Best Running Headlamps of 2024

If you need a running headlamp, then check out iRunFar’s guide to the best available today.

By , and on April 1, 2024 | Comments
Best Running Headlamps - Prepping for early morning run - lifestyle image

The iRunFar team tested running headlamps on dozens of runs to help you find the right one in this guide. Here, iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks preps for an early morning run. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

When running at night, you want the best running headlamp possible to light your way down the trail. Whether you’re looking for something to keep stashed in your pack for those days you don’t quite make it back to the trailhead before dark or a headlamp that will illuminate every rock and root through a nighttime ultra; there is an abundance of lighting solutions from which to choose. Battery and lighting technology improvements have made headlamps brighter, lighter, and longer lasting. There are options for everything from ultralight headlamps ideal for daily running in the dark to powerful and long-lasting headlamps that will make it easier to move confidently over rugged terrain throughout the night.

Battery life, comfort, and available lumens are all considerations when choosing the right headlamp for your running needs. We’ve scoured the marketplace for the best of the best, and then a small team of iRunFar gear testers took them out for miles upon miles of sunrise, sunset, and nighttime runs. Below, we’ve rounded up our top recommendations for the best headlamps for running.

For more background information, see our buying advice, testing methodology, and frequently asked questions below the picks.

Best Running Headlamps

Best Running Headlamp-Running in the dark-lifestyle image

A bright headlamp can make nighttime running faster and easier. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Best Running Headlamp for Trails: Petzl Iko Core ($105)

Best Running Headlamp-Petzl Iko Core-product photoPros:

  • Comfortable
  • Lightweight
  • Accepts AAA batteries in addition to the included rechargeable battery


  • The battery pack is awkward to change out

The Petzl Iko Core checks all of our boxes for the best headlamp for running with its lighting technology, weight, and comfort. With this headlamp, Petzl refuses to compromise on either lighting or comfort. They nail them both with this headlamp.

This headlamp creates 500 lumens of clean and sharp, cool light with two lighting beam options — flood or mixed — and three lighting levels. The middle setting of 100 lumens was plenty for running at night, but we appreciate the 500-lumen setting for when the trail got technical. We found the silicone band and battery cradle exceptionally comfortable — we couldn’t even feel the LED panel on the front. It folds up for storage, so you can put the headlamp into a pack if you don’t need it anymore. At under 2.5 ounces, the overall package is sufficiently lightweight for a trail runner’s needs.

The only downside with this headlamp is that switching out the battery is difficult. While it’s easy to carry a spare battery on an all-night run, getting it replaced in the dark and while sleep-deprived is challenging.

Be sure to check out our in-depth Petzl Iko Core review.

Actual Weight: 2.4 ounces (68 grams) | Maximum Light Output: 500 lumens | Battery Source(s): 1,250-milliampere-hour Petzl Core lithium-ion rechargeable (included) or three AAA/LR03s (not included)

Shop the Petzl Iko Core

Best Running Headlamp for Trails Runner-Up: Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp ($72)

Best Running Headlamp-Fenix HL18RT Rechargeable Headlamp-product photoPros:

  • Comfortable
  • Easy to change batteries


  • Questionable durability of the headband strings

We have to admit we were skeptical when we saw the Boa-style dial on the headband of the Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp. However, after using it, we had to swallow our doubt and give Fenix props for creating an absolutely comfortable headband that is easy to adjust. The dial on the back allows enough micro-adjustment for literally dialing in the perfect fit. The only more innovative headband out there now is the Petzl Iko Core reviewed above — though we think this Fenix headband is actually more comfortable. Another advantage to this headlamp is that it’s super easy to change the battery on the go — and if you’re out there long enough to need fresh batteries, you need the process to be easy. Additional headlamp features include a 500-lumen lamp with three brightness settings and an option for spotlight or floodlight.

When not in use, you can lock this headlamp so that it doesn’t turn on accidentally. The battery indicator is easy to see so that you can tell how much power you have left in the battery. This headlamp can run off of AAA batteries or the included rechargeable lithium-polymer battery pack. On the very lowest setting, this headlamp will run for about 43 hours, though realistically, you’ll need to have it at its medium or high setting for actual trail running.

