Finding the best ultralight headlamp for backpacking is no easy task. When looking for several headlamps over the years, I have been amazed by the sheer amount of different lighting options out there. Deciding the right headlamp depends on many factors that will be based on your preferences.
Rechargeable or Disposable Batteries?
Over the last few years, more and more of the options in headlamps are switching from AA/AAA batteries to small rechargeable Lithium batteries. I know a lot of people who haven’t taken a liken to the rechargeable USB headlamps, and hands down they are the superior option with current technology in 2019.
If you want to be convinced that rechargeable batteries are the way then keep reading. With disposable batteries( you are forced to carry at least 1 extra battery which is going to be a minimum of 8 grams for a lithium AAA. This is completely dead weight, that provides zero use 99% of the time to you. With a rechargeable lithium you are already carrying the battery either as a battery bank or using your phone as a power supply. This gives you at least two backup options to charge in case of emergency. Most headlamps now allow simultaneous charging and light so you don’t have to wait around for it to charge. You may wonder how much the cable will weigh since you don’t carry a micro USB? Instead of an extra cable I suggest a tiny either USB C or lightening cable to micro USB adapter that weighs 3g.
The only time when rechargeable batteries are going to be at the disadvantage is if you need to charge your battery while it is raining and you are using it. I find this situation to be extremely rare, up there with breaking your USB cable or losing your extra battery.
Mostly around camp or night hiking?
This is another serious consideration, probably the most important of all. Are you the kind of hiker that get a burst of energy at 8PM and ends up hiking until 11 or 12? Or are you in camp every night by 8 and hardly ever spend more than an hour night hiking? If you need a headlamp that is going to last three to four hours a night several nights a week then this guide isn’t going to cover the exact headlamps that you will probably want. Personally, I end up with minimal night hiking most of the time and the headlamps I am going to suggest will be fine for that. These headlamps are as light as possible yet extremely functional.
Specifications for an Ultralight Headlamp
- Brightness (lumens)
- Battery size
- IP rating
- Beam distance
- Light settings (High/Low/Red)
When looking at a headlamp there are some key specifications that you should be keeping your eye on. Most importantly is the amount of Lumens, which is basically the amount of light produced from a source. Higher amount of Lumens means more power usage, and lower means less light. I found I can easily hike with around 50 Lumens on normal trails. You could probably push it down to 30 or less Lumens on easy trails or taking your time. If you want to be out there running/very fast hiking then I highly suggest going up into the 200-300 range.
Other specifications that are nearly important are going to be run time which will be based on the battery size. Battery size and weight go hand and hand. Most of the weight from your headlamp is going to come from either the circuitry, casings, or battery. The circuits and LEDs are going to be extremely light. The battery is going to be your personal preference, and the casing will be finding what works for your needs the best.
Beam distance and intensity are both important features as well but unless you’re doing trail running or fast night hiking most of the headlamps out there will satisfy your needs on this. The last important specification is going to be the waterproof rating. You can read more about the details of the water rating standards. For the most part, you are probably going to want a fully waterproof headlamp because you will likely have it in adverse conditions. Waterproof headlamps add a bit of weight over their weather resistant counterparts.
All of these headlamps suggested I have personally owned or used. As I said earlier there are more headlamps out there than I could ever test but these should give you a good starting point and arguably the best for most needs.
Honorable Mention: Black Diamond
These are the only ones I didn’t actually lay my heads on to test because I couldn’t justify the purchase due to their shortcomings. The best one based on the specs is going to be the Stride which comes in at 1.2 oz yet only offering 25 lumens. The Iota and Ion are both honorable mentions but my problem is that Black Diamond headlamps are completely overweight. If you’re looking for a higher lumen, heavy duty headlamp then Black Diamond might be a good option but for everyone counting grams, stay away for now.
I bought this as my initial choice for the 2019 backpacking season and it is probably my biggest letdown of this entire list. It is incredibly tempting given it’s extremely lightweight package. My problems with this headlamp weren’t the brightness or battery life(although short). It was the patterns of the light, no dim white, no solid red. What is the use of a headlamp with no solid red and only one solid white light? None, at least for a primary headlamp.
This seemed to be the recommended ultralight headlamp for years if you weren’t doing extreme night hiking. This was for good reason. Weighing in at 26 grams, it is light. It only has a maximum output of 50 lumens which isn’t terrible. The other perk of this headlamp is the IPX7 rating which means it can withstand pretty much any back country condition. The main downfall of the e+LITE is the battery situation, two CR2032 batteries. For that reason alone, I can’t suggest this as a primary headlamp on anything more than a weekend trip.
This is my personal choice for the 2019 season, I have been extremely happy with its performance so far. It offers 85 Lumens at max power for about an hour. This is personally enough for me especially since it works while charging. Coming in at 25 grams with the clip it is an extremely light option if you already packing some kind of hat so you don’t need to carry a strap. It has a red light as well as three intensities for the white. My biggest concern and issue with it is the IP65 waterproof rating meaning it is only water resistant but under the brim of a hat I’m not too concerned.
Probably the best valued, best featured ultralight headlamp out there right now. Offering up to 360 lumens (only for 30min), and a great set of varying intensities(360/190/38/1 lumens) and two red options. This headlamp comes in right under 1 oz without the strap. It is fully rechargeable and comes in at an affordable price. It is rated at IP66 meaning it is again water resistant and not submersible. Nitecore did an outstanding job on the design specs and execution of this product. You can even replace the strap with an aftermarket shock cord one (or make your own) and save some additional weight. If you’re looking for a conventional headlamp that is ultralight then this is the hands down best option you can buy in 2019.