The Best Hunting Headlamp: The Top White, Red, and Green-Light Options
Welcome! In this post, we’ll review our picks for the best hunting headlamps. We've looked at dozens of models and considered everything a hunter in a low-light situation will need, and we’ve selected a range of headlamps that we consider the best options for night-time and early-morning hunters.
We’ve broken our recommendations into different categories based on the type of light that different hunters will need: some hunters will need just a white light to orient themselves around camp or to find their way through the woods, while other hunters need a range of lights (white and red, or white and red and green and/or blue), so they can navigate the environment AND find and focus on nighttime or early-morning game. We'll go into greater detail below, but here are our "quick picks" of the best headlamps for hunting.
Our picks for the top hunting headlamp with white light (and white light only):
- The GRDE Super Bright LED Headlamp with Zoomable Work Light: a solid "just-the-basics" white-light-only option with a high lumen count;
- The Nitecore HC60 1000 Lumen Rechargeable LED Headlamp: a long-lasting white-light-only model with five brightness levels, good for camping and hunting
Our picks for the top headlamp with white light and red light:
- The Foxelli Headlamp Flashlight: A just-the-basics, water-resistant, red-and-white light headlamp with four light settings, good for short-range hunting;
- The PETZL TIKKA Headlamp: Probably the most popular hunting headlamp on our list—good for bowhunting and close-quarter situations;
- The NITECORE Rechargeable Headlamp with White and Red Beam: A mid-range waterproof model with rechargeable batteries, good for navigating the woods;
- The EdisonBright Bundle Fenix: A very bright, long-life headlamp good for a wide range of hunting situations, with a top-strap for added support; and finally
Our picks for the most effective headlamps with white light and red and green and/or blue lights:
- The Black Diamond Storm Headlamp: A fantastic long-range option for navigating the woods and sneaking around game, with some serious water-proof qualities—good for just about any hunting scenario we can imagine. One of our two picks for best headlamp for hunters; and finally
- The Cree LED Hunting Light: A seriously long-range model, designed specifically for hunting deer, coyotes, hogs, and other game, as well as bowfishing. Our other pick for best hunting headlamp.
What Color Light Will I Need?
Before we jump into our longform reviews, we should talk about lamp color. While there are a number of different features you'll find on a hunting headlamp, perhaps the most important is the color light it emits. Different color light is used for different purposes, and if we've learned anything about our fellow hunters, it's that we're all looking for the *exact* tool we need.
So to help you figure out what you need, here's how it shakes out:
- Headlamps with white light are great for navigating through the woods, and moving around camp in the evening. They're also great if you also need a headlamp for other night-time/early-morning outdoor activities, like camping, hiking, jogging, etc. They're NOT great for spotting and/or stalking game, because the brightness of the light usually scares game away;
- Headlamps with white and red lights are great for navigating through the woods and moving around camp, but they're ALSO great for spotting and stalking game (and deer in particular). Many species of game can't see the red light, and you can get up close and personal to them without scaring them away. Red light is also great because it doesn't cause your eyes to adjust for night vision, meaning that you can maintain some ability to see in the dark after you turn it off. These also make great "multi-purpose" headlamps that you can use for activities other than hunting, and they're very popular; and
- Headlamps with white light, red light, and green and/or blue light are "the whole enchilada"—white light for vision, red light for game, and blue and/or green light for reading maps (blue light is great for that) and spotting and scoping game (green is great for hunting hogs, and various predators/varmint). These are fantastic for hunting.
Ok! Now you know. After our reviews, we've included an in-depth guide to lights and the features you should look for in a headlamp (like lumens, IP ratings, battery specifics, and so on), so if you need further enlightenment (ha) about headlamps, check that out.
The Best White-Light-Only Hunting Headlamps
There are two headlamps that we like that feature white light (and white light only). These are great for hiking, camping, and navigating any kind of darkness you come across (and that includes "in your home when the lights go out" lights!).
These aren't always the best option for hunters, who usually want headlamps with different light color options, but we know a lot of hunters who want a white-only light, so we're including them (and if you're a hunter who wants white-and-red light, feel free to skip to the next section).
