One thing I learned in the Marines is that there is no such thing as being too situationally aware, and the first step in knowing what’s going on is being able to see what’s happening.
Whether you’re hiking on the trail, running, setting up basecamp, or prepping your gear in the dark, you’re going to need to be able to see what’s going on around you. That’s where headlamps come in.
Over the years, I’ve tested dozens of best headlamps out there and in this review, I’m going to share with you my favorites at different price points.
Regular flashlights can get the job done but leave you with only one working hand; not an ideal situation when the tempo is high and seconds matter. If you’re spending a lot of time outdoors, having a high-quality headlamp really should be a priority.
The good news for us is capitalism is certainly working as intended right now, and all the big headlamp companies are in the middle of a high-intensity product war to deliver the best gear for the lowest price. It’s forcing each one to bring their A-game and each new iteration of a headlamp being released is brighter, lighter, and longer-lasting than the last.
- Here Are the Best Headlamps in 2020
- 1. Black Diamond Spot 325
- 2. Black Diamond Storm
- 3. Fenix HL60R (Best Rechargeable Headlamp)
- 4. Black Diamond Sprinter (Good for Running)
- 5. Fenix HM65R (Brightest Headlamp)
- 6. Petzl NAO 575 (Best Running Headlamp)
- 7. Foxelli Headlamp (Budget Pick)
- 8. Petzl TIKKA 200 Lumens
- 9. Petzl TIKKINA 150 Lumens
- 10. Black Diamond Spot 200 Lumens
- 11. Princeton Tec Quad Tactical MPLS LED Headlamp
- 12. NITECORE NU32
- 13. Petzl Tactikka Ultra Compact Headlamp
- 14. PETZL STRIX IR Tactical Headlamp
- 15. Princeteon Tec Extreme
Considerations for Selecting a Headlamp
Like I already said, there’s a lot of competition out there to produce the best gear. While this is absolutely great for the consumer, it also leads to a ton of mediocre products that we need to sift through to find the top-notch gear that we’re looking for. Before we jump into the competition, let’s take a second and go over what we’re looking for in a headlamp.
Gone are the days when the only requirement to be a good light was to turn itself on when you needed it. Headlamps are now coming out in just about every shape, size, color, and configuration. There are even “smart” headlamps on the market than sync with your phone! To find out which tactical headlamps are the best we need to identify our needs and requirements.
A light’s lumens are a measurement of its light output. For instance, your bedroom light fixture is probably spouting out anywhere between 400 and 800 lumens. The higher the lumens, the brighter the light. Raw lumens aren’t everything though. A light fixture may emit 1000 lumens between its two light bulbs, but that light is going to be relatively diffused and won’t be able to project very far. We want our headlamps to project bright beams as far as we need. In general, a higher lumen output will also cause a faster battery drain. That means when we consider purchasing a headlamp we should consider not just a light’s highest possible lumen output, but also if it can be reduced to preserve battery life. Most lights will have different light intensity settings which will allow you to stretch your battery longer.
Red Light Filter
Anyone who has ever been outside at night will have noticed that your night vision gets worse if you’re exposed to bright light. There’s a lot of biology and chemistry that flies over my head when I try to understand the science behind it, but basically bright white light will rapidly diminish your night vision and leave you essentially blind in the dark after being exposed. This can be mitigated by using a less harsh light color and intensity. For this reason, most headlamps will have an option for a red light. This is immensely useful when you need to find something in your pack in the dark but aren’t able to give up your night vision. Some more specialized headlamps will even offer blue and green light, which assists in seeing other colors at night. It is also significantly less conspicuous, making you less noticeable in the dark. I generally prefer a slide cover for red light filtering. The slide allows you to physically ensure that the light will be red before you turn it on. It avoids the frustrating situation of having to cycle through white lights before getting to a red light (I once had a light like this and it was replaced as soon as I got back from the field).
Beam Shape and Range
Beam type will also play a factor in selection. You’ll find that some lights cover a wider area, but don’t project as far. Other headlamps are more focused, giving you a brighter light over a large distance at a sacrifice of total area illumination. Some headlamps will project a circular beam, and others an oval-shaped one. These differences are largely due to personal preference, and generally, do not affect the quality of the product. There’s no right or wrong option here, and many headlamps have different settings for different situations, but it is something you should consider.
Nothing is completely infantry proof, but we might as well try to get there. A headlamp is going to be getting knocked around as much as you are, and it’s going to have to keep up until you need it. A broken headlamp at the wrong moment could be deadly, so this review is going to leave out some of the headlamps clearly intended for simple suburban tasks. Many headlamps are also waterproof which can be a godsend when you’re sweating and trudging through water.