While we were initially worried about snapping the dial strings and rendering the headlamp useless in the field, we’ve come to appreciate the click-and-twist headband adjustment. As we’ve racked up early morning and late evening miles with this headlamp, we’ve found no durability issues and discovered this to be a great light.

Actual weight: 3.2 ounces (92 grams) | Maximum light output: 500 lumens | Battery source(s): 1,300-milliampere-hour lithium-polymer rechargeable (included) or three AAA batteries (not included)

Shop the Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp

Best Running Headlamp for Trails Runner-Up: ZebraLight H600d Mk IV 18650 XHP50.2 5000K High CRI Headlamp ($89)

Best Running Headlamp-ZebraLight H600d Mk IV Headlamp-product photoPros:

  • Programmable brightness settings
  • Comfortable headband
  • Batteries are easy to change in the field


  • Heavy for a daily running headlamp
  • Only available for purchase in the U.S.
  • We’d love a shorter and simpler name for this headlamp

Team iRunFar has long been a fan of what ZebraLight does for the lighting industry, and the ZebraLight H600d Mk IV 18650 XHP50.2 5000K High CRI Headlamp is another example of why we continue keeping an eye on this company. One thing that this brand has long been known for is having a ton of programmable brightness settings in its lights. Although it’s a bit of a commitment to program your headlamp, meaning we’d recommend setting it up at home with the instructions before you’re in the field, the upside is that you’ll get to know your headlamp intimately and eventually program it on the fly.

The headband is simple, soft, and comfortable, and the batteries are easy to swap out on the run, making this headlamp easy to recommend as a daily trail running companion. Just don’t ask us to say its name aloud five times fast.

We found that the battery is a bit more than most people need for a daily trail running headlamp. While we would have considered this headlamp for the ultrarunning category of this guide, it doesn’t have a sweet spot of brightness and run time that works well for a whole night of running on trails. Instead, this headlamp will be incredibly bright for several hours during a pre-dawn or post-dusk run. Unfortunately, if you keep this light at the brightness required to run trails, it will run out of charge before the night is up. If it wasn’t for the weight of this light, we would call it an ideal daily runner.

Actual Weight: 4.6 ounces (129 grams) | Maximum Light Output: 1,616 lumens | Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliampere-hour 18650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (not included)

Shop the ZebraLight H600d Mk IV 18650 XHP50.2 5000K High CRI Headlamp

Best Headlamp for Ultrarunning: Petzl Nao RL ($180)

Best Running Headlamp-Petzl Nao RL-product photoPros:

  • Reactive Lighting system automatically adapts to changing light conditions
  • The battery will last through the night
  • Relatively easy to change out the battery


  • Not our top choice for comfort
  • Pricey

The Petzl Nao RL is the highly anticipated updated version of the Nao+,  which has been the go-to ultrarunning headlamp for a half-decade.

As with its predecessor, this headlamp has a lot going on. First and foremost is its lighting, which comes in both regular and Reactive Lighting options. The latter setting adapts to ambient light by growing dimmer when it’s lighter and brighter when it gets dark. This can extend battery life by dimming the bulb when there’s enough ambient light around to not need full lighting.

This light has a red light in the back to keep you visible to approaching cars or other runners. It can illuminate as a solid red light or a strobe, and you can control it independently from the front light. The reflective headband also increases your visibility to others. This makes it a great choice not just for trail runners but for people who regularly run on streets where nighttime visibility is paramount for safety.

When it comes to the battery, the whole package is not ultralight, but one battery will give you an entire night of decently lit trail running. We can say from experience that it’s probably worth the 4 a.m. battery switch-out to make the last hour or so of darkness a little brighter. On that note, switching batteries in the field is a relatively easy, two-step process.