The GRDE Super Bright LED Headlamp with Zoomable Light
Summary: A great "just-the-basics" white-light-only option—a good option if you like to have a few of these lying around as back-ups
- Up to 1,800 lumens
- Comes with rechargeable batteries
- Can easily zoom in or out depending on your needs
We consider the GRDE Super Bright LED Headlamp with Zoomable Work Light a fantastic mid-range white-light-only option. It's very strong, with up to 1,800 lumens—very good for a headlamp in this range—and it's got a number of excellent features: three modes: low-intensity, mid-intensity, and strobe light (good for emergency situations; not all headlamps have that); a zoom-able knob, meaning you can quickly go from "floodlight" to "spotlight"; and a lifespan of up to 100,000 hours, which is pretty crazy, if you think about (but keep in mind, that's the light itself, and not the battery). The GRDE comes with two rechargeable batteries, plus a wall charger, a car charger, and a USB cable, and that car charger is a really nice add-on—it makes the model great for hunting / camping / hiking trips where your car is nearby, which is how most of us camp and hunt!
It's not very fancy, and it doesn't have extensive features—and for what is basically a flashlight you attach to your noggin, headlamps can have a lot of features. But the GRDE can be a nice alternative to all that complication. It's a solid white light that you can adjust to your liking, and we think this is a great option if you're looking for a "nothing fancy" model that can last a while and provide you with excellent vision in dark environments.
The Nitecore HC60 1000 Lumen USB Rechargeable LED Headlamp
Summary: A versatile, comfy, lightweight white-light-only headlamp great for hiking, camping, and around-the-house needs
- 1,000 lumens
- Five brightness levels
- Lightweight and comfortable
The Nitecore HC60 1000 Lumen USB Rechargeable LED Headlamp is our pick for best white-light-only headlamp. It's got a 100-degree wide beam that casts broad illumination; you can rotate it vertically 90 degrees, which makes it good for scanning the ground in front of you or the ceiling / tree ceiling above you; and it's got five different brightness levels (turbo, high, mid, low, and ultra-low), which you don't often see in white-only headlamps. The beam is manufactured to reach 117 meters, which is, in our experience, usually enough for most outdoor night-time / early-morning experiences.
We also like that it's got a lot of endurance options. It comes with one rechargeable battery, which is designed to last up to 1 hour in turbo (that's the 1,000-lumen setting), 2.5 hours at high (that's 420 lumens), 7.25 hours at mid (that's 219 lumens), 25 hours at low (that's 38 lumens), and up to 680 hours at ultra-low (which is the 1-lumen setting). When you consider that you only need a little bit of light—Sierra Trading Post says that 35 to 60 lumens is sufficient for a camping situation—that's a nice range to have. If you're out in the darkness longer than you had planned, being able to reduce your headlamp's energy consumption is a great option.
Most of all, though, we like that the Nitecore is sleek and lightweight. Headlamps with a lot of features can get a little heavy, and if you plan on hoofing it for many miles, choosing lightweight gear can save you a lot of energy over your trip. The downside of it being lightweight is that the strap doesn't have a plastic reinforcement and may need be replaced over time, but that's a pretty common. All in all, a very good option if you're looking for white-only light.
The Best Headlamps with White and Red Lights
When hunters are looking for a headlamp, they're usually looking for an option with both white light and red light. They're the most popular variety of headlamp, and they're good for just about everything, from outdoor use (hiking, camping, and jogging), to indoor use (like when the lights go out and you need to navigate your house), to hunting (the red light can be invisible to game, and it doesn't require your eyes to adjust as much while you're on the hunt).
There are four models we like, ranging from "just-the-basics" to "pretty fancy," and they include:
The Foxelli Headlamp Flashlight
Summary: A "just-the-basics" option good for short-range hunting; a good alternative to the Petzl
- 165 lumens
- 200-foot beam
- Manufactured in a range of colors and patterns
The Foxelli Headlamp Flashlight is our top pick for "best no-frills headlamp." If you're the kind of hunter who buys three or four flashlights so you can lose one, stash one in your car's glovebox, and have two left over in case something goes wrong, this is the one we recommend.
For a simple model, it's got a lot going for it. It has...
