I remember the first time I went hunting in the Wasatch forest. We hiked in during the night to camp. We had to take switchbacks up the back of the mountain to reach the meadow above, and in the dark the ground seemed to drop off to the left of the trail. Far up the way I could see headlamps of other hunters bouncing along, the only way I knew we weren’t totally alone crawling up the face of an ancient rock. When we reached the saddle, I knew my lamp was marking the way for later parties down below.
Headlamps serve many purposes. Not only was mine showing me the path in the pitch black of a national forest, it was marking my location for others coming behind. Later it helped me set up a tent and prepare a meal.
You need a headlamp for more than one reason, and the headlamp you choose should function effectively in different situations. We’ve laid it all out for you below–how to tell the bad headlamps from the good. We’ve also picked out five hunting headlamps that stand out above the rest and reviewed their features so you can find the one for your specific needs.
Our Top Headlamp Picks
- Alaskan Guide Series QUL – “Great for its utility in wet environments”
- Danforce– “It’s hard to pass up a seven-year warranty”
- Black Diamond Storm – “The memory setting earned this headlamp a spot on our list”
- Buckmasters Streamlight– “The two different headbands are just one part of this lamp’s versatility”
- Mossy Oak Tactical– “Its resistance to impact make this headlamp a top choice”
What to look for
What exactly is a lumen? Basically, it’s the unit used to measure brightness.
When you’re shopping for a headlamp, keep in mind that you may be hunting where there is very little ambient light. You want something that provides enough light to see by, regardless of when and where you’re hunting.
In addition to basic lighting needs, a headlamp that can provide enough light to track a blood trail is a must. You should be able to use your gear effectively in the dark and be able set up your equipment without too much clumsy noise.
While lumens are an important consideration, you don’t necessarily need as many as possible. If your light is too intense, you’ll be visible from a distance. You have to find the right balance.
Light modes and beam types
Your headlamp may be equipped with several different kinds of beam. You’ll need to know the differences between them and have an idea of which beams are important to you.
The basic beams are as follows: wide/flood, spot and strobe. The wide/flood beam feature is great for basic lighting. It gives you a panoramic view of your immediate surroundings, but the beam doesn’t travel too far ahead of you.
The spotlight, on the other hand, provides a concentrated beam of light that projects farther away from you. This type of beam will come in handy when you’re tracking.
Some headlamps may include a strobe option, which is a good beam choice to indicate distress for use in emergencies. The flashing light more easily attracts attention.
It’s common to find a headlamp labeled with a “beam reach” of at least 80 yards. Whatever the assigned number on your headlamp, this is the maximum distance the beam can travel.
What color should your light be?
The light output you should choose in a headlamp will depend on when you’re hunting. Your headlamp may have red, green or white settings. Each color serves a different function.
Red light is traditionally used for night hunting. The red filter gives you just enough light to see without interrupting your night vision. That way, you can switch back and forth between your headlamp and darkness without having to readjust.
Additionally, because red light isn’t as harsh as pure white light, it isn’t as conspicuous. You’re less likely to be spotted, and if you are, it’s less likely to spook any game.
You can also use green light for hunting at night. Green light is brighter than red and produces more contrast. This increases the detail you can see, but it also risks disturbing your night vision. Red is better for simple night movement while green may have advantages tracking in the dark.
White light provides the most visibility, of course. White light disrupts your night vision, however, so your eyes will have to adjust to the darkness again when you turn it off. It’s also visible from long distances and creates a lot of shadows that will spook game. You should only use white light for detailed tasks that require full visibility and color vision like constructing your tree stand.
The Ingress Protection (IP) rating is an international method that identifies how well a light fitting is protected from water and solid objects.
This measurement indicates how well the fitting will work and helps you determine whether the headlamp is suitable for rugged outdoor use. Really, there’s no reason not to get a waterproof headlamp.
This IP rating is listed as ‘IPXY’. The X is a number 0-6 that represents the solid particle protection capability. The Y is a number 0-9 that tells you the liquid protection capability.