Battery Life and Recharging
Any reputable headlamp will have enough battery strength to get you through all but the longest field events, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to find long-running headlamps. You’ll find that your own personal battery lifespan may differ from what is advertised, but much of that will come down to how you’re using your light. If you know that you’re going to be spending a lot of time reading by headlamp you may want to invest in a headlamp with a larger battery capacity or bring along extra batteries. Some headlamps forego the traditional disposable batteries and opt to use rechargeable batteries like in our phones. These save you the cost of buying new batteries but require some extra considerations for recharging in the field.
Side note: If the idea of a rechargeable battery interests you, I highly recommend looking into a rugged USB battery pack to take with you. I’m a bit of a gearhead so a lot of my equipment runs off of rechargeable batteries. I invested in a high capacity rugged battery pack like this years ago which can easily keep my lights, phones, and GPS charged for a week of being in the field. Bonus points if your battery pack has a solar panel on I which further increases your battery life.
Fit and Weight
I don’t care too much about the weight of a headlamp (unless its enough to start causing neck pain) but many ultralight backpackers budget every single ounce, so weight is something to at least consider. High-quality headlamps often use lightweight metals such as magnesium in their construction. There are different headlamp fits as well. Some headlamps will have an additional strap running lengthwise along the top of your head. This strap is intended to offer additional stability, but it ultimately comes down to preference. The material the headlamp is constructed out of will influence the weight greatly. I choose to keep to a simpler strap without it to reduce the overall size and complexity, but there’s no wrong choice.
Note About Specifications
Most manufacturers will advertise their longest possible battery life. This means that the number you see for advertised battery life will often be longer than what you would experience in your day to day use. This isn’t intended to be misleading, but to provide everyone a baseline of how long they should expect battery life to last if they are as conservative as possible. Higher power settings will quickly reduce the maximum run time of headlamps. Unless specified, all ranges for the lights will be at their maximum setting.
Here Are the Best Headlamps in 2020
1. Black Diamond Spot 325
Advertised Battery: 200 hours
Light Colors: White, Red
Light Distance: 80 meters
Price Range: Around $40
My Review: The Black Diamond Spot 325 is the next step up from the original Black Diamond Spot. All of the great features of the Spot remain, and Black Diamond Spot 325 has upgraded much of its performance over the cheaper model to make the ten dollar difference well worth it.
Black Diamond released the original spot in 2018, and the spot 325 was released in early 2019. The younger, newer edition is just marginally lighter (a fraction of an ounce) but packs more of a punch for its size. Like the original Spot, the Spot 325 has both white and red lights and the very convenient memory function which remembers your last power setting. The Spot 325 is IPX8 rated, meaning it can be submerged up to 1.1 meters for up to 30 minutes. Unless you plan on diving with a headlamp on, this should be more than enough to get you through some rain and sweat.
The Spot 325 has a maximum light output of 325 lumens with a light range of 80 meters. The difference in 25 lumens from the older Spot is not insignificant, but you most likely wouldn’t notice unless you were shining them right next to each other. The Spot 325 sets itself apart with its increased battery life. You’ll manage 200 hours of illumination at the ideal power setting, beating the Spot by 20 hours. The lights are controlled with an on/off switch as well as a button to cycle through different light outputs. I want to reiterate again how convenient it is to have a memory feature so that the light turns on to the last setting used. It can be a real pain to cycle through settings each time you turn the light on, and Black Diamond has very elegantly solved that issue.
Overall the Spot 325 is an excellent addition to the Black Diamond lineup. It outperforms the cheaper Spot in every category while not being significantly more expensive. The original Spot is still an excellent and competitive option, but if you have the extra money to spare, I would recommend the Spot 325.
- Multiple buttons for mode selection
- Remembers your last power setting when turning on
- I don’t see any major cons
2. Black Diamond Storm
Advertised Battery: 120 hours
Light Colors: White, Green, Red, Blue
Light Distance: 85 meters
Price Range: Around $45
My Review: The most noticeable difference with the Storm compared to the Spot models is the inclusion of a green and blue light for activities that require night vision.
The Storm carries the Black Diamond tradition of quality and rugged durability forward with an IP67 rating, meaning you’ll have no trouble submerging the headlamp for up to 30 minutes and up to a meter deep. I don’t personally see myself ever swimming with a headlamp but hey, everyone needs a hobby. After having multiple electronics break on me from water exposure much lower than what they were rated to, I am more than happy to err on the side of overkill.
With a max light output of 350 lumens over a range of 85 meters you can expect to get roughly 120 hours of battery. Of course, that number will only go up if you elect to use one of the Storm’s lower intensity options. Like other Black Diamond headlamps, the Storm will be able to remember your last used light setting which means you won’t need to cycle through the different options before getting to what you need.
Peripheral lights on the side of the lamp allow for wide angle illumination which I have found helpful in campground tasks. The green and blue additions are certainly welcome and can be extremely helpful when working in the dark and the red is washing out too many other colors.