- Four light modes—three with white light (max, medium, and low), and one with red light, and while the intensity isn't very powerful—165 lumens is on the low end of things, especially when you consider that some headlamps have lights with 1,000 lumens or more—that's more than enough for viewing game at close range, and way more than enough to trudge through the forest or fields in the dark. Plus, the light itself is adjustable up to 45 degrees, which means you can tilt it forward so that you can see any roots or branches or brush that might make you stumble;
- Waterproof design, with an IP rating of IPX5, which means that you can get water on it, and it should be OK—you can’t submerge it, but splaying or splashing water on it should be fine (and if you need a description of the different types IP ratings, we describe those ratings below). That's pretty good for a "just the basics" headlamp, and that also means it's sweat-proof, but more importantly, it makes it resistant to rain. If you hunt from a tree stand, or if you're a spot-and-stalk hunter, and you find yourself in a downpour, that's a wonderful feature;
- A relatively low carrying weight, at 3.2 ounces (and that includes the battery), so if you're a hunter who's at the forefront of the "ultra-lightweight gear" movement—and we know a lot of guys who are "seeing the light" and re-equipping themselves with lightweight gear; and finally
- It's a good alternative to the Petzl. Petzl gets a lot of love in the headlamp world, but it's not for everybody. If you're looking for an alternative, we think this is your best bet.
We happen to like the Petzl a lot, though, so our next review is... you guessed it...
The PETZL TIKKA Headlamp
Summary: A capable "best-all-around" white-and-red pick that's good for bowhunting
- 200 Lumens
- Easy to use
- Strap seems to last a while
The PETZL TIKKA Headlamp is probably the best-known headlamp on our list, and if you've ever gone to an outfitter or camping store, chances are you've seen it. It's a solid, simple option with numbers we like to see: the high setting can reach 60 meters, and the low beam can illuminate up to 10 meters. The "medium" setting is good for detecting movement, and the "red" setting will help you get through the woods without alerting deer or game.
It's fairly long-lasting, too—it can last up to 240 hours, which is makes it a stand-out among the "just the basics" models, and the band on it is pretty strong. We've had our model for about three years, and the band is still going strong (and it might actually be time to replace it, as it is starting to stink from sweat and campfire smoke!).
This is a great option if you'll be hunting from a tree stand, and the 200 lumens is just about right for that—it's not amazing, but it's very good. Plus, it comes with a safety whistle, which is a nice little feature, should you need to draw some attention to yourself.
You may be wondering why the Petzl is so popular, especially when other options may have a longer beam, a wide illumination, or better design. This is just our opinion, but it's based on our experience, and the answer is "durability." It seems like Petzl makes their headlamps with durability in mind, and in our experience, it's not odd to hear from someone who is very loyal to Petzl products, just because they seem to last so long.
By the way, if you like the Petzl model but you want it with RGB (red / green / blue light) capability, check out the PETZL TACTIKKA. It has multiple light settings, a strong lumen count (250), and is manufactured with a camo band. It's a little more focused on hunting, whereas the PETZL TIKKA is something an all-purpose headlamp.
The NITECORE Rechargeable Headlamp with White and Red Beam
Summary: Very powerful, and great for bowhunting and rifle hunting
- 550 lumens
- Has a lock-out mode to ensure the light doesn't go on at an inopportune moment
The NITECORE Rechargeable Headlamp with White and Red Beam is very powerful, for a white-and-right lamp: it's got four brightness settings, can luminate up to a distance up to 136 yards, and it's got some staying power—it's capable of 330 hours of luminosity at the lowest setting (which is 1 lumen); 50 hours of luminosity at mid-setting (which is 33 lumens); 17 hours of luminosity at the high setting (which is 190 lumens); and 1 hour at the turbo setting (which is at 550 lumens, for a *very* bright light). The red light is capable of 38 hours of luminosity. Many headlamps with that kind of range don't last that long.
It's lightweight, too, at 3.51 ounces and it's got an IP rating of 1P67, which means that it's submersible in water to a depth of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. In other words, it's designed for rain wear. Lightweight + waterproof make it a good option for a lot of outdoor activities, with hunting and bowhunting among them.
