In a survival situation, timing is everything. The extra couple seconds it takes you to reach something in your pack can very literally mean the difference between life and death – especially if that item is needed for first aid or self-defense. Having both hands available at all times can be a huge advantage, and a great way to ensure you can maneuver hands-free is by wearing a headlamp.
In survival situations, headlamps (or headtorches, depending on where you hail from) are extremely convenient and useful, as well as having a variety of applications outside of survival situations including outdoor / camping adventures and home projects.
However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, different circumstances will require headlamps of a certain quality. While you may not be concerned with the quality of headlamp you’re using to complete repairs in your garage, you’ll definitely want to ensure the one in your bug-out-bag is the best headtorch for your needs.
In this article, we delve into the key features that differentiate the best headtorches from the mediocre, what you should look for in a headlamp, and provide our top picks for:
- The most powerful / best LED headlamp
- Best hiking headlamp
- Best camping headlamp
- Best compact headlamp
Choosing the Best LED Headlamp
The primary function of a headlamp – whether it be for camping, home use, or survival – is hands-free illumination. There are a variety of add-ons that come with certain models, but generally, an LED headlamp is not considered a multi-use item.
Why use a headlamp? Consider the various situations you may find yourself in and how hands-free illumination could make those situations substantially easier. If you’ve ever tried to set up camp in the dark or quickly reach supplies in your pack, you know the value of having both hands free. If you find yourself in a power outage, a great hiking headlamp will allow you to navigate a dark basement and check the breaker or make repairs quickly and easily with both hands at your disposal.
In a survival situation, LED headlamps can also function as excellent signalling devices – particularly those with either a strobe or SOS setting – and are less likely to be dropped or lost as they are strapped to your head. Additionally, the use of LEDs has led to brighter lighting and longer lasting battery life, meaning that most of the best headtorches can be used for several hours a day for well over a month before their battery power runs out.
So what qualities should you look for when searching for the best headtorch? Your priorities may differ depending on whether you are looking for the best hiking headlamp, best camping headlamp, or best LED headlamp; and ultimately, how you intend to use your headlamp. Generally, when choosing the best headtorch, you will want to look for the following: brightness, distance and battery life; comfort, weight, and size; and IP rating for water resistance, IK ratings for shock resistance, and durability.
How Powerful Should Your Headlamp Be?
The brightness of your LED headlamp will determine how far you will be able to see, and how far you need to see is determined by the specific activities you intend to use your headlamp for and your climate. In some cases, a headlamp with exceptionally long range may not be necessary if the tasks you will be performing are close at hand, such as reading and repairs. However, if you intend to use your LED headtorch for tasks such as scavenging for supplies or monitoring your perimeter for security, you will definitely want a headlamp capable of scanning long distances. Additionally, the climate you live in can play a role in the brightness required from your headlamp as light travels furthest in dry air; therefore, an arid climate would require less light than a humid one.
To ensure you have an available option for almost any visibility scenario, select a headlamp with a combination of floodlight and spotlight settings. A floodlight can light up an entire campsite while the focused beam of a spotlight can pinpoint a distant object. Additionally, strobes can be very useful for signaling as well as running in the night, while an SOS signal can be vital in a survival situation.
In a survival situation, preserving battery power will be essential, as will having more than one battery option. Many survivalists opt for headlamps with both white and red LEDs to maximize battery life. The red light setting can be used for low-light tasks such as reading, as this setting is both easier on the batteries and eyes. Brighter lights will run your batteries down faster, so if finding a power source will be an issue, you may want to cut back on the Lumens or numbers of LEDs in your headlamp.
Balancing Comfort and Size
Much like your bug-out-bag, for your best headtorch choice, you want to select one that is both comfortable and lightweight, especially if you will be traveling frequently at night.
If you plan on wearing your headlamp for extended periods or while you are running or climbing, a top strap can be a desirable option as this adds stability. Whether or not you choose to wear a top strap, make sure to adjust the band so that it fits snugly enough to keep the light in place while you shake your head. To eliminate neck strain, choose a headlamp with an adjustable light angle.
Both the number of lights and type of battery will affect the weight of your headlamp. Make sure that the model you choose is the best headtorch for your needs and of a weight that you can reasonably support for an extended period of time.
The more LEDs, the brighter your light – but with each additional LED you are adding to the overall size and weight of your headlamp and increasing the draw on your batteries. Depending on your needs, decide what the ideal size and number of LEDs is that you can reasonably support without the headlamp being too heavy or depleting the batteries too quickly.
Does It Stand Up To The Elements?
The IP rating refers to Ingress Protection Marking or International Protection Marking. It rates the protection of mechanical and electrical parts against solid particles and liquids. If there is an ‘X,’ this signifies that there is no rating available for this criteria, as in the case of IPX4 where the ‘X’ indicates the item is not dust rated and has a water resistance of 4 (meaning it can withstand splashing but not submersion).
The IK rating refers to mechanical impact and measures how many joules of downward force the object can endure. For the majority of consumer products, shock resistance ratings are typically given in meters, indicating the height at which the item can be dropped from and still withstand the impact.
For durability, choose an LED headlamp that has fantastic impact resistance, especially for use in survival scenarios.
Please see the table below for IP and IK ratings:
|IP- 1st #||Protection||IP - 2nd #||Protection||IK||Protection|
|1||Solid objects over 50 mm||1||Vertically falling droplets (rain)||01-05||Impact <1 joule|
|2||Solid objects over 12 mm||2||Direct sprays 15 degrees from vertical (slanting rain)||06||Impact 1 joule|
|3||Solid objects over 2.5 mm||3||Direct sprays 60 degrees from vertical (small splashes)||07||Impact 2 joules|
|4||Solid objects over 1 mm||4||Spray from all directions||08||Impact 5 joules|
|5||Limited protection against dust||5||Low pressure jets from all directions||09||Impact 10 joules|
|6||Total protection against dust||6||Strong jets or splashes||10||Impact 20 joules|
|7||Submersion up to 1 meter|
|8||Long periods of immersion under pressure|
Our Top Picks For Best-In-Class Headlamps
Most Powerful / Best LED Headlamp
Our Pick: Fenixlight HP25
- A clear winner on brightness, this headlamp has visibility up to 160 meters at 340 Lumens and is our top pick for the best LED headlamp
- It runs on 4 lithium metal batteries (not included), which can last up to 205 hours, or two AA alkaline batteries that will last up to 220 hours on the lowest setting
- There are multiple light options including four levels of steady floodlight and three levels of steady spotlight, resulting in twelve different combinations, as well as an additional SOS strobe option
- There is a 60 degree tilt mechanism with a lockout design that prevents the headlamp from accidentally turning on while packed in a bag
- It is impact resistant up to one meter with an IPX6 waterproof rating and a sturdy aluminum chassis designed to shed heat and handle impact
- A drawback of this model is its weight – at 8 oz., without batteries, this is one of the heavier headlamps available; however, the weight is supported by a center strap and balanced with the battery pack on the back
- This headlamp does not contain any red LEDs but can dim to 4 Lumens
Best Hiking Headlamp
Our Pick: Vitchelo Waterproof IPX6
- At a mere 3.2 oz., this headlamp packs a powerful beam of light into a compact design that takes up very little real estate, making it the ideal choice for the best hiking headlamp
- It has a high waterproof rating and separate buttons to control the red and white lights, both of which can be set to steady or flashing (for a total of six lighting modes)
- There is an adjustable tilt of 45 degrees that directs light where you need it
- This headlamp will run on three AAA batteries (included) and provide up to 120 hours of lighting
- A moderately priced option, this is your best pick for a hiking headlamp
Best Camping Headlamp
Our Pick: Black Diamond Icon
- The Black Diamond Icon is our choice for the best camping headlamp as it has the most options for lighting scenarios and a lock mode to prevent it from switching beams while on the move
- It includes one quad power, two single white LEDs, and two single red LEDs, which emit as much as 200 Lumens over a distance of 100 meters; this provides more than enough light to set up camp or search for firewood in the dark, and the two red LEDs are bright enough for reading and other low-light tasks
- There is a dimmer that precisely adjusts your lighting and a strobe setting for signaling
- At IPX7, you can feel free to traverse a waterway without worrying about losing the use of your light
- This headlamp is lightweight and comfortable; it includes a removable strap that can be added for stability or customizing the fit over a hat or other headgear
- There is a handy battery life indicator that will let you know when when there is 50% and 20% of power remaining, providing you with ample warning to adjust your light level if need be, i.e. prolonged use is required
- This headlamp can be powered by four AA batteries (included) or a rechargeable NRG battery (sold separately)
Best Compact Headlamp
Our Pick: Outback River BrightSpark LED Headlamp
- Weighing in at 2.5 oz., the BrightSpark packs 100 Lumens into a very portable design that fits easily into a pocket, making it the clear winner for best compact headlamp
- It features a single CREE R3 LED and two red LEDs and is powered by one AA battery that will run for up to 30 hours on low white light or 60 hours on the SOS setting
- This headlamp is made of durable ABS plastic, and at an IPX-6 rating is waterproof enough to survive a downpour or dunk in the river
- It can rotate in six different lighting angles, from straight ahead to nearly straight down, allowing you to direct the light where you need it without straining your neck
- This model offers a great trade-off between quality and price
A reliable, quality headlamp not only makes an excellent addition to your survival gear, but also to your general equipment for outdoor activities and daily tasks. The benefits of having a dedicated light source that stays put while you are hiking, running, or climbing, are endless; as are the benefits of being able to work freely with both hands while maintaining constant illumination.
When choosing the best LED headlamp for your needs, make sure to select one that provides an adequate level of lighting in a model that fits you comfortably. Look for headtorches that have multiple light settings and angle adjustability, as these qualities will increase the versatility and usefulness of your headlamp. Additional considerations, especially for outdoor use, are the levels of water and shock resistance and having more than one battery option available.
Always remember, chance favors the well-prepared – and especially the well-equipped!
Do you own a headlamp? Would you choose a headlamp as your primary light source for your bug-out-bag? What benefits or drawbacks do you feel are most significant? Share your thoughts in the Comments Section below, thanks!