Best Running Headlamps of 2022 – iRunFar

Best Running Headlamps of 2022  iRunFar

When it comes to running at night, you want the best running headlamp possible.

Whether you’re looking for something to keep stashed in your pack for those days you don’t quite make it back to the trailhead before dark or a headlamp that will let you see every rock and root, it’s truly a grand time to be a trail runner or ultrarunner searching for a headlamp. Not only are there tried-and-true brands that have been making headlamps especially for our category for a long time, but there are also emergent brands innovating, creating improvements in both battery and lighting technology.

Now there are options for everything from ultralight headlamps that are ideal for daily runs in the dark to powerful and long-lasting headlamps that will illuminate the trail brightly throughout the entire night of a 100-mile race, making it easier to move with confidence over rugged terrain.

The right headlamp for your needs will have enough battery life to get you through your run, fit on your head comfortably, and provide enough light for your running speed. We’ve scoured the marketplace for the best of the best, tested them over many miles of sunrise, sunset, and nighttime runs, and rounded up our top recommendations in this guide.

For more background information, see our buying advice, testing methodology, and frequently asked questions below the picks.

Use these links to skip quickly to the kinds of products you’d like to learn more about.

The iRunFar team tested running headlamps on dozens of runs to help you find the right one in this guide. Here, iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks preps for an early morning run. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

The Petzl Iko Core checks all of our boxes for the ideal trail running headlamp with its lighting technology, weight, and comfort. With this headlamp, Petzl does what no other headlamp maker is doing by innovating in both lighting and comfort. We’ve usually found one to come at a compromise of the other. Not here.

With 500 lumens, this high-quality headlamp creates clean and sharp, cool light. It has two lighting beam options — flood or mixed — and three lighting levels. We found the silicone band and battery cradle to be ridiculously comfortable — we couldn’t even feel the LED panel on the front. The overall package is sufficiently lightweight for a trail runner’s needs.

Our only want is an easier way to switch out the battery on the fly. This was awkward enough at home, let alone out on the trail or mid-adventure when we were succumbing to fatigue or sleep deprivation. An easier switch-out would allow us to carry a spare battery and use this headlamp for all-night runs.

Actual Weight: 2.4 ounces (68 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 500 lumens

Battery Source(s): 1,250-milliamp-hour Petzl CORE lithium-ion rechargeable (included) or three AAA/LR03s (not included)

Pros:

  • Comfortable
  • Lightweight
  • Accepts AAA batteries in addition to the included rechargeable battery

Cons:

  • The battery pack is awkward to change out

Shop the Petzl Iko Core

We have to admit, we smirked a little when we saw the Boa-style dial on the headband of the Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp. However, after using it, we had to swallow our skepticism and give Fenix props for creating an absolutely comfortable headband that allows enough micro-adjustment for literally dialing in the perfect fit. We apologize for those early giggles because the only more innovative headband out there now is the Petzl Iko Core reviewed above — though we think this headband is actually more comfortable. Another thing we love about this headlamp is that it’s super easy to change the battery on the go — and if you’re out there long enough to need fresh batteries, you need the process to be easy. Additional features of this headlamp include a 500-lumen lamp with three brightness settings and an option for spotlight or floodlight.

While we’ve come to appreciate the click-and-twist headband adjustment, we worry about snapping the dial strings and rendering the headlamp useless in the field. This means we’re unlikely to take it on any extended off-trail romps, and we’ll pack it carefully in our gear bags.

Actual weight: 3.2 ounces (92 grams)

Maximum light output: 500 lumens

Battery source(s): 1,300-milliamp-hour lithium-polymer rechargeable (included) or three AAA batteries (not included)

Pros:

  • Comfortable
  • Easy to change batteries

Cons:

  • Questionable durability of the headband strings

Shop the Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp

Best Headlamp for Trail Running Third Place: Petzl Swift RL ($125)

We’d like to take a moment to appreciate the headband on the Petzl Swift RL headlamp. Its padded softshell material on the front half is just so good. Other headlamp companies: Take note, you can do this too without a terrible weight penalty.

Petzl’s innovative Reactive Lighting technology sets this headlamp apart from the rest. In addition to providing a consistent level of light with 900 lumens, it can also be set to adapt to the ambient lighting conditions, growing dimmer where there’s other light around and brighter where there’s not. This technology is also found in the Petzt Nao+, our top headlamp choice for ultrarunning reviewed below.

