Sure, you might not need a headlamp for hunting if you’re returning to your family’s farm where you could probably find the same stand you hunt every year in your sleep. But if you’ve ever hunted a new property or a piece of public that you’ve only seen on your phone or computer screen, then you know the actual ground might not be as clean as those aerial maps led you to believe. And if you’ve ever stumbled your way through thick brush in the dark, then you know how critical headlamps are to your hunting gear.
No matter what you’re hunting, it almost always requires you to enter or exit the woods in the dark. So, whether you’re trying to sneak through the woods during turkey season, cross a creek on the way to your deer stand, or have an hours-long hike back to basecamp during elk season, the best headlamps for hunting should make navigating terrain in the dark (and your hunting experience) that much easier.
How I Tested Headlamps
For this review, I started with headlamps from some of the most well-known brands, and then considered factors, such as lumens, light color options, battery life/type, and availability. Of the headlamps tested, I compared the intensity and tightness of their beams to a target at 30 yards, since distances less than this weren’t very distinguishable.
After this, I replaced the batteries (for the non-rechargeable options) and recharged the headlamps fully. Then, I turned all the headlamps on their max brightness levels and left them in my garage—I checked the headlamps at 30-minute intervals throughout the day to monitor when a headlamp dimmed or died completely. For headlamps that lasted longer than 24 hours, I turned these off during the night and back on when I woke up the next day. When a rechargeable headlamp died, I then recharged it fully to see how long the recharge actually required compared to the manufacturer’s description. And for the headlamps (Black Diamond and Petzl) with other light color options (red, green, and blue), I compared the brightness of these on their highest and lowest settings.
- Lumens: 500
- Lights: White, red, green, blue, strobe LED
- Max beam distance: 120 meters
- Max run time on high: 7 hours
- Tested total run time: 26 hours
- Full recharge time: 2 hours
- Dual switch controls and beams
- IP67 Submersible
- Battery meter
Why It Made the Cut
The Black Diamond Storm 500R produced a max beam for the longest time and had the second-shortest recharge time (two hours) out of all the tested models.
- Long max beam duration
- Rugged design
- Fast recharge
- Intuitive operation
- Excellent battery life
- Headband isn’t the tightest of the list
The Black Diamond Storm 500R excelled in max battery life, max beam duration, and total recharge time, which made it an obvious choice for best overall. Black Diamond claims that this headlamp will run for 20 hours on reserve, but I actually found this one to run for 26 hours, which was a nice surprise. And the max beam duration of seven hours was the greatest by a long shot (the next closest only lasted 3 hours). And recharge time, from stone dead to full charge, required just shy of 2 hours.
The Storm 500R also includes a dual LED beam option and red, green, and blue night vision lights. And the intuitive, two-button controls make it easy to run through the settings. Not to mention, the Brightness Memory allows you to turn the headlamp on and off without reverting to the default setting. Next to the Surefire Maximus, this beam produced the brightest and most focused beam at 30 yards.
While the slim headband makes it easy to adjust the fitting, this also makes it easy to loosen while in use, and I had to readjust the strap when I used this lamp during hunting season. The price tag might seem a little steep, but for a rechargeable headlamp that’ll take whatever you can throw at it, you’ll save money that you would spend running through two to three cheaper options.
- Lumens: 350
- Lights: White, red, blue, green, strobe
- Max beam distance: 90 meters
- Max run time on high: 2 hours
- Tested total run time: 36+ hours
- Single switch controls
- Batteries: Three Duracell AAA
- Rechargeable pack (separate)
- IPX4 (weather resistant)
Why It Made the Cut
The Petzl Tactikka +RGB had the longest total run time out of all the headlamps tested, and its multiple lighting options make it a great headlamp for hunting.
- Super long battery life
- Great beam distance
- Secure head strap
- Cool color options
- Short max power duration
- Rechargeable pack sold separately
Before this test, I used the Petzl Tactikka +RGB as my go-to headlamp during hunting season. The single button controls make it easy to navigate the headlamp’s settings, which have three for the main white beam (proximity, movement, and distance) and red, green, and blue night vision options. Out of all the headlamps tested, this one had the longest total run time for a duration of 36+ hours with three OEM Duracell AAA batteries (I finally turned the headlamp off after three days). Though Petzl claims the max brightness lasts two hours, this one dimmed after only an hour. However, even though the Tactikka +RGB has 150 less lumens than the Storm 500R, this beam had almost the same amount of brightness and constriction at 30 yards as the Storm 500R.
While this Petzl makes a great hunting headlamp option, I’d like to see this as a rechargeable option (that’s already included). Especially considering that the optional CORE pack runs just south of $30, and at that price you can buy the Storm 500R, have 150 extra lumens, and save almost $20. But if total battery life is your main priority, or you’re hunting in the backcountry without a power source, the Tactikka +RGB is the way to go.
