In training and racing ultras, you will run in the dark, and you need a reliable headlamp. In this article we cover the best pick, the best budget option, and the best rear battery headlamp. This should help make your headlamp buying decision easy!
If you’re like me, and most ultra-runners – you wake up early for daily runs before the family is up. By the time they start their breakfast, you’ll be safely back home and ready to bring them to school in time – thanks to your headlamp!
Time to buckle up and get familiar with lumens and battery life as we take you through the best running head lamp!
Best Overall: Black Diamond Icon
With 700 lumens and a 7-hour life on the battery, this is hard to beat.
A great trail finder that comes with various light options, red, green, or blue are all at your disposal, including a dimmer. It is one of the heavier headlamps out there, but also this can be dealt with by having the battery pack in your pack or clipped to your belt. Due to the two adjustable straps, it sits tight and comfortably and does not bounce.
A one-meter-long cable that allows you to carry the batteries at the back of your head or in your pack.
With two buttons and a power tab option, the Black Diamond Icon is easy to use and boosts a Brightness Memory function. This option resumes the brightness level before you switched off the light. Very handy when you go in and out of aid stations at night.
By pressing the two buttons simultaneously, you lock the lamp, so it does not accidentally switch on when locked away.
The brightness of the beam lets you spot the reflective markers from far away and the light is so strong, it gives you a clear view of the trail ahead of you. It is also waterproof, and you can take it for a dip to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes.
When you are up for an all-nighter, this is the lamp you want to have with you to guide you over the trail.
700 lumens on max, up to 140 m distance for 7 hours, 350 lumens on medium, up to 60 m distance for 80 hours, 6 lumens on the lowest setting, up to 12 meters for 190 hours
Either via a 4 AA battery pack which is included or with a rechargeable battery pack, sold separately
236 grams (8.3 ounces) with the 4 AA batteries, 140 grams for the headlight, and 96 grams for the battery pack
Best Budget trail running headlamp
This latest model is a serious upgrade to the previous versions. There are an extra 50 more lumens to enjoy, and it now has a lockout option. The waterproof rating is still at IPX4, which means that it can withstand light rain.
These are good improvements and lift this headlamp quite a bit up. In the red-light mode, the batteries last for up to 130 hours, which is excellent.
The dual beam (combination of spot + flood) with 21 hours of running time will get you through a couple of dark nights without having to change the batteries
Just remember to bring a set of spare batteries, since there is no rechargeable option available
The dial is easy to handle for setting the 5 different modes, which for some is preferable over the button pressing options that are available
With a bit of practice, you can manage doing it with one hand, although with two hands, it will be a lot more comfortable to handle the ring
With its 85 grams, this headlamp is one of the lighter options available with an easily adjustable headband. One drawback is the difficulty of opening the battery housing.
Keeping in mind that this is a budget choice, you get an overall good quality headlamp that does the job.
High 200 lumens, up to 40 meters for 21 hours, Spot high 100 lumens, up to 32 meters for 4 hours, Flood high 55 lumens, up to 16 meters for 18 hours, Low 20 lumens, up to 9 meters 103 hours, Red light 5 lumens, up to 6 meters 130 hours
3 AAA battery, non-rechargeable
85 grams (3 ounces) with the 3 AAA batteries
Best rear battery pick
The Reactive Lighting is what makes this headlamp different. It will auto-adjust the beams’ brightness level, which does not always work that great for everybody. If you do not like this option, you can change it by one twist of the large button and the lamp will switch to constant mode.
It is meant to conserve battery life, but unfortunately, battery life is not one of the strongest points of this lamp. Max power on Constant mode only gives you 90 minutes, which is not nearly enough to get through a night of running.
You can stow the battery pack in your pack or attach it to your belt with an additional belt clip, which may be a better option for some runners.
Water resistance is at IPX4. Runs for over an hour in heavy rain seem to be fine, but an all-nighter in the rain may be a different story.
The lamp sits amazingly comfortable with a rather unusual bungee-like band.
Reactive lighting: Max Autonomy 320 lumens, up to 85 meters for 15 hours
Max Power 750 lumens, up to 140 meters for 6.5 hours (the brightest headlamp in our picks)
Constant lighting: Max Autonomy 120 lumens, up to 65 meters for 8 hours
Max Power 530 lumens, up to 135 meters for 1.5 hours
3100 mAh Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery (included), 6-8 hours charging time with USB
185 grams (6.5 ounces)
What to look for in a headlamp.
Lumens are the light output or a measure of the total amount of visible light to the human eye from a lamp or light source. The higher the lumen rating the “brighter” the lamp will appear.
For trail running, the minimum you need will be around 200 lumens to have a bright light. Anything above that will make it easier to find and follow the trail with all the surprises it has for you. During a starless night on the trails, 300 lumens or more is what you are looking for.
