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Best headlamps 2022: best lights for stargazing and general lowlight scenes

Two people with headlamps looking out at the night sky from atop a rocky cliff at night
(Image credit: Getty)

When choosing the best headtorch for you, you must establish its primary use. Some head torches are super bright with long-reaching beams, some have multiple straps for extra support (for use during activities such as running or climbing), and some have a red light as well as or instead of a white one. We are particularly interested in using this red light for astronomy or astrophotography, and it is also a desirable feature for nature spotters or animal handlers.

So why a headlamp for astrophotography? Astrophotography requires lots of multitasking in the dark. A headlamp will keep your hands free, and you won't have to look for the handheld torch you've misplaced each time you've set it down.

In our eyes, we have both cones and rods. The rods are responsible for our ability to see in the dark. They don't detect color, which is why we see everything in greyscale, but they are susceptible to the brightness of the light and can be saturated by it. Night vision is slow to build up but easy to destroy; even a millisecond of white light will stimulate the rods and ruin your night vision. It can take a long time to regain it, sometimes up to half an hour. The rods don't detect color and therefore don't 'see' red, meaning your night vision will remain intact by using a red lamp.

For that reason, we've only put headlamps on this list that feature red light capability, as your night vision, as an astrophotographer or astronomer, is essential. 

Headlamps can be waterproof to different levels, have different styles of buttons and straps, and have varying run times and means of powering them. Except for two red light-specific models, we've selected the best headlamps that are good all-rounders and appropriate for skywatching fans.

Best budget headlamp

Vont Spark Product photo

(Image credit: Amazon)

Vont Spark LED Headlamp

An excellent value two pack makes this a very tempting purchase

Specifications

LED Color: Red and White
Brigntness (Lumens): 200
Runtime: Lowest 3hrs, highest 90hrs
Weight: 51g
Waterproof rating: IPX5
Battery Type: 3 x AAA

Reasons to buy

+
One touch turn off
+
Very affordable

Reasons to avoid

-
Not rechargeable

For a very easy-on-the-wallet headlamp, this is a versatile and good quality headlamp, 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 turn it off.

It has a comfortable headband and a handy 45-degree tilt to pivot the angle of the light beam to your preference.

You'll need 3 x AAA batteries to power the lamp but they do last for a long time. It is waterproof rated to IPX5 which makes it protected against low-pressure water streams from any angle, so it will be perfectly fine if it's raining.

Best for nature spotting

Product photo of the Zebralight H502pr

(Image credit: Amazon)

Zebralight H502pr Photo Red AA Flood Headlamp

This red specific headlamp removes the risk of ruining your night vision

Specifications

LED Color: Red
Brigntness (Lumens): 100
Runtime: Lowest 1.8 months, highest 0.9hrs
Weight: 78g
Waterproof rating: IPX7
Battery Type: 1 x AA

Reasons to buy

+
Dedicated red lamp
+
Hand held or headlamp 

Reasons to avoid

-
Pretty Expensive
-
Not rechargeable

This is a dedicated night-vision preservation headlamp for activities and so is ideal for helping you navigate your astrophotography kit and finding your way to the perfect astronomy spot. As the light is almost invisible to wildlife it is perfect for watching or handling (e.g for research purposes) nocturnal animals. It also acts as an ideal reading headlamp. It can be used handheld or worn on the included headband.

There is no white light option and the bulb is a true red light, not a white LED with a pink cover. This eliminates the risk of accidentally switching on the white light and ruining your night vision. By default, the lamp turns on at full brightness, but the low output of 100 lumens ensures the red light itself isn't too bright in itself.

It only requires 1 x AA battery which can be of the rechargeable variety. It has optical grade, toughened glass, and a durable anodized finish so should last for years without corroding. It is waterproof to IPX7 meaning it could be underwater for 30 minutes at a depth of up to one meter. 