- Professional grade headlamp universally loved
- Blue and Green light options allow for more nighttime flexibility
- Backed by Black Diamond’s solid 3-year warranty
- Eight power options are nice, but can take a while to cycle through
3. Fenix HL60R (Best Rechargeable Headlamp)
Advertised Battery: 100 hours
Light Colors: White, Red
Light Distance: 116 meters
Price Range: Around $75
My Review: The body of the Fenix HL60R is roughly the size of a large roll of quarters, which is impressive given its battery life and light output. If you’re rough on your gear (like many of us) you may like the fact that the HL60R has a third strap that goes over the top of your head. A quality tactical headlamp will need to stay in place through every sort of activity, and the additional strap provides some added stability.
The HL60R is available in a blue and yellow color scheme as well as the more tactical tan camo. Both options are subdued and appropriate for tactical situations, but I prefer the tan myself. The light is toggled on and off with a single button, but a switch on the side allows you to select between the five output modes, including red light and emergency strobe.
Like most tactical headlamps, the HL60R has a red-light feature to preserve night vision. The chassis of the headlamp can tilt up to 160 degrees, allowing you to keep the beam of light where you want it without craning your neck uncomfortably.
At a maximum 950 lumens and a range of 116 meters, the Fenix HL60R is one of the most powerful tactical headlamps that I’ve seen. The rechargeable USB battery can run for approximately 100 hours depending on your power settings, and the internal components are waterproof to an IPX8 rating, meaning it can operate up to 6.5 feet underwater for 30 minutes.
Bottom line: In my opinion, for the money, this is the best rechargeable headlamp.
- Tri-band stable design
- Extremely high light output
- USB rechargeable battery
- Price higher than some of the competition
- So bright you may blind yourself
4. Black Diamond Sprinter (Good for Running)
Advertised Battery: 42 hours
Light Colors: White with red taillight
Light Distance: 50m
Price Range: Around $80
My Review: The Black Diamond Sprinter may look a little bit different than other Black Diamond options, but don’t let that fool you. The Sprinter is an excellent minimalist headlamp that’s so light you’d forget it existed if not for the intense beam of light it projects. The Sprinter might not be the tactical headlamp for everyone though. It was initially designed for nighttime running, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also perform well in a tactical setting.
The Sprinter has both front and rear facing lights. The light affixed to the front of the headband is used for illumination while the taillight is intended to keep you visible when on the road. You’re able to toggle whether or not you want the rear facing light on, which means it can still be used for tactical applications.
The Sprinter has a third strap that goes over the top of your head for added stability which makes sense given that it was designed for runners. While you may not intend to use this light jogging, the extra stability will always be a benefit. The battery is located on the taillight housing unit on the rear of the headlamp, meaning a cable runs along your head to the lamp on your forehead. This may be an annoyance to some, but it ultimately means you have a lighter weight on the front of your head which is often more comfortable.
At 200 lumens, the light is strong enough to illuminate the path in front of you and give you better awareness of what’s happening around you. The included rechargeable battery can be charged in as little as five hours and can provide up to 42 hours on lower power settings. Like all Black Diamond headlamps, the Sprinter will remember your latest setting which is especially helpful with the rear taillight.
The rubber micro-USB cover is somewhat lacking in strength which gives me some concern when it comes to waterproofing. The Sprinter is also missing a red light option on the front, meaning your night vision options are limited. I have some concerns about the durability of the Sprinter being used as a tactical headlamp, but I would unhesitatingly recommend it to someone looking for a multipurpose lamp for both running and work outdoors.
Bottom Line: I’ve used this headlamp a lot and now that I’m out of the military I do a lot of running at night. This is hands down the best headlamp for running that’s reasonably priced. Sure, the Petzl NAO 575 is better, but it’s also over twice the price. The Black Diamond Sprinter is all most casual runners need. That said, if money isn’t a factor for you, the NAO 575 is better.
- Multi-purpose headlamp for both runners and outdoorsmen alike
- Rechargeable battery
- The stable design keeps the headlamp secured to your head where it belongs
- Price somewhat high for the light output and battery life
5. Fenix HM65R (Brightest Headlamp)
Lumens: 1400 (with both floodlight and spotlight active)
Advertised Battery: 97 hours
Light Colors: White
Light Distance: 160 meters
Price Range: Around $95
My Review: The Fenix HM65R is another high-quality headlamp that boasts am extremely high light output and a lightweight and small frame. At 1400 lumens, the HM65R will end your dependence on the sun for daylight all while projecting light over a long range. The spotlight on the HM65R is has a maximum range of about 160 meters while the floodlight manages 60. The chassis of the headlamp can rotate 160 degrees, giving you almost full vertical deflection both up and down. This is incredibly helpful when you’re working on a task and want to keep from needing to crane your neck to point the light at what you need illuminated.
