The best rechargeable headlamps of 2023
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Headlamps may not get the same kind of attention as the latest and greatest flashlights, but they’re just as useful. In fact, headlamps are invaluable tools for when the lights go out, or you’re working in the dark. Ever tried holding a flashlight in one hand and trying to change a lightbulb with the other? Chances are you wished you had a headlamp. 1Lumen has reviewed lots and lots of headlamps, but below are our picks for the best rechargeable headlamps.
Some of the contenders:
Chances are you’ve probably been in a situation where you’ve found yourself struggling in the dark with a flashlight in one hand trying to get something done. Until someone finds a way to add a third arm to the human body, what’s the alternative? How about a headlamp? If you spend your nights hiking, biking, camping, or fishing, or work in dark places where you need both hands free, you know how valuable good visibility is. This is why headlamps are so extremely handy. They let you keep your eyes on the task at hand while also giving you enough light to see where you’re going.
However, not all headlamps are created equal. The best headlamps are bright, have a great beam, are water resistant, and have a long-lasting battery. The issue is even with high capacity batteries will eventually need to be recharged, and ain’t nobody got time to mess with changing batteries! After testing a variety of headlamps, we’ve identified the top rechargeable headlamps for you, so read on to learn more about our top picks. For even more information, check out the review link to each headlamp in the description.
To see the list of headlamps we reviewed, check here: https://1lumen.com/tag/headlamps/
The best Micro USB rechargeable headlamps
Micro USB is the successor to the huge Mini USB connector, and for many years, flashlight manufacturers used Micro USB connectors for charging. Despite the drawbacks of the Micro USB connector (it’s flimsy, doesn’t hold up well, it’s not reversible, and supports a lower charge current), and the move towards the future-proof USB type C connector, there are still some headlamps in circulation utilizing it for charging. Here’s a few of them.
(If waterproofness and connector-less charging is paramount, be sure to check out the magnetic charging solutions below).
Micro USB headlamp with 18350 battery
Armytek Elf C1
|Plenty bright with 966 lumens at turn on||Battery capacity is low (that’s why it’s so lightweight)|
|Smooth and even beam||Micro USB port is a little outdated|
|Easy to use User Interface||–|
|Includes a lithium-ion 18350 battery with 900mAh||–|
|Firefly mode could last for many days or weeks||–|
|Can also be used without the headband||–|
Armytek is well known for making durable flashlights with good drivers. Their tactical lights have been around for over a decade and I’m sure they last that long too. Unlike most other manufacturers they don’t seem to be chasing lumens that only last a few seconds, but refining their existing products.
Armytek has two Elf models, the Elf C1 (this one) and Armytek Elf C2. The C1 uses the 18350 li-ion battery and the C2 uses the larger 18650 size cell. Many of them also come in “white” and “warm” LED tints as well. I picked the warm version, which gives up just a few lumens for subjectively nicer beam quality.
The tailcap includes a magnet that easily holds the weight of the flashlight in any direction, and it has a lanyard attachment as well, so you can use it like a normal flashlight.
Previous versions of the Elf came with a CREE XP-L emitter but Armytek has switched to using a Samsung LH351D. This gives a few more lumens combined with much higher CRI.
Best best USB-C rechargeable headlamps
USB-C isn’t only used for computers, laptops, and smartphones, it’s now also used for charging headlamps and flashlights and has mostly replaced Micro USB (thankfully).
USB-C uses a reversible connector so it can be plugged in in either direction. This makes it more robust and durable than Micro USB, which uses a small, flimsy directional connector.
One of the biggest advantages of using USB-C is the power delivery. Micro USB can only deliver up to 15 watts of power, but USB C PD can deliver up to 100 watts. This means that a headlamp can charge much faster, but most headlamps with USB-C connectors still charge at 5 volts and 2 amps.
|A LOT of headlamp for the price||No moonlight mode (output below 1 lm)|
|Comfortable head strap||–|
|Good range of included accessories||–|
|Low voltage protection (to protect the battery)||–|
|Only 104 grams with 18650 battery||–|
The Sofirn HS40 will eventually replace the older, but still great, SP40 (check out our review of the SP40 here: Sofirn SP40). While the HS40 retains all the features that made the SP40 a great headlamp, the HS40 includes some very nice upgrades including 2 amp USB type C charging, a nice output boost to 2000 Lumens from the Luminus SST40, 2-position pocket clip, and a new user interface featuring stepless ramping in addition to stepped ramping.