You may come across headlamps without that first number. In those instances, the IP rating looks something like ‘IPX4’. This happens if no solid particle protection has been established.
You want to find one with a liquid rating of at least 4. That’s the industry’s ranking for weather-resistance and means your headlamp will be protected from water splashes in any direction. This is the popular rating among most lamps.
The greater that second number, the more water your headlamp can be exposed to without malfunctioning. If you have a headlamp with a rating of IPX7, for example, it’s submersible in water up to one meter deep for 30 minutes.
For solid objects the ratings range from protection against objects greater than 1.9 inches to complete protection from dust for two to eight hours.
Fit and adjustment
The headlamp fit is also a major consideration. You want something with a band that’s easily adjustable. You may need to wear it alone or over a hat, and who knows how your hairstyle might change. You want a band that can accommodate different situations.
When it comes to straps, you have multiple options. Some are made of rubber. This can give you a more custom fit and better protection from moisture, but it may be more uncomfortable for long periods of time.
You can also find fabric bands. Some of these are moisture absorbing and provide more comfort for prolonged wear. Many headlamps will have several straps, so you can choose what best suits you in any particular situation.
Not only do you want the headlamp straps to adjust easily, but the headlamp light should also be simple to operate. That way you can angle the beam of light as needed, even while looking down or using additional equipment.
A headlamp that fits badly or is difficult to adjust doesn’t do you any favors. As you can see from our picks, there are plenty of options on the market. Skip those that don’t meet your requirements.
Batteries and battery life
If you are using a traditional battery-style headlamp, three AAA batteries is the most common configuration. You may decide to use lithium-ion rechargeable batteries instead of single-use batteries.
If you have a portable charging station that can operate in the field, this is an effective system, but it’s another piece of equipment that’ll add weight to your pack. These batteries have become more reliable and long lasting, but they still lose charge as they age. They have a greater initial cost but often save you money in the long term.
If you decide on single-use batteries, it’s wise to carry extras. Even if you opt for rechargeable batteries, you’ll want two sets to rotate through so you’re never without a power source.
Single-use batteries also cost less, but all single-use batteries are not created equal. Cheaper batteries usually don’t have the same life as higher quality brands.
Your headlamp will probably list an expected battery life, but this is only an estimate. Different functions—including beam type and color of light—all affect how quickly the lamp will drain its batteries.
A concentrated white beam generally uses batteries up more quickly. Your night vision and diffused beams don’t drain them quite as fast.
Not so heavy
Like much of your equipment, it’s important to consider the weight of your headlamp. You can anticipate wearing your headlamp for long stretches, sometimes in less-than-comfortable scenarios. Don’t add to your discomfort by choosing a bulky or heavy headlamp.
The lightest headlamps will weigh in at just a few ounces, while the heftier, more solid options will tip the scales at well over a pound. Try them both to determine what best suits you and your needs.
It’s impossible to predict what might happen when you’re outdoors. Whether you slip in the mud or drop your equipment, hunting gear needs to be sturdy. Look for a headlamp that can withstand serious use.
Ease of use
The point of your light is to help you use your other equipment. You don’t want a headlamp that’s going to be a hassle in and of itself. If you’re hunting during cold weather, your hands may be gloved. Look for a headlamp that’s simple to operate without too much dexterity.
Fortunately, there are many single-button headlamps on the market. There are even models that are triggered by motion—a simple wave of your hand can turn them on or off.
Our Top Picks In Detail
Alaskan Guide Series QUL
The Cabela’s Alaskan guide series QUL headlamp has four lighting modes: high, medium, low and strobe. Ultra-bright 5mm LED bulbs produce 78 lumens.
This unit runs on three AAA batteries for up to 105 hours. What’s really great is a battery meter keeps you updated on how much battery life is left so there are no surprises.
