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TOP 10 Best Trail Running Headlamps of 2021 – Don’t Let the Dark Stop You!
Trying to fit in your mid-week trail runs can be a challenge when the days are short.
But, having a good headlamp could be the difference between running freely and easily over the trail at night, and running slowly and cautiously, afraid that the nearby branches could be snakes, or that you’ll come around a corner too fast to see that rock that you need to jump over.
I’ve put together a list of the 10 best headlamps for trail running so you can skip to the chase and choose one quickly without having to debate over the different options.
Review: This headlamp is widely considered to be the best of the best when it comes to trail running.
It’s an intelligent lamp which means that it adjusts its brightness according to ambient light changes while you run. This means it saves battery power and puts less pressure on your eyes.
The quality of the light is also nicer than most standard LEDs, you don’t get any glare and colors are vivid.
It’s powerful, with a long beam distance, rechargeable battery pack, and the free MyPetzl Light App.
Battery life ranges from 1.5 hours to 15 hours depending on the settings used, and the rechargeable battery can easily be swapped out for AAs mid-run if you get stuck.
750 lumen capability.
USB rechargeable battery and AA compatible.
Lightweight – 6.5 oz.
460 ft. beam distance.
Red safety light at the back.
Hefty price point (but arguably worth it).
This is the best ultra trail running headlamp on the market right now for its impressive illumination and battery life, and the best headlamp for trail running at night due to its intuitive hands-free brightness adjustments.
Review: Black Diamond is the other big name alongside Petzl when it comes to headlamps, and the Sprinter is the best of the bunch when it comes to trail running.
It’s been around for a few years but the fact that it still makes the list is testament to excellent quality and design. It’s one of the few headlamps on the market specifically designed for runners – and it makes a difference.
It has a red tail light which is a great safety feature when you’re sharing the trail with mountain bikers, and it’s so lightweight and well-balanced that you won’t have to worry about it slipping or bouncing.
Incredibly lightweight (3.8 oz.) and well-balanced.
164 ft. beam distance.
Strap is fully adjustable and has over-head component.
Rechargeable battery with good burn time (42 hrs).
Not as bright as some of the competition.
If a lightweight and stable headlamp that you’ll barely notice you’re wearing is what you’re after, this is the headlamp for you.
Review: If you’re after Petzl quality but don’t quite have the budget for the Nao, the Reactik is a great choice. You still get really impressive battery life and beam distance, the MyPetzl Light App with Bluetooth connectivity, all in a very lightweight and comfortable package.
It also features the reactive lighting technology that adjusts the light output based on the ambient light of your environment, saving battery power without you having to use your hands to adjust any settings.
The headband is also wide and adjustable, and the lamp has a locking feature so that it won’t turn on in your bag and drain the battery.
300 lumen capacity.
Very lightweight – 4.1 oz.
Rechargeable battery and AAA compatible.
360 ft. beam distance.
15-hour battery life on the lowest setting.
The app and Bluetooth connectivity may not yet be at the point where they’re really useful.
For this price, you really can’t go wrong with the Reactik. It’s easily one of the best trail running headlamps of 2021.
Review: With just another slight step down in price and the number of features, the Petzl Actik Core is another reliable choice for trail running. It has 350 lumens, a rechargeable battery, and an incredible 160 hours of battery life.
The mixed beam lighting combines both wide-angle and focused beams so you get very bright illumination in the middle of your view and then it gradually fades out so there are no black spots in your peripheral vision.
It doesn’t have the reactive technology of the Reactik or Nao, but that’s what makes it more affordable.
Rechargeable battery and AAA compatible.
Red lighting for night vision.
310 ft. beam distance.
No over-head strap.
This is an affordable but high quality head lamp from Petzl that has excellent brightness and battery life.
Review: The Spot is another really popular Black Diamond headlamp for runners, being powerful but lightweight and comparatively affordable.
It’s designed to work exclusively as a focused beam rather than a wide-angle light, so bear this in mind when making your choice. But aside from that, this headlamp scores top points for battery life and brightness at this price point.
260 ft. beam distance.
Lightweight – 3.5 oz.
180-hour battery life.
Not rechargeable (but you can choose to use rechargeable AAAs).
Complicated control to switch modes.
Some users note a yellow circle in the middle of the beam.
A very bright and lightweight option at an affordable price, this is a good trail running headlamp for seeing far into the distance.
Review: Rivaling the big names, Fenix’s headlamps are very bright, while remaining affordable. 950 lumens is definitely more than you need for trail running, but the lower settings provide excellent quality of light and 100+ hours of battery life.
The strap is also a massive pro for this headlamp, as even though the whole thing is pretty light anyway, the over-head strap makes it very secure and comfortable to wear.
You won’t have to worry about it slipping down or bouncing around.
Incredible 950 lumens.
Rechargeable via micro-USB.
Overhead strap makes it very secure.
Very lightweight – 4.3 oz.
381 ft. beam distance.