- Lumens: 300
- Lights: White, red, strobe
- Max beam distance: 75 meters
- Max run time on high: 4.25 hours
- Single switch controls
- Batteries: Three AAA
- IPX8 Rating
Why It Made the Cut
The Cosmo 300 has similar features and capabilities as Black Diamond’s higher-end models at less than half the price.
- Budget friendly
- Performs better than most at this price point
- Great runtime for price
If you’re looking for a headlamp on a budget, the Cosmo 300 stands alone when compared to others at this price point. Like Black Diamond’s other headlamps, this one has similar capabilities at less than half the price of their high-end options. I didn’t include this one in the function test because I hunted with one for a few years during college before upgrading to the Tacktikka +RGB, so I’ve had a bit more experience with this one.
The 300 lumens feels brighter than it is, and the red option works great when you’re trying to keep a low profile in the woods during deer season. This isn’t a rechargeable option, so when the batteries finally die, you’ll have to replace them. However, it’s worth noting that I made it through multiple hunting seasons before having to change them. And honestly, I’d probably still be using this headlamp if I hadn’t been gifted the Petzl. So, if you’re looking to save a few bucks and get the job done, the Cosmo 300 will far exceed your expectations.
- Lumens: Adjusts from 1-1000
- Lights: White LED
- Max beam distance: 0-128 meters
- Max runtime on high: 1 hour
- Tested total run time: 7 hours
- Full recharge time: 1 hour
- Adjustable output knob
- S.O.S emergency beacon
- Lighted battery gauge
- IPX4 Rating
Why It Made the Cut
If lumens are your priority, the SureFire Maximus has more than enough to get you to and from the woods during hunting season.
- Super bright
- Rugged, durable design
- Light housing rotates 90 degrees
- Wide range of brightness adjustability
- Super expensive
- Only one light color
While this might be a little overkill and tactical for a hunting headlamp, the SureFire Maximus makes an excellent, durable option, especially if you want one that’s built to last. The Maximus, which boasts a whopping 1000 lumens, produced the brightest beam out of all the headlamps tested, but because it’s not necessarily designed for hunting, it casts a much wider beam than the other products in my test. But still, at 30 yards, the Maximus outshined (no pun intended) the other headlamps by a mile.
The Maximus did have the shortest runtime (1 hour) on high, but that’s understandable since the headlamp asks one rechargeable lithium-ion battery to put out that much juice. But the range of adjustability with this headlamp’s brightness (1-1000 lumens), allows you to run it at low or even half power for much longer. The two biggest drawbacks with this headlamp are the lack of color lights and the price tag. While color lights might not be an issue for most other applications, they’re often necessary for hunting when you need to slip in undetected in the dark. And for around $300, you might find it pretty hard to drop that kind of cash on a headlamp. But if you want one that’ll probably outlive you and can endure whatever you and the outdoors throw at it, the Maximus fits the bill.
- Lumens: 200 with AA, 330 with 1450 lithium rechargeable battery
- Lights: LED spot and COB flood
- Max beam distance: 55 meters
- Max runtime on high: 1 hour, 3 minutes
- Tested total run time (both lights on): 2 hours
- Mounting system
- Removable from headband
- Integrated pocket clip
- ANSI FL1 rating
Why It Made the Cut
The dual spot and flood lights and its optional mounting capabilities make the 5.11 Rapid 1AA headlamp the most versatile out of all the options tested.
- Easy to remove from headband
- Rotates 180 degrees
- Reasonable price
- Only requires one battery
- Makes a great EDC light
- Comes out of the headband a little too easy
- No color lights
Like the Surefire Maximus, the 5.11 Rapid 1AA is designed as a tactical light, but the qualities that make them the best tactical lights are also make them the best headlamps for hunting. The Rapid 1AA functions similarly. During the test, I ran the 5.11 with both the spot and flood lights on, and it ran for two hours before drastically dimming, and it strobed after three hours. This continued until it completely died after 16 hours, which is impressive for a single AA (Duracell) battery. At 30 yards, the Rapid 1AA had the lowest beam production out of all the tested lights, though it wasn’t far behind the Petzl Tactikka +RGB, but it still produced a decent light.
While it fared well in the test, the Rapid 1AA’s versatility makes it an excellent option for those who want a do-it-all light. The mounting system allows you to easily remove this light if you need to take a more precise inspection of something. And the integrated pocket clip and minimalist design make this one of the best flashlights for EDC. Other than the Cosmo 300, this headlamp also had one of the most reasonable prices. If you like getting tons of economy out of all your equipment, this headlamp will give you plenty of use whether you’re in the woods, the campsite, or your garage.