While the 1400 lumen output advertised by Fenix is certainly exciting, it’s important to remember that physical limitations on the batteries will mean that the HM65R will only be able to sustain its maximum output for a short time. The HM65R has four different power settings available for its spotlight, and three for its floodlight. Fenix states that the HM65R will only last about 2 hours at the highest power setting. I won’t say that the extremely high output is a gimmick exactly, but it does not reflect what you will actually be experiencing in your own personal use. The spotlight high power setting emits a 400 lumen light with an expected battery life of 22 hours. At medium power, the HM65R emits 130 lumens for 42 hours and emits 50 lumens for 97 hours on low. Keep in mind that the medium and low power settings will be more than adequate for most tasks, and I would expect to get around 70 to 80 hours on a full charge with my own use.
The floodlight and spotlight are activated by separate buttons, meaning you won’t have to press the same button eight times just to get the power setting you want. The HM65R also has a lockout function, which keeps the buttons from being pressed unintentionally. A good lockout switch is critical for tactical headlamps because the last thing you want is to find that your headlamp died in your pocket when you need it most. The battery level indicator is located next to the power switches which allows you to keep an eye on the remaining battery life available.
The HM65R is one of the first headlamps to offer USB-C recharging. Most other rechargeable headlamps utilize a micro-USB port, which cannot transfer power as quickly. With USB-C, the HM65R is capable of much more rapid recharging. The chassis of the headlamp is constructed from magnesium, reducing the overall weight of the headlamp while also increasing its durability. The HM65R has a waterproof rating of IP68 and a dustproof rating of IP6X, meaning the headlamp will be safe from water up to 2 meters in depth as well all but the harshest drops and falls.
Bottom line: This thing is incredible, and it’s one of the brightest headlamps money can buy.
- Extremely high light output
- 160 degree tilt allows for wide viewing angles
- Quick USB-C recharging port
- Battery status indicator
- No red light
- Fast battery drain at high power
6. Petzl NAO 575 (Best Running Headlamp)
Advertised Battery: 6 to 12 hours
Light Colors: White
Light Distance: 135 meters
Price Range: Around $180
My Review: That’s right, you read the price tag correctly. The Petzl NAO is currently $180 on Amazon right now. When most other headlamps on this list run around twenty to forty bucks, why should you bother buying such an expensive headlamp. We don’t put products on this site that we wouldn’t personally recommend, and the Petzl NAO is no exception.
With 575 lumens of light output, the NAO (literally) outshines most of the competition. You won’t need to worry about constantly adjusting the power either because the NAO will automatically detect ambient light around you and adjust the brightness as necessary. Light sensors inside the headlamp will dictate exactly how much light you need in any given situation. Don’t worry about losing manual control though because the NAO’s output can still be adjusted at your touch between 40 lumens and max power. Battery life will vary considerably with the NAO with the automatic adjustments, but Petzl advertises between 6 and twelve hours on higher settings.
The NAO has a removable rechargeable battery with the capability of swapping it out for two AAA batteries. This should only be reserved for emergencies though as the performance of the headlamp is significantly reduced when in this configuration. I do appreciate the reserve mode built-in, which reduces the light output to 20 lumens for the last hour of battery life automatically to help avoid leaving you blind in the dark. A hardware lock on the side of the headlamp allows you to ensure that the light is never bumped on unintentionally which would kill your battery.
The NAO is constructed with a durable exterior and rugged elastic straps. It has a minimalist construction that saves weight and space by cutting out any unnecessary material. It is rated to IPX4 which is enough for some rain and sweat, but not well suited for any water or boat activities. The NAO is also missing a red beam option, something that I find unfortunate given the considerable price tag.
In case the features I’ve already described weren’t enough, then you’ll be happy to know that Petzl has also developed a computer app for Windows and Mac that allow you to customize light profiles for different activities. All of these options may seem excessive, but they all combine rather seamlessly into a rugged and durable package well suited as a tactical headlamp.
- High-intensity light output
- Long range light projection
- Automatic light setting based on ambient light
- Companion computer program
- Rechargeable battery
- Lock feature
- Lack of red light may be a turnoff for some
7. Foxelli Headlamp (Budget Pick)
Advertised Battery: 45 hours
Light Colors: White, Red
Light Distance: 50 meters
Price Range: Around $13
My Review: The Foxelli Headlamp is one of the cheapest options available, but you won’t be getting poor quality just because of a low price tag. With a maximum of 165 lumens, the Foxelli headlamp is one of the less powerful tactical headlamps, but will still be adequate for most nightly tasks. Like most other headlamps, the Foxelli has adjustable power settings that allow you to select between a high, medium, and low intensity light output depending on your activity.