USB-C headlamp with 18650 battery:
Nitecore HC65 v2
|Normal beam and High CRI LED||Need to get used to the user interface|
|Includes 18650 battery||The USB port cover is a little tricky to screw back|
|USB-C charging (NO PD)||The switch can be a bit difficult to find with gloves|
|Red light available for extra safety||–|
|Max beam distance over 180 meters/yards||–|
|Battery voltage indicator||–|
Nitecore has a nice lineup of headlamps and flashlights, including some L-shaped (right angle) and T-shape headlamps like this. The HC65 v2 features an (as tested) 1750 lumen output that was easily achievable at turn on. After 30 seconds it’s still at 1716 lumens, but after 20 minutes, it’s down to 620 lumens. This is quite normal for a headlamp.
The total runtime in Turbo mode is 2 hours and 5 minutes, but the light will continue running for 2 more hours at low output. And the lowest mode runs for 31 hours and 29 minutes at roughly 54 minutes. Overall very impressive performance.
Charging is done via a USB-A to USB-C cable, and also works with a USB-C to USB-C cable. Unfortunately, the Nitecore doesn’t support PD charging, so there are no charge speed benefits with a USB-C to USB-C cable.
Best headlamps with magnetic charging
Although most headlamps employ USB type C charging, some ditch the port all together, and go magnetic. Olight has been doing this for years on its flashlights, and some Brynite flashlights use it also. Magnetic charging has a few advantages over Micro USB or USB-C, and is right at home with headlamps since it increases water resistance. It also eliminates potential failure points in the charge port cover and type C connector. There is one drawback with magnetic charging though, namely proprietary magnetic connectors and cables and a cap on charging current. Below are some of our picks for headlamps with magnetic charging.
Standard 21700 battery
Armytek Wizard C2 PRO MAX
|It has 2 different UIs||The user interface is a little difficult to understand at first|
|Very bright: about 3500 lumens at turn on||Beam is very wide, and doesn’t reach too far|
|Very smooth beam because of the honeycomb optics|
|A high capacity 21700 battery is included|
|100+ meters / yards of throw distance in Turbo 2|
|Includes many accessories|
I wasn’t a big fan of the UI at first, but after using it for a while, it grew on me. The Advanced mode menu is really cool (if you figure it out) since it gives you 3 output menus. You get a Firefly mode group with 3 outputs, a Main mode group with 3 outputs, and a Turbo mode group with 2 outputs.
If you like blinky modes, you even get a special group for that one as well.
We tested the Armytek at 3,500 lumens, which is about 500 lumens less than Armytek claims, but it’s still extremely bright for a headlamp, but the brightness is short-lived.
Proprietary 21700 battery
Olight Perun 2
|Max output of 2,500 lumens (we measured 2,700)||Only 1 LED option available (no warm white etc)|
|Great sustained outputs (Medium straight for 19 hours)||Little bit big (due to the battery type)|
|Beam distance up to 183 meters / 200 yards|
|Easy to use UI|
|Great build quality|
It’s no secret that Olight makes great flashlights with very nice, well regulated drivers. That means that they stay at a higher output throughout their battery life than most of their competitors.
The Perun 2 is yet another great Olight. Below are some excerpts taken from our review. If you want to know all the details check out the full review here: https://1lumen.com/review/olight-perun-2/
Overall, the headband configuration works well as long as you’re comfortable with right-angle lights where the LED is positioned on one end of the light versus being centered. Right-angle lights tend to work better for medium to far-distance tasks. Like every Olight I’ve ever held, the Perun 2 feels really solid and well built. The machining is very clean and everything feels thought out and well executed. Good attention to quality.
The Perun 2 is on this list because it has a proprietary magnetic charging port on the tail and uses Olight’s MCC3 charging solution. It’s capable of up to 2 amps charge current for the included ORB-217C40A battery. In addition, the Perun 2 also accepts non-Olight cells, but will lack the built-in charging feature. Also, they should be long, protected batteries, because unprotected cells were too short.
Magnetic Charging Headlamp with 16340 battery
Brinyte HL16 Noctua
|Swiveling head rotates 180 degrees||Review light had quality control issues|
|Magnetic charging||Beam has a tint shift|
|Small and lightweight||Little expensive|
|Bright for its size|
|TIR optic and Cree XP-G3 LED|
The Brinyte HL16 Noctua is a very innovative right-angle flashlight that does double-duty as a headlamp. With a magnetic tailcap and a head that can rotate 180 degrees horizontally, it bumps the versatility factor up quite a bit. It uses a 16340 battery (included), but can also use a CR123A primary cell in a pinch. It’s really bright for its size thanks to an efficient Cree XP-G3 LED and TIR optic.