This headlamp does have a couple of downsides. Its comfort is not amazing, especially if you have your hair in a ponytail. We recommend a buff or backward cap under it for a full night of running. Also, it’s expensive. But if you’re looking for a headlamp with Reactive Lighting or one that you can trust for all-night runs, this is our favorite option.

Be sure to check out our in-depth Petzl Nao RL review.

Actual Weight: 5.2 ounces (146 grams) | Maximum Light Output: 1,500 lumens | Battery Source(s): 3,200-milliampere-hour lithium-ion rechargeable (included)

Shop the Petzl Nao RL

Best Headlamp for Ultrarunning Runner-Up: Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra ($110)

Best Running Headlamp-Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra-product photoPros:

  • Multiple options for carrying a battery pack
  • Option for combined flood and spotlighting


  • The headband is stiff at first and requires breaking in

If you want the best running headlamp for all-night efforts but don’t like carrying all that battery weight and bulk on your head, the Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra headlamp is for you. Its battery pack can be carried either on the back of the head or in your hydration vest using the included extra-long cord.

Silva is doing cool things with the quality of its lighting, offering a mix of both flood lighting and long-throw spotlighting in one beam — what they call Intelligent Light — without compromising much on the battery runtime. This setting gives a little extra peripheral vision at night. While we’re mostly looking straight ahead when running, this peripheral lighting seems to ease eye strain over a long night of use, as your eyes don’t have to keep adjusting to the quick changes in direction that a long-throw light will make with a simple 10-degree head tilt.

This isn’t our favorite headband, and we were surprised by its stiffness, given the brand’s work in making the battery pack movable for increased comfort. That said, using it makes it less stiff, so give it a solid break-in period before judging its comfort.

Actual Weight: 5.4 ounces (153 grams) | Maximum Light Output: 400 lumens | Battery Source(s): 4,000-milliampere-hour hour rechargeable (included) or three AAAs (not included)

Shop the Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra

Best Headlamp for Ultrarunning Runner-Up: Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp ($132)

Best Running Headlamp-Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp-product photoPros:

  • Multiple lighting options with a maximum of 1,400 lumens
  • Long battery run time (maximum 280 hours)
  • A reasonable price for what you get


  • Heavier than comparable running headlamps
  • Both the light and the battery are in the front

The Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp is a feature-filled package and an excellent headlamp for ultrarunning. The headlamp includes spotlight and floodlight modes that can be operated individually or combined for a maximum of 1,400 lumens of light, making it one of the brightest lights on our list. With a powerful 2,600-milliampere-hour 18650 lithium-ion rechargeable battery and three lighting options in both the floodlight and spotlight settings, this headlamp offers plenty of light for either a whole night of super brightly lit running or two nights with decent lighting without having to charge or change the battery.

Both the lights and the battery are stored on the front of the headlamp, which means a lot is going on up front, and you’ll want to wear a layer, like a folded neck gaiter or beanie, underneath it for all-night comfort. While it may look like you’re carrying a small alien on your forehead when you wear it, you’ll have a super high-quality headlamp made for being out for as long as your legs will carry you. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to worry about a headlamp dying in the middle of the night, the drawbacks of this light are easily outweighed by its performance and battery.

Actual Weight: 5.2 ounces (146 grams) | Maximum Light Output: 1,400 lumens | Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliampere-hour 18650 lithium-ion rechargeable (included) or two CR123As (not included)

Shop the Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp

Best Waistlight for Trail Running and Ultrarunning: UltrAspire Lumen 600 4.0 Waist Light ($160)

Best Running Headlamps - UltrAspire Lumen 600 4.0 Waist Light - product photoPros:

  • Comfortable fit across the belly
  • The best option if you don’t like wearing a light on your head
  • Easy to change batteries in the field


