlamp with a high number of lumens, that doesn't necessarily mean your light will be very bright. How the headlamp is made and how effectively it directs light will influence how well the lumens are employed.

Stick with known brands in the industry for trusted lumen claims.  There are a lot of cheap headlamps on the market that make false claims about the lumen output of the lights.  Typically you get what you pay for Known brands, such as USA based lighting company STKR Concepts, not only design their own lights from the ground up, they are also known for quality and amazing customer service.    





Determine Which Beam Type(s) You’ll Need

Headlamps come in three different beam types, including flood, spot, and adjustable. 

  • Flood beams, also referred to as wide beams, are useful for viewing things within your immediate surroundings. This kind of beam is wide, allowing you to see things on either side of you. Flood beams are useful for activities such as reading, repairs, or cooking. Flood beams are not useful for viewing things that are far away.  
  • Spot beams, also referred to as focused or narrow beams, are great for seeing things in the distance. This type of beam works by focusing in on one particular area in the distance. Spot beams are useful for navigating hiking trails and campsites. 
  • Adjustable beams can switch between flood and spot. These are incredibly useful, providing you with optimal lighting, whether you want to see things that are up close or farther away.



Assess the Beam Distance

Headlamps vary in terms of their beam distance, which refers to the length (in meters) that headlamps can project usable light

Beam distance differs from lumens because lumens tell you how much total light a headlamp can produce while beam distance tells you how far the light will be able to travel.

A headlamp's beam distance is especially important if you are doing activities that require you to see far into the distance, such as running or biking. 




Decide on the Modes You’ll Want

Most headlamps have at least a low and high mode. Some offer other modes, including strobe, mid, boost, and red light. Below these modes are discussed in detail. 

  • Strobe (or flash) mode is when the light will blink. Some headlamps allow you to choose its blinking speed, either fast or slow. This is a great feature to have during emergencies to alert others that you are in trouble.  It can also be used to distract or disorient would-be attackers.  
  • Low mode is the best mode to use for ordinary tasks since it typically uses the least amount of power. Use this mode if you need to conserve battery life.
  • Mid mode, as the name implies, is in between the high and low modes.  Another power saving feature over high. 
  • High (or max) mode is nice for situations in which you need more light. However, this mode uses more power, so leaving your headlamp on high is not recommended.  Using this mode will drain the batteries the fastest.  If you know you need to conserve battery power, use this mode sparingly. 
  • Boost mode is an uncommon feature. It allows you to project an intense beam of light for 10-20 seconds. It's unlikely you'll use boost mode very often, but it may come in handy if you hear something scary moving around in the dark! This mode drains batteries fairly quickly and can overheat an LED headlamp. 
  • Red light mode is a cool feature. Red light does not cause human eyes to dilate as much as other colors of light do, so you can see better in the dark. Red light allows you to see at nighttime without disturbing other people or wildlife as much as white light does.  It is also great for airplane pilots.  They can light up their cockpit and still save their night vision.  Also popular with military, tactical, police, hunting, etc.




Think About the Size and Weight

Headlamps are generally about the same size. They typically weigh less than 7 oz (including their batteries), so they are light. 

However, some high-powered headlamp models include extra battery packs, which make them heavier. These are typically reserved for specific activities, such as rock climbing, spelunking, or mountain bike riding. Unless you plan to use your headlamp for one of these purposes, you won't need the heavier version. 




Review the Run Time

Runtime is measured in hours. 

In the past, the runtime of headlamps used to be determined by how long they were able to produce light from a distance of 2 meters before running out of juice. However, under the new measurement system, run time is determined by how long it takes the light to drop by 10% of its original output. 

For example, under the original standard, a light with 350 lumens could run for 40 hours. However, under the new standard, the same light would have a runtime of 2 hours since it can only run for two hours before its light output drops by 10%. 

If you see two headlamps that have drastically different runtimes, it may be because they are using different runtime measurement systems, not because the runtime is that much different. 

Runtime is an important feature because it lets you know how long your headlamp will operate at its optimal level. 

If you plan to use your headlamp during a long hike or for many hours at work, you'll want to make sure it won't run out. It is recommended that you pack extra batteries just in case your headlamp runs out of power! 




Look at the Power Source

Most headlamps are powered by AA or AAA alkaline batteries. These are very common, so they are easy to find and replace. However, they die fairly quickly, so depending on how often you use your headlamp, you'll have to switch them out frequently. 

Some headlamps come with rechargeable batteries such as NIMH or Lithium-Ion. These can typically be recharged using a USB cable.  Lithium batteries are more capable of powering higher-performing headlamps.  Plus, being rechargeable, they are a convenient and environmentally friendly option since you won't need to switch out the batteries every couple of months! 




Think About Fit

Having a headlamp that fits well is very important, especially if you plan to wear it during activities where you'll be moving a lot, such as running or climbing. 

If your headlamp doesn't fit well, it will jostle around whenever you move, which is incredibly annoying. 

A factor that can influence the headlamp's fit is the type of band it has. Most headlamps come with a soft elastic band that goes around the back of your head, with the main spotlight resting on your forehead. If you buy a heavier headlamp, it may come with two straps, one normal strap, and one that goes over your head to provide you with extra support. 


If you can, try on the headlamp that you plan on buying beforehand to make sure it conforms to your head and doesn't move around when you walk or run. Trying on the headlamp will allow you to feel the band around your head, so you can determine if it's comfortable. 