Aside from the basics, there are some really great design features on the NITECORE, and two that we absolutely love: 1) It has a lockout mode, so that you can be sure it won't activate when you don't want it to. That can be a great feature for hunters—it's a huge bummer when you use a red light to find your way to your tree stand, manage to climb your tree stand, and then accidentally activate the strobe SOS light, and notify all game of your presence; and 2) the white light button and the red light button are separate. On some models—even some higher-end models—you have to cycle through all the different lighting settings to get to the light you want. In other words, you might have to cycle through the white light to get to the red light, and that's obviously a bad thing, because it can scare away game. So there are some really insightful design features that we appreciate on the NITECORE.
It's got a rechargeable battery, which is a must-have for a lot of hunters, and it's got a very cool feature that a lot of models don't have: an indicator that can let you know how much juice you have left. When you've turned off the light, you can press and hold the "R" button (that is, the red light button), and the indicator will be blind three times if you've got more than half the battery left, two times if you've got less than half the battery left, and one time if you've got less than 10% battery left. For multi-day trips where you may not be able to charge the unit every night, that can be a powerful too.
This is a great high-end pick, and we think it provides a lot of "bang for the buck."
The EdisonBright Bundle Fenix 950 Rechargeable Headlamp
Summary: A powerful white-and-red headlamp with a very long life-span, good for a range of hunting situations
- 900 lumens
- Very long lifespan of 50,000 hours
- A top strap—very helpful!
Perhaps the most obvious thing about the EdisonBright Bundle Fenix is that it's really powerful: at 950 lumens, it's capable of providing light across longer distances than most of the other hunting headlamps in our review. It's got a great range of settings, from turbo (950 Lumens), to high (400 Lumens), to mid (150 Lumens), to low (50 Lumens), to eco (5 Lumens). That "eco" setting is neat, because most "eco" settings on headlamps only provide 1 lumen, which is good, but... well, five is better.
The lifespan of the light itself is 50,000 hours, which—if we've done the math correctly, means that it has a lifespan of more than five years of 24-hour around-the-clock illumination (50,000 hours / 24 hours in a day= 2,083 days; 2,083 days / 365 days in a year = 5.7 years). You wouldn't be able to keep it on for five years, of course, because you'd have to recharge the batteries after they run out of juice, but still—that's a light that's designed to last you. As for the batteries themselves, they're designed to provide 100 hours of illumination.
Our of favorite features on this model, though, is sooooo ridiculously simple, that we don't know why all headlamps don't have it: that top strap that goes above your head. It doesn't weight too much, it doesn't get in the way, and it provides SO much more stability for the lamp. For real—one most of the headlamps we've used over the years, the strap is the first thing to go, and that top head strap can elongate the life of the strap by months if not years. Manufacturers, put top straps on your headlamps!
It's a little heavier than other headlamps on our list, at 4.3 ounces, and that's a definite negative, but we feel that the power and capability and longevity of the EdisonBright make up for it. This gets our vote as best white-and-red light model.
The Best Headlamps with White, Red, and Green, and/or Blue Light
Alright! Let's finally talk about the headlamps that made specifically for hunters: the ones that have white and red light, but also red, green, blue, and sometimes yellow light, as well. We'll start with...
The Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
Summary: A waterproof hunting headlamp with white, red, green and blue light for camping, hiking, and hunting, and whatever else you want to do
- 350 lumens
- Red, green, and blue LED light, great for stalking game
- Some serious water-proofing, designed for rain/cold weather
The Black Diamond Storm Headlamp is a great hunting headlamp, and one of our two picks for best hunting headlamp. It's got a number of features that are fantastic for hunting, including:
- Red, green, and blue LED lights, which can allow you to stealthily maneuver around without relaying your position to game, but here's our favorite part about the RGB light: you can cycle through the colored light without having to go through the white light. That's FANTASTIC. On some models, in order to get to the red beam—the beam that deer and game have a hard time seeing—you have to cycle through the white beam—which deer and game can see, and get scared when they see. So the option to get to the colored light is a really fantastic feature of this model;
- IP67 Waterproof and dustproof characteristics. There are plenty of hunters who navigate dusty environments, including desert and dry grasslands, but there are just as many—probably more—who need serious waterproofing. So much of fall hunting takes place in lousy weather, and even if you're hunting from a ground blind or a dry place, chances are you're going to get wet getting there. The Black Diamond can withstand immersion in water at one meter deep for up to 30 minutes, and is designed for bad weather, including cold weather—a great option for any hunter; and
- A range of 85 meters, which is very good—not super-amazing, but very good—and it has a max burn time of 120 hours, which IS great.