  • Heavy
  • Bulky

Some people find that a waist-worn light gives them better depth perception on nighttime trails, while others simply dislike having a light attached to their head while running at night, and some people like having both a waistlamp and a headlamp to maximize their vision at night. When conditions or your preferences call for putting a light on your waist, we recommend the UltrAspire Lumen 600 4.0 Waist Light. While our team is currently testing this new version, we put the previous version of this waistlight, the UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light, through rigorous testing to call it our favorite waistlight. This update only improves on the previous version, changing the aesthetics slightly and adding a USB Type-C charging port for faster charging. While the previous version was a bit heavier, it was super comfortable around the waist, which meant a lot to those of us whose abdomens become sensitive during ultramarathons. It was easy to adjust both the belt and the angle of the light, and the buckle was easy to unclip with tired or cold hands. The light came with a tilt mechanism to adapt the beam on the fly for uphills, downhills, and flats. It was also easy to change this light’s battery in the field. The old and new version of this waistlight has a removable pocket on the belt to store your phone or some snacks or leave it behind if you want to shed a few grams.

The main downside of this system is its weight and bulk. It’s not lightweight, and for those looking to shave grams, this can be a hefty load to bear. Similarly, the waistbelt makes this light bulkier than others when the sun comes up, and you want to stuff it into your hydration vest. However, this could be a great option if your priority is having a powerful waist-worn light to get you through a long night of running.

You can learn more with our in-depth UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light review.

Claimed Weight: 5.1 ounces (145 grams) | Maximum Light Output: 600 lumens | Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliampere-hour 18650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (included)

Shop the UltrAspire Lumen 600 4.0 Waist Light

Best Ultralight Running Headlamp: Nitecore NU25 UL ($37)

Best Running Headlamps - Nitecore NU25 UL - product photoPros:

  • It weighs less than two ounces
  • Great value
  • Good backup headlamp option


  • We don’t love the aesthetic

The Nitecore NU25 UL might be the niftiest little headlamp you didn’t know existed — or that you needed. But if you’re someone who has gotten caught out in the dark during a run that’s gone a little too long and wished you had something other than your phone to light your way back home, you’ll appreciate this little light that you can keep permanently stowed away in your pack. It’s band is reflective, so it adds a little bit of visibility and safety if you’re running on roads in the dark.

This is an upgraded version of the original Nitecore NU25 (hat tip to the thru-hiking community, which has known about this little gem for a long time). In addition to increasing the lumens and the size of the battery, the NU25 UL has a different headband than its predecessor.

Weighing under two ounces, this is a great backup or simple ultralight headlamp if you’re counting grams. It is a powerhouse of light for its weight and is sufficient for a couple of hours of light for trail running, as long as the trail isn’t super technical. The dim settings will allow you to do chores around your fastpacking campsite while consuming almost no battery power.

Our only complaint with this headlamp is its aesthetic. We can hardly ding something so wonderful just on looks. However, it does remind us of a kid’s toy headlamp.

Actual Weight: 1.6 ounces (46 grams) | Maximum Light Output: 400 lumens | Battery Source(s): 650-milliampere-hour lithium-ion rechargeable (included)

Shop the Nitecore NU25 UL

Best Ultralight Running Headlamp Runner-Up: Petzl Bindi ($50)

Best Running Headlamp - Petzl Bindi - Product PhotoPros:

  • Great backup light
  • Ultralight
  • Comfortable


  • Not bright enough for technical trails

The small and sleek Petzl Bindi is a great backup headlamp to keep stashed in your hydration pack or running belt for those times you either forgot your regular light or forgot to charge it. Tiny and compact, this headlamp weighs barely more than an ounce, and it’s so comfortable that you could easily forget you’re wearing it. It’s shaped to fit the forehead and is easily adjustable. The light has three modes and can be tilted up or down to light the trail better ahead. It’s rechargeable via a micro USB port on the side and indicates with a green light when it’s fully charged. For a tiny little light, it has a lot going on.

Of course, the primary downside of the Bindi is that its brightness tops out at 200 lumens, and most runners want more light for extended nighttime running, especially on technical terrain. But as a backup light, it’s hard to beat. It’s also great for digging through your car or hydration vest for spare gloves at the trailhead, keeping in your tent for nighttime bathroom breaks, or similar in-a-pinch uses.

Actual Weight: 1.2 ounces (35 grams) | Maximum Light Output: 200 lumens | Battery Source(s): 680-milliampere-hour lithium-ion rechargeable battery with micro USB port

Shop the Petzl Bindi

Most Ridiculously Bright Running Headlamp We’ve Seen: Nitecore HC35 ($120)

Best Running Headlamp - Nitecore HC35 - product photo


  • Exceptionally bright
  • Easy to change batteries in the field


  • Not comfortable and requires fabric padding underneath
  • Heavy
  • Not a great aesthetic

If you’ve ever wished for a bike light for trail running, then the Nitecore HC35 is your headlamp. This headlamp’s powerful beam pumps out 2,700 lumens for 45 minutes. Impressive as that is, the settings that provide 800 lumens for three hours or 270 lumens for all-night runs are the most practical and grab our attention as runners. It’s easy to change the battery in the field and keep going, and you’ve got a setup for a night of running on a brightly lit trail. The headlamp will also run for 1,200 hours on its ultralow setting, not a practical amount of light for running, but it can help get you off a trail in the dark in desperate situations.

It’s easy to detach the actual headlamp from the strap, so it can double as a hand-held flashlight. The main downside of this headlamp is comfort. Since all the weight sits on your forehead, you need some fabric underneath as padding for extended wear. Finally, the aesthetic differs from most of the other headlamps we tested, and we think it looks pretty alien-like.

Actual Weight: 7.6 ounces (217 grams) | Maximum Light Output: 2,700 lumens | Battery Source(s): 4,000-milliampere-hour 21700-size lithium-ion rechargeable (included), one 18650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (not included), or two CR123As (not included)

Shop the Nitecore HC35

Comparing the Best Running Headlamps

Petzl Iko Core $105 500 lumens 100 meters 9 hours
Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp $72 500 lumens 82 meters 8 hours
ZebraLight H600d Mk IV 18650 XHP50.2 5000K High CRI Headlamp $89 1,616 lumens Not listed 12.5 hours
Petzl Nao RL $180 1,500 lumens 200 meters 5 hours
Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra $110 4oo lumens 75 meters 5 hours
Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp $132 1,400 lumens 163 meters 42 hours
UltrAspire Lumen 600 4.0 Waist Light $160 600 lumens Not listed 10 hours
Nitecore NU25 UL $37 400 lumens 64 meters 5 hours
Petzl Bindi $50 200 lumens 36 meters 3 hours
Nitecore HC35 $120 2,700 lumens 134 meters 8 hours

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Running Headlamp


For many runners, brightness is the top consideration when finding the best running headlamp. However, it’s worth noting that brighter is not necessarily better. We believe there is such a thing as too bright, and we’ve found both too much light and too little light will cause eye strain. Additionally, too much light can blind your fellow trail users.

We believe 200 lumens are plenty for straightforward trail running on developed trails, and 300 lumens will give you great brightness for more rugged trails. It’s nice to have a setting where a headlamp can produce 500 or more lumens — found in the Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp, the Petzl Iko Core, and the Petzl Nao RL — that allows you to look farther for trail signs, course markers, or to see what’s going bump in the night in the surrounding trees.

Type of Light

Headlamps with multiple light settings usually offer two types of lighting — flood and long-throw — or a combination of the two. Floodlighting casts a broad cone of light over a shorter distance and is ideal for digging something out of your pack, reading a map, or setting up camp in the dark. The human eyes can see in about a 100-degree cone in front of the face, and most floodlighting lights up that area. Long-throw light, also called spotlight, will be the most common type of lighting used on the trail. It casts a narrower beam out in front of you, lighting up the trail ahead at the expense of your peripheral vision. Many runners appreciate using both types of lighting at once to help reduce strain on their eyes during the long dark hours of the night.

Having enough light on the trail directly in front will be most important for runners, though having multiple light options is a bonus. Fortunately, most headlamps nowadays offer both types of lighting, and some — like the Petzl Iko Core and Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp — also have a setting that provides both flood and long-throw light simultaneously. This would drain your battery quickly if used all the time but could come in handy if you lose sight of the trail in the dark or are navigating off-trail and need all the help you can get navigating in the dark.