Determine if You’ll Need Water Resistance

Some headlamps offer water-resistance, enabling you to use them during water-based activities, such as paddling, fishing, or boating. Getting a water-resistant headlamp will prevent it from breaking if it gets a little wet! 


Water-resistance is rated based on the IPX rating system. The rating scale goes from 0-10, with 0 meaning no water resistance and 10 meaning full water resistance. Typically headlamps come with an IPX rating between 4-7. Listed below are these ratings in detail. 

  • IPX 4 means the headlamp can withstand a splash of water from any angle. 
  • IPX 5 means the headlamp is protected against a low-pressure stream of water coming from any angle. 
  • IPX 6 means the headlamp is protected from a high-pressure stream of water from any angle.
  • IPX 7 means the headlamp can be immersed in 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. 

Pick the water-resistance level that is right for you. 

For example, if you plan to use your headlamp for paddling, you may want to get one with an IPX 7 since this rating will protect you if you end up going overboard. However, if you plan to use your headlamp for an activity such as fishing, you may only require a headlamp with an IPX rating of 4, 5, or 6. 

Typically headlamps with higher water-resistance are also more expensive, so keep this in mind when making your purchase. 




Determine if You’ll Need Any Additional Features

Some headlamps include additional features. While these features aren't mandatory, they may come in handy in certain situations. Some of these extra features include: 

  • A dimmer function that allows you to dim the light that is coming from your headlamp.  This feature gives the user more brightness output options than a standard “high/low” modes.  This is a useful feature if you have specific lighting needs, are around other people you don't want to disturb, or want to conserve battery life. 
  • The tilt feature allows you to tilt the main spotlight on your headlamp in different directions. If you regularly need to look down at the ground or up above you, this feature may be helpful.  
  • A battery Lock-out feature is important if you often store your headlamp in a backpack. This feature prevents your headlamp from turning on so you won't accidentally drain the batteries. This feature may be especially useful for hiking or backpacking. 



Pick Out Your Headlamp

You've decided on your budget and the features that you want. Now it's time to purchase your headlamp! 

When purchasing your headlamp, make sure to thoroughly investigate its features to ensure it includes everything you want. If you can, try it on ahead of time to determine if it's a good fit. Some headlamps come with a warranty or free returns, which you may want to look into before making your selection. 

Below you will receive information about one of the best headlamps on the market, the STKR FLEXIT 2.5. It includes everything a good headlamp should and more. This headlamp will be a great option for many people since it can be used for a wide variety of activities. Keep reading for a full description of the product and some exciting news STKR recently released about another product coming out soon! 

STKR FLEXIT Headlamp 2.5 

The STKR FLEXIT Headlamp 2.5 is an incredible product. It is weather-resistant, offers 12 hours of run time, and comes with a one year warranty. 

This headlamp only weighs 5.8oz. It was designed to conform to each user's head, which provides you with the best fit. It is very comfortable due to its soft foam and felt interior. These materials provide you with optimal comfort while also controlling sweat when you are in hot climates.

The FLEXIT Headlamp 2.5 produces 250 lumens in its brightest setting, providing you with optimal lighting. It comes with five modes, including: 

  •  High Spot/High Flood
  •  High Spot
  • Medium Spot/High Flood
  • Low Spot/High Flood
  • High Spot/Flashing Flood & Rear Red

One common problem with headlamps is that they produce tunnel vision, which means you can only see what's in front of you. This headlamp completely eradicates tunnel vision through its Halo lighting. This unique lighting system includes LEDs mounted on your headlamp's sides, which light up your periphery. This feature permits you to see all around you! 


The side-mounted floodlights and rear-facing red lights are also useful for vehicle-related emergencies. It has a special HAZARD mode.  When your headlamp is in this setting, the spotlight stays constant so the user can still effectively work while the flashing side and rear LEDs alert motorists that you are there, so you can feel safe fixing your car at night. This setting is also great for walking at night since the flashing lights signal all nearby vehicles of your presence. 

The center spotlight is adjustable, allowing you to direct it to the exact location you need to see.

This headlamp is hardhat compatible, allowing you to use it on the job. It is also useful for leisure activities such as camping, hiking, walking, and more. 

This headlamp is listed as $39.99 on the STKR website. 

If you'd like to see this amazing headlamp in action, check out this video by STKR concepts. They demonstrate the headlamp's features and explain what makes it stand out from the rest! 

STKR FLEXIT Headlamp PRO

Hold onto your headlamps! STKR is coming out with a new and improved headlamp very shortly called the FLEXIT Headlamp PRO. This headlamp will encompass all of the great features you loved about the FLEXIT Headlamp 2.5 and more. 


You may be thinking, "how can this new headlamp possibly get any better than the 2.5?" Well, you'll just have to wait to find out! 

Keep an eye on STKR's website to determine when it will be released. This is a product you will not want to miss. 




Final Thoughts 

When choosing a headlamp, the headlamp's price, features, and what you plan to use are important factors to consider before picking one out.

One of the most amazing headlamps on the market is the STKR FLEXIT Headlamp 2.5. However, STKR is coming out with a new headlamp called the STKR FLEXIT Headlamp PRO, which is said to be even better!

I hope this guide has helped you choose the perfect headlamp!


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