A running light for a trail runner needs to meet other criteria compared to what you need when setting up your tent in the dark. For a trail run, you prefer a lamp with a light beam that is powerful enough to see the trail.
It is also a consideration of what type of run you are planning, the weather conditions may play a role, and finally, what kind of terrain are you going to tackle.
You need to be able to see the edges of rocks, ditches, stones, branches, and slopes.
The more lumens your lamp has and the steadier your beam is, the easier it will be to navigate all these obstacles and surprises.
Check how many settings your light has; a variety of options is good and various color options may also be a plus punt. A lamp that adjusts to the ambient light might be something to consider.
This is the distance your light can cover. This is of importance since it will help you in spotting potential hazards along the trail. When you are in a race, you want to be able to see the reflective markers from as far away as possible. Some of the available headlamps can cover distances of well over 100 meters. That is
really what you like during a night run, to be able to see at least 50 meters in front of you or even more. A nice addition is if your lamp offers a focusable beam, which can help you adapt to changes in the terrain.
Rechargeable or single-use batteries, which one do you prefer? The rechargeable option is convenient and can be recharged
with a USB cable. Unless you want to start your run and you realize that your batteries are not charged. A typical full charging cycle lasts anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. If you need to start your run at that moment, that is not a good option. A spare set of rechargeable batteries might be an option.
Alternatively, you can investigate in a headlamp that runs on AA or AAA batteries.
Just make sure that you always bring a spare pack of batteries.
Ideally, your lamp offers both options.
The longer your lights last, the heavier your batteries most likely are. There always seems to be a trade-off somewhere!
Lamps with a longer burn time will most likely have two components, the actual light in front and at the back of your head the battery compartment. Many lights also give you the option to stash the batteries in your pack or attach it to a belt. For ultra’s, this may be the better option, since most likely you will be running through the night.
For shorter runs, a lamp that has the lightbulb and the batteries in the front compartment will be sufficient
Nowadays headlamps come with some hard-to-belief burn time, well over 100 hours is not unheard of in some models.
Type of LED
Cheaper lights tend to only have one single spotlight, providing a constant beam. This is good since it shows you what is in front of you. Most likely that is all you need if you run on roads. Once we start hitting the trail, it will be beneficial if you can also see your surroundings. For this, you will need a flood beam.
Advanced models typically include three different types of light, a spotlight, a flood, and a red light.
A lightweight headlamp probably indicates a shorter burn time, but it may be more comfortable to wear.
Once you start to add batteries, for increased burn time, you probably find that the weight also increases.
The lamps that give you more burn time, usually tend to have two straps, one that runs from your forehead, over your ears to the back of your head. The other strap runs from the back to the front of your head, which stabilizes the setup.
A nice feature is that many manufactures now give you the option to stash your batteries in your pack or attach them to a belt. This takes some weight off your head. It will be a nice option to try the lamp out before you purchase it, to see if it feels comfortable. That is not always possible, especially if you order online. Always check what the return conditions are.
Just don’t take the lamp on a multi hour run to try it out!
A trail lamp should have easy-to-use buttons. Anything complicated distracts you from the run and can be
potentially dangerous. You do not want to start fumbling with your buttons during any part of the run or let alone a race.
You should be able to reach and activate the buttons whilst you run, possibly even when wearing thin or medium-thick gloves.
A system that locks the system is also a must. When you travel or stash the lamp away, you do not want the battery to drain.
Water resistance / Waterproof Headlamp
This is measured from IPX1 up to IPX8. For a trail running headlamp, you should obtain a lamp that has IPX4 as a minimum, IPX 7 or 8 are best. With an IPX7 rating, you can be submerged for 1 meter for 30 minutes.
On the other hand, IPX4 is a safeguard against splashes and light rain.
Bonus: Best waist light
In case you do not like headlamps, waist lights are an alternative option. The Lumen 800 Ultra Waist Light is a great option. With 800 lumens, it is like having the sunshine on your trail path during the night. You have a variety of beams to choose from that come with a minimum of 5.5 hours and a maximum of 15 hours of burn time. Low, medium, high, and blinking modes will help you find the right mode during your run. It comes with a hefty price tag, but you get a lot in return and you have your head free if that is what you are looking for.
For night runs, make sure to wear reflective clothing. Temperatures can also drop, so you may want to bring warm clothing, a rain jacket, or a windbreaker.
Just make sure it is light and easy to carry in other words, foldable. Bring a few more snacks than usual, since shops may be closed or on a trail, there just may not be any shops at all. Let people know about your plans, where you will be and for how long.
Bring a phone with charged batteries and my advice is not to listen to music, you want to be focused and aware of what is going on around you.
If you run on the road, run against traffic and if you are on a trial, stay out of the way of bears! Enjoy your run and let the light be with you!