At its maximum power of 165 lumens, the Foxelli is capable or projecting a beam of light up to 50 meters. This will generally be good enough for navigating in the dark. The medium setting of 80 lumens emits a shorter beam at 35 meters, but is better suited for battery preservation. The minimum light setting is 45 lumens and is intended for activities close to your face like reading or searching through your pack.
At just over 3 ounces (with batteries), the Foxelli is definitely one of the lighter options. It’s small size and weight means you should have no problem stuffing it into a pocket or into your pack and forgetting about it until you need it. It’s operated with a single button that allows you to cycle between the three white light settings, a red light mode, as well as an SOS strobe.
The Foxelli has a water resistance rating of IPX5, which is lower than some others on the list but is still adequate for the average outdoors tasks. I would be comfortable taking it out and using in all but the heaviest rainstorms.
- Budget price with premium quality
- Shorter battery life than its competition
8. Petzl TIKKA 200 Lumens
Advertise Battery: 240 hours
Light Colors: White, Red
Light Distance: 60 meters
My Review: Petzl really loves their interesting names. The TIKKA, TACTIKKA, and TIKKINA may all sound the same, but they have their notable differences. The TIKKA is like a big brother to the TIKKINA. It is larger, but more feature rich with better performance. The TIKKA makes up for much of what I felt was lacking in its cheaper alternative, while still being relatively lightweight and compact compared to some other tactical headlamps.
The TIKKA operates off of a single button that cycles through all power and color options. The red light is activated by holding down the power button for a few seconds, and the white light options are accessibly by tapping the button repeatedly. There are three power settings available for white light, with a maximum output of 200 lumens and 60 meters.
Like all Petzl headlamps, you’ll be able to power the TIKKA with either three AAA batteries of their own proprietary hybrid “core” battery pack. The TIKKA is advertised to last for up to 240 hours of illumination with proper power management, which means you shouldn’t have any trouble getting through even the longest trips. Like the TIKKINA, the TIKKA is water resistant with an IPX4 rating. This will be enough for being in the rain and sweat but won’t hold up to prolonged periods of time underwater.
One feature which immediately set the TIKKA apart in my eyes was its phosphorescent reflector which allows it to glow in the dark. The problem with headlamps is that you only need them when you can’t see, so finding them can drive you crazy! The TIKKA is available in multiple colors, including black and olive drab so finding something subdued won’t be an issue.
- Glow in the dark strip for easy location
- Flush safety whistle located on band
- Variable tilt base
- I would prefer a higher IPX rating for something in this price range
9. Petzl TIKKINA 150 Lumens
Advertised Battery: 220 hours
Light Colors: White
Light Distance: 50 meters
Price Range: Around $20
My Review: The TIKKINA is a great budget option that still has most of the things you would want out of a tactical headlamp. The TIKKINA comes with three power options for close, medium, and long-range illumination. The TIKKINA doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles some other headlamps advertise, but that isn’t always a bad thing. There’s something to be said for simple elegance, and the TIKKINA has that in spades.
I really do like the fact that Petzl offers their hybrid rechargeable battery option. The “Core” battery fits in the AAA battery compartment which gives you more flexibility. I’m definitely an advocate of rechargeable batteries. In my opinion, they’re cheaper and much more convenient in the long run. It may be a hassle to wait for them to recharge, but carrying extra batteries is also a bit of trouble. It’s unfortunate that the TIKKINA doesn’t come with the core battery included, but at only $20 it makes sense they don’t include a lot of extras.
The TIKKINA is IPX4 water resistant, meaning that it’ll be more than enough to withstand some rain and sweat, but you won’t want to go swimming with it. The TIKKINA is capable of emitting light at three brightness levels up to 150 lumens at 50 meters. For a tactical headlamp it’s a bit on the low end, but I rarely find myself needing illumination farther than directly in front of me. Petzl states that you’ll manage 220 hours of illumination in ideal conditions, and up to 60 hours if you use it at full intensity. This puts the TIKKINA above average in battery life.
Perhaps the most unfortunate missing feature is the lack of a red light on the TIKKINA. This may not impact you as much as others, but I use the red light all the time when I’m outside at night. The TIKKINA is a simple, quality headlamp with a low profile and lightweight. It is a perfect option for someone looking for a inexpensive headlamp of good quality that isn’t concerned with a lack of red light.
- Budget option easy on the wallet
- Lightweight with a high build quality
- No red light
- No strobe
- Lumens lower than competition
10. Black Diamond Spot 200 Lumens
Advertised Battery: 200 hours
Light Colors: White, Red
Light Distance: 80 meters
Price Range: Around $35
My Review: The Black Diamond Equipment Company is going to be featured frequently in this article. They dominate the headlamp industry with a staggering number of options, and no list of headlamps would be complete without a few additions from them. They originated as a climbing company in the mid 1950s and have emerged as a trusted maker of lighting equipment. Most of their headlamps are designed to be relatively small and square, with good light output and battery life. They don’t design headlamps for strictly tactical purposes, but most of what they do make works well for what we are interested in.
The Black Diamond Spot is an excellent selection for a tactical headlamp. The low-profile chassis of the headlamp is powered by three AAA batteries encased in a water-resistant compartment. Black Diamond offers a wide range of color options, including a tactical black and olive drab. The spot can project a powerful beam of light up to 80 meters at 300 lumens and has options for lower intensities and ranges for other activities.
The beams are toggled on and off with a single button. I would have preferred an additional button for the red light, but you grow use to the toggle system pretty quickly. A convenient feature making the single button system easier is Black Diamond’s Memory-Mode which remembers the last used light setting for the next time you turn it on. After selecting a red beam once, you can activate it again and again with a single tap. This is perfect for people who turn the light off frequently to conserve battery and don’t want the hassle of cycling through power options every time they turn it back on.
The Spot also has a touch dimmer on its side which allows you to quickly adjust the brightness of your beam. The dimmer cycles through three power settings and the red light is activated by holding the main button down until it turns on. This ensures that you never have to cycle through white light and risk damaging your night vision. There have been some complaints about a faint yellow patch of light in the center of the beam. This may be caused by weathering of the plastic dome. If the risk of some yellow light is a turnoff, you can rest assured that Black Diamond has an excellent customer service record and will work with you on any potential issues.
- Compact frame
- Low Price
- Remembers last light setting
- Complaints of yellow haze in beam of light
11. Princeton Tec Quad Tactical MPLS LED Headlamp
Advertised Battery: 110
Light Colors: White, Red, Blue, Green
Light Distance: 35 meters
Price Range: Around $55
My Review: Princeton Tec is a US based company that specializes in just about every sort of light for personal use. I like that the company’s sole focus is on creating lights. Unlike other companies that offer a wide range of products including lights, Princeton Tec is unique in that they live and breath lights. The company got their start by building handheld lights for SCUBA divers. This obviously required a high degree of quality and durability, and while their headlamps aren’t rated for deep water diving, they still maintain Princeton Tec’s original vision for a failproof light source. Princeton Tec was the first to unveil a LED headlamp which has since become an industry standard. They have designed a wide range of headlamps, all with varying degrees of tactical use. In fact, one of their first contracts was to design underwater strobe lights for Navy SEALS.
The Princeten Tac Quad Tactical was clearly designed for military use. Color options include black, tan, camo, and olive drab. Princeton Tec is a well known name in the headlamp world, and their Quad Tactical maintains their reputation. The electric components of the headlamp are encased in a durable plastic chassis and a single adjustable elastic band will secure it on your head. The interior battery compartment is sealed against water with a rubber gasket, giving the headlamp a 1-meter water resistance rating. It’s nothing to write home about but will be more than enough to deal with rain and sweat.
Battery life and lumens both come in a bit low at 78 lumens and 110 hours of burn time. Depending on what you’re looking for in a headlamp this might not be too much of a problem for you, but its certainly something worth noting. I generally use the lower light intensities on my headlamps anyway but having the option to flood the area with bright light is an option I prefer to keep should the situation call for it.
The Quad Tactical sets itself apart in my eyes by offering physical light filters instead of button settings to allow you to change the light color. This allows you to physically check if the color filter is in place before powering on the headlamp. Even a momentary flash of bright white light can be enough to severely diminish your night vision, not to mention the fact that it tells everyone within eyeshot where you are.
The Quad Tactical comes with three interchangeable color filters: red, blue, and green. Red is my preferred color, but different colors are better for different tasks and its never bad to have too many options. Red is generally used to preserve night vision, but means that the red light will was out anything colored red. This can be problematic if you’re trying to read a map, so the blue light filter may be of interest to you. Hunters should be interested in the green light option as it is immediately noticeable to humans, but barely registers in the eyes of most other animals.
Pros: Rugged tactical headlamp with convenient physical color filters in red, blue, and green
Cons: Low light output and battery life compared to the competition
12. NITECORE NU32
Advertised Battery: 330 hours
Light Colors: White, Red
Light Distance: 121 meters
Price Range: Around $40
My Review: Nitecore is a tactical company through and through. Weapon mounted tactical flashlights are their bread and butter, and their experience shows with how they’ve developed the NU32 tactical headlamp. The NU32 sets itself apart from other on its list with its blinding 550 lumen output. It’s honestly amazing how Nitecore manages to make such a small product so incredibly powerful. 550 lumens will generally be a bit overkill for tasks requiring detailed work, but is excellent for long range viewing and trail navigation. Of course, the NU32 has three power settings to ensure you don’t blind everyone within a five mile radius when you look for something in your pack. The lowest setting, 19 lumens of wide, diffused light, allows you to comfortably read and accomplish most backpacking and camping tasks where intense light is not desired.