This unit is weatherproof and waterproof too, even submersible in depths up to three feet. Of course, that’s a great feature if you live somewhere with a lot of rain, but it’s especially helpful if you hunt in a lot of snow.
The headlamp weighs barely over three ounces, and it has an adjustable headband. That makes it comfortable for long periods. If it weren’t for its difficult operation with gloves, it would be the perfect remote cold-weather headlamp. It’s called the Alaskan Guide after all.
- Four lighting modes
- Strong 78-lumen beam
- Adjustable headband
- Difficult to operate with gloves
This 6,000-lumens headlamp has three Cree LED light bulbs. That makes it ultra bright and capable of cutting through low visibility.
This headlamp is waterproof and weatherproof. It doesn’t matter whether you’re hunting in the extreme heat or extreme cold—it performs consistently.
It features a rechargeable battery in an airtight rubber sealing that keeps it protected from elements. Dust, ice, water, mud—whatever you come across while using this headlamp, you can expect it to stay protected.
This is a durable unit. Engineer tested and designed in the United States, this headlamp features five light modes and an adjustable lamp head. You can choose between low, medium, high, strobe and red-light modes.
In addition to the light modes, this headlamp allows you to choose between a focused beam and a flood-style light. With an IPX4 rating, this headlamp has no problem with extreme weather.
It even comes with a seven-year warranty. If you’re a hardcore hunter who travels to different environments to find the most challenging game, a tough headlamp like this can help you in all sorts of conditions.
- Cree LED light bulbs
- Rechargeable battery
- Airtight rubber sealing
- Five light modes
- Seven-year warranty
The Cabela’s Black Diamond is a three-light headlamp that produces 350 lumens. The beam can reach 87 yards. The headlamp also features three color modes to help preserve your night vision.
An IP67 rating means this headlamp is protected from both solids and liquids and is submersible in up to three feet of water. At less than four ounces and with an adjustable headband, it’s great for long wear and a customized fit. That makes it a good option for early birds and hunters who stay late into the night.
The push-button operation means it’s easy to use. It’s powered by three AAA batteries that will give you around 160 hours of use. Unfortunately, this long battery life comes at a cost. The light is dimmer than some other models.
A strobe function, spot feature and adjustable brightness make this a versatile piece of equipment for different situations. A really cool thing is the memory setting that powers the lamp on on the last setting you used.
- IP67 rating
- Easy to use
- 160-hour battery life
- Memory setting
- Dimmer light
The Buckmasters Streamlight offers both white and green light. You can combine these with three levels of illumination. It has a 63-hour battery life as well as a low battery indicator.
This headlamp has an IPX4 rating, and best of all, it’s shock absorbing. It even comes with two different headbands—one elastic and one rubber. If you’re looking for a single headlamp you can rely on for a variety of needs, the Buckmasters Streamlight is a good option. Its tough design is especially nice for stand hunters who might accidentally drop it.
This is a heavier unit, coming in at about 1.5 pounds, but that’s because it has three different LEDs and one C4 LED. The white light provided by the Streamlight is a focused beam. The different illumination levels of the green light allow you to choose just what you need so you don’t make yourself too conspicuous.
- Three illumination options
- Low battery indicator
- Shock absorbing
- Two different headbands
- Three LEDs and one C4 LED
Mossy Oak Tactical
This headlamp features four light modes (high, low, red and purple) and rates at 200 lumens. It’s both shockproof and impact resistant. If you’re looking for a durable, well-made headlamp, suitable for hunting, the Mossy Oak Tactical is a true contender.
These bulbs have approximately 100,000 hours of life and a 450-foot beam reach. The light is bright and good quality, and it only requires AAA batteries. This keeps it lightweight at under one pound.
We also want to point out the quality materials. Still hunters can benefit from the durability and the light weight. It’s easy to operate and fits comfortably, too, so you can wear it for a while.
Last but not least, it comes at a great price.
- Four light modes
- Impact resistant
- 100,000 hours of bulb life
- Low price range
- Low battery life