All of that said, this is a lot of headlamp — and a lot of cost — for your everyday trail running headlamp. You can very much enjoy running with a headlamp that’s half the cost of this one. Nevertheless, one of the runners on our testing team likes this light so much that they have been using it regularly for almost seven years, for both trail running and ski touring. Other than the headband stretching out a bit over time, mostly from being worn over a helmet in the case of our tester, the headlamp continues to perform flawlessly, making it a worthy investment.

Actual Weight: 3.6 ounces (100 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 900 lumens

Battery Source(s): 2,350-milliamp-hour lithium-ion rechargeable (included)

Pros:

  • Fabulous softshell material on the headband
  • Reactive lighting adjusts brightness automatically

Cons:

  • It’s a lot of headlamp and spendy for an everyday trail running light

Shop the Petzl Swift RL

With a runtime of six hours on its standard brightness setting, the Ledlenser Neo6R Rechargeable Headlamp is a great daily tool for trail runs that begin or end in the dark. Some tools are created to do a lot of tasks decently, and some are created to do one job superbly. The latter is true for this headlamp — it is truly a specialty device for trail running, and we love it for its simplicity. Rechargeable and compact, this little headlamp creates plenty of light to be your trail running companion, day in and day out.

In addition to its standard 240-lumen setting, the headlamp has two other brightness settings — one that’s pretty dim and suitable for faffing around at the trailhead and another blinking setting to be used if you need to be seen. This simple headlamp is a great value for the cost.

Actual Weight: 3.4 ounces (96 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 240 lumens

Battery Source(s): 1,400-milliamp-hour lithium-ion rechargeable (included)

Pros:

  • Lightweight and compact
  • Comes with an additional belt for wearing the light on your chest
  • Great value

Cons:

  • Battery won’t last through the night
  • May be difficult to find in the U.S.

Shop the Ledlenser Neo6R Rechargeable Headlamp

Team iRunFar has long been a fan of what ZebraLight does for the lighting industry, and the ZebraLight H600d Mk IV 18650 XHP50.2 5000K High CRI Headlamp is another example of why we continue keeping an eye on this company. One thing that ZebraLight has long been known for is having a ton of programmable brightness settings in its lights. Although it’s a bit of a commitment to program your headlamp, meaning we’d recommend setting it up at home with the instructions before you’re in the field, the upside is that you’ll get to intimately know your headlamp and will eventually program it on the fly.

For such a simple headband, it’s extremely soft and comfortable. Additionally, the batteries are easy to swap out on the run, making it easy for us to recommend this headlamp as a daily trail running companion.

Generally speaking, this is a bit more battery than you need for a daily trail running headlamp. We would have considered it for the ultrarunning category of this guide, but it doesn’t have a sweet spot of brightness and run time that works well for a whole night of running. So what that means is this is a headlamp with a really bright light that’ll go for several hours on your evening or early morning trail runs, but it won’t hold steady all night without a battery change. That said, the main downside of this headlamp as a daily runner is its higher weight.

Actual Weight: 4.6 ounces (129 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 1,616 lumens

Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliamp-hour 18,650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (not included)

Pros:

  • Programmable brightness settings
  • Comfortable headband
  • Batteries are easy to change in the field

Cons:

  • Heavy for a daily running headlamp
  • Only available for purchase in the U.S.

Shop the ZebraLight H600d Mk IV 18650 XHP50.2 5000K High CRI Headlamp

The Petzl Nao+ has been the go-to ultrarunning headlamp for a half-decade. There have been rumors and internet leaks of an upgrade for this headlamp for over a year, and Francois D’Haene just wore a headlamp that looks everything like a new version during the 2022 Hardrock 100. So while the somewhat aging Petzl Nao+ still takes the top position for best ultrarunning headlamps, if you’re interested in this one, purchasing patience might reward you with a sweet upgrade.

There’s a lot going on in this headlamp. First and foremost is its lighting, which offers both regular and Reactive Lighting options. The latter setting adapts to ambient light by growing dimmer when it’s lighter out and brighter when it gets dark. If you’re into this Reactive Lighting but don’t need such a robust package, check out the Petzl Swift RL, our runner-up in the best headlamp for trail running category of this guide.