The NU32 can project light up to 121 meters on its highest power setting, setting itself far apart from other headlamps on the market. While this power and distance available with the NU32 will likely be unnecessary for a tactical headlamp in most uses, I’ll gladly take all the additional firepower I can get. The red light is accessible through an entirely separate button than the white light, which is a feature I find invaluable in a tactical headlamp. I’ve already established how I feel about accidental white lights being illuminated, and I feel more comfortable with a physical “safety” on my lights. The NU32 also has a strobe feature in both white and red for signaling and emergencies.
At 3.51 oz the NU32 is one of the lighter options on this list in case you’re interested in keeping your pack light. The casing is both impact and water resistant, a feature absolutely necessary in a tactical headlamp. The NU32 utilizes internal rechargeable batteries, meaning you’re going to need to charge it with an included micro-usb cable. This may be a turnoff for some who prefer disposable batteries for near instantaneous recharging, but the NU32 boasts 330 hours of runtime meaning recharges are going to be few and far in between. A battery LED indicator will let you know how much battery you have left as well. With a little planning, you should never face a situation of running out of batter in the field.
- Incredibly high light output
- Separate button for red light reduces button cycling
- Excellent battery life
- Rechargeable from USB
- Low price
- USB recharging may be a turnoff for some
13. Petzl Tactikka Ultra Compact Headlamp
Price Range: Around $20
Advertised Battery: 240 hours
Light Colors: White, Red
Light Distance: 50 meters
Price Range: Around $30
My Review: Like the Black Diamond Equipment Company, Petzl has its roots in climbing and cave exploration. They still do produce some climbing equipment, but their bread and butter has been headlamps since the 1970s. They have designed a few iterations of a tactical headlamp, but almost all of their equipment would fit the bill for what we need. Petzl headlamps are consistently bright and of high quality. Prices tend to run a bit higher than average, but so does the quality.
The Petzl TACTIKKA is an awesome little headlamp, and I consider it one of o the best tactical headlamps on the market. Every Petzl headlamp will be compatible with regular AAA batteries as well as their own proprietary rechargeable battery pack giving you some flexibility. True to its name, the TACTIKKA is a durable and made in subdued color options. You can choose between black, desert, and camo.
The TACTIKKA uses multiple beams to allow for a wide view, close range viewing as well as distance light projection. Intensity settings range from a humble glow to a bright 300 lumens. The TACTIKKA doesn’t use a physical cover to filer the light, but rather has separate red LEDs which are activated by holding down the single light button on top of the device. A detachable headband makes it quick and easy to remove the light to hand carry without taking your helmet or hat off.
Expect to get roughly 200-240 hours of life on a full battery with the TACTIKKA. This is a pretty respectable battery life for such a compact device, and being conservative with your power settings will keep it running much closer to 400 hours than 200.
The Petzl TACTIKKA disappoints in one key area for me. For whatever reason, Petzl has stopped including a rubber gasket around the electronic components in the newer TACTIKKAS. This means that they have very little water resistance, so if you know you’re going to be getting really wet I would look further or look into one of their other options.
- Lightweight and compact
- Detachable from headband for hand carry
- Rechargeable battery option
- No rubber gasket reduces water resistance
14. PETZL STRIX IR Tactical Headlamp
Advertised Battery: 65 hours
Light Colors: White, Red, Blue, Green, Infrared
Light Distance: 40 meters
Price Range: Around $155
My Review: The STRIX immediately set itself apart in my eyes as one of the most purely tactical headlamps I’ve seen. Unfortunately, some tactical products on the market are the same as their regular civilian counterparts but with a subdued paint job. The STRIX firmly defies the trend by being a product that goes above and beyond civilian requirements to the point, I wouldn’t even recommend it for non-tactical use. You won’t find the blindingly powerful light output proudly features in other headlamps, but that’s due to the fact that tactical situations require subdued lighting as to avoid being conspicuous.
Everything about the STRIX is custom designed to create the perfect tactical lamp. In fact, the STRIX doesn’t even need to be worn like a headlamp. The STRIX can be mounted on a tactical helmet with a rail mounting system, or with an optional rail mounting adapter. It also features clips that allow it to be mounted to any MOLLE system, meaning you could mount it to your chest with a plate carrier if you so choose. It’s unfortunate that the STRIX does not ship with a head strap, which means you’ll have to shell out some additional money if you’re interested in using it as a headlamp. Still, the head strap features an adjustable band with a quick release clip, making it worth the extra investment.
The light source of the STRIX is mounted on a double rotation system, meaning you can adjust the beam in almost any direction you want. This adds tactical value to the STRIX, allowing you to mount it wherever you want while still illuminating what you need. With only 65 hours of illumination at the lowest light setting, the STRIX is below average in battery life, and means you would definitely need to consider packing extra batteries depending on the length of time you’ll need the light.
