Not using one of the best headlamps while skywatching or shooting astrophotography in low light environments can be a challenge because of the lack of light. And while torches are great, handling them at the same time as a camera is tough. That's where the best headlamps come in. They preserve your night vision while keeping your hands free to adjust lenses, tripods, and camera settings.
As such, they're an essential accessory for budding astronomers and pros alike. There are hundreds of options available out there, so we're cutting through the noise and presenting you with our top picks in the market right now. We've tested and reviewed these headlamps to help you find the right model to suit your personal requirements and budget.
If you're a sky watcher or astrophotographer looking to upgrade your kit, check out our guide to the best telescopes, best binoculars and best cameras for astrophotography.
Best headlamps 2023
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Best headlamps 2023 ranked
In the world of headlamps, Petzl is a known and trusted brand for quality and reliability, and you get exactly that with this headlamp. You get a two-year (or 300 charging cycles) battery guarantee and a five-year bulb guarantee from the manufacturer, who has been elevating their headlamps for more than 40 years.
The headlamp has a rechargeable battery but can also take three regular AAA batteries. That's a handy feature, particularly if you've forgotten to recharge before use. We like that we can plug the charger straight into the battery without having to remove it from the case/strap — less chance of losing anything. The one drawback—and we are being quite picky—is that you cannot use the torch while it is charging.
It has an incredibly bright white beam to help you get to your location when you're out in the field, and if you long-press the single button, you'll get to the red light. The button is ergonomic and responsive, making it easy to operate with gloves on cold nights. The torch will even 'remember' the last setting you used, so you won't need to worry about it turning on white when you want it red (providing red is the last setting you left it on).
We did a hands-on review of the Petzl Actik Core 450 — have a read to find out why we gave it five stars. Note this is the same lamp as the TACTIKKA Headlamp, but that model is often found in more specialized fishing/hunting/military stores. There has also been a recent update (Autumn 2022) to the Actik Core, the newest model (Actik Core 600) boasts 600 lumens, has a Phosphorescent reflector to help you find it in the dark and a pouch that you can use to make a lantern (for when you're in your tent).
- Read our full Petzl Actik Core 450 review
Knog is known for its best-in-class bike lights, but the Bilby 400 is coined as the world's most powerful silicone headlamp. Like the Black Diamond Storm 400, the Knog Bilby 400 has an IP67 rating, so it is dustproof and waterproof up to one meter. In our Knog Bilby 400 headlamp review, it had no problems being submerged in a sink full of water with the tap running at full pressure. The headlamp has a remarkable runtime of 5 hours on full power and 105 hours on the lowest power option.
It is the only silicone headlamp on this list and is made from medical-grade silicone to provide comfort and won't absorb sweat or odors. You can adjust it from 11.8 to 26 inches. To recharge the lamp, remove it from the headband to expose the male USB and plug it into a plug or battery pack. It charges from flat in four hours.
The headlamp features a red light for astro or reading downlights to maintain your night vision as well as two elliptical beams for mid and wide-beam coverage. There are four brightness settings for each mode, with a maximum range of 100 meters on the brightest setting.
A unique feature of this headlamp is the 'ModeMaker app,' which allows users to add more modes to the headlamp and customize its operating order. You can read more about that in our review.
If you need an extra burst of light for any reason, switch on the 'boost mode' for maximum output from two LEDs for ten minutes.
- Read our full Knog Bilby 400 review
As avid stargazers, the HeadLamp 425 piqued our interest above the other models on this list due to the red flood light, the glove-friendly power button and the 'run forever' battery. We have discussed these and other improvements in our full Biolite HeadLamp 425 review.
In addition to the above astro-friendly elements and enhancements over the prior BioLite models (which we also loved), the new version offers increased beam distance, better run time and improved temperature use rating.
We also think it's important to highlight BioLite's mission to empower people and protect the planet through renewable energy. The brand aims to give 20 million people access to clean energy and reduce CO2 emissions by 3 million tons by 2025; by purchasing a BioLite product, you're helping them achieve this mission.
- Read our full BioLite HeadLamp 425 review
The Biolite HeadLamp 330 is ideal if you want to save a bit of cash and don't need as many lumens as the other Biolite models that sit in this guide. It is so tiny you'll soon forget you have it on. It has a 'no bounce' design that rests flat against the forehead which is mostly useful for runners, but it also means that it won't get in the way of you looking through a scope or viewfinder.
The fabric is made from an absorbent wicking material to keep your forehead comfortable and dry. Again, this is a design aspect that is most intended for runners but will make extended use more comfortable for anyone.
The reflective strip on the headband will make you more visible to others and will also make it easier to find in the dark. The front bezel of the headlamp articulates to adjust the light to your desired angle.
It's rechargeable via micro-USB, which we love, and also has a battery indicator to show how much power it has left, so you don't get caught out and find yourself lost in the dark. Even better, you can charge it while using it, which is useful if you're going back to your dark tent and want to keep using the lamp while it charges. The lock button is a great feature of this headlamp too; you can use it to stop the headlamp from being accidentally turned on while in the battery, thus preserving battery life.
- BioLite also make power banks — check out the BioLite Charge PD series
Like the Petzl Actik Core, the Terra Scout XT can be powered by batteries or an additional hybrid battery (Silva Hybrid Battery — 38007). You could also buy the Terra Scout H which is the same but includes the hybrid battery — the choice is yours.
The great thing about this headlamp though is its choice of materials. It's made of plant fibers from hemp and recycled plastics but it doesn't price environmentally conscious shoppers out, which is often the case with sustainable and eco-friendly products.
As we found in our Silva Terra Scout XT headlamp review, the unit's large power button makes it simple to use while wearing gloves, but be in mind that you can accidentally turn on the white LED if you don't 'long press' for long enough when switching between modes.