Next, the Nao+ has a Bluetooth connection that allows you to link to an app to set exactly how bright and dim you’d like your various settings to be. This allows you to create the exact kind of light you want for your run, and you can adjust it on the fly if you’re carrying your phone with you. You can also use the app to see how much battery life you’ve got left.

Speaking of the battery, the whole package is not light, but one battery will give you a whole summer night of decently lit trail running. Though we can say from experience, it’s probably worth the 4 a.m. battery switch-out to make the last hour or so of darkness a little brighter. And on that note, switching batteries in the field is a relatively easy, two-step process.

Now for the downsides. This headlamp’s comfort is not amazing, and we recommend a buff under it for a full night of running. Also, it’s expensive. Finally, it’s worth noting that while this headlamp is due for an upgrade, as far as we can tell, there’s not one in sight yet. All that said, it’s still our favorite headlamp, bar none.

Actual Weight: 6.8 ounces (193 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 750 lumens

Battery Source(s): 3,100-milliamp-hour lithium-ion rechargeable (included)

Pros:

  • Reactive Lighting system automatically adapts to changing light conditions
  • Bluetooth connection for checking battery and adjusting lighting on the fly
  • The battery will last through the night
  • Relatively easy to change out the battery

Cons:

  • Not our top choice for comfort
  • Pricey

Shop the Petzl Nao+

If you’re someone who wants a great, bright headlamp for all-night ultrarunning but you just don’t like carrying all that battery power on your head, the Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra headlamp is for you. Its battery pack can be carried either on the back of the head or in your hydration vest using the included extra-long cord.

Silva is doing cool things with the quality of its lighting, offering a mix of both flood lighting and long-throw spotlighting in one beam — what they call Intelligent Light — without a heavy ding on battery runtime. We’re really enjoying this offering, for both the way it gives us a little extra peripheral vision even when it’s mostly straight ahead that we want to see, but also because this seems to ease eye strain over a long night of use, as your eyes don’t have to keep adjusting to the quick changes in direction that a long-throw light will make with a simple 10-degree tilt of your head.

We don’t love the headband, and we were surprised by its stiffness given the brand’s work in making the battery pack movable for increased comfort. That said, playing with it and using it makes it less stiff, so go ahead and work it up a bunch, and comfort will increase as you break it in.

Actual Weight: 5.4 ounces (153 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 400 lumens

Battery Source(s): 4,000-milliamp-hour hour rechargeable (included) or three AAAs (not included)

Pros:

  • Multiple options for carrying battery pack
  • Option for combined flood and spot lighting

Cons:

  • Headband is stiff at first and requires breaking in

Shop the Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra

The Ledlenser Neo10R is the most comfortable take on headlamps with a long run time that we’ve found so far, placing it among our top choices for ultrarunning headlamps. This headlamp’s design places the battery vertically on the back of the head and secures it with a curved cradle. There are also options for getting the battery off your head and into your hydration pack using an included longer cord. The light on front swivels easily as you adjust to changes in your terrain. Additionally, the system comes with a chest harness that allows you to fix the lamp to your chest. However, this setup is quite ornate, and you’d need to wear it underneath your hydration pack. Since this seems an unlikely choice for most ultrarunners, we did not test this setup.

A bit of a downside with this headlamp is that there are only three brightness settings. For a light this big, we would expect more options. That said, this headlamp provides so much light for such a long time in either the high or medium settings (10 hours at the 600-lumen setting or 15 hours with 250 lumens), you just can’t complain once you get going. As an added bonus, the battery is a cinch to change in the field.

The primary detractor with this headlamp is its weight and clunkiness factor. There’s a lot of battery and light power here and it takes a significant holder and head cradle to position it comfortably. Notably, it’s also one of the few headlamps we’ve seen where there isn’t a protective cover over the LED bulb itself, though this one is inset quite a bit for protection. We’ll always pack this headlamp carefully.