The STRIX also features red, blue, and green lights for further night vision capabilities. Each color offers advantages for different night operations, but I generally keep to red with the occasional blue if I need to read a map.
You will still have more than enough light at maximum power to accomplish any necessary tasks. In “movement mode” (the maximum setting), the STRIX will emit a 40-lumen beam at a range of 40 meters. Stepping down, there is a close-range mode with 15 lumens and a stealth mode with a low 0.40 lumens for minimal light pollution. These numbers are clearly lower than other headlamps, but I would caution against seeing that as a bad thing. The STRIX is uniquely designed for its intended tactical use which is better suited by subdued lighting.
Most headlamps will dim over time as their batteries are depleted. This situation can be annoying as you don’t notice the dim immediately, but your ability to see slowly diminishes. Petzl solves this issue by keeping the light at maximum power right up until it’s almost out of battery. At that point, the STRIX will switch over to reserve power, giving you enough illumination to finish whatever task you’re on and find some new batteries.
The IR edition of the STRIX features an IR bulb for tactical illumination with a night vision device. The infrared capabilities make the STRIX unique and perfect for military and law enforcement who have NVGs available. The IR beam is capable of a close range vision mode, movement mode, and a blinking IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) setting. You won’t see any of the benefit of IR without an NVG, but if you’re still interested in everything else the headlamp has to offer I would recommend looking into the cheaper STRIX VL unit.
- Double jointed chassis allows for wide range of beam angles
- IR lamp
- MOLLE and helmet mounting options
- Ultra-low power options for discreet night illumination
- Reserve power function
- Headband not included
- Low light output may not be what everyone is looking for
15. Princeteon Tec Extreme
Advertised Battery: 200 hours
Light Colors: White
Light Distance: 120 meters
Price Range: Around $90
My Review: The Princeton Tec Extreme is another quality addition by Princeton Tec. The Extreme utilizes a more robust chassis and headband than the Quad Tactical featured in this article. The Extreme really shines when it comes to its cold weather performance. The battery storage compartment is separated from the headlamp and designed to be clipped close to your body for optimal warmth. Cold temperature is the enemy of any battery, so by keeping the batteries located close to your core you can keep your headlamp running much longer than usual.
You will have to sacrifice color for its stellar cold weather performance though. The Extreme only has white lights, meaning anyone looking for a red beam night vision light should look elsewhere. Ignoring the lack of a red light, the Extreme still performs well in all other categories. It utilizes one Macxbright LED and 5 Ultrabirght LEDs (as named by Princeton Tec) to deliver a max light output of 550 lumens with a maximum battery life of 200 hours.
The light is rated to the IPX7 standard, which is enough for submersion up to 1 meter for thirty minutes. Given the cold weather focus of this headlamp, I certainly hope no one plans on spending any longer submerged in water at the temperatures it’s designed for though. The IPX7 rating will be more than enough for your typical rain and sweat.
This headlamp certainly isn’t for everyone, but it would absolutely be invaluable to anyone who needs to keep their headlamp running in the extreme cold. Battery life can be cut by well over half depending on the temperature, so anyone planning on operating in extreme weather can’t afford to use the traditional headlamp design.
- Suitable for use in the extreme cold
- Respectable light output
- Good battery life
- Detached battery pack will most likely be undesirable to people not interested in cold-resistant headlamps
- No red light
Putting it all together
There likely isn’t one perfect tactical headlamp out there. Priorities can vary individual to individual just like mission sets. Some people may find the inclusion of multiple night vision colors a requirement, while someone else may care only for maximum light output. Each and every headlamp on this list is a quality peace of gear with excellent tactical potential. While you can’t go wrong with selecting any of these as your next tactical purchase, it’s still important to keep in mind what you plan on using it for. Personally, I’m an active runner so I value a bright and lightweight lamp that will stay on my head. Others may find that a heavier and more feature rich headlamp is what they need for their task.
With any luck, we’ve now covered everything that makes an excellent tactical headlamp and why you need to make sure you have one in your pack. When their use ranges from home defense to fixing a sink, it’s hard to argue against how useful they are. These are all excellent headlamps that you can expect to last for a long time, so it’s important to take some time to figure out the perfect one for your needs.
What are your experiences? Do you have experience with a great lamp that isn’t on this list? We would love to hear more from you and your input.
Corporal Wabo is a former Infantry Squad Leader with 3rd Bn 4th Marines that specialized in Mortars. In his free time, he enjoys hunting, hiking, running, shooting guns, and reviewing gear. He started this website while transitioning out of the Marines, and since has recruited several other Marines to help him work on the Marine Approved website. We are currently looking for former Marines to join the team who are interested in writing about tactical gear, survival gear, hiking supplies, etc. For more information about us or joining the team, check out the “About Us” tab.