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How to Buy a Great Headlamp or Flashlight

Whether you’re spelunking, digging through your pack at night or walking around camp after sundown, you need a good light. It’s one of the Scout Basic Essentials for outdoor adventures. A flashlight or headlamp can help keep you safe while exploring in the dark, serve as an emergency signal or provide a little illumination on a good book before bed.

Let’s shine some light on which headlamp or flashlight to consider before buying.


Sleek and simple, the MINI MAGLITE PRO LED ($30, fits perfectly in your hand, and — thanks to its aluminum exterior — if it slips, it can withstand a 3-foot drop. The flashlight offers 332 lumens and includes 2 AA batteries with a 2 1⁄2 -hour life. 4.1 oz. A cool accessory: safety wands ($9). They’re plastic cones that fit over your flashlight, instantly turning it into a lantern.


Think about how you will use your light. Will you be taking it on a backpacking trek? Look for something lightweight. Do you want your hands free? Consider a headlamp or flashlight with a clip so you can attach it to the brim of your cap. Would you like different amounts of light? Shop for something with variable settings, including a red-light option, which is easier on everyone’s eyes at night.


If you want versatility, check out the COAST G32 ($30, It has high and low settings, which you control from the rear button, and you can focus the beam by twisting the bezel at the front of the flashlight. The G32 produces 135 lumens on the low setting and 370 on high. Includes 2 AA batteries with a 4 1⁄2 -hour life on high, 17 hours on low. 5.6 oz.


Hard plastic should be tough enough if you accidentally drop your light. But some are made with aluminum or super-tough polyethylene plastic. Stronger materials should protect your light from the hardest impacts.

When you’re buying a light, ask yourself: Over a few camping trips will it be able to hold up to wear and tear?

It’s also best to pick a model with a push-button switch because lights with sliding buttons can accidentally be turned on in your pack, killing the batteries or bulb — and leaving you with no light.


You can carry around the COLEMAN CLASSIC 300 LUMENS LED FLASHLIGHT ($35, or hang it from a thin rope or carabiner through its rear bail handle. The light features four settings: high, medium, low and strobe, with 300 lumens on the high setting. It includes 3 AAA batteries with a 3-hour life on high, 75 hours on low. 5.2 oz.


Think about what you’ll be using your light for. If you just want a light to read by in camp, consider a small flashlight or tiny lantern with LED lights. If you need it for hiking or mountain biking, a bright headlamp with a halogen or Xenon bulb might be a better choice.

Brightness is measured in lumens. What’s a lumen? A lumen is the total amount of light emitted from a flashlight or headlamp. In general, the more lumens, the brighter the light will be. Some handheld flashlights reach levels up to 12,000 lumens — strong enough to shine on something more than half a mile away. You won’t need anything that powerful; a light producing a couple hundred lumens provides more than enough illumination.

Always be aware of where you point your light. Shining a beam into someone’s eyes can disrupt their night vision for up to 30 minutes.

The handy and lightweight PRINCETON TEC ALLOY-X ($60, is a penlight. Think of how a pen feels in your hand; a penlight is very similar. Even though it’s small, it offers 400 lumens of light. The penlight features three settings you can control either with the front bezel or rear push button. It includes one rechargeable battery with a 30-minute life on high, 28 hours on low. You can swap out the battery with 2 AAA batteries. 1.5 oz.


Technology has advanced beyond disposable batteries. One popular alternative is rechargeable batteries, often using a USB cord. Other lights use solar cells or magnets. Most lights, though, still operate on AA or AAA batteries but can stay on for hours, even on the brightest setting.


At 250 lumens, the PETZL TIKKINA ($20, presents a great value. The brightness can rotate through three white lighting levels by pressing a large push button. The stretchy adjustable headband can be removed and washed. The light also can be angled down and set into place so you can watch where you’re going. Includes 3 AAA batteries with a 2-hour life on high, 120 hours on low. You can swap out the batteries with a rechargeable one. 2.8 oz.


Your budget will determine what you can get. More expensive lights generally have more features, but a simple flashlight for a few dollars might be a great choice. Remember that cheap lights usually are not durable and won’t last long.


One of the coolest features of the LANDER KIVA ($50, is its rechargeable USB system. Instead of using a separate cord, detach part of the headband to reveal an integrated charger you can plug straight into a USB-A port. The Kiva’s bulb produces a warm, yellowish beam that can be adjusted by holding down the push button to produce up to 150 lumens. The headband is made from recycled plastic harvested from the ocean. Includes a built-in battery with a 2-hour life on high, 40 hours on low. 2.3 oz.


If you mainly keep the light in your pack for emergencies or for getting around camp at night, get a smaller light. Some of the newer, more expensive small lights can pack as much power as the older big ones.


The PETZL TIKKA ($30, offers quality and features similar to the Tikkina. One main difference is its phosphorescent reflector, which glows green after you shut off the headlamp. This helps you find the headlamp in the dark. I turned on the light for a few seconds, and it glowed for several minutes afterward. If you hold down the push button, the headlamp’s red-light setting turns on. Includes 3 AAA batteries with a 2-hour life on high, 120 hours on low. 3.3 oz.


For a headlamp that doesn’t take up much space, the BLACK DIAMOND FLARE ($30, is perfect. This headlamp emits 40 lumens and has white- and red-light settings. Instead of a push button, you turn it on by twisting its bezel, which will probably require both hands. You can also adjust it at different angles. Includes 2 lithium coin-cell batteries. 1 oz.


Tap the side of the BLACK DIAMOND SPOT 400 ($45, and switch from a full-power beam of 400 lumens to a setting at half the power. You can also use the two push buttons to switch between settings, as well as put the headlamp on its red-light setting. A nice feature is the Spot’s three-light battery-life indicator. It also comes in a rechargeable version ($65). Includes 3 AAA batteries with a 2 1⁄2-hour life on high, 200 hours on low. 2.5 oz.

62 Comments on How to Buy a Great Headlamp or Flashlight

  1. i have a head lamp a crank light and a mini mag

  2. i got a COLEMAN aluminum light two AA(they discontinued the two AA but still make the others) it is very bright and very durable i dropped it a couple times barley got a scratch on it was $25$ at WAL-MART

  3. I think Coast LED is the only way to go they make a flashlight that puts out 1,000 Lumens! The Quality is amazing and the price is fairly cheap compared to other brands. Mag lights are awesome as well if you do not want the ‘King of the Hill’ flashlight.

    • bobthecactus // September 7, 2011 at 7:55 am // Reply

      Olight has the SR90 which puts out 2,200 lumens,but I doubt that anyone would want to spend that much money on a flashlight.

  4. petzel headlamps are very reliable and come through when you need it most 🙂

  5. I have a Dorcy led flashlight its 200 lumen’s and is bright

  6. Petal headlamps work great,and anything with a red setting is better- it doesn’t screw up your night vision.

  7. HippieScout151 // July 27, 2010 at 9:00 am // Reply

    I have a maglite 6P with an LED head. It has like, 300 lumens! The US army used them in the gulf war but without the LED head. It can blind you!!!

    • HippieScout151 // July 27, 2010 at 9:05 am // Reply

      Sorry, I meant SUREFIRE

      • Random Person in the comments // December 5, 2010 at 9:15 pm //

        yeah no kidding! maglite doesnt make anything that awesome. although i do carry a small one that i like

    • this is right the mag lights are awesome i have the one without the led it is bright and has a belt holder great for camp and it never fails

  8. what is a GOOD STRONG, AND BRIGHT. flash light that doesnt use a million batterys.

    • try a mini maglite led two double A batteries and they last while (the batteries and light) at sports authority thy cost 25 bucks

      try WAL-MART

  9. Fenix lights haveto be the best lights i’ve ever had and their reasonably priced too

  10. troop185scout // May 25, 2010 at 10:39 pm // Reply

    MAG-LITES:really good flashights check them out
    there are lots of brands to chose from
    i go with mag’s but i use other brands to.

  11. I use a Energizer headlamp, and it has been through night hiking, caving, and regular camp use. You can find it at a Wal-Mart for about $10 at the most. It is really cheap but has lasted quite a while. I also have a hand-held XPG flashlight from Cabela’s that works great.

  12. middie football // January 27, 2010 at 8:14 am // Reply

    stream light makes the best light in the world i wouldnt trust any other light

  13. Where Oh Where are replacement Lightbulbs 1501 // October 13, 2009 at 5:06 pm // Reply

    Replacement lightbulbs for mag-lites may be sometimes placed on back order with the customer service department of Bass Pro Sports Shops. Extra lightbulbs sometimes come with brand new mag-lite flashlights. Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Target Pharmacy Stores do not have replacement lightbulbs in stock and have no retail pipeline to order replacement lightbulbs for people who need to replace lightbulbs for mag-lite flashlights. Or, just purchase a completely new flashlight–what’s the big deal with purchasing another new flashlight?

  14. i bought a cheap headlamp and it broke in half while i was caving

  15. ssssssssssssssssssssssss // August 23, 2009 at 1:34 pm // Reply

    I am looking for A new light to use on general campouts and I am going to use the info found here to buy 1

  16. Where can replacement lightbulbs for mag-lites be purchased to replace a no longer working mag-lite lightbulb? Mag-lite flashlights are not disposable flashlights like Energizer flashlights or Everready Flashlights where the lightbulb is sealed intact and a new Energizer flashlight costs less than $20.00 for the entire flashlight at a camping store or Walgreens or Rite-Aid.

  17. mag-lites all the way! the one i have adjusts for a wider area of coverage.

  18. go with a mag lite. but a leatherman light is still good.

  19. Are “Shake Lite Flashlights” good as usuable flashlights. They don’t require any flashlight batteries and produce energy for a flashlight by having a magnet slide inside a metal coil “slinky” type coil within the flashlight. Crank flashlights require someone to wind a crank for up to 90 seconds to produce enough energy to light a flashlight lightbulb. For flashlights which use batteries, it is easy to find replacement batteries for a flashlight–however, where can someone find replacement lightbulbs for flashlights which contain removable lightbulbs?

