Headlamp Compared to a Handheld Flashlight – The Good and Bad

Last updated on January 31st, 2019

Petzl dual beam headlamp

Headlamps are great! I have a number of them and keep one in every survival kit. You probably have one or more too as part of your survival or camping gear.

There is some good and there is some bad though. And that’s why as part of my gear I have headlamps AND flashlights. They each have their pros and cons.

Lets talk about the headlamp. What’s good about it?

 

The Good Things About a Headlamp

Hands Free!!

This is why they were designed! The number one best thing is the ability to have both hands free while illuminating the dark!

Working on Projects

A headlamp on the forehead is perfect for lighting up whatever you’re working on while using your hands. I recently had to work on my snowmobile engine and carburetor. It sure made disassembly and reassembly much easier when you can see what you’re doing! I’m sure you have your own examples…

Walking or Hiking after Sunset

Pretty obvious, yes? Compared to holding a flashlight in your hand, a headlamp is better for walking or hiking in the dark. Why? Because you now have both hands for balance and support.

Making Camp

You definitely need both hands while setting up camp. If that happens to be during the evening, a headlamp saves the day compared to a handheld flashlight.

 

The Bad Things About a Headlamp

Could Be Annoying To Others Close By

It can be blindly aggravating when someone wearing a headlamp is speaking to you while the light shines in your eyes. Some people are conscious of this and may shut it off out of courtesy. But others don’t. Ouch.

Compared to a handheld flashlight, the flashlight held in one’s hand is not at eye level and is easily redirected away from the eyes of whom you are speaking with. You don’t have to shut if off in this case.

Headlamp Bad For Tactical Operations

Tactical flashlights are definitely better in a tactical situation than a headlamp. A tactical flashlight will have a rear push-button, momentary on – and other features.

The light shining from a headlamp will always follow the direction of your head. Tactically, you want that light in your hands for ultimate directional control.

Lacking ‘Super Bright’

Headlamps today are getting very bright. Plenty bright. However a purpose designed flashlight for high brightness (lumens) are readily available and can be more powerful.

A typical headlamp will only hold so much battery weight before being too uncomfortable to wear. A flashlight though can be designed to pack quite a punch with powerful batteries and LED bulbs.

 

Should I Get a Headlamp or a Flashlight

BOTH!

Okay, if I only had one choice, I personally would get a headlamp. I use them a lot for a variety of things around the house.

Let say that Mrs.J says we need another case of TP from the storage container. It’s evening, getting dark (it figures). I slip on my headlamp for the walk outside down the short path through the evergreens to the container. Holding a case with both hands is no problem for the walk back.

I use a headlamp on countless projects. Shedding a bit more light on the situation almost always makes things easier to deal with. The great thing is adjustable brightness (lumens). Sometimes a low setting is just right. Other times you want to light it up bright…

A headlamp is great for a survival kit. They don’t take up much space (design dependent) and will serve more functionality if you ever need it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love flashlights too! I have pocket flashlights (pen lights) of various types. Key chain flashlights for Mrs.J and I. Rechargeable Streamlight flashlight always on the wall at the front door. LED converted big old Maglite at the backdoor. Flashlights in the truck. On the table next to my recliner. One on my nightstand. Come to think of it, they’re all over the place…

Oh, and tactical lights mounted on a few select firearms.

 

Headlamp Choices & Comparison – Which are Best?

I’ve gotta tell you, there are lots of them on the market these days. It can be difficult to critique. Many of them are ‘cheap’ and there are plenty of quality choices too.

My Favorite Preferred Headlamp Features

Generally speaking the features that I like are these:

1. At least 3 brightness settings. This gives me usability options and choices that affect battery life.

2. Remember the last brightness setting when it turns on – without having to cycle through.

3. Dual beam, Multi beam Flood Lamp AND Spot Lamp for the best of both worlds. Ideally each of them individually select-able on/off with their own buttons. But dual flood/spot functionality is somewhat hard to find.

4. Common batteries (AA or AAA).

5. Adjustable angle tilt. Most are adjustable. But some aren’t. This is a requirement for me.

Those are my primary preferences. Other bonus features would include these:

– Red light function. Red helps maintain natural night vision while still lighting up a map or whatever.

– Waterproof. Lets face it, chances are it may be used out in weather. Quality headlamps will be up to the task.

– Brand name reputation. Some of my headlamps are just cheap ones. Good enough for what they’re designated for. I have two others that I paid lots more for. They are quality and what I most often use. I’ve already had them for (I think) 4 years and they’ve been used quite a lot.

 

Headlamp Recommendation

Again, there are tons of choices. The good ones that I have (they’re both identical) are the Fenix brand. They don’t make the model I have anymore (typical – there’s usually a new model coming out all the time).

Best General Choice

The following headlamp by Foxelli is absolutely the most popular. And it is not expensive (in fact surprisingly inexpensive). In general I would recommend this one for general purpose use:

Foxelli Headlamp
Most popular headlamp - Foxelli

 
This one by Petzl looks pretty sweet. Multi beam (wide/spot) functionality. If I had to replace the good ones that I have now, I would look seriously at this one:

PETZL – ACTIK CORE Headlamp
Petzl Actic Core headlamp

 
Read more: Keychain Flashlight That Fits On Your Key Ring Like This One…

What do you find most useful about a headlamp?





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