June 09, 2014
Remember when head-mounted lights were only worn by coal miners and coon hunters (who were often one and the same group of people)?
That antiquated image seems like it comes from way back when, but in reality, modern headlamps for everyday hunters aren't that old of a concept, and though they've come a long way since those first-generation bulbs, the goal is still the same: to provide bright, reliable light while leaving hands free to carry all that other equipment we lug into the woods.
Today, achieving that goal takes many forms, and it seems like every company out there, from dedicated light manufacturers to rinky-dink importers, is marketing more than one model of headlamp. The selection on store shelves is so mind-boggling, you'd almost be forgiven for grasping in the dark when it comes to which to wear on your head this hunting season.
Luckily, I'm here to light the path to picking the perfect headlamp with these six favorites.
Cabela's RGB II
The son of Cabela's popular RGB headlamp
, this gen-2 model is a downsized, single-strap version of the original. When loaded with three AAA
batteries, it weighs just under three ounces but the Maxbright Cree white LED produces 125 lumens. As the acronym suggests, the lamp is also fitted with three colored LEDs: red preserves night vision; non-spooking game green; and blood trailing blue.
Note the white LED is also switchable between low and high settings. This headlamp really shines in the battery life department, giving up 53 hours on low, 28 on high, or up to 200 hours using just a colored LED. Though the waterproof housing is made from a tough ABS plastic material, I have my suspicions about its overall durability, particularly at the door hinge and pivoting mount.
Lightweight, powerful, full of
features without breaking the bank.
LED Lenser H72
This lamp has so many things going on it makes studying the manual a must. It might take several tries to figure out how to switch between modes, but once you grasp the concept, the H72
provide practically any lighting solution required. A positive-click button on the housing shuffles from low, bright, boost, and signal modes, while a scroll wheel on the battery compartment adjusts brightness up to 250 lumens.
The lamp swivels to aim light exactly where you need, plus the polycarb lens features a focus ring for flood to spotlight. Most headlamps with separate battery compartments feature an overhead strap, but not this one, so some shifting can occur unless you've got the single headband brain-crushingly tight. At 6¼ ounces with 4 AAA batteries, it's not light.
This unit is truly the workhorse of the bunch, but the features come with a price.
Nite Ize Inova
One of the most frustrating issues with a lot of headlamps is fumbling for the function button. Most are too small to find or not tactile enough to operate with gloves. Enter the Inova
, with what the company calls Swipe-to-Shine (STS) technology that adjusts lamp brightness or switches from white to red illumination with just a swipe of the finger.
Slide your finger left across the top for the white LED or to the right for red. Multiple swipes in either direction adjust between low, medium, and high output. It's surprisingly easy and works even with gloves. For a three AAA battery powerhouse, the Inova cranks out the light, projecting 143 lumens and delivering a more-than-adequate runtime on the high setting. The polycarbonate housing is rated waterproof to 1 meter.
Fantastic controls, good white light output. Runtime of 4+ hours on high is satisfactory.
Known for their virtually indestructible hard-sided gun and gear cases,
builds that same bombproofing into their headlamps. The 2760
features a tough polymer housing designed to shrug off drops. The lamp is extremely versatile, with high and low output
settings (133 and 90 lumens), as well as a 93-lumen flash mode.
The lens is set with three LEDs, a center forward-facing bulb with reflector that illuminates up to 380 feet, and two outside bulbs aimed slightly downward. Set in downcast mode, these two bulbs give off 40 lumens. There's also a separate red LED that gives off enough light to hike by, yet still
preserves night vision. Expect to get up to four hours from three AAA batteries, depending on setting; downcast mode offers about 14 hours.
Rugged, powerful, and multiple
features at a very competitive price.
Petzl Tikka R+
Utilizing Reactive Lighting Technology, a front-mounted ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the light output. Look at your map and the light dims; glance down the trail and it brightens to 170 lumens. The Reactive mode can be set to deliver maximum power, maximum burn time, or a setting that blends brightness with battery life.
In any setting, the reactive lighting still optimizes battery life by only delivering bright light when needed. The lamp can also be switched to constant lighting mode with low, mid, and high settings, and features a separate red LED. My biggest reservation with the Tikka R+
is its proprietary battery that recharges via USB. Get too far away from an outlet and charging would require a separate solar unit or purchasing the optional AAA battery pack.
Incedibly sophisticated, but the rechargeable batteries raise some issues.
Streamlight Enduro LED
High-dollar headlamps are worth the money, until you lose one. That's why I like high-value, low-price models like the Streamlight Enduro
. Though it's not the brightest lamp, or full of features, considering you can pick one up for under $20 (real world), it makes sense to have one, or more, in reserve. The long-life LED is switchable between 6 and 14.5 lumens.
Runtime is surprisingly slim, just six hours in high mode, or 12 in low. The ABS plastic housing is tough and fitted with a nearly unbreakable polycarbonate lens. The only weak link is the plastic click-tab that sets the beam angle, which could break under heavy use or in extreme cold weather. The elastic band is a bit narrow, no doubt to save manufacturing costs, but the smartly designed mounting unit can be clipped to a hat brim instead.
Affordable enough to always keep one in your pack, but bring spare batteries.