Best Running Headlamps of 2023

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

By , and on March 16, 2023 | Leave a reply
Best Running Headlamp - testing headlamp on night run

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 it comes to 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 let you see every rock and root, it’s truly a grand time to be a trail runner or ultrarunner searching for a headlamp. Improvements in both batteries and lighting technology have made headlamps brighter, lighter, and longer lasting.  There are options for everything from ultralight headlamps that are ideal for daily runs in the dark to powerful and long-lasting headlamps that will illuminate the trail brightly throughout the entire night of a 100-mile race, making it easier to move with confidence over rugged terrain.

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, tested them over many miles of sunrise, sunset, and nighttime runs, and 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

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

Best Running Headlamp for Trails: Petzl Iko Core ($100)

Best Running Headlamp - Petzl Iko Core - product photoThe 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 does what no other headlamp maker is doing by innovating in both lighting and comfort. We’ve usually found one to come at the compromise of the other. Not here.

With 500 lumens, this high-quality headlamp creates clean and sharp, cool light. It has two lighting beam options — flood or mixed — and three lighting levels. We found the silicone band and battery cradle to be ridiculously comfortable — we couldn’t even feel the LED panel on the front. The overall package is sufficiently lightweight for a trail runner’s needs.

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

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-milliamp-hour Petzl CORE lithium-ion rechargeable (included) or three AAA/LR03s (not included)


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


  • The battery pack is awkward to change out
Shop the Petzl Iko Core

Best Running Headlamp for Trails – Runner-Up: Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp ($55)

Best Running Headlamp - Fenix HL18R T Rechargeable Headlamp - product photoWe have to admit — we smirked a little 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 skepticism and give Fenix props for creating an absolutely comfortable headband. The Boa-style system allows enough micro-adjustment for literally dialing in the perfect fit. We apologize for those early giggles. The only more innovative headband out there now is the Petzl Iko Core reviewed above — though we think this headband is 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 features of this headlamp include a 500-lumen lamp with three brightness settings and an option for spotlight or floodlight.

While we’ve come to appreciate the click-and-twist headband adjustment, