Outdoors / Buying Guide

A Gift Guide to Headlamps

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At the turn of the 20th Century, the only people who wore lamps on their heads were miners. Those early headlamps burned acetylene gas, until Thomas Edison invented an electric model, in 1914. Miners still wear headlamps today, as do dentists, doctors, electricians, plumbers, and many other professionals. The technology has evolved from gas flame to incandescent bulb to LED, but the principle is the same: you just can’t beat hands-free, portable light.

Of course, headlamps aren’t just for digging coal and drilling teeth. They’re perfect for a great many recreational and around-the-house tasks: walking the dog, repairing a car, cycling, setting up camp after sunset. I use mine for tying on a fly while fishing at night. A colleague wears one while setting up his telescope for stargazing. If the power goes out, a headlamp frees your hands to get your household ready to weather the outage. And if the adults don’t have a use for them at the moment, kids can have a ball with headlamps, indoors or out.

There are slim ultralight models you’ll barely notice when out for a run, and powerful, rugged units that can stand up to the elements and heavy use. They come in a wide range of styles and prices, and they make terrific gifts.

Lightweight Lights

Runners will appreciate the 1.7-ounce NU20 USB Rechargeable Headlamp from Nitecore, a brand known for high-end flashlights. Plug in the micro USB and two hours later, you’ll have a featherweight light with four brightness settings, from 1 to 360 lumens. The lamp shines a wide, 100-degree beam, and it tilts so you can position the beam to your liking. It’s available in seven cheery colors.

NITECORE NU20 USB Rechargeable LED Headlamp

An even slimmer and slightly lighter choice is the H05 Active Headlamp from Olight, another respected flashlight brand. The H05 shines at 10, 30, or 150 lumens, plenty of light for most situations, and has a four-position angle adjustment. The elastic strap is adjustable, so it stays snugly in place without squeezing too hard, and the lamp employs the same kind of circuitry used on high-end flashlights to step down from maximum output automatically to prevent overheating. It comes in black, blue, green, orange, and purple, and runs on two AAA batteries.

Olight H05 Active Headlamp

Touch-Free Control

The H05 is one of several recent headlamp models that can be turned on or off without touching them, via infrared motion sensor. Simply wave your hand in front of the light to turn it on and wave again to turn it off. This handy feature makes the lamps considerably easier to operate. It’s found on another Olight model, the H15S Wave, a somewhat more rugged lamp that can be powered by four AAA batteries or its rechargeable power pack. The wave of a hand (get it?) turns this light on or off and selects from among its low (15 lumens), medium (100 lumens) or high (250 lumens) brightness settings. The lamp’s aluminum body is rated IPX6 for water resistance, meaning it can withstand powerful water jets, so a sudden shower shouldn’t be a problem. At 3.5 ounces, it’s heavier than the models mentioned above, but the weight is distributed between the lamp at the front of your head and the battery pack at the back (and 3.5 ounces is still reasonably light, in any case.)

Olight H15S Wave LED Headlamp

The Pelican brand, known for its industrial and first-responder lights, as well as consumer products, offers a simple gesture-activated light with the added bonus of red LEDs that preserve night-acclimated vision. The brightness of the 2720 LED Headlamp can be continuously adjusted from 12 to 200 lumens, with an impressive run time of 103 hours (that’s almost 4 ½ days!) at low power on a fresh set of three AAA batteries. Like the other infrared-sensor-controlled models, it goes on and off with a wave. The red-light setting eliminates the impaired vision experienced after using a bright white light in the dark—there’s enough red light to see what you’re doing, but when you turn it off, your eyes remain adjusted to the darkness. The 2720 uses optical magnification to adjust its beam from wide to narrow, and it offers a red SOS flash setting for emergencies.

Pelican 2720 LED Headlamp

Headlamp and Flashlight in One

You don’t always need a headlamp. You have better control over the direction of a beam when it’s held in your hand, and sometimes that’s what is called for. Several models of headlamps do double duty: their lamps are detachable compact flashlights. The Fenix HL10 Headlamp fits like any other head-mounted light with an elastic strap, but you can disconnect the lamp and use it as a 2.8 x 1", right-angle flashlight. Handheld or head-mounted, the light’s single AAA battery delivers output settings of 4, 30, or 70 lumens, with a maximum low-power run time of 26 hours with a nickel-metal hydride battery or 24 hours with an alkaline battery. The detached light can stand on its tail cap like a candle.

Fenix Flashlight HL10 Headlamp

A similar design is found in Olight’s H2R Nova Rechargeable Headlamp: the detachable light is a full-featured compact flashlight with a remarkable 2300-lumen maximum output, the most powerful of any headlamp B&H currently carries. The detached light has a magnetized tail cap so you can stick it to any metal surface to serve as a trouble light or area light; there’s also a pocket clip. The flashlight’s tail cap is the charging port for Olight’s very handy magnetic charging cable. The lowest of the light’s five brightness settings has a run time of 45 days on a single charge. There’s an emergency SOS mode, and the light starts up at the last setting used before it was shut off. The H2R also carries the maximum water-resistance rating of IPX8, meaning it is submersible to 6.6 feet for up to 30 minutes, and is impact resistant to 5 feet.

Olight H2R Nova Rechargeable Headlamp

Nitecore’s versatile T360 Rechargeable LED Headlamp is by far the most lightweight of the detachable-light headlamps, tipping the scale (barely) at just 0.7 ounce—including the battery and light bracket. The lamp swivels in every direction, thanks to its clever ball-and-socket design, and it can be removed from the elastic headband and clipped onto a strap, pocket, lapel, cap, etc. The light shines a 100-degree beam at 2, 15, and 45 lumens, and there are three different blinking signal modes. A single switch turns it on and off and selects modes. Recharging is as easy as plugging in the micro-USB cable, and the light will run on low power up to 21 hours on a charge. The polycarbonate housing is IP65-rated waterproof and dustproof and impact resistant to 5 feet.

NITECORE T360 Rechargeable LED Headlamp

Headlamps aren’t just for coal mines anymore. How do you use yours? Share your ideas in the Comments section, below.

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