Actual Weight: 6.3 ounces (178 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 600 lumens

Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliamp-hour 18,650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (included)

Pros:

  • Comfortable
  • Battery is easy to change in the field
  • Headlamp is easy to swivel for adjusting focus direction on the go

Cons:

  • Heavier and clunkier than similar headlamps
  • No protective cover over LED bulb
  • Only three brightness settings

Shop the Ledlenser Neo10R

The Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp offers quite the feature-filled package, making it a great headlamp for ultrarunning. The headlamp includes both a spotlight and floodlight that can be operated individually or combined for a maximum of 1,400 lumens of light, making it one of the brightest lights on our list. With a powerful 18650 lithium-ion rechargeable battery and three lighting options in both the floodlight and spotlight settings, this headlamp offers plenty of light for either a whole night of super brightly lit running or two nights with decent lighting.

Both the lights and the battery are stored on the front of the headlamp, which means there’s a lot going on up front and you’ll want to wear a layer, such as a folded neck gaiter, underneath it for all-night comfort. If you can get over the feeling that there’s an alien on your forehead, you’ll find a super high-quality headlamp made for being out for as long as your legs will carry you.

The primary downside of this headlamp is the comfort factor due to having all of the weight on the front, but as we said, this can be mitigated with a thin gaiter or a similar layer underneath the headlamp.

Actual Weight: 5.2 ounces (146 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 1400 lumens

Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliamp-hour 18,650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (included) or two CR123As (not included)

Pros:

  • Multiple lighting options with a maximum of 1,400 lumens
  • Long battery run time (maximum 280 hours)
  • Good price for what you get

Cons:

  • Heavier than comparable running headlamps
  • Both the light and the battery are in the front

Shop the Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp

Best Headlamp for Ultrarunning Honorable Mention: Nitecore UT32 ($75)

Gram counters who want an ultrarunning-worthy headlamp should look to the Nitecore UT32, which is yet another offering built on the powerful 18650 rechargeable battery. This headlamp tips the scales at 144 grams while offering both a spotlight and a floodlight and up to 1,100 lumens of light at its brightest setting. It can also provide more than 400 lumens for a night and a half. If you need to go longer, no problem — the battery is really easy to change in the field. See what we mean about the golden era of headlamp lighting and batteries? Case in point right here.

There are no bells and whistles with this headlamp, so to move your beam up and down to accommodate hills, you’ll have to rotate the whole battery package in the O-ring pair that hosts it. Other than that, we had no issues with comfort, even though all the weight is up front. If you really want to go minimalist, you can remove the strap that goes over the top of the head to save another 20 grams — but then you may start to sacrifice some comfort. Proceed at your own risk.

There are literally no downsides to report with this headlamp. This is an awesome minimalist take on giving you loads of light with a long-lasting battery.

Actual Weight: 5.1 ounces (144 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 1,100 lumens

Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliamp-hour 18,650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (included) or two CR123As (not included)

Pros:

  • Lightweight for its light and battery power
  • Comfortable

Cons:

  • None — this is a great minimalist ultrarunning headlamp

Shop the Nitecore UT32

When conditions or your preferences call for putting a light on your waist, we call upon the UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light. While it’s a bit on the heavier side, it’s super comfortable around the waist, which means a lot to those of us whose abdomens become sensitive during ultramarathons. It’s easy to adjust both the belt and the angle of the light, and the buckle is easy to unclip with tired or cold hands. The light comes with a tilt mechanism to adapt the beam on the fly for uphills, downhills, and flats. It’s also easy to change this light’s battery in the field. This waistlight has a removable pocket on the belt to store your phone or some snacks, or leave it behind if you want to shed a few grams. Finally, changing the batteries on the go is a breeze.

The main downside of this system is its weight. It’s not lightweight, and for those looking to go fast and shave grams, this can be a hefty load to bear. If your priority, however, is having a powerful waist-worn light to get you through a long night of running, then this waistlight is the one.

Actual Weight: 5.9 ounces (167 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 600 lumens

Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliamp-hour 18,650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (included)

Pros:

  • Comfortable fit across the belly
  • The best option if you don’t like wearing a light on your head
  • Easy to change batteries in the field

Cons:

Shop the UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light

The Nightcore NU25 is the niftiest little headlamp you didn’t know existed — or that you needed. This is a hat tip from the thru-hiking community, which has known about this little gem for a long time. It weighs under two ounces and makes a great backup headlamp or simple ultralight headlamp if you’re counting grams. This headlamp is a powerhouse of light for its weight. It’s sufficient for a couple of hours of light for trail running, as long as the trail isn’t super technical. When using the really dim settings, it’ll allow you to do chores around your fastpacking campsite while consuming almost no battery power.

