Whether you’re a predawn runner or you’re missing out on daylight during post-work workouts, running outside can be a logistical challenge. But, equipped with a quality headlamp (and reflective apparel, of course), running in the dark can be a blast. See quick reviews below of five lights we love or scroll deeper for longer reviews of these and other top-performing models, plus buying advice.
Running on an open road under a full moon is a completely different experience than running singletrack trails under heavy tree cover—and both require different lighting. In general, look for a headlamp that’s capable of cranking out at least 200 lumens on its high setting. Lumens is a measure of the light’s intensity—brightness. Lamps with higher lumens—300 and up—are better for trails and starless nights. If you want a single light that is capable of multiple situations, look for one with more than just low, medium, and high settings. Some lamps can automatically adapt to the ambient light around you—handy if, say, you peek at your watch (the light dims a bit). Others allow you more adjustability.
Longer battery life typically comes at a cost: weight. The batteries have to be larger. For some activities, that’s no problem, but for running, extra weight and bulk can lead to annoying bounce. Some models cram the batteries into the lamp on your forehead, while others with exceptionally long burn time will separate the two components and place the power pack on the back of your head. If you want a budget light for laps around your neighborhood, the former will suffice. But, if you’re gearing up for an ultramarathon that will have you up all night, go for the bigger battery.
Rechargeable vs. Single-Use Battery
Who among us doesn’t have a drawer full of micro USB charging cables? Well, there’s a good chance your next headlamp will come with one as well. But, the downside to rechargeables is that you could find the battery dead when you’re headed out the door. If that sounds like you, opt for a light that runs off AA or AAA batteries, and stock up. Some lights (See Petzl Actik Core, below) now can be used with either AAA batteries or a rechargeable battery pack.
Types of Lights
You’ll save money by getting a light with a single lamp that puts out a consistent beam. But more advanced options include both a spotlight and flood, allowing you to use each separately or combine the two for maximum brightness. You’ll find the spotlight is great for casting the light farther down the road or for brightly illuminating the trail directly in front of you. A floodlight, on the other hand, diffuses the beam, spraying light to the sides as well to help with peripheral vision.
How We Tested
Every headlamp on this list has been evaluated and worn by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and designers, and use our own experience on roads and trails long after the sun has set (or before it comes up). In addition to evaluating these lights for their adjustability and beam types, we tested the lights’ brightness over time to determine how long each shines its brightest. To do so, we turned each lamp on at its maximum setting and pointed it at a digital luxmeter on the ground roughly two strides away—about as far as you’d look ahead on technical trails. We measured the intensity over 15-minute intervals to see how quickly the light faded. Most models gradually dimmed over time, though a few fell off quickly—Black Diamond and BioLite say it’s an industry standard to drop intensity as your eyes adjust to the darkness so they can extend run time. For such lamps, the max lumens and battery life are a bit misleading, however, since you’ll never be able to keep the lamp at 100 percent for more than a few minutes.
—LIGHT AND BRIGHT—
Black Diamond Sprint 225
Weight: 51 grams
Battery: Rechargeable; 2 hours on high, 20 hours on low
We love this sleek, compact headlamp for running because of its performance and features, combined with its comfortable fit. The slim headband doesn’t look all that sturdy but does a great job at keeping the small light from bouncing, and the easy adjustability makes it dead simple to change brightness. Instead of clicking a small button to dim or brighten the lamp, simply swipe up or down past sensors on the side of the light to change intensity—it even works with gloves and sweaty hands. A note about the “2 hours on high” battery claim: Our testing found the Sprint 225 dims considerably during the first five minutes on high power—a far faster drop-off than most lamps on this page—and then settles into a medium intensity that Black Diamond says is intended as a “power-saving feature.” We found that medium intensity is plenty bright for both trail and road running, and it remained steady for the next three hours. But just know you won’t get a full 225 lumens for more than a few minutes at a time.