Best Running Headlamp-Fenix HM65R-lifestyle image

The Fenix HM65R is a great ultrarunning headlamp. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Type of Battery

Headlamps generally use rechargeable batteries or AAA or AA batteries. There are a few varieties of rechargeable batteries, including Petzl’s proprietary Core rechargeable battery, the 18650 lithium-ion rechargeable battery found in many of the headlamps above, and other types of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. The commonly used 2,600-milliampere-hour 18650 battery is popular for its reliability, long run time, and ability to be recharged many times—features that are valuable to a trail runner.

Generally, we recommend choosing a headlamp with a rechargeable battery since it’s more efficient, convenient, and better for the environment. Some headlamps, like the Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra, and Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp, come with a rechargeable battery and can run on AA or AAA batteries. This is ideal for situations where you may not have access to an outlet or battery bank to charge your headlamp, such as on an extended backpacking trip.

Battery Life

Battery life is one of the most important considerations when choosing a headlamp. The best running headlamp is the one that won’t die on you unexpectedly. No one wants to be stuck on a ridgeline or descend a steep scree slope with a dead battery — even though it seems like the best of us have been caught out before. For the sake of your ankles, it’s best to choose a headlamp with a long battery life. Some advanced lamps, such as the Petzl Nao RL have Reactive Lighting technology and can sense the available light and adjust the brightness accordingly. This helps to extend battery life while providing enough light for you to see.

Fit and Comfort

As something you’re going to wear on your head, potentially for hours at a time, a headlamp should be comfortable. Pick out a light that has enough padding that it won’t cut into your forehead and is secure enough that you don’t have to crank it down incredibly tight. This can cause headaches and divots in your forehead. You’ll also want a strap that won’t snare your hair and that’s easy to adjust on the move. Some headlamps use a material that is soft and sweat-wicking, while others use minimalistic cord-like structures. Lighter straps may appeal to the gram counters, but they also hold the headlamp less securely, and you may end up with a bouncing beam of light as you run down the trail. If you are using the light in the winter or for a more technical outing, look for one that will be comfortable over a running hat or helmet. The Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp has an incredibly comfortable strap and is easy to wear for long periods.

Best Running Headlamp-Fenix HL18RT displayed in the field-lifestyle image

The Fenix HL18R-T was our pick for a top trail running headlamp because of its lighting, battery features, and innovative and comfortable headband. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi


Whether you’re looking for a headlamp that will always live in your pack as a just-in-case option or one that you can use regularly for morning and evening runs that include running both in the dark and light, you’ll want a headlamp that will store easily in your pack. Headlights with minimalist straps fit the most easily into hydration vest pockets but come with their own set of issues. Even the more robust strap setups, like the one on the Petzl Iko Core, will fold up and fit in a pack. There are situations where you’ll want or need to carry a backup headlamp, like during a long ultra with many hours run at night or during a race that requires a second headlamp as part of mandatory gear kits. The small size and bright light of the Nitecore NU25 UL and Petzl Bindi make them great take-anywhere options, especially if you don’t anticipate having to use them regularly. In general, it’s also a good idea to have a backup light source in your pack whenever you head out into the backcountry.


While weight is arguably one of the less important elements when choosing a headlamp, minimal weight and maximal battery life are optimal. While a few ounces don’t seem like they would matter, weight plays into overall comfort — those added ounces on your head over many hours of concentrating on the trail can add extra strain on your neck. The distribution of the weight on the headlamp is also important. Too much weight on the front of a headlamp can make it uncomfortable for long runs. The Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra allows you to place the battery pack in a hydration vest, which takes the weight off your head.

Why You Should Trust Us

We run far at iRunFar, which often includes running in the dark during 100-mile races, multi-day fastpack adventures, or during pre-dawn or post-dark times. Our testers have experience running on their local trails in the dark and at premiere long-distance races like the Hardrock 100, UTMB, and Tor des Géants, where it’s common for some finishers to endure more than one dark night on the trail.

