Headlamps, while very useful and versatile, are unfortunately an often overlooked light source for when you are camping or hiking. If you think that these handy devices are only good for heading into caves, you may not realise what you’re missing out on.
Imagine if you need to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night or to retrieve something that you left in the car. If you use a headlamp, you won’t risk life and limb when mother-nature is calling. Headlamps can also be handy for looking at a map to plan out your path for the next days hike.
While there are a bunch of different features and options when buying a headlamp, the four things you are most likely to consider (excluding price) are Lumens, Beam Distance, Burn time and Weight.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Brightness or Lumens
Quite simply, Lumens (or lm) is a measure of how bright or light something is. The higher the lumens, the brighter the light.
Lumens have been around for a while, however many of us are more used to the Watts (W) displayed on the packaging on many incandescent light bulbs. The higher the wattage the brighter the bulb, right? Sort of. Watts measure the energy used to create the light. So a 100W bulb might be bright, but it also uses a lot of energy to create this light. With the advent of new energy efficient technologies, especially LED, the same brightness can be produced using a whole lot less energy. Lumens suddenly became a much better way to indicate the brightness of the light source. More recently, Lumens have become a requirement when displaying lighting products.
For those who can still only think in Watts, the below table provides a guide to translating historical Incandescent Watts to Lumens:
The lumens printed on the box will indicate the maximum lumens for that headlamp. However, remember that the headlamp will often have different power modes and importantly once the batteries start to wear down, so will the lumens.
Take the following example. A light that indicates:
Beam Distance: 100m
Run time (h): 10
As these numbers often all appear together on the headlamp packaging the assumption might be that the light will shine at 200 lumens at 100 metres for 10 hours. This is not correct. As the batteries start to die, the lumens and distance will both decrease. What the above does mean, is that the light should power for 10 hours at the maximum light output, although become increasingly dimmer.
Many manufacturers now provide a matrix to indicate the correlation between lumens, distance and burn time. You may need to visit the manufacturer’s website as this information isn’t always available on the box.
It is logical that the brighter the light, the further the distance the light will reach. A reflector and headlamp lens can also focus the light to achieve greater distance. Remember though that this beam of light may not be ideal for up close activity, like reading a map or book.
Headlamps will often provide different modes (or even different lights) to achieve greater distance or a greater spread of light at a closer distance. In addition, some headlamps will also provide different distance measurements based on different power settings.
Remember that beam distance will degrade rapidly with battery life.
It’s one thing having a light that can light up the night sky, however will burn out very quickly. The run or burn time will often vary on the power setting you have (if available) and may also be influenced by the type and power of the batteries being used. While batteries can be replaced, internal batteries may need to be charged before you can use the headlamp again.
All this bright light needs to be powered from somewhere. And that somewhere is generally batteries. The batteries will often make up most of the weight of a headlamp. Some headlamps will combine the complete light/battery features into a single unit, while other headlamps will provide a separate housing for the batteries. These may sit behind your head or in a carry-case. In any event, you should consider the total weight of your headlamp and where this weight will be carried.
So now you’ve covered off the key features when deciding which headlamp to purchase. Below are a range of other features and functions that often distinguish one lamp from another and often increase the overall cost of the light.
Find Your Headlamp
You’ll want to ensure your headlamp has some protection against the elements. At some point, your headlamp is likely to get wet. Some manufacturers will provide their own water and drop ratings. The industry standard measure is the IP Code (International Protection Marking or Ingress Protection Marketing). This standard is denoted with an IPXY rating (eg IPX7).
The IP denotes the standard.
The X indicates protection against solid particles.
The Y indicates protection against liquid ingress.
Where no testing has been completed, the letter will remain. Eg IPX6, means that no testing for solid particles has been completed. Note, this is different to IP06, which indicates a zero rating for solid objects.
Most headlamps that use this measure will be IPX?, where the ? refers to the water resistance of the lamp. Many headlamps are not tested for solid protection.