This is another model that's great for hunting, but also good for any nighttime / very early morning activity—camping, hiking, running/jogging, astronomy, and whatever else you got. We'd recommend it for whatever adventure you have coming your way.
The Cree LED Hunting Light with Red & Green Hunting Light for Scanning Coons, Coyotes, and Predators
Summary: A hunting headlamp designed specifically for game, from deer to predators to varmint
- VERY Long-range light beam
- Designed for hunting predators and varmints ranging from coyotes, raccoons, alligators, and hogs, and...
- It's good for bowfishing! This is literally the only headlamp we've found that even *mentions* bowfishing
The Cree LED Hunting Light isn't a typical headlamp, and doesn't look like most other models—instead of a strap, it's a multi-color light strapped to a baseball hat, although you may be able to get it without the hat—but in terms of its hunting bona-fides, we think it's worthy of consideration. It's one of the few headlamps we found that's *specifically* designed and marketed as a hunting light, and it's got features that we, as hunters, want to see:
- Some serious range. The white light on the Cree is designed to illuminate objects 500 to 800 yards away. In most forest situations, you're not going to need a light with that kind of range, and that's why so many other headlamps will do you just fine—but if you're in an open field, a grassy valley, or any other unimpeded environment, that range is fantastic. It can be difficult to find a hunting headlamp with that kind of reach, and that's a big plus of this model, but it's also got...;
- A generous range on the colored lights. The red and green lights are capable of eliciting eye shine from game up to 50 yards away, and to elicit full body illumination on game up to 30 yards away;
- Long-Lasting run times. The red light, green light, and yellow light have an operating time of 15 hours—excellent—and the white light lasts 10 hours of ultra, 20 hours on regular, and 30 hours on dim. Those are excellent numbers, and it's got a rechargeable battery, too—another feature we hope to see;
- Water and dust protection of IP68, which means it can stand submersion in water down to 1 meter or more for up to 30 minutes. That's a little surprising, to be honest, because the light on this puppy looks very exposed, but that's another great feature for hunters—it's designed for crummy wet weather (and, a word to the wise—if you do bring this out into the rain, you may want to find a cover for the hat, which doesn't look to be waterproof);
- It's got an amber light for bowfishing! That's fantastic. There are a lot of fisherman who fish with a bow, and yet it seems like there are very few products made for them. It was a great idea on the part of the folks from Cree to include a light setting good for bow fishing.
Some people aren't too fond of the baseball hat, and if there is one definite downside to a light attached to a fabric baseball hat, it's the smell. If you sweat on your hunts—and let's be honest, who doesn't—that sweat and stank can build on your hat and make you smell horrible... but it can also give you away to game. It may be a good idea to give it a spritz of your favorite scent-control spray on it before every hunt, in order to tamp down some of your scent signature.
All in all, though, if you can get away from the idea that a headlamp needs to be attached to a strap, we think this is a great option, and it's specifically designed for hunting various types of game. This gets our vote for the best hunting light overall—its range and its color capability put it at the top of the heap when it comes to the vision you need to locate (and stay hidden from) game in the dark.
And... there you go! We've included a range of headlamps, so hopefully there's something here that suits your individual needs.
A Quick Guide on Headlamp Features, aka, How to Select a Headlamp
As we've mentioned, for what is basically a lightbulb you attach to your dome, there are a lot of different models you can choose from, and a lot of features—like lumens, IP ratings, and color schemes—that seem a little complicated. In this section, we'll break things down for you, and we'll start with the two most important headlamp features a hunter will want to consider:
Light Color: White, Red, Green, and Blue (and Sometimes Others)
We, as people, view the world through our sight, in the colors of the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Yes, some of us are red/green colorblind, but for the rest of us—those are the colors we see in the world.
