Knowing how to choose an LED headlamp can be tricky business. LED headlamps are available in a wide variety of price ranges and can be used in many different situations, each with its own unique lighting requirements. In order to choose the best headlamp for your needs, it’s helpful to understand the different features of an LED headlamp and how they affect the quality of the device.
When shopping for LED headlamps, here are some things to consider:
Brightness, or luminosity, is one of the most important elements to consider in a headlamp. With the incandescent phase-out under way, watts are no longer commonly used to gauge brightness. Instead, the brightness of an LED headlamp is measured in lumens.
Most models will range between 20-90 lumens, although some high-performance LED headlamps can provide 150 lumens or more. If you’re concerned about buying the brightest light possible, be sure to check the lumen count, which does not always directly correlate to price. A couple of other things to keep in mind about lumens:
- Some headlamps may have a powerful lumen count but only have the “spotlight” beam ability, which intensifies the luminosity.
- Keep in mind the higher lumen count, the greater the drain on the battery. For example, an LED headlamp that puts out 150 lumens may only have a 4-hour battery life when used at full power.
2. Battery Power and Rechargeability
Having your battery die on the trail would be a major setback, so it’s important to become familiar with your LED headlamp’s capacity. When comparing LED headlamps, think about the battery type you want, which can make a difference in price as well as functionality.
For headlamps that use Lithium Ion rechargeable batteries, consider that it may be difficult to find and install a replacement battery several years down the road, when your headlamp still has a lot of life but the battery is drained of its recharging power. Additionally, you may need to buy a solar charger to reload your light power on the trail for extended trips.
Regular batteries are a good option, because you can easily pack extras to ensure the brightest beam. While comparing the lumens, simultaneously check battery life to measure efficiency and prepare yourself for recharging needs.
3. Beam Angle
In addition to the intensity of your headlamp’s beam, you’ll also want to consider how much area it covers. Most LED headlamps use a diffuse flood beam to light up the largest area possible. Flood beams are best for most common uses, such as hiking at night, setting up camp and working on cars or in crawl spaces – any activity in which you need peripheral vision.
In some cases, however, you may prefer a more focused, penetrating spotlight, or throw beam. A spotlight is helpful if you are traveling quickly through dark areas, such as on a mountain bike, or if you need to see as far as possible into the distance. LED headlamps with throw beams are less common; however, some models will allow you to switch back and forth between flood and spotlight.
Some things to note about beam angles:
- Certain cheaper LED headlamps may be sold as flood lights but have a narrow beam angle that doesn’t cover as much area as a true flood. Look for a 60-120 degree beam for max coverage.
- Some headlamps combine a flood and spot beam to provide both types of coverage at once. This is known as a “directional flood” or a “spot with spill.”
4. Beam Settings
The more settings your LED headlamp has, the more flexibility it offers and the more control you have over your lighting. The most versatile headlamps offer four settings: high, medium, low and flashing. These can be actually quite important, as they allow you to preserve your high beams and battery life for when you need them most.
Another beloved headlamp feature to look for is a red light or filter, which is crucial in preserving your night vision while camping or fishing and can help you avoid scaring away game while hunting. Night vision may not seem that important – until you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and you’re suddenly blinded by your own headlamp. Additionally, the red filter prevents you from blinding or disturbing the people around you.
Now, go out and let your little light shine!