The below table provides the protection against both solids (X) and liquids (Y):
Where a headlamp is rated to X=8, you will need to refer to the manufacturers specification to how deep the item is waterproof to.
In addition to the IPX rating, some headlamps will provide a drop/impact rating.
Most headlamps will provide one of three different battery options:
AAA: Small and with a reasonable charge, these are often provided in a one, two, three or four battery configuration.
AA: Being a bigger and heavier battery, fewer headlamps use AA. However, these batteries will hold a longer a charge than AAA and therefore often meaning fewer batteries required and also fewer spares required.
Alkaline vs Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH): AAA and AA will either come in alkaline or NiMH (aka rechargeable). Alkaline are cheaper, but are used once and then disposed of. NiMH are rechargeable, although generally won’t offer as much power as an alkaline. You shouldn’t mix Alkaline and NiMH, and the NiMH also come with a different charge. You can read this on the side of the battery. You should always try to use the same charge. A rechargeable battery should safely provide up to 500 recharges.
Lithium Ion: Similar to the battery in your smartphone, these rechargeable batteries will degrade much slower than an NiMH. Ie, you can recharge many, many thousands of times before you’ll notice any difference. You’ll usually charge using a USB adapter and an indicator light will let you know when the battery is fully recharge. With solar and battery banks, these are pretty cool. Although if something does go wrong, you might be stuffed. Replacing is near impossible and would need to go back to the manufacturer. While this failure would be extremely rare, might still be worth considering back-up options.
We’ve already spoken a little about beam distance above, and how the reflector and lens can determine the beam shape. These are explained a little more below, including a few other options.
Spotlight: The spot beam or spotlight is a focused point of light. Often used to achieve greater distance, the spotlight is used to target or light-up a specific object.
Floodlight: When you want to light up the immediate area, the floodlight has a wide, shallow field of light.
Strobe: Generally used as a survival or emergency tool, the strobe flashes or blinks.
Dimmer: As the name suggests, dimming allows you to increase/decrease the light to your exact requirements, rather than relying on pre-determined modes.
Some headlamps will allow you to select different colours options. The three most common colours are White, Red and Green.
White: This is the default, standard light and almost all headlamps will provide white light. Although even white can come in different tints, and will rarely mimic natural sunlight. You should shine the light at a white piece of paper to compare the different variants of white light.
Red: Red light is often a great way to light up an area without casting a lot of light. Great for rummaging around in the tent without waking everyone up. However, of more benefit is that red light does not shrink your pupils as much as white light. So when you turn the light back off, you can still see. With white light, you’ll often be blinded for a moment, while your eyes adjust to the dark. Red light also uses less battery life than white.
Green: Green light is really very similar to red light. Both maintain your night-vision and both use less battery power than white light. The choice of colour is more likely a personal preference, although not many lights will provide options. Green is also popular for military applications, being less visible through night vision.Blue: Blue light has become popular in forensics and hunting, to assist in spotting blood.
Now that you’ve picked your headlamp with all the features and options you’re wanting, you probably want to ensure that there is some form of guarantee or warranty over the item. While it’ll suck if you waterproof headlamp floods the first time it gets wet, at least you can return it and get another one. Guarantee/Warranties may range up to five years for some brands.
It is pretty amazing the range of prices available when buying a headlamp. Your local supermarket is likely to sell a no-frills basic headlamp for less than twenty dollars, while some of the very high end lamps can demand five hundred dollars and above. Headlamps are often used for very specific purposes and this may influence which model you choose. But even more important is that when you want your headlamp, you’ll usually need it. A good quality, reliable headlamp is more often than not worth the investment.
At Rays, there are many options to choose from across all of the popular types. While this may make the decision-making task a little confusing to begin with, it also means you’re bound to find the perfect product once you work your way through this buying guide. We hope you’ve found the above information useful and, if you have any others concerns or questions at all, be sure to ask our friendly staff for their advice.