Best rechargeable headlamp for backpacking and tracking
|Can use a the included Nitecore HLB1300 li-ion battery or 3 x AAA batteries||Tilt a bit 1 way when mounted in head strap|
|Up to 520 Lumens||Battery door hinges are a bit weak|
|Weighs under 3 ounces with batteries|
|Floodlight, spotlight, or red LED|
|No output loss on AAA vs. li-ion batteries|
The Nitecore UT27 is a very unique headlamp that is both lightweight (2.6 ounces, 74 grams) and relatively high output for a small headlamp. It’s great for long trips, hiking, running, or camping due to the lightweight design and capability to run on the included (Nitecore actually includes two) HLB1300 li-ion batteries or AAA Alkaline or NiMH batteries. This is a great feature for long outdoor excursions because when your li-ions go flat and you can’t recharge them, you can easily swap them for AAAs. Moreover, there’s no output loss with NiMH batteries like with some other headlamps. The LEDs are Cree XP-G3 behind TIR optics for the flood and spotlight, and a single red LED for low-light use. The spotlight LED is a warmer tint (3000K) and the flood LED is a cooler white tint (5700K). Using a warm tint for the spotlight LED is meant to prevent the light from being refracted/reflected and completely washing out the field of view, which is critical if using the UT27 in fog, snow, or rain.
Wrapping Up: What’s important
Some of the things that you need to consider are the charge speed and the total time of charging. The smaller the battery, the faster the battery can be recharged. However, that’s not always the case.
In some cases, the charge speed is purposely reduced to be easier on the battery to ensure longevity and reliability. A safe charge speed is usually at 50%-100% of the capacity of the battery. For example: if the battery is 1000mAh, it’s safe to charge at 500mA, up to 1000mA. It’s still preferred to go for 50% (or .5C in charging terms) over 100% (1C in charging terms) charge speed.
A lithium-ion battery’s life is shortened by charging it at high speeds (read above 100% of the capacity).
Micro USB can usually provide a charge current of up to 2 amps, with a few exceptions. USB-C to USB-C can often provide higher charge speeds, which will reduce the charging time drastically. If you are using high capacity batteries, this could be something important.
In my opinion, it’s more important to have a spare battery at hand than fast charging.
The higher capacity of the battery, the longer the battery life. However bigger batteries come with a disadvantage: weight.
Here’s a quick overview of the highest capacity per battery type that are currently available. By the way, baby aware of any batteries with a higher capacity than the following, they are fake (and sometimes dangerous).
NiMH rechargeable batteries:
- AA battery: 2500mAh
- AAA battery: 950mAh
Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries:
- 16340 battery: 850mAh
- 14500 battery: 1100mAh
- 18350 battery: 1400mAh
- 18650 battery: 3500mAh
- 21700 battery: 5100mAh
There are also other battery types like 26650 and 26800, but those are rarely if ever, used in headlamps.
You can see from the list, that a headlamp with a 21700 battery can have about 3 times the capacity of a 18350 headlamp, or 5 times a 14500 type headlamp. So the bigger the battery, the higher the capacity.
It’s also important to note, that the smaller the battery, the lower current it can provide. Note that battery capacity is not equal to power (watts). High discharge batteries can provide more current and hold higher v0ltage under load at the same time, which makes the headlamp brighter.However, the highest discharge batteries are usually not the ones with the most capacity. If you look for the highest output rechargeable headlamp, look for the type of battery the manufacturer provides. If they don’t provide one, check our guide of the best batteries for flashlights you can get.
In most cases, however, flashlight manufacturers provide a good quality cell with the headlamp. Nitecore, Olight, Fenix, and Armytek are manufacturers who provide high-quality batteries with a good combination of capacity and discharge characteristics. Most of these batteries are also covered by a warranty.
Proprietary battery vs standard battery
Some manufacturers include a proprietary battery with their headlamps, just like camera manufacturers do with their cameras.
When you ask them why, they usually respond with the following: safety, warranty, and guaranteed performance.
Having a proprietary battery has some benefits and some disadvantages at the same time. Before you buy a headlamp with a proprietary battery, here are some helpful points to consider:
- Guaranteed to meet manufacturer performance specs
- Ensures compatibility
- Usually includes reverse polarity protection; can only be loaded correctly to turn the light on. Putting it in backwards will not damage the ligh
- Often feature high-quality cells
- Have built-in protection for overcharge and over-discharge
- More expensive than standard batteries
- Restricted to use with only a certain number of headlamps of the same brand
- Can (usually) not be used with other brand headlamps
Who makes the brightest rechargeable headlamp?
Lupine makes some of the brightest rechargeable headlamps on the market. We made a list of the brightest headlamps on the market, so check that out. Currently, the Olight H67 is the brightest that we tested. It performed even better than on paper!