Animals don't always see the world in the same colors we do, though, and sometimes they see colors with more clarity than we do—and sometimes they don't see specific colors at all. And that's why the light on your headlamp can make a BIG difference when it comes to spotting / stalking / ambushing game: if you can navigate your hunting environment using light that your game can't see, you'll be able to find and hunt your game more effectively. Using red / green / blue / yellow light doesn't make you invisible to game—but it can make you a lot less noticeable.
So here, we'll go through the different types of lights you may find on a headlamp, and why they're useful.
White Light. Great for seeing things, also great for scaring away everything in the woods. White light helps us see quite a bit, but most game types can see it, and they know to get the heck out of Dodge when they do. White light is great for getting around camp (and just about every other nighttime activity), so it's something you probably want on your headlamp—but lousy for hunting, so it can help if your headlamp has another color.
Just about every headlamp we've seen has a white light to it, but it can't hurt to make sure.
Red Light. This is, perhaps, the most important color to a hunter, and it's got a lot of different uses. First off, there's a lot of different game that can't see red very well. Deer—the most popular game to hunt in North America—have a hard time seeing red, as do raccoons, coyotes, and various predators. That makes it very useful when game is in your proximity—you'll be less likely to alert the game of your presence—but it's also helpful if you're trudging through your hunting environment in the dark, perhaps going to a blind or a tree stand or a funnel, because you'll be less likely to tip off game as you pass by it.
There's yet another reason red lights are valuable, though, and that's because it doesn't cause the human eye to dilate the way that white light does. You can click on your red light, look at something, and then when you click the light off and look back into the dark, your eyes should still be (mostly) adjusted to the dark.
Most headlamps have a white light and a red-light option, and if you're going to hunt, we'd suggest a headlamp with white light and red light. White and red should do it for most hunters, unless you're hunting hogs, in which case you'll probably want...
Green Light. In much the same way that deer have a hard time seeing red light, hogs have a hard time seeing green light. For whatever reason, their visual spectrum doesn't pick it up that well. Most headlamps don't feature a green light, but there are a few that do (like the CREE we reviewed, above). And, just as green light is rare, so is...
Blue Light. People sometimes use blue light to read in the dark. White light illuminates well, but it can open your pupils (thereby ruining your eyes' adjustment to the dark), and red light may make parts of a map / document hard to read. Blue light is pretty rare on a headlamp, and most people make due with red light. And finally...
Purple Light. Purple light is used for tracking blood trails after your bullet / arrow has penetrated game. Purple light / ultraviolet light makes blood trails very visible in the dark, but they're usually not included on a headlamp, and you usually need to buy a specialized headlamp or flashlight that features purple light.
Lumen Count / Brightness
This is the other most important factors when buying a headlamp, and we've included a lumen count in each of our reviews. Lumens, basically, are a measure of how much light a headlamp can produce. A headlamp with a higher lumen count will illuminate farther and more clearly than a headlamp with a lower lumen count. Many headlamps have a single lumen setting (for example, a headlamp that is 200 lumens, and that's that), but other feature settings with specific lumens, and you can change from a "high" setting with 100/200/500/1000+ lumens, to a "low" setting, with 10 or fewer lumens.
You may be asking, "Well, how many lumens do I need?" Great question! While there is some personal preference involved (and the power of your own sight is also a factor), here are some general parameters:
- A flashlight you have in your junk drawer might have between 10 and 30 lumens, and that's usually fine for indoor use, and you usually don't need to see very far when you're inside; whereas
- A camping/hiking headlamp may have between 35 and 60 lumens, and that's usually enough to see your way around camp or through the woods, but there are a lot of headlamps that feature way more lumens than that, and most "modern" headlamps have anywhere from 100 to 200 to 500 to 1,000 to even 2,000 lumens (and it's worth noting that it only takes a few lumens to scare away game, and while 2,000 will illuminate a whole lot, it can ruin a hunting trip!).
Here's the curveball: the high lumen count usually only pertains to the white light that a headlamp emits. The red light that many hunting headlamps emit (as well as the green and blue and yellow light that some emit) have a much lower lumen count—usually anywhere from 1 to 10+ lumens. That sounds like very little, but it's usually enough to see game (and keep that game from noticing you).