Our only complaint with this headlamp is its aesthetic. We can hardly ding something so wonderful just on looks, however, it does remind us of a kid’s toy headlamp.

Actual Weight: 1.8 ounces (53 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 360 lumens

Battery Source(s): 610-milliamp-hour lithium-ion rechargeable (included)

Pros:

  • Weighs less than two ounces
  • Great value
  • Good backup headlamp option

Cons:

  • We don’t love the aesthetic

Shop the Nightcore NU25

The Fenix E-Lite Mini Flashlight is one we recommend keeping in your pack as a “just in case” option. Every running pack should have a backup light source for those times when you meant to get back to the trailhead before dark, but didn’t, or you forgot to charge your regular light. To be fair, this is not a true headlamp. To save weight, it’s meant to clip to the brim of a hat or the like in lieu of being on a strap like a traditional headlamp. We’ve found it clips perfectly on our GPS watch band, too.

This is not the super bright light that we’ve become accustomed to for trail running, don’t get us wrong, but it’ll do just fine for easy jogging back to the trailhead when you’ve overshot your time plan by a bit. A big bonus is its additional red and blue solid and blinking lights, which are often required on the back of your pack at European ultramarathons for visibility.

You’ve got it all in this tiny package. And we mean tiny — it’s less than two inches in length and weighs under an ounce. In addition to being a great backup option, you could also clip it to your dog’s collar if your best furry training partner gets caught in the dark with you. Really, the options are endless.

Obviously, this headlamp has its limitations, which is why we recommend it as a backup rather than a daily running headlamp. That said, it’s definitely one worth keeping in your kit.

Actual Weight: 0.6 ounces (17 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 150 lumens

Battery Source(s): 275-milliamp-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery (included)

Pros:

  • Extremely lightweight and compact
  • Multiple lighting options add to its versatility
  • Great value

Cons:

  • Technically not a headlamp (no strap)
  • Not bright enough for daily running application

Shop the Fenix E-Lite Mini Flashlight

Most Ridiculously Bright Headlamp We’ve Seen: Nitecore HC35 ($100)

If you’ve ever wished for a bike light for trail running, then the Nitecore HC35 is your headlamp. This headlamp’s powerful beam pumps out 2,700 lumens for 45 minutes. Impressive as that is, it’s the settings that provide 800 lumens for three hours or 270 lumens for all-night runs that are most practical and therefore grab our attention as runners. Add in the fact that you can quite easily change the battery in the field and keep going, and you’ve got yourself a setup for a night of running on a brightly lit trail.

The main downside of this headlamp is comfort. Since all the weight sits on your forehead, you absolutely need some fabric underneath to padding for longtime wear. The aesthetic is also really something to, ahem, see. We think it looks quite alien-like.

Actual Weight: 7.6 ounces (217 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 2,700 lumens

Battery Source(s): 4,000-milliamp-hour 21,700-size lithium-ion rechargeable (included), one 18,650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (not included), or two CR123As (not included)

Pros:

  • Exceptionally bright
  • Easy to change batteries in the field

Cons:

  • Not comfortable and requires fabric padding underneath
  • We don’t love the aesthetic

Shop the Nitecore HC35

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Running Headlamp

Brightness

For many runners, brightness is the most important factor in choosing between headlamps. However, it’s worth noting that brighter is not necessarily better. We believe there is such a thing as too bright, and we’ve found both too much light and too little light will cause eye strain. Additionally, too much light can blind your fellow trail users.

Our opinion is that 200 lumens is plenty for straightforward trail running on developed trails and 300 lumens will get you great brightness for more rugged trails. It’s nice to have a setting where a headlamp can produce 500 or more lumens — found in the Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp, the Ledlenser Neo10R, the Petzl Iko Core, the Petzl Swift RL, and the Petzl Nao+ in this guide — that allows you to look farther for trail signs, course markers, or to see what’s going bump in the night on the side of the trail.

Type of Light

Headlamps with multiple light settings usually offer two types of lighting — flood and long-throw — or a combination of the two. Floodlighting casts a broad cone of light over a shorter distance and is ideal for digging something out of your pack or setting up camp in the dark. Long-throw, also called spotlight, is going to be the most common type of light used on the trail. It casts a narrower beam out in front of you, lighting up the trail ahead.