Weight: 48 grams
Battery: Rechargeable; 3 hours on high, 70 hours on low
The Quokka is a dirt-cheap option but a huge value. Our brightness testing found that its spotlight came on at max intensity and held it for a full three hours without any dip in brightness. Then again, it’s by far the dimmest light in this roundup and is best suited for runs on paved roads or where you don’t really need a floodlight. In any case, the one-piece silicone strap is novel but holds snug. The lamp itself pops out of the strap and plugs directly into a USB port or charging block. We appreciated the single front-mounted button that makes it easy to change brightness—you just press the lamp against your forehead.
Black Diamond Icon
Weight: 232 grams with AA batteries
Battery: 4 AA; 70 hours on high, 175 hours on low
Few things derail dawn-patrol mojo as abruptly as reaching for your headlamp and discovering that its rechargeable battery is dead. That won’t happen with the Icon, which runs on four AA batteries that seemingly never go dead. The lamp didn’t put out its brightest light for a full 70 hours—we found it dips to medium intensity after the first 30 minutes—but was still shining brighter after three hours than nearly every other lamp here at their brightest setting with fully charged batteries. When the batteries do eventually start to run low, a small light on the bottom of the lamp changes from green to yellow or red, indicating how much juice is left. Black Diamond smartly positions the battery pack on the back of the head strap for a more balanced load, so you’re more comfortable. But if you’re the type to run in a Polar Vortex, you can use the included extension cable and move the battery inside your jacket so it won’t die prematurely. Because of that dependability, Pat Heine, our resident ultrarunner, packed the Icon as his light of choice for UTMB this year—and kept it burning brightly throughout the 100-mile race in cold and wet weather.
BioLite Headlamp 330
Weight: 69 grams
Battery: Rechargeable; 3.5 hours on high, 40 hours on low
BioLite is better known for its camping gear, with a range of cook stoves and firepits. It also makes solar and camp lighting products, so a headlamp was a natural addition—one that runners will embrace. The battery pack is separated from the light and positioned on the back of the headband. Both components are exceptionally thin and lightweight, so there’s no bouncing no matter how fast you run. The unit turns out 330 lumens at its brightest but, like we found with Black Diamond’s lamps, the intensity dips within the first few minutes as your eyes adjust to the dark, so you’re not really getting “high” for the full 3.5 hours. We like the versatile lighting configuration, however, with four lighting modes that includes a strobe and red night mode. Plus, the headband, made from a performance Lycra that won’t rub or irritate, was one of the most comfortable we’ve ever worn. Our lone gripe is that the small tab used to adjust the light’s angle is tricky to get a hold of when the lamp’s on your head—and don’t even think about trying to grab it with gloved fingers.
Light & Motion Vis Pro Adventure
Weight: 172 grams
Battery: Rechargeable; 2 hours on high, 8 hours on low
The tagline on the package of this light is “Beyond Bright.” That’s no joke. This sucker is blinding. It cranks out 600 lumens of intense white light, far outshining anything else here. Use that power sparingly, however, because we found that the lamp sputters out after almost exactly two hours when burning at full power. But, if you dial it back to one of the lower-output settings, it’ll get you through a full night. That intensity comes with a bit of a cost—it’s heavier than anything but the Black Diamond Icon. Like the Icon, however, the weight is well-balanced, with the rechargeable battery pack located on the back of the thick, grippy headband. That battery pack has a blinking red light, too, so you’re covered from both directions if you’re a road runner. On the road, the circular lamp casts a round light pattern with an intensely bright spot in the center, but it falls off quickly and has a pronounced dark ring at the edges of your vision.
Nite Ize Radiant 300 Rechargeable Headlamp
Weight: 91 grams
Battery: Rechargeable; 4 hours on high, 36 hours on low
The Radiant 300 is one of the bulkier models here, but it’s affordability and versatility makes it a strong option for runners. It has a bright beam and separate buttons for the spot and flood/red lights, plus you can combine those LEDs in any way you want—dim spot and bright flood, for example. The light burns brightly for about 30 minutes before dipping by about half. That medium setting, however, held steady for another three hours in our brightness tests. Out on the road, we noticed a weird halo in our peripheral vision where the spotlight abruptly ended, but it wasn’t too bothersome when we were looking straight down the road. Ultrarunners will appreciate the ability to lock the light—hold the spot button for five seconds to prevent the light from turning on inadvertently as it bounces around in your pack.