There are a few other things to remember when it comes to lumens: As a general rule of thumb, more lumens = more distance you can see; a setting that uses more lumens will drain your battery quicker than a setting with lower lumens, so you need to be aware of the setting you're using when your headlamp is on; and many "high-end" models come with an "eco" setting where the headlamp only emits a single lumen, and that setting can usually last for many, many hours.
We'll keep things simple: LED stands for "light-emitting diode," and it's a semiconductor device designed to beam light when electricity passes through it. LED lights are a huge leap forward in terms of energy efficiency, and they're often seen as a replacement for lights that use heated filaments (like regular incandescent bulbs).
There are a lot of hunting headlamps that have LED lights, and they tend to last a LOT longer than their flashlight forebears: whereas an incandescent bulb can last around 1,500 hours, an LED can last up to 60,000 hours. Definitely something to look for.
This is a really cool feature, but it seems like it's not very common. Basically, a focus feature allows you to change the beam of light on your headlamp from a wide angle, where you can see a broad expanse of the environment in front of you, to a more limited angle, which decreases the wideness of your vision, but concentrates the light on a particular spot farther away.
That can be a really helpful feature if you'll be scoping game or objects both near and far, or switching between environments (like going from an open field, where a wide beam would be useful, to a dense forest, where a narrow beam would be helpful).
As we mentioned, adjustable focus is (unfortunately) a rare feature, and most headlamps don't have it.
Battery Type and Battery Life
This is another important factor, and there's a surprisingly broad range of when it comes to battery capability. Some batteries can only last a few hours, whereas others can last 100 hours or more (and as you might expect, "just-the-basics" headlamps tend to have a shorter battery life, whereas the fancier, more "high-end" version tend to have better battery life). If your hunting adventures are short, a short battery life may be fine, but if you're in store for a lengthy outdoor jaunt, a long battery life can be a very important feature.
As for battery type, there are a lot of headlamps that come with rechargeable batteries, and that is great—IF you're going on single-day hunting trips where you can go back to your car / back to your house and re-charge your batteries. If, however, you'll be taking multi-day trips into the backcountry, recharging may not be an option, and you'll want to look for a headlamp that can last a long time on a single charge.
Remember, too, that many models will have different luminosity settings, so if you'll be taking multi-day trips, it's wise to know your gear, and how long your headlamp will last when you're on the hunt. Plan accordingly, and bring extra batteries just in case.
Most headlamps tend to have a single strap, made of fabric, that goes around your head. Some have a single strap made of cloth that goes around your head, but it's re-enforced with plastic for some stability, and some folks like that a lot. Other models have a strap that goes around the head and one that goes over the top of the head (and that's the one we're partial to, to be honest!). But, as with a lot of things, it's a personal preference, and you need to imagine what you'll like.
Head straps are often the first thing to go on a headlamp, and you can usually find replacements if your strap gets too loose.
Water Resistant / Waterproof Headlamps
You may have seen some figures above that looked like this: IP48, or IP67, and you may have been utterly baffled by those numbers. Don't feel bad—there's literally no way you could intuit what those figures mean unless someone tells you or you look it up. Here's how it shakes out:
Those figures are "IP Ratings," and the IP stands for "Ingress Protection." Basically, it's a measurement of how well-protected the light is from both physical particles and water molecules. When you see the rating written out, you can see that there are two numbers that follow the "IP"—the first number measures protection from physical particles, and the second number measures protection from water molecules. So, for example, if the rating was IP67, the first number is "6" and that measures protection from those physical particles, and the second number is 7, and that measures protection from water molecules.
Here are what the numbers mean—and bear with us, because these measurements are... correct, but a little odd. For the first number—solid particles—the numbers mean...