Best Running Headlamp-UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light - field photo lifestyle image

The UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light is iRunFar’s pick for the best waistlight for running. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Our extensive testing process ensures you get not only the best headlamp for running for your money but also the specific headlamp that fits your needs. As ultra-long distance runs and races have become more mainstream, the everyday runner needs to have a high-quality headlamp. For this guide, we’ve identified both heritage brands and new innovative companies bringing light to the trail, and we put each of the lights above through the paces — testing their durability, versatility, fit, and battery life — to ensure that you won’t be caught in the dark out on the trail.

Unfortunately, we’ve yet to obtain and test the Light of Eärendil, “a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out.” So, keep your batteries charged and a backup light on hand!

Frequently Asked Questions About Running Headlamps

What is a lumen?

Okay, bear with us. The official definition of the lumen is: “International Standard Unit of luminous flux, a measure of the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source per unit of time.” In runner terms, this tells us how bright a headlamp is. The brighter the light, the further you can see onto the trail. The average headlamp maxes out at 300 to 600 lumens. As lumens increase, power usage increases, and battery run time drops, so it’s a fine line between having a bright light that will run long enough and having to carry around a heavy battery on your head.

As runners, we want a headlamp that’s bright enough to light up rocks and other terrain features underfoot, yet we also want enough battery power to last until we get where we’re going — whether that’s back to the trailhead or through the entire night. And we don’t want our headlamps to weigh too much. However, if you want as much light as possible, the Nitecore HC35 has a turbo mode where you can outshine the moon at 2,700 lumens for 45 minutes.

Best Running Headlamp-sunrise mountain running-lifestyle image

Meghan Hicks uses the Petzl Iko Core to light the way on runs that start before dawn. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

How bright should my headlamp be for trail running?

We recommend using a headlamp with 200 to 300 lumens for trail running. If you are on technical terrain, going off trail, or on a trail that’s difficult to follow, you might consider a headlamp with a brighter setting to bump up the brightness when needed. However, there is such a thing as too bright. Headlamps that are either too dim or too bright can strain the eyes, especially when running through the whole night, such as in a 100-mile race. Our testers found that the Petzl Iko Core provided the right amount of light for running on most types of trails.

What types of batteries do headlamps use?

Most headlamps use rechargeable battery packs or AA or AAA batteries. This versatility makes it easy to swap out batteries on the go. Many Petzl lights, including the Petzl Iko Core, use a proprietary battery.

How much battery power do I need on my trail running headlamp?

The ideal battery power, and thus run time, depends on your intended headlamp use. If you primarily run during daylight but occasionally start or finish in the dark, battery power will be less important than for someone who consistently runs far into the night during training runs or races.

For standard trail running, the best running headlamp will have enough power to last four to six hours at 200 to 300 lumens. For ultrarunning, look for a headlamp with enough power to last eight to 12 hours and has an easy mechanism for swapping batteries. Larger batteries, such as the one used by the Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp, can provide nearly two nights of reasonable lighting.

Best Running Headlamp-using a headlamp to pack a fastpack at dawn - lifestyle image

iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks uses a headlamp to pack a fastpack at dawn. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

What are the different modes of headlamps?

Most headlamps have a few general modes: a constant or flashing white light and a constant or flashing red light. More complex lamps allow for more adjustments, including the number of lumens of the white light and the width of the beam. Petzl’s Reactive Lighting technology, which can be found on the Petzl Nao RL, adjusts the brightness of the light automatically depending on the amount of ambient light available.

When should I use an alternative light source like a waistlight?

While headlamps are the most common type of light for trail runners, some waistlight options, like the UltrAspire Lumen 600 4.0 Waist Light, are becoming more popular. Kogalla also makes a waistlight for runners. These companies claim the lighting provided by a waistlight offers a wider beam of light at a better angle, enabling runners to see more shadows and have a better depth of view in their running path. If you don’t want something extra on your head, prefer a wider field of vision, or want the advantage of multiple light sources, a waistlight may be the solution.