Princeton Tec Snap
Weight: 98 grams
Battery: 3 AAA; 40 hours on high, 130 hours on low
This novel headlamp is an all-in-one system that easily converts from a headlamp to a bike light or even as a multipurpose lamp around your campsite. The trick: It uses a magnetic attachment to snap the LED light into multiple mounts—included mounts are the head strap, handlebar attachment, and a carabiner clip. A single button turns on the light, dims it, or sets it to flash, and you can even work it with lightweight running gloves. We found the light quality is also best suited for multiple situations—it doesn’t have a strong spotlight, but the bright, wide fill illuminates your path of travel.
—POINT THEM ANYWHERE—
Knuckle Lights Advanced
Battery: Rechargeable; 4 hours on high, 8 hours on low
These lights are worn (obviously) on your knuckles, with an adjustable strap that fastens them tight to a range of hand sizes. Each light delivers 140 lumens, which may not sound impressive compared to some other models here, but you have two lamps and you can direct the beam wherever you want. The lights offer three intensities—bright, soft, and strobe. As you swing your hands, you always have a light pointed out in front of you, and that swinging motion is extremely attention-grabbing for car drivers. One downside: If you need to tie your shoe in the dark, you need to get creative with how you hold the light so you can actually see what you’re doing.
—EASY TO ADJUST—
Princeton Tec Axis Rechargeable
Weight: 76 grams
Battery: Rechargeable; 2 hours on high, 54 hours on low
We appreciated how easy (even with gloves on) it was to push the single, large button on the side of this headlamp that switches the beam between its four modes: floodlight, red light, dual light, and spotlight. And equally easy to adjust is the large dial around the button that dims the beams. The Axis’s spot and floodlight reach 450 lumens, and the spotlight still seemed to allow some peripheral vision. The angle of the light and the headband strap both adjust easily with multiple micro-adjustments possible. The light, upgraded to be rechargeable with a micro USB cable, is among the lighter options, and didn’t bounce, despite its slightly protruding profile.
—BEST-SUITED FOR NEIGHBORHOODS—
Nathan Sports Neutron Fire RX
Battery: Rechargeable; up to 25 hours
The small and sleek Neutron Fire has been around a while, but new to the market is the “RX” version, which is rechargeable via a USB cord. The omission of batteries makes it feather light. The light has five lighting modes: low, medium, high, boost (which is when it kicks up to 200 lumens), and strobe. The high beam shines at 160 lumens, which was okay on neighborhood streets lit with street lights, but not enough for technical footing. The strobe—which glows on either side of the main beam—shines red, blue, or green for fun color options. Note: The angle adjusts with an almost too-forceful click.
Petzl Actik Core
Battery: Rechargeable or 3 AAA; 2 hours on high, 160 hours on low
This headlamp has a neat feature: It can be run off either three AAA batteries or a rechargeable “Core” battery pack that is supplied with the lamp—and you don’t need any special converters. Best of all, the micro USB charging port is built into the battery pack, so, in a pinch, you can leave it plugged in at home while you use the headlamp with AAA batteries. In use, it has three modes, with a floodlight and spot beam, plus a red lamp that lets you see in the dark without blinding yourself or your running partners. The band has 360-degree reflective accents and a whistle built into one of the adjustment buckles.
GoMotion Corebeam Lightbelt
This light might only be 150 lumens, but its low-to-the-ground placement—you wear it around your waist or hips—made it bright enough for most surfaces. The light sits front and center around the waist and wears comfortably thanks to a stretchy, fluorescent elastic waistband with reflective strips that didn’t creep up or down (slight adjustments on the run were necessary). A blinking red light and the battery pack sit on the backside, which both distributes the weight of the lighting system and adds safety. The belt comes in two sizes, and two buckles on the waistband make custom fits easy. One beef: The Velcro on the front battery pack can snag clothing. It is powered with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
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