As with most other headlamps in this guide, a battery indicator lets you know how much charge is left so you don't get caught in the dark.
- Need a Camera backpack? Carry your kit and keep it safe.
The brightest light on our list, the Nitecore HC65 V2, sits at 1750 lumens and gives you a 165m beam. It's been designed to preserve battery life and runs for 28 hours on a single charge on its lowest setting (50 lumens) as opposed to its predecessor Nitecore HC65, which ran for 16 hours on a single charge. It has three light sources and five brightness levels.
It charges with a USB-C port, which is more common than the Micro USB seen on other models and it also charges faster. You can remove the battery, so you have the option of taking multiple charged batteries and swapping them if you need to.
Although it is at the more expensive end of this list, it will last for years because of its full metal housing, IP68 (submersible) waterproof rating, and impact-resistant qualities. What's more, it's ideal for those clumsier astronomers among us or those who partake in more extreme activities alongside astronomy and astrophotography.
- Need more accessories? Check out the Best eyepieces for telescopes
The Storm 400 from Black Diamond is a versatile headlamp that uses PowerTap technology to enable the user to switch between the maximum brightness and the dimmest setting with a single motion. This may seem detrimental because you don't want to mistakenly tap it and dazzle anyone nearby, but since the PowerTap feature just requires a brief moment of contact between your finger and the surface, there shouldn't be any problems. It also has a memory feature, so it will turn back on at the brightness level you left it.
The Storm 400 is IP67 rated, making it completely protected from dirt and dust ingress and is waterproof to a depth of one meter (in 30-minute test conditions). It's ideal if you're a part-time hiker, caver, climber or such. The three dimmable LEDs add versatility. The green light can make reading more straightforward, and this might be helpful if you have to read an instruction manual or a map to get to your location.
It takes a whopping 4 x AAA batteries, so we'd recommend getting yourself a charger and some rechargeable batteries to keep long-term costs down. It has a useful battery life indicator (green 100%-50%, yellow 50%-25% and red 25%- 0%) so you don't get caught out.
- Take a look at the Best stargazing tents for the ultimate skywatching experience
Here we have an exclusively red light headlamp and despite some of the questionable grammar on Amazon (much of this is just poor translation), this headtorch shouldn't be overlooked.
The WindFire features a USB charging slot, so you can charge it before your journey from a power bank, a car, or the mains, unlike some of the other models where you have to remove the batteries to do so.
It has a generous 90-degree pivoting mount which helps you see the ground right in front of you — no one wants to trip when carrying expensive astrophotography equipment. You can zoom in or out of the beam as needed for close-up work or navigating back to your car. WindFire offers a 30-day full refund and a 12-month warranty for extra assurance.
- See our top picks of the Best star trackers
For a very easy-on-the-wallet headlamp, the Vont Spark is versatile and good-quality, and what's more, it comes with a lifetime warranty for peace of mind. It is a two-pack and comes with a set of batteries which makes it even better value.
The Vont Spark has seven different lighting settings, activated by cycling through them. The red light is activated by holding the button down for three seconds, and again, cycling between low, strobe or SOS mode. Once the selection has been made and left on for an extended period, the headlamp will allow the user to turn it off with one touch, meaning you don't have to cycle through all of the modes just to power down.
This headlamp has a comfortable headband and a 45-degree tilt so you can pivot the angle of the light beam to suit your preference. You will need three AAA batteries to power the headlamp, although they do last for a good amount of time. It's also waterproof, which is a huge plus, rated to IPX5, meaning it's protected against low-pressure streams from any angle — which includes rain.
How we test the best headlamps 2023
In order to guarantee you’re getting honest, up-to-date recommendations on the best headlamps to buy here at Space.com we make sure to put every headlamp through a rigorous review to fully test each device. Each headlamp is reviewed based on a multitude of aspects, from its construction and design, to how well it functions and its performance in the field.
Each headlamp is carefully tested by either our expert staff or knowledgeable freelance contributors who know their subject areas in depth. This ensures fair reviewing is backed by personal, hands-on experience with each headlamp and is judged based on its price point, class and destined use.
We look at how easy the headlamps are to set up, whether they're water or dustproof, their power supply and ease of charging (if applicable). We consider the materials used and the reputation of the suppliers to ensure you're buying a genuine, good-quality product.
With complete editorial independence, we at Space.com are here to ensure you get the best buying advice on headlamps, whether you should purchase a device or not, making our buying guides and reviews reliable and transparent.
Best headlamps: What to look for
Not all headlamps are made the same. Some feature long-reaching, super bright beams, some feature extra straps for support and some feature a red light as well as a white one, which helps with your night vision.
These different features help in different scenarios, for example, you'll need the extra straps if you running or climbing. Red light is also interesting as the rods in our eyes are responsible for our ability to see in the dark, but they don't detect color.
It takes ages for us to adapt to seeing in the dark but even a millisecond of white light can stimulate the rods and ruin your night vision, so the red light allows you to see but doesn't affect your ability to see in the dark once you turn it off.
Headlamps can also be waterproof to different levels and have different styles of buttons and straps, which suit different preferences. We've selected all the best headlamps on the market so no matter what you're intended use is, you're sure to find something to suit you.
Any of these headlamps can be used as an excellent skywatching or astrophotography companion, as each of them have red lights and dimmable modes. The other features and specifications come down to personal preference and budget, although our chosen models aren't miles apart in these respects. Personally, we'd insist on rechargeable batteries because they are environmentally and economically better.
Comfort is also key, and having tried on numerous headlamps in different conditions, we'd recommend having a material that is absorbent and breathable wicking, wipe clean or hand washable, as all of the above are. The headband should also be fully adjustable in size.