100 hour battery life on low power.
IPX8 waterproofing means it can be safely submerged.
Gets a little warm on high power.
This is an excellent trail running headlamp at a mid-range price.
Review: With similar specs to Petzl’s Tikka, Princeton’s Tec Remix is very lightweight, comfortable to wear and puts out a very decent 300 lumens on its maximum setting.
The quality isn’t quite as bulletproof as Petzl’s, but it’s still a decent headlamp for its price.
150 hour burn time.
Very lightweight at 2.9 oz.
Red lighting option.
Doesn’t tilt to change the angle of the beam.
Casing isn’t as durable as it could be.
This is an affordable mid-range option, not quite as good as Petzl but still reasonable quality for its price.
Now that you’ve seen the list…
What Makes a Headlamp Worthy of Your Trail Runs?
There a few things to consider when making your choice, the most important being brightness, or the number of lumens that the lamp provides.
However, the lumens are only as good as the beam distance. If the headlamp only provides a wide beam but can’t focus the light far enough into the distance then you might be limited in how fast you can run.
Other things to consider are:
How securely the strap fits around your head to avoid slipping or bouncing
Rechargeable batteries versus regular batteries
Red light option
Ease of controls
Options for spot versus flood style lighting
How Many Lumens do I Need for a Trail Running Headlamp?
This is a matter of preference and depends how fast you run (the faster the run, the brighter your head torch needs to be as you need to see further into the distance).
But, 200 lumens is a safe starting point.
Unfortunately, the brighter the light, the quicker the batteries will run out, so if you need your headlamp to last you through a longer run, you might need to choose a lower setting.
Similarly, you’ll need to choose whether seeing far into the distance or having a good spread of light immediately in front of you is your priority.
200 lumens will vary in beam distance depending on whether you choose a focused or wide beam.
What is the Brightest Headlamp for Trail Running?
The Fenix HL60R is the brightest headlamp on this list. There are brighter headlamps out there, but they’ll likely be too heavy and cumbersome to run with.
Past a certain point, brighter isn’t necessarily better.
Most of the headlamps on this list sit around the 300-350 lumen mark, and that’s because this level of brightness provides the best battery life to performance ratio.
Can I Wear these Headlamps in Rain and Snow?
Yes! All headlamps recommended for trail running come with at least an IPX4 rating which means they should cope with getting rained on.
What About the Straps?
Having an over-head strap is a massive plus for trail running. But, oddly enough, not many headlamps actually offer this strap configuration.
All should be wide (with the exception of the Nao), comfortable and adjustable enough to get a good fit.
Battery Life and the Rechargeable Debate
Obviously the longer the battery life, the better. That, we can agree on.
But there is debate surrounding rechargeable versus regular batteries.
The environmentalist in me will always be in favor of rechargeable over regular batteries. But, I get that having a rechargeable battery go flat on you in the middle of a long run is obviously a down buzz.
Provided you always remember to recharge before your run, this shouldn’t be a problem. And, Petzl’s hybrid headlamps also allow you to swap out the rechargeable with regular batteries so you can carry spares for emergencies.
At the very least, if you choose a headlamp that takes regular batteries, choose rechargeable alternatives like these guys (link to Amazon.com) and get a little charger (link to Amazon.com) to go with. Easy.
Why is There a Red Light on My Headlamp?
On some headlamps, especially those designed specifically for trail running, the red light at the back of the head strap is for safety purposes so that you can be seen by other runners or traffic.
If the red light is an alternative to the white light at the front, however, this is for night vision.
Using a red light means that you don’t have to wait for your eyes to adjust before looking away into an unlit area. It’s a much lower intensity light that will allow you to see without lighting everything up with artificial daylight.
Buttons Buttons Buttons!
The main take away on the controls is to read the instructions that come with the headlamp first.
Most headlamps come with one button that gets pressed for different amounts of time depending on what kind of light you want, and you often have to scroll through a few different options before you get to the one you want.
Yes, you’ll probably get there eventually by playing around, but you’ll figure it out more quickly if you read the instructions!
And sometimes there’s a lock to override to make sure your headlamp doesn’t turn on by itself in your bag and drain the battery.
Hopefully, that answers all of your questions!
While you’re here, are you on the hunt for any other trail running gear we can help you with?
Aside from your feet, maybe your wrist needs some attention? That’s right, we have an article for that, letting in you in on all the best GPS running watches so you can track your stats and know exactly where you are with your run at any time of day!
In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed being introduced to the best headlamps for trail running and good luck with your upcoming night runs!
Any of the choices on this list will effortlessly light up your path for some exhilarating twilight trail runs.
But if you’d like to be kept in the loop with more awesome gear reviews, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and save time researching your next purchase.
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Michael is a fitness expert and professional home/garage gym builder. His tutorials, guides, and reviews are backed up by his own experience and will definitely help you achieve your goals. He also loves putting mayo AND ketchup on the pizza for some reason!