Best Running Headlamp-testing a Black Diamond headlamp while fastpacking - lifestyle image

iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks wears a Black Diamond headlamp and fastpacking gear on a chilly morning. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

My head starts to hurt when wearing a headlamp all night. How can I make it more comfortable?

If your headlamp is consistently causing discomfort after a few hours, you can try a few things. One is adding a layer of fabric underneath your headlamp band, as we suggested with the Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp. A soft layer of fabric can help absorb the band’s pressure against your head and keep it from making imprints on your forehead. A second option is to choose a headlamp with more than one strap to help disperse the pressure – like the ZebraLight H600d Mk IV 18650 XHP50.2 5000K High CRI Headlamp, which we found extremely comfortable. Similarly, trying a lighter headlamp or one with a battery pack on the back, such as the Petzl Iko Core, might also alleviate discomfort. If all else fails, we recommend trying a waistlight, such as the UltrAspire Lumen 600 4.0 Waist Light.

My headlamp battery ran out on the trail. How do I prevent this from happening next time?

The best way to avoid getting caught in the dark is to carry spare batteries, a backup headlamp that’s fully charged or has fresh batteries, or both. We also recommend regularly charging your everyday headlamp and making sure to top it off before any big adventures that will begin or end in darkness. It’s also important to take precautions to keep your headlamp from turning on accidentally in your pack and depleting the battery. Many headlamps, including the Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp, have a locking mechanism when the light is off to keep it from turning on in your pack. Finally, if you’re worried about your headlamp’s power level, keeping it on the lowest possible brightness setting will help extend its run time. If you run out of battery on the trail, you’ll appreciate having a small backup light, like the Nitecore NU25 UL or Petzl Bindi, to get you back to the trailhead.

Do I need both a front and rear light?

If you frequently run on roads in the dark, a rear-facing light can help cars see you. Some headlamps, like the Petzl Nao RL, have a built-in red light on the head strap, but you can always carry a small additional red light to provide a flashing light for visibility. An extra light for increased visibility can also be useful if you’re running on popular trails in the dark. They can make your presence known to other trail users coming up behind you and help avoid collisions or startling each other.

Call for Comments

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Alli Hartz

Alli Hartz is a member of the gear review team at iRunFar. She’s been writing about outdoor gear, outdoor adventure, and adventure travel for 10 years. Aside from iRunFar, Alli contributes gear reviews and adventure stories to Switchback Travel, Travel Oregon, and other outlets. She also works as a ski guide during the winter season and has dabbled in run-skiing on the Cascade volcanoes. Alli is based in Bend, Oregon, where she loves to run from her front door up into the Three Sisters Wilderness.

Alli Hartz

Meghan Hicks is the Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor from 2013 through mid-2023, when she stepped into the role of Editor-in-Chief. Aside from iRunFar, Meghan has worked in communications and education in several of America’s national parks, was a contributing editor for Trail Runner magazine, and served as a columnist at Marathon & Beyond. She’s the co-author of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running with Bryon Powell. She won the 2013 Marathon des Sables, finished on the podium of the Hardrock 100 Mile in 2021, and has previously set fastest known times on the Nolan’s 14 mountain running route in 2016 and 2020. Based part-time in Moab, Utah and Silverton, Colorado, Meghan also enjoys reading, biking, backpacking, and watching sunsets.

Alli Hartz

Eszter Horanyi identifies as a Runner Under Duress, in that she’ll run if it gets her deep into the mountains or canyons faster than walking would, but she’ll most likely complain about it. A retired long-distance bike racer, she gave ultra foot racing a go and finished the Ouray 100 in 2017, but ultimately decided that she prefers a slower pace of life of taking photos during long days in the mountains and smelling the flowers while being outside for as many hours of the day as possible. Eszter will take any opportunity to go adventuring in the mountains or desert by foot, bike, or boat, and has lived the digital nomad lifestyle throughout the west for the past seven years.