Reader Poll: Headlamp or Flashlight?

Headlamp or Flashlight?

I’m a big fan of using a headlamp for backpacking. I made the switch from flashlight to headlamp several years ago and will probably never switch back. The benefits are pretty obvious; lightweight, let you keep your hands free, most utilize super-bright LEDs, the direction of the light automatically follows where you are looking, etc.

Yet I continue to bump into fellow backpackers that have either not heard about headlamps (bizarre I know) or have chosen to stick with a more traditional flashlight, for various reasons.

I carry a Petzl Tikka Plus headlamp as my primary light source and an Inova Microlight as my backup. I used to carry an Inova X03 pocket flashlight, but it was too heavy and had to be held all the time – I didn’t have any way to attach it or hold it to my person.  So the switch to a headlamp was an easy one for me.

So, what do you prefer and why? Are you a headlamp lover or a die-hard flashlight carrier? What models do you prefer and why? I’m really curious about this one…

Gear Links: Eastern Mountain Sports | REI | CampSaver | Patagonia | Altrec

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00410284354232381519 Heber

    Headlamp all the way. I started with a small LED flashlight but soon realized that I needed two hands for many tasks. So now I use a Petzl e+lite. Can’t think of a reason I’d ever prefer a flashlight.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10198153546061928080 harttj
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14187831875021772459 Eugene Smith

    Headlamp. Hands free always.

    I’ve used a headlamp for years now for both backpacking, trailrunning, and occasionally work, it’s the best multipurpose light solution I can think of that still enables me to have both hands free for on trail necessities and tasks such as: waterbottles, trekking poles, map, guying out lines on my tarp, stoking a fire in my Caldera etc. etc.

    Currently I use the updated Petzl Tikka XP 2, it balances weight, lumen output, regulation, and value very well- this is the only headlamp I use for everything and it excels at meeting my needs.

    I also wear a Photon Freedom LED light around my neck on all backpacking trips, which has served as my only light source in the past on SUL trips. This gives me immediate light close at hand, is insanely low weight, unbeatable battery life, and more than enough for . You can rig a simple “headlamp” out of this by attaching a piece of velcro to the Photon light, and the opposing piece on your favorite visor, hat, etc. this gives you the option of going hands free… or purchase the model with a clip attached.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09364636677279037964 Mattexian

    I only recently bought a headlamp (a Princeton Tec “Scout”), found it on clearance at Gander Mountain for $10, regularly $25, and I’m very impressed with it thus far. It came in handy when I went hunting in the attic for something, freeing both hands for searching thru boxes. That said, I’m pretty hard-core about flashlights, even the LED versions, bought a Mini-Mag and Solitaire yesterday, both in breast-cancer-awareness pink, since I lost my aunt from it last year. Those will sit next to the bed, in case I need them in the middle of the night for whatever.

  • porchdog

    i use surefire G2 for work, its very crisp, bright light beam allows me to see into dark corners,batteries are expensive but its worth it, when im outdoors i use the Inova micro light, and i wear it on my neckknife, under a band of bicycle intertube,with the Inova constant on mode i can see the trail in front of me, or swing it up to take a look around, I’m having trouble finding the batteries for the Inova though, the lithium ones, i will be purchasing a Petzl tikki headlamp,went night time fishing and it would have been very useful there I’m sure, does anyone know where i can find the Petzl tikki for the best price? thanks Brian for all you do, this is great!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Heber, Harttj, that’s two votes right off the bat for the Petzl elite. I’m a huge Petzl fan too, they have so many good options it’s hard to actually go wrong.

    Eugene, my setup is very similar. The headlamp for hands free use and a micro light for immediate access. I really like the idea of wearing the micro light around my neck, for some reason that had never crossed my mind – genius!

    Mattexian, I don’t have any experience with the Princeton headlamps but from what I’ve read the reviews are excellent – and you got one heck of a deal at Gander Mountain!

    Porchdog, the SureFire’s are superb but outrageously expensive IMHO, as are the batteries. But it’s a quality item and I totally get that, trust me :-) As to where to get a Petzl Tikki at a good price check out REI – I got my Tikki plus there for as cheap as anywhere else and their return policy is second to none.

    Does anyone have any particularly good sources for saving money on headlamps? If so please share a link here for those who are looking.

  • http://sticksblog.com/ sticksblog.com

    Another headlamp user here too. I have a few flashlights that I like and they actually convert to a lantern which is nice, but overall, the headlamp is most convenient.

    I have a Princeton Tec Fuel that I like, but recently replaced it after I realized how friendly it was to have a red lamp… I wanted to go with the New Petzl Tikka XP2, but at the end pulled the trigger on the e+LITE. I am very happy with it so far. I will be doing a review on it sometime soon.

    I am debating getting one of the little Photon lights to attach to my Ditty Bag but I am not 100% sure that I need 2 lights so I will see…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Wow, that’s a third vote for the e+LITE, thanks Stick. The micro lights are so small and light weight that not having one seems almost a sin. I carry the Inova model which has several modes, full, mid, dim, flashing, strobe, etc. I’ve added them to both my wife’s and my car keys too so we always have alight handy. In fact I should by stock in those darn things :-)

    Did you replace the Princeton Tec Fuel just because you wanted a red lamp? Or were there other considerations?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17543167348828174530 Helen Fisher

    I have a Petzl Tikka Plus but the switch is failing after a good few years use. I think it looks like the e+LITE for me too!

  • porchdog

    Brian,
    What model is that Petzl you have in the photo, beside the Inova? it has (4) leds, i thought the Petzl tikki plus only has one. also some reviews said light leakage across your face from bottom of lamp was an issue, did you have any trouble with this? thanks again, porchdog.

  • http://trailsavvy.blogspot.com/ Jake Willits

    This e+LITE has me interested. This is the first I have heard it mentioned. I chose the Mammut S-lite because it seemed like a good enough for some evenings of late dusk finishes. The real kicker for me was the single-AA battery setup. I just checked the Petzl site and decided I have the wrong light. I’ll wait for Stick’s review before I upgrade though.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Porchdog, my Petzl is about three years old and is a Tikka Plus with four light modes – high, medium, low, flashing. I’ll take another pic to show it better.

    Does the Tikka Plus no longer have that many LEDs?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    Petzel Tikka for me with a Photon LED worn on a lanyard around my neck for back up.

  • http://sticksblog.com/ sticksblog.com

    Brian, yes wanting the red light was the reason. The Fuel has been a great headlamp for me, but in my opinion/experience, not having a red bulb in a shelter full of people can be a little inconsiderate. Initially, I wanted another big bright headlamp which included the red bulb, but then realization hit me. I never needed that much of a light, and from the reviews the e+LITE were plenty sufficient for meandering around camp. So, in one of my many orders from REI I added the e+LITE and have been happy with it since. I will try to get a review in sometime this week or next.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    I’m definitely seeing a trend here. It seems quite a few people favor the combination of LED headlamp and micro light on a neck cord. Maybe I missed them memo about a micro light on a neck cord, but it makes perfect sense.

    Stick, thanks for the feedback on the e+LITE and I look forward to your review. If you’re order through REI online so much, how come your not using my affiliate link? :-p

    JERMM, yeah I’m a Tikka fan too. Solid light for sure at a terrific price.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Porchdog wrote: “some reviews said light leakage across your face from bottom of lamp was an issue, did you have any trouble with this?” – I haven’t had any problems with this myself. In fact the Tikka Plus has a wide lip at the bottom of the LEDs that stops light from leaking down across my face and acts as a mini reflector. So far so good for me at least. Anyone else have an issue with tis on their Petzl Tikka?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01587837374989766839 Will Seals Oregon

    Hey Brian,

    originally I started out with a pretty heavy headlamp and flashlight that both used AA. Then while shopping at Home Depot one day I found this super cheap head lamps for 5 bucks. It came with 2 head lamps and the 2 CR2032 batteries. They are light and super bright. Very low quality but I haven’t broke one yet. I also use a inova mini light for map reading in my tent and general lighting. I also have a Surefire but I agree about the batteries being expensive. Sure is bright though…no pun intended.

    Love your blog.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Will, the headlamps you found at Home Depot for $5 sound like a great deal. Just because they were cheap doesn’t mean they are not good and from what you’ve said they have lasted you well enough. Do you happen to know what the make/model they were?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01587837374989766839 Will Seals Oregon

    I’m not sure of the brand. Here is a link to what I purchased.

    http://www.homedepot.com/Featured-Products-Gift-Center-Tools-Under-10/h_d1/N-5yc1vZbv7u/R-202026894/h_d2/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10051&catalogId=10053

    Yes they are inexpensive and the sad part is that buying replacement batteries are $5 for 2 cells or you can buy a brand new set of head lamps with 4 batteries for $5. Kind of wasteful but know I have about 6 head lamps kicking around the house.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Thanks Will. Right now using the link you provided the set of two headlamps is just $3. It’s terribly wasteful but the batteries alone cost more than that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    My Petzel Tikka is an older model with 4-bulbs and low, bright and disco modes, no red on this one. I also have a Petzel eLite, no red light with it either. IMO the eLight is okay for cooking and basic camp chores, but the beam isn’t bright enough for much more than that, I would not consider night hiking with it. In fact my Photo LED is much brighter.

    Now, I will probably be replacing my Tikka this year as it has seen better days and I will go with another Petzel. So, my question is this, if the new model of Tikka only has one bulb vs my older model with four bulbs, will I be loosing the strong beam that I like?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    JJ, I have somewhat the same concerns for when my Tikka Plus reaches its end of life. I’ve been know to snap up more than one of an item in order to have a “spare” for future use, especially if it’s a great piece of gear like the old Tikka Plus. I didn’t do that and I’m regretting it now.

    Does anyone have the newer version of the Petzl Tikka to let us know how it compares?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    I’ll be getting one as soon as REI sends out the dividends at the end of this month (I think.) Planning to purchase a new Tikka Plus or some model of Tikka. Since my current Tikka (Plus) still functions I can compare and report back.

    The only problem I’m having is it opens up while I’m wearing it and spills out the batteries, not a good thing to happen in the dark. I think I’ve had it for about 5+ years and lots of use.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    JJ, when I’ve had a similar problem with batteries popping out I’ve used one or two very small drops of glue to hold the thing together, but not too much glue. You want just enough to hold it in place, but little enough that you could feasibly pop it back open without any damage if the device outlasts the batteries. At the very least you get one full battery life usage out of it. Just a suggestion as I know you’re a pretty handy tinker’er :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    LOL- me a tinker’er…hahaha…it’s never ending…actually I’m using a rubber band and the Tikka I have won’t go to waste, it will be used at home…the glue idea is a good one and I’ll probably give it a try, thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09717971522941648839 Mr. B

    I first used a headlamp when a friend lent me his so I wouldn’t have to dig flashlight out of a pack. We were late getting camp set up and were cooking in the dark. Cooking went so much faster because now I could use two hands.

    My first headlamp purchase was an Energizer. I didn’t like the sliding switch because it switches on too easily in the pack. I now use a Princeton Tec.

    Since we do a lot of family camping, I bought one for each member of our family. We don’t seem to misplace headlamps like we did flashlights but I still have to train the kids not to shine the light in peoples eyes.

  • http://blog.makais.com/ Todd

    My little Petzl Zipka never lets me down. I bring an extra set of batteries just in case, and I usually bring a 2nd very small led flashlight when I go backpacking as well. I always like to have 2 lights, just in case.

  • http:www.lightweightcampingequipment.co.uk Nigel

    I’ve had a three LED Petzl Tikka for years and it’s till going strong. I always carry extra batteries for it just in case. I also have a tiny single LED light on my keyring so that I can find the keyholes easily and not scratch doors etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15329904923638392138 James

    I heard a guy on a backpacking podcast a while back who swore by a waist mounted LED lamp. I personally use a cheap Energizer LED headlight that uses 2 AAA batteries but a velcro-mounted LED light on a hat would be very handy and sounds like something I want to pursue.

  • http://ulborbust.wordpress.com/ ulborbust

    I’ve got to go with a headlamp for sure. I love being able to have my spot on what I’m doing. I’m currently carrying a 2oz Black Diamond I got from a REI Scratch and Dent Sale (no idea what model it is since it was a few years old when I got it). For sure thinking about either adding or just switching to a Elite myself!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11796776553541550978 Katharine Knight

    Flashlight for me. I’ve used my friends headlamps before, but I find tinkering with the strap to be irritating. Plus, I’ve been blinded by too many people forgetting about their headlamp and turning to look at me. A flashlight is easier to point at the ground.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11796776553541550978 Katharine Knight

    Flashlight for me. I’ve used my friends headlamps before, but I find tinkering with the strap to be irritating. Plus, I’ve been blinded by too many people forgetting about their headlamp and turning to look at me. A flashlight is easier to point at the ground.

  • Nigel

    I’ve had a three LED Petzl Tikka for years and it’s till going strong. I always carry extra batteries for it just in case. I also have a tiny single LED light on my keyring so that I can find the keyholes easily and not scratch doors etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09717971522941648839 Mr. B

    I first used a headlamp when a friend lent me his so I wouldn’t have to dig flashlight out of a pack. We were late getting camp set up and were cooking in the dark. Cooking went so much faster because now I could use two hands.

    My first headlamp purchase was an Energizer. I didn’t like the sliding switch because it switches on too easily in the pack. I now use a Princeton Tec.

    Since we do a lot of family camping, I bought one for each member of our family. We don’t seem to misplace headlamps like we did flashlights but I still have to train the kids not to shine the light in peoples eyes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    I’ll be getting one as soon as REI sends out the dividends at the end of this month (I think.) Planning to purchase a new Tikka Plus or some model of Tikka. Since my current Tikka (Plus) still functions I can compare and report back.

    The only problem I’m having is it opens up while I’m wearing it and spills out the batteries, not a good thing to happen in the dark. I think I’ve had it for about 5+ years and lots of use.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01587837374989766839 Will Seals Oregon

    I’m not sure of the brand. Here is a link to what I purchased.

    http://www.homedepot.com/Featured-Products-Gift-Center-Tools-Under-10/h_d1/N-5yc1vZbv7u/R-202026894/h_d2/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10051&catalogId=10053

    Yes they are inexpensive and the sad part is that buying replacement batteries are $5 for 2 cells or you can buy a brand new set of head lamps with 4 batteries for $5. Kind of wasteful but know I have about 6 head lamps kicking around the house.

  • http://trailsavvy.blogspot.com/ Jake Willits

    This e+LITE has me interested. This is the first I have heard it mentioned. I chose the Mammut S-lite because it seemed like a good enough for some evenings of late dusk finishes. The real kicker for me was the single-AA battery setup. I just checked the Petzl site and decided I have the wrong light. I’ll wait for Stick’s review before I upgrade though.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Heber, Harttj, that’s two votes right off the bat for the Petzl elite. I’m a huge Petzl fan too, they have so many good options it’s hard to actually go wrong.

    Eugene, my setup is very similar. The headlamp for hands free use and a micro light for immediate access. I really like the idea of wearing the micro light around my neck, for some reason that had never crossed my mind – genius!

    Mattexian, I don’t have any experience with the Princeton headlamps but from what I’ve read the reviews are excellent – and you got one heck of a deal at Gander Mountain!

    Porchdog, the SureFire’s are superb but outrageously expensive IMHO, as are the batteries. But it’s a quality item and I totally get that, trust me :-) As to where to get a Petzl Tikki at a good price check out REI – I got my Tikki plus there for as cheap as anywhere else and their return policy is second to none.

    Does anyone have any particularly good sources for saving money on headlamps? If so please share a link here for those who are looking.

  • MDutt122

    I actually like both, and I can transform my flashlight into a helmet by using the flashlight clamp. I bought both the flashlight and the clamp from Go Green LED Bulbs. I put the flashlight clamp onto my dad’s old caving helmet when I have a lot of stuff to carry around and need my hands to be flashlight-free. I like having the option of both.

  • MDutt122

    I actually like both, and I can transform my flashlight into a helmet by using the flashlight clamp. I bought both the flashlight and the clamp from http://www.gogreenledbulbs.com/. I put the flashlight clamp onto my dad’s old caving helmet when I have a lot of stuff to carry around and need my hands to be flashlight-free. I like having the option of both.

  • Noone

    30 comments and I can’t believe no one’s mentioned the best solution so far – the ZebraLight. It’s a headlamp that becomes an anglehead flashlight when you take it off of the strap. Small and light, powerful with contemporary top of the line LED technology (much better than what you get from most headlamps, even the expensive ones, which is one reason many people use flashlights instead – 3x more efficient). See http://goinggear.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=14_20&products_id=2874 and http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?293092-ZebraLight-Mods

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Wow, that’s a pretty cool flashlight, but I wouldn’t ever put that in the same weight category as the headlamps people have been mentioning here. Thanks for sharing though, pretty neat!

  • Noone

    30 comments and I can’t believe no one’s mentioned the best solution so far – the ZebraLight. It’s a headlamp that becomes an anglehead flashlight when you take it off of the strap. Small and light, powerful with contemporary top of the line LED technology (much better than what you get from most headlamps, even the expensive ones, which is one reason many people use flashlights instead – 3x more efficient). See http://goinggear.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=14_20&products_id=2874 and http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?293092-ZebraLight-Mods

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Wow, that’s a pretty cool flashlight, but I wouldn’t ever put that in the same weight category as the headlamps people have been mentioning here. Thanks for sharing though, pretty neat!

  • Tom

    I have a hocus focus from led lenser, as my current ‘handheld’, which is a great little torch but I find it rarely gets a look in over my headlamp. You just can’t beat hands free lighting, anytime… setting up camp, cooking, walking inthe dark, even if the power goes out at home or changing a tyre at night (thankfully this has only happened to me once!), anythime.
    I have been using an original tikka xp for about 6 years now and still love it. I got my girlfriend the new xp2 to cure her headlamp envy and if it didn’t light up out every panel including the front, where its meant to, like a disco I would get myself one.
    The simpler lighting functions, the red led and the simpler button is a huge improvement but I just can’t stanf the way it sprays light everywhere. I find it a real distraction and I really don’t like how ‘covert’ it feels… the original shoots light out the front lens and ONLY out the front lens, the way its supposed to be. If petzl release a verison that isn;t a disco I’ll get one

  • Steve Flinn

    http://www.rei.com/product/810924/rei-led-trail-cap

    I’ve got 190+ hours using this already! Going strong. So, no need for a separate handheld or headlamp.

    It has one LED aimed like a reading lamp and three LEDs aimed at the trail ahead of me. If you have reasonable night vision, this is all you need. Total hat and headlamp combo is 2.6 ounces.

  • Steve Flinn

    http://www.rei.com/product/810924/rei-led-trail-cap

    I’ve got 190+ hours using this already! Going strong. So, no need for a separate handheld or headlamp.

    It has one LED aimed like a reading lamp and three LEDs aimed at the trail ahead of me. If you have reasonable night vision, this is all you need. Total hat and headlamp combo is 2.6 ounces.

  • Matt

    I’m a die-hard handheld flashlight kind of guy. There are several reasons why I don’t like headlamps:
    1. Handheld flashlights are generally more powerful
    2. Handheld flashlights can accommodate more and larger batteries, which both increases power and runtime.
    3. Handheld flashlights point where you want them when you want them to. They don’t have to follow your head (and flash other people in the eyes when you look at them).
    4. I just don’t like wearing stuff on my head, especially if it is going to get sweaty.
    5. Many handheld flashlights have easily focusable beams. Adjusting the focus on a headlamp (if it’s even possible) is MUCH more cumbersome.
    6. You look less like a poser trying to be cool with a handheld flashlight.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      All good reasons, but what about a handheld flashlight taking up one of your hands whereas a headlamp frees up both? I’m about to purchase a quality small handheld flashlight for EDC in the 200+ lumens range, any suggestions?

  • Matt

    I’m a die-hard handheld flashlight kind of guy. There are several reasons why I don’t like headlamps:
    1. Handheld flashlights are generally more powerful
    2. Handheld flashlights can accommodate more and larger batteries, which both increases power and runtime.
    3. Handheld flashlights point where you want them when you want them to. They don’t have to follow your head (and flash other people in the eyes when you look at them).
    4. I just don’t like wearing stuff on my head, especially if it is going to get sweaty.
    5. Many handheld flashlights have easily focusable beams. Adjusting the focus on a headlamp (if it’s even possible) is MUCH more cumbersome.
    6. You look less like a poser trying to be cool with a handheld flashlight.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    All good reasons, but what about a handheld flashlight taking up one of your hands whereas a headlamp frees up both? I’m about to purchase a quality small handheld flashlight for EDC in the 200+ lumens range, any suggestions?

  • bubba

    Headlamp every time. Two hands are much better than one!!

  • mathpie

    This thread is pretty old, but I’d like to throw in a vote for the FireFly Ultralight Headlamp, sold on Amazon by the company Bright Medic. It’s as bright as some of the Petzl lamps but smaller and lighter.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Mathpie – I’m wasn’t familiar with that particular headlamp, but I just took a look and it seems pretty decent. Thanks for sharing the tip.