Best for reliability

Product photo of the Petzl Actik Core

(Image credit: Amazon)

Petzl Actik Core 450

We love this headlamp thanks to its hybrid battery approach, a trusted brand, and clever memory function.

Specifications

LED Color: Red
Brigntness (Lumens): 450
Runtime: Lowest 130hrs, highest 2hrs
Weight: 75g
Waterproof rating: IPX4
Battery Type: CORE rechargeable battery/ 3 x AAA

Reasons to buy

+
Trusted and respected brand
+
Very light and comfortable
+
Rechargeable battery

Reasons to avoid

-
Low level of waterproofing

Petzl has been evolving its headlamps for over 40 years. They are a trusted brand, so you can be assured of quality. It also has a five-year lamp and a two-year (or 300 charging cycle) battery guarantee. 

The headlamp has a rechargeable battery but can also take three regular AAA batteries. That is a handy feature, especially 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 likelihood of losing something. The only downside is, you can't use the torch while charging, but that's a little detail and we are being super picky.

It has an incredibly bright white beam to help you get to your location if out in the field, but if you long-press the single button, you'll get to the red light. The button is ergonomic and responsive, so it can easily be operated with gloves on those cold nights. The torch will 'remember' the last setting you used too so you shouldn't need to worry about it turning on white when you want it red, providing red is the last setting you left it on.

Note this is the same lamp as the TACTIKKA Headlamp (opens in new tab), but that model is often found in more specialized fishing/hunting/military stores.

Best for battery life

Product Photo of the Nitecore HC65 V2 Headlamp

(Image credit: Amazon)

Nitecore HC65 V2 Headlamp

The brightest headlamp on our list, and one of the most durable.

Specifications

LED Color: Red and White
Brigntness (Lumens): 1750
Runtime: Lowest 28hrs, highest 3hrs
Weight: 65.5g
Waterproof rating: IP68
Battery Type: 3599mAh Li-on

Reasons to buy

+
Great battery life
+
Hardy and reliable 

Reasons to avoid

-
On the expensive side
-
Overkill if you're only using it to preserve night vision 

The brightest light on our list sits at 1750 lumens and gives you a 165m beam. It has been designed to preserve battery life and runs for 28 hours on a single charge on its lowest setting (50 lumens) as opposed to the predecessor HC65 (opens in new tab), which ran for 16 hours on a single charge. It has five brightness levels and three light sources.

It uses a USB C port for charging, which is now more common than the Micro USB found on other models, and it also charges quicker. You can remove the battery, so you have the option of taking multiple charged batteries and swapping them if you need to.

It's at the more expensive end of this list but having full metal housing, a waterproof rating of IP68 (submersible) and impact-resistant qualities, it will last for years. What's more, it's ideal for those clumsier astronomers among us or those who partake in more extreme activities alongside astronomy and astrophotography.

Best for versatility

Product photo of the Black Diamond Storm 400 in green with a red light

(Image credit: Amazon)

Black Diamond Storm 400

Hardy and feature packed, including a handy battery life indicator, never get left in the dark.

Specifications

LED Color: Red, Green or Blue
Brigntness (Lumens): 400
Runtime: Lowest 200hrs, highest 35hrs,
Weight: 120g
Waterproof rating: IP67
Battery Type: 4 x AAA

Reasons to buy

+
Handy battery life indicator
+
Fully protected from dirt and dust

Reasons to avoid

-
Not rechargeable
-
Heavy compared with comparable models

The Storm 400 from Black Diamond is a versatile headlamp that uses PowerTap technology to allow the user to switch between max brightness and the dimmed setting with one movement. This sounds like it would be detrimental as you don't want to tap it and dazzle everyone around you accidentally, but in reality, the PowerTap feature requires around a second's worth of contact between your finger and the surface, so it shouldn't cause you any trouble. 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). 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.

Best for comfort

Product photo of the Biolite HeadLamp 330 in orange

(Image credit: Amazon)

Biolite HeadLamp 330

Designed with comfort in mind to provide enjoyable hands-free astro.

Specifications

LED Color: Red & White
Brigntness (Lumens): 330
Runtime: Lowest 50hrs, highest 3.5hrs
Weight: 69g
Waterproof rating: IPX4
Battery Type: Rechargeable 900 mAh

Reasons to buy

+
Light and compact
+
Lock button to prevent accidentally powering on 

Reasons to avoid

-
Low waterproof rating 

This headlamp is so tiny you'll soon forget you have it on. It fits flat to the forehead and is a 'no bounce' design, which is predominately handy for runners but also means it won't be in the way of you peering into a scope or viewfinder.

Its fabric is made from an absorbent wicking to keep your forehead comfortable and dry; again this is a design 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 is rechargeable via Micro-USB, which we love, and also has a battery indicator to show how much power remains, so you don't get caught out and find yourself left in the dark. You can charge it while using it, which is a bonus, especially if you're retiring back to your dark tent, as you can continue using it while you charge it with a power bank. 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.

Best for customization

An orange Knog Bilby Headlamp product photo

(Image credit: Amazon)

Knog Bilby Headlamp

Fully waterproof, rechargeable batteries, comfortable, customizable — the whole package.

Specifications

LED Color: White and red
Brigntness (Lumens): 400
Runtime: Lowest 105hrs, highest 5 hrs
Weight: 90g
Waterproof rating: IP67
Battery Type: 880 mAh

Reasons to buy

+
Fully water and dust proof
+
Customizable modes inc startup color

Reasons to avoid

-
Overkill if only using for sky watching purposes

Knog is known for its best-in-class bike lights, but this 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. On full power, it runs for an impressive 5 hours or 105 hours on the lowest setting.

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.

The headlamp features two elliptical beams for mid and wide beam coverage and a red light for astro or reading downlights to preserve your night vision. Within each mode there are four brightness settings, on the brightest, the range is a whopping 100 meters.

A unique feature of this headlamp is the 'Modemaker app,' which allows users to add two more modes to the headlamp and customize its operating order. The app is beneficial for astronomers to ensure the red light comes on first to prevent accidental night vision suppression by turning on the white light LED and cycling through to red.

If you find you need an extra burst of light for any reason, switch on the 'boost mode' for maximum output from two  LEDs for ten minutes.

WindFire Headlamp product photo

(Image credit: Amazon)

WindFire Headlamp

Red light specific with handy USB charging and a 12 month warranty

Specifications

LED Color: Red
Brigntness (Lumens): 600
Runtime: 20hrs
Weight: 90g
Waterproof rating: IPX5
Battery Type: 2 x rechargeable 18650

Reasons to buy

+
USB rechargeable
+
No risk of suppressing night vision

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks versatility 

Here we have another red light exclusive headlamp, and despite some of the questionable grammar on Amazon, this is just poor translation, and this headtorch shouldn't be overlooked.

Unlike some of the other models where you have to remove the batteries to charge them, the WindFire has a slot for USB charging, meaning you can change it from a power bank, car or mains before your trip.

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. The beam is zoomable, so you can adjust it as necessary for close-up work or finding your way back to your vehicle. WindFire offers a 30-day full refund and a 12-month warranty for extra assurance.

Summary

Any of these headlamps can be used as an excellent skywatching or astrophotography companion, thanks to each of them having crucial 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, as both are environmentally and economically better options.

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, and a headband that is fully adjustable in size.

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Tantse Walter
Tantse Walter

Tantse Walter is a photographer and adventurer that's spent seven years facilitating global adventurous expeditions. She loves getting into the nitty-gritty of sourcing and planning trips. Whether that be for astrophotography location scouting, or just for the love of exploration. Tantse enjoys taking creative, bright and bold photos of people, places, animals and the night sky. Tantse’s photos have been purchased by notable companies such as Ford and Cross Country Trains as well as an upcoming book about the songs, rituals and musical history of Capoeira.