- Lumens: 200
- Lights: white spot and flood, red or green LED(non USB option)
- Max beam distance: 95 meters
- Max runtime on high: 6 hours
- Batteries: 3 AAA
- Memory mode
- Single switch controls
- IPX4 rating
Why It Made the Cut
The Enduro Pro is comparable to the Cosmo 300, and if it weren’t for the difference in brightness and overall durability, this one would have made the best budget pick.
- Budget friendly
- Decent brightness
- Also available in a rechargeable model
- Not as durable as others on this list
While the Cosmo 300 just beats out the Enduro Pro for the best budget pick, I wanted to include this as another great budget headlamp option. At less than $20 (non USB model), good luck finding a better option. I’ve had multiple Streamlight products in the past, from EDC flashlights to gun-mounted light/laser combos, and I’m always impressed with how well they function.
The Enduro Pro, with 200 lumens, has enough brightness to get you where you need to go in the dark. And like other headlamps at this price point, it only has one other colored light. However, depending on which color headlamp you buy, you get either a red or green night vision option. The yellow/black option comes with the red light, while the tan/black headlamp uses the green light. But the rechargeable USB doesn’t offer other light color options. Unlike the Cosmo 300 that appears brighter than its rating, the Enduro Pro won’t surprise you here but for the price point, that’s to be expected. While I would spend the extra $5-$10 for the Cosmo 300, if you’re counting every single penny, the Enduro Pro makes another great budget option, and I’d feel confident with this light in my pack.
Q: What should I look for in a headlamp?
When you’re buying a headlamp, you should look for max brightness, light color options, battery type, and max run time. While the brightness you need will depend on your specific hunting situation, it’s a good idea to have a headlamp that has either multiple or adjustable brightness settings, so you can adjust it to fit your needs. You also want your headlamp to have other light color options, such as green, red, or even blue. These lights allow you to see without putting on the same intensity as your headlamp’s white spotlight. And these are especially useful if you’re trying to get close to where deer or other game are bedded.
While battery type might not seem as important, if you’ve ever ran out of juice in the middle of nowhere and the closest store to you only has AA or AAA batteries, you’re in for a rude awakening. Most headlamps run on these batteries, so this shouldn’t be as big of an issue if you keep extra batteries in your pack. And if you have a rechargeable headlamp, then you don’t have to worry about packing extra batteries or keeping them in stock. Though, you’ll need a power source or bank depending on where you’re hunting.
Finally, you definitely need to consider your headlamps max run time. While most manufacturers list a max run time, these can vary drastically one way or the other, as I learned through this test. If you‘re mainly hunting on day trips or close to your home, this might not be an issue. But if you’re hunting in the backcountry or where power comes at a premium, it’s a good idea to know your headlamp’s capabilities before you use it in the field. While you don’t necessarily have to drain your headlamp until it’s completely dead, you can run it until it reaches the manufacturer’s suggestion to see how it performs.
Q: How many lumens do you need for hunting?
Your specific hunting situation will depend on how many lumens you need. For instance, if you just need a headlamp to make sure you’re not snapping any sticks on the way to your deer stand, then you could technically get by with as low as one lumen or less. In fact, most colored lights run less than one lumen. However, if you’re navigating unfamiliar, wooded terrain in the dark, especially for the first time, you’ll probably want something with a bit more juice. Even then, you can maneuver just fine with less than 100 lumens, and if you’re in the timber, brighter lights can even reflect off trees, creating shadows and impairing how far you can actually see. But if you’re covering lots of open terrain or need to find a viable place to cross on a long narrow creek, having a beam with 500 lumens can make things a lot easier and eliminate any unwanted surprises.
Q: What is the best light for deer hunting?
The best light for deer hunting (both brand and light in my opinion) is the Black Diamond Storm 500R on the red light setting. Not only did the Storm 500R perform the best in this test, it’s also the best hunting light I’ve used in the field as well. The max brightness and battery life are incredible and more than enough for most hunting situations, let alone deer hunting. The red light option also tends to be the best light color for deer hunting, because it has the lowest intensity of all the color options. While research shows that deer can’t necessarily differentiate between what color lights you use, they do see light intensity, which makes red the best option.
How to Choose a Headlamp for Hunting
Consider what type of hunting you typically do: what species you’re pursuing, whether you’re hunting on short day trips or weeklong hunts in the backcountry, and how close you plan to get near bedded or roosted game. If you’re hunting deep in the backcountry, like most of your equipment, you’ll want a durable and dependable headlamp, which might mean shelling out a decent amount of cash. But if you’re just trying not to sound like a herd of cows running through the woods before first light on the way to your treestand, any headband with a light strapped to it will probably fit the bill. Honestly, your phone light works just fine (I’ve done this in a pinch). However, if you do a lot of different hunting, investing in a good headlamp that has multiple light options is a good piece of gear just like the best hunting backpacks.
The best headlamps for hunting don’t have to let the entire woods know that you’ve just entered them. Find one that suits your specific needs and buy a few extra batteries or chargers. Just in case.