- X = there's no data about whether the bulb is protected from physical particles;
- 0 = the bulb is known to not protect at all from physical particles;
- 1 = the bulb is protected from particles bigger than 50 millimeters (so large objects, bigger than an inch, can't get into the device);
- 2 = the bulb is protected from particles bigger than 12.5 millimeters (so objects the size of a finger can't get into the device);
- 3 = the bulb is protected from particles bigger than 2.5 millimeters (so objects like tools and wires can't get into the device);
- 4 = the bulb is protected from particles bigger than 1 millimeter (so very small objects like miniature screws or nails can't get into the device);
- 5 = the bulb is protected from most—but not all—dust particles; and finally
- 6 = the bulb is completely particle-proof, and no dust or similarly-sized particles can enter the device. This is the highest rating for dust protection.
For the second number—water molecules—the numbers mean (and hang with us here, because these descriptions are 100% correct, but get weirdly specific)...
- X = there's no data about whether the bulb is protected from water;
- 0 = the bulb has no protection from water;
- 1 = the bulb is safe from vertically falling drops of water when the bulb is mounted on a turn-table that's rotating at 1 RPM;
- 2 = the bulb is safe from vertically falling drops of water when the bulb is tipped over at a 15-degree angle from its usual position;
- 3 = the bulb is safe from spraying water up to a 60-degree angle;
- 4 = the bulb is safe from water splashing it from any direction, for up to 10 minutes;
- 5 = the bulb is safe from water jets / a nozzle from any direction, for at least 3 minutes;
- 6 = the bulb is safe from powerful water jets from any direction, for at least 3 minutes;
- 6K = the bulb is safe from powerful water jets from any direction, with increasing pressure from those jets, for at least 3 minutes;
- 7 = the bulb is safe in water, immersed in water to 1-meter depth, for 30 minutes;
- 8 = the bulb is safe in water, immersed in water to more than 1-meter depth (usually 3 meters), for 30 minutes.
If you need a little more guidance about IP ratings, the Wikipedia page is helpful.
The long-and-short-of-it is that IP ratings measure how safe your headlamp is from dust and water. Higher numbers mean it's safer from dust and water, and lower numbers mean it's more susceptible to dust and water. If a headlamp has a good IP rating, the manufacturer usually wants you to know about it, and on some high-end headlamps, you'll see ratings of IP67 (completely dust-proof, and waterproof up to one meter for 30 minutes) and even IP68 (completely dust-proof, and completely water-proof).
If you plan on hunting in the rain, the IP rating can be helpful, and if you're looking for something completely waterproof, make sure the IP rating says so.
OK! Last but not least...
Some Tips on Using Your Headlamp
This post has gotten pretty long, but we'll close out with a few "best practices" when it comes to using and storing your headlamp. After all, we don't get to talk about headlamps too often, so this seems like a good opportunity.
Don't lend it out to your friends. If they borrow your headlamp, your friends—with their huge, sweaty heads—are going to stretch out the headband, ruin your trip, and cause you buy a replacement band. Trust us on this one. It might seem impolite, but if your hunting partners don't have a headlamp and you lend it out for a minute or two, ask them to hold the headlamp in their hands while they use it.
ALWAYS bring extra batteries. Battery life is a lot better than it used to be, but they do run out, and if they run out when you're our hoofing it in the middle of the woods... well, you're gonna have a bad time. Not only that, but a situation like that can potentially be life-threatening. So always have extra batteries for whatever gear you bring. Accidents happen, and it's best to be prepared.
Remember to use scent control. If the straps on your headlamp are fabric—or even if they're a sturdier material, and lined with fabric—remember that your sweat and the oils from your skin may get trapped in that fabric, and telegraph your presence to your game, even in the dark. Masking your scent is beyond the scope of this post (and we've written about it at length elsewhere), but just remember—the strap on your headlamp can carry your odor, so you may want to take your favorite scent-control spray to it, and make sure you get the underside, as that's the section of the fabric that actually comes into contact with your hair, skin, and sweat. etc.
Carry extras. It can't hurt to have a few "no frills" back-ups in your pack. Gear breaks down, people lose things, and one of your hunting buddies may need it. If you opt for a super-fancy model, it can't hurt to have a few "just-the-basics" models as back-ups.
Alright, after all that… it seems like we've fully addressed the topic of headlamps! Hopefully we've given you enough information to choose the best hunting headlamp for your needs, but if you have any questions, feel free to hop over to our "Contact" page and drop us a line. Good luck, have fun, and be safe!