We Tested 4 Popular Backpacking Headlamps

We compared four popular backpacking headlamps so you can see the advantages and disadvantages of the different types. Your ideal headlamp will depend on your individual needs.

What is a Lumen?

You will see hundreds of different types of backpacking headlamps on the market.  We couldn’t test every one so we tested four popular backpacking headlamps to illustrate the differences. By seeing the advantages and disadvantages of each type of headlamp you should be able to better focus on the best type of headlamp for your next hike.  We evaluated the headlamps based on cost, weight, battery type, brightness levels, burn time, water resistance level, and viewable distance.

four different backpacking headlamps shown

Left to right: PETZL e+Lite (30 lumens), Princeton Tec Byte (100 lumens), PETZL Tactikka (300 lumens), and Princeton Tec Byte (200 lumens).

We measured the illumination on different surfaces using a lux meter. You have likely observed that the greater the distance from the light source the lower the illumination of the area. The Illumination or lux value decreases exponentially as the distance from the light source increases. We measured the illumination or lux values at different distances from the headlamps. The minimum illumination or lux value for hiking should be at least 5. As expected the best illumination was seen from the PETZL Tactikka (300 lumen) headlamp. We observed the poorest illumination from the ultralightweight PETZL e+Lite (30 lumen) emergency headlamp.

Recommended Lux Values

lux values (illumination) required for different areas

We illustrated in the chart that different tasks require different levels of illumination or lux. In general the more detailed the task the more illumination or lux is required. Detailed drawing work can require 1,000 lux while navigating a stairway at night only requires 15 lux.

Headlamps Compared

*not including the cost of the rechargeable battery ($29.95).

We compared four very different headlamps to illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of headlamps.


Your ideal headlamp will depend on your individual needs. A 300 lumen or more rechargeable headlamp with the ability for use of AAA batteries as a backup and three lighting levels is likely the best choice for most long distance hikers. This is because a rechargeable headlamp will save money by replacing the use of disposable batteries and the higher lumen output will be provide better illumination for hiking in the night.