I have a lot of good memories of running through Rancho San Antonio Park, in California with my buddy Don Tamm. We used to barrel down the hillsides and try to catch the switchbacks before the sun had set, all while trying not to slide or fall over the cliff edges. Running for hours, and after work hours meant we had to get in and get out before dark. Sometimes we would run past tree-lines and downhill and with only moonlight to illuminate our path. A lot of the fun was the difficulty and the danger.
At one time commercial headlamps were meant for spelunkers and not runners. They were heavy, unwieldy and took a large battery to keep the bulb charged. The only other option we had was to carry flashlights. I still recall the night Don went over the edge of the road while riding his racing bike. He was injured for a good while (actually tore his perineum and couldn’t use toiletries properly. Ha!) and a headlamp would have helped illuminate the turn in the pathway that he missed as he meandered quickly down Hwy 9 in Saratoga.
Today hikers, runners, camping enthusiasts and military personnel who work or play at outdoor activities can have the benefit of night-time illumination simply by purchasing a basic headlamp. The main advantage of a headlamp is the convenience of hands-free operation, especially for those who like to hunt, run or ride bicycles at nighttime. Lamps are great for reading maps at night. Headlamps today are more resistant to jarring, will use their batteries more efficiently and cast light for a lot longer than the old-school portable lighting.
Floodlamp, Spotlight or a Combination? When looking for a headlamp decide whether you want a Spotlight headlamp, Floodlight or a combination. There are many other features but these two are the most important.
- A Spotlight Lamp: can project a narrow, intense beam of light onto objects far away. A spotlight is usually a single bulb. Us this for navigating in the dark as you hike because the beam is narrow and intense.
- A Flood Lamp: this casts a light over a large area and covers more of the peripheral vision. A floodlight is typically a four LED array. This is good for reading maps, working on your weapon, and doing up-close work around your camp site.
Things to consider:
- Light Output: A lumen is a measure of the total “amount” of visible light emitted by a source in all directions. Lower lumens consume less battery than higher lumens. A higher lumen doesn’t necessarily mean a brighter light because it also depends on how well the lamp manufacturer was able to focus the light. Also look at the beam distance. The beam distance is how far out from the light the beam can go.
Strobe (or Flash): Some models offer slow and fast flashing rates. You can use the strobe for in an emergency to bring attention to your location.
Low: This is the standard mode. Use this mode for walking along an easy trail or for reading at night.
Mid: Another option up from low if you need more light but necessarily a lot of light.
High (or Max): The option for giving you the most light. You may have dropped something, such as car keys, in the weeds and need strong illumination.
- Red Light Color: This is a good lamp for night time use and prevents you from disturbing your camp mates or telegraphing your location. Not all lamps offer this red filter.
- Manipulation: Most lamps have a small button to activate the various lighting features. If you need to wear gloves, be sure you can manipulate the buttons while wearing those on your hands. Try and cycle the headlamp through its modes. Some lamps have a switch to prevent the lamp from being turned on if it is jostled inside a backpack.
- Weight: Most headlamps used for general purposes weigh less than 8 ounces, with batteries included. Higher powered models have external battery packs or straps and small cables from the pack to the headlamp. These add weight and are used for climbing, spelunking or other activities which require brightness, beam distance, durability and battery longevity.
- Tilt: Is a nice feature to have if you are reading a map or book. Tilt allows you to point the light beam where you want it.
- Durability: Your lamp should be able to survive small jolts if dropped to the ground and it should be water-resistant to some degree. If you drop it in the water, a brief immersion into liquid should not damage it.
- Batteries: Lamps use either lithium, alkaline or the coin cell batteries. AA or AAA are inexpensive. Lithium is the most popular for cold weather, more expensive and last longer. Back up alkaline batteries are smart to carry along with you. Multi-mode lights allows you to have different levels of light output. Find a lamp that has the options you need.