I love to do stuff in the dark. I also love to see what I’m doing when I do stuff in the dark.
Thus, over the years I’ve become a fan of powerful headlamps — powerful headlamps that don’t cost a powerful lot.
Actually, “powerful” isn’t always what I need. When I’m mountain biking, yes. I like a torch that maintains a solid, wide, bright beam: At 20 miles per hour, the last thing I need on a windy, twisty, rocky, rooty trail is a surprise hiding in the shadows. But for hiking and backpacking, our focus today, I want a lamp that lets me confidently navigate the trail, but also doesn’t obliterate the cozy experience of a night hike.
To quickly establish my night cred, I have a hiking group — GetHiking! Triangle — that does one night hike a month, and when I go backpacking, I like to squeeze in as much trail time as possible by leaving after work, arriving after dark and hiking a couple miles to a campsite. A good headlamp is especially important backpacking: for navigating to the site, for being able to see the site, and for pitching camp in the dark.
Since fall, I’ve grown particularly fond of two headlamps, both of which fall into the inexpensive $25 price range: the Dorcy 41-2096 and the Princeton Tec Fuel. (Both, for the record, were provided free for my use.)
The Dorcy I like for its simplicity. The rubberized on/off switch is easy to find, for alternating between high and low beam (there’s also a strobe function), even while wearing gloves. The low beam (which extends the average battery run time of 12 hours) works hiking with a group when you can sponge off the beam in front of you, the high beam is high enough for solo hiking, but again, not so brilliant that it appears you’ve personally vowed to light a Friday night football game. Its light weight and swivel beam make it a good forehead-based reading light as well.
I like the Princeton Tec Fuel for many of the same reasons: it’s light, easy to use, it’s beam doesn’t overwhelm. And on a backpack trip on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia two weeks ago I discovered an additional feature: the plastic clasp that attaches to the headband can be easily manipulated to accommodate the vent pulls in my tent ceiling to create a sort of chandelier. Very functional when performing after-dark housekeeping functions in the two-man.
There are lots of good headlamps on the market. These are two I can vouch for.