For runners, having enough light on the trail directly in front is going to be most important, though having multiple light options is an added bonus. Fortunately, most headlamps nowadays offer both types of lighting, and some — like the Petlz Iko Core and Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp — also have a mixed setting that provides both flood and long-throw light at the same time. This would drain your battery quickly if used all the time, but could come in handy if you lose sight of the trail in the dark.

The Fenix HM65R is a great ultrarunning headlamp. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Type of Battery

Headlamps generally use rechargeable batteries or single-use AAA or AA batteries. There are a few varieties of rechargeable batteries, including Petzl’s proprietary Core rechargeable battery, the 18650 lithium-ion rechargeable battery found in many of the headlamps above, and other types of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. The commonly used 2,600-milliampere hour 18650 battery is popular for its reliability, long run time, and ability to be recharged many, many times — all of which are valuable to a trail runner.

Generally, we recommend choosing a headlamp with a rechargeable battery since it’s more efficient, convenient, and better for the environment. Some headlamps, like the Petzl Swift RL, Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra, and Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp come with a rechargeable battery and can also run on disposable batteries. This is ideal for situations where you may not have access to power, such as on an extended backpacking trip, or when you simply want that extra versatility.

Battery Life

Ultimately the most important element in choosing a headlamp for the trails is battery life. No one wants to be stuck on a ridgeline or descending a steep scree slope with a dead battery — even though it has happened to the best of us. For the sake of your ankles, it’s best to choose a headlamp with a long battery life. Some advanced lamps, such as the Petzl Nao+ and the Petzl Swift RL, have Reactive Lighting technology — the ability for the lamp to sense the available light and adjust the brightness accordingly, which saves battery life.

Fit and Comfort

If something is going on your head, potentially for hours at a time, it should be comfortable. Pick out a lamp that won’t cause headaches, that won’t snare your hair, and that’s easy to adjust on the move. Some headlamps use material that is soft and sweat-wicking, others use minimalistic cord-like structures. If you’ll be using the light in the winter or for a more technical outing, look for a lamp that will be comfortable over a hat or helmet.

The Fenix HL18R-T was our pick for a top trail running headlamp because of its lighting and battery features combined with its innovative and comfortable headband. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Portability

There are situations where you’ll either be carrying a backup headlamp, like during a long ultra with many hours run at night, or stowing away the single light you brought during a pre-dawn run that extends past sunrise. It’s nice to have a headlamp that stows away easily in a shorts pocket or hydration vest without creating undue pressure on some part of your body.

Weight

While weight is arguably one of the less important elements when choosing a headlamp, a combination of minimal weight and maximal battery life is optimal. While a few ounces don’t seem like they would matter, weight plays into overall comfort — those added ounces on your head over many hours of concentrating on the trail can add extra strain on your neck.

Why You Should Trust Us

We run far at iRunFar, and that often includes running in the dark during 100-mile races, multi-day fastpack adventures, or pre-dawn start times. Our testers have experience not only with running on their local trails in the dark, but at premiere long-distance races like the Hardrock 100, UTMB, and Tor des Géants, where it’s not uncommon for some finishers to endure more than one dark night on the trail.

The UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light is iRunFar’s pick for the best waistlight for running. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Our extensive testing process ensures you get not only the best headlamp for your money, but also the specific headlamp that fits your needs. As ultra-long distance runs and races have become more mainstream, so has the need for the everyday runner to have a high-quality headlamp. We identify both heritage brands and new innovative companies bringing the light to the trail and put the lights through the paces — testing their durability, versatility, fit, and battery life — to ensure that you won’t be light-less out on the trail.

Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain and test the Light of Eärendil, “a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” So, keep your batteries charged and a backup light on hand!

Frequently Asked Questions About Running Headlamps

What is a lumen?

Okay, bear with us. The official definition of lumen is: “International Standard Unit of luminous flux, a measure of the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source per unit of time.” In runner terms, this tells us how bright a headlamp is. The brighter the light, the further you can see out onto the trail. The average headlamp maxes out at 300 to 600 lumens. That’s because as lumens go up, power usage increases, and battery run time drops.

As runners, we want a light that’s bright enough to light up rocks and other terrain features underfoot, yet we also want enough battery power to last until we get where we’re going — whether that’s back to the trailhead or through the entire night. And we don’t want our headlamps to weigh too much. But if you really want as much light as possible, the Nitecore HC35 has a turbo mode where you can outshine the moon at 2,700 lumens for 45 minutes.

Nitecore makes great running headlamps, and this Nitecore NU25 won our award for best ultralight headlamp. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

How bright should my headlamp be for trail running?

We recommend using a headlamp with 200 to 300 lumens for trail running. If you’ll be on technical terrain, going off trail, or on a trail that’s difficult to follow, you might consider a headlamp with a brighter setting so that you can bump up the brightness when you need it. However, there is such a thing as too bright. Headlamps that are either too dim or too bright can strain the eyes, especially over the course of the night, such as in a 100-mile race.

What types of batteries do headlamps use?

Most headlamps can run off of either rechargeable battery packs or disposable AA or AAA batteries. The majority of contemporary headlamps use some type of rechargeable battery pack — and can often accommodate disposable batteries as well if you don’t have access to a power source to recharge the battery pack. This versatility makes it easy to swap out batteries on the go.

How much battery power do I need on my trail running headlamp?

The ideal battery power, and thus run time, depends on your intended use of a headlamp. If you mostly run during daylight but occasionally start or finish in the dark, battery power will be less important than for someone who consistently runs through the night during training runs or races.

For standard trail running, a headlamp with enough power to last four to six hours at 200 to 300 lumens will do the trick. For ultrarunning, look for a headlamp with enough power to last eight to 12 hours and that has an easy mechanism for swapping batteries.

iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks uses a headlamp to pack a fastpack at dawn. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Does size matter?

The physical size of the headlamp matters less in comparison to ergonomic comfort, ease of button access, and battery life. However, a heavier headlamp may cause neck fatigue and may be more difficult to stow into a pack once you don’t need it anymore.

What are the different modes on headlamps?

Most headlamps have a few general modes: a constant or flashing white light and a constant or flashing red light.  More complex lamps allow for more adjustments: the lumens of the white light can be turned up or down, affecting battery life, the width of the beam can widen or narrow, sometimes automatically with Petze’s Reactive Lighting technology, and advanced headlamps like the Petzl Nao+ can even be programmed via an app on your phone.

When should I use an alternative light source like a waistlight?

While headlamps are by far the most common type of light in use, companies like Kogalla and UltrAspire have come out with waistlights. These companies claim the lighting provided by a waistlight offers a wider beam of light at a better angle, enabling runners to see more shadows and have a better depth of view in their running path. If you don’t want something extra on your head, prefer the wider field of vision, or would like the advantage of multiple light sources, a waistlight may be the solution for you.

iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks wears a Black Diamond headlamp along with her fastpacking gear on a chilly morning. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

My head starts to hurt when wearing a headlamp all night, how can I make it more comfortable?

If your headlamp is consistently causing discomfort after a few hours, there are a few things you can try. One is adding a layer of fabric underneath your headlamp band, as we suggested with the Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp. A soft layer of fabric can help absorb the pressure of the band against your head. A second option is to choose a headlamp with more than one strap to help disperse the pressure – like the ZebraLight H600d Mk IV 18650 XHP50.2 5000K High CRI Headlamp, which we found to be extremely comfortable, or the Ledlenser Neo6R Rechargeable Headlamp, which also comes with a chest strap. Similarly, trying a lighter weight headlamp or one with the battery pack on the back, such as the Petzl Iko Core, might also alleviate discomfort. If all else fails, we would recommend going with a waistlight, such as the UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light.

My headlamp battery ran out on the trail, how do I prevent this from happening next time?

The best way to avoid getting caught in the dark is to carry spare batteries or a backup headlamp that’s fully charged or has fresh batteries, or both. We also recommend regularly charging your every-day headlamp and making sure to top it off before any big adventures that will begin or end in darkness. Finally, if you’re worried about your headlamp’s power level, keeping it on the lowest possible brightness setting will help extend its run time.

Call for Comments

  • What’s your favorite running headlamp?
  • Trail runners, what headlamp do you use the most on the trails?
  • What is your prized running headlamp for all-night ultrarunning?