  20. I have a surfire e1e it only ways two ounces and it works great

  21. For christmas i got two 9 LED flashlights. Both metal. Both from HUSKY. I also got a awesome 1-3 LED streamlight headlamp. ( It has different settings, 1. one LED 2. 3 LED 3.Xenon bulb.) They are all very reliable.

  22. qualitycamper // April 9, 2009 at 8:44 am // Reply

    Wallmart may be CHEAP but they do NOT have quality flashlights!! I bought one the night before my first camping trip and it did not even work!!! BEWARE!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. Hallelujah // April 5, 2009 at 5:34 pm // Reply

    I bought one of those weird national zoo crank lights where you squeeze it and it charges. I wouldn’t recommend getting one of those. I dropped mine onto its side and the gears dislocated. Now the charging setting doesn’t work. Don’t trust National Zoo gift shops!!!

  24. troop637scout // April 4, 2009 at 3:13 pm // Reply

    hey king tut and papa smurf, you can get a lithium version of that for 8 bucks more. it has twice the battery life.


  25. troop637scout // April 4, 2009 at 3:11 pm // Reply

    this is another one of those things where there’s so much to choose from. i reccomend that you buy a wide beam flash light. it works great for any occassion wheather your hiking in the mountains or going from your tent to a tree for a restroom break. it lights up the night and dosen’t eat up battries quick.


    also, if you have any questions for me, just type them here in the blog but put question for troop637scout. thanks.

    • Just like troop637scout said, you want a wide beam.
      I reccommend maglite led 3 watt,I have one and it works
      very well.

  26. powerchimp // March 30, 2009 at 5:29 pm // Reply

    oh, and crank lights can break so be careful. :]

  27. powerchimp // March 30, 2009 at 5:27 pm // Reply

    princeton tec lights may be a little on the pricey side. but I found one called aurora thats somewhere between 20-45$ [can’t remember had it for so long (still works)]. it’s one of the brightest in my troop and i’ve yet to break it. p.s. MAG lights are great around home and camp but dont recomend for backpacking due to metal frame.

  28. real world 96 // March 24, 2009 at 8:38 pm // Reply


  29. jesus rocks // March 12, 2009 at 10:14 pm // Reply

    petzls are good $20-40 but well worth prise black diamond also good headlamps
    maglite aa’s model are also one of my favorites
    maglite sells converter kits for their flashlight like led and bottom push button
    maglites can also be used like a candle or lantern if you take off cap and put it on bootom

  30. It’s better if you actually get a crankable light , since you never have to change the batteries or light bulbs. Plus its useful for emergencies.

  31. Princeton Tec is a great flashlight and headlamp brand.(Their flash lights are so small, I fit it in my survival kit.The lights have a low, med,high, and flash modes.)

  32. i have an energizer one that i bought from wal-mart and it works fine for me.

  33. why dont you got pictures

  34. I used one of the Energizer LED head lamps from Wal Mart for 6 months while through hiking the Appalachian Trail. Used it every night and only changed the batteries 3 times! Great head lamp.

  35. i got one from walmart it is not durable

  36. flash light trouble // June 27, 2008 at 1:49 pm // Reply

    i’ve found out that when you are sleeping on a campout it is easier to put your flashlight in a boot or shoe than on the ground next to you becouse if nature calls and you cant find your flashlight than your in trouble.

  37. camper 101 // June 27, 2008 at 8:44 am // Reply

    i have a light weight aluminum one that is great for backpacking, then i have an l.e.d lamp for summer camp, and a larger flashlight for camping trips.

  38. I bought an energizer headlamp that works great…it has four settings and the power lasts long….good

  39. bobert the robert // June 20, 2008 at 5:26 pm // Reply

    I have a nice crankable flashlight that is slightly dimmer than some others, but it’s good for outdoor camping. I’m not sure about caving, however. And bobscout 45, was caps lock on and you were looking at the keyboard, or were you using caps lock on purpose? I want to know, because all caps is bad internet etiquiite.

  40. botscout45 // May 29, 2008 at 3:59 pm // Reply




  41. love guns // May 19, 2008 at 9:56 pm // Reply

    thanks, Jesus follower!

  42. Yeshua Lives // May 11, 2008 at 6:52 pm // Reply

    I have a wind up flashlight and it is great for reading in the Tent!!!!(for all you readers out there) It’s great but it runs out of juice really fast.

  43. i would suggest getting one of those flashlights that all u have to do is charge it up using a little crank on the side. it not brightest but will keep you out of dark


  45. Jesus follower // May 4, 2008 at 10:16 am // Reply

    i agree love guns, i have a mag lite too and its great!

  46. Walmart sells a single AA cell LED flashlight that is light and small and will last all night for about $5. I keep one in my search and rescue packas a spare.

  47. Awesome!!!

  48. Why have I not heard about this before?

  49. PEssist scout // April 30, 2008 at 4:11 pm // Reply

    boring lol

  50. mag-lights work very well, have a life time warenty, and they have a extra light bulb

    in the bottom! I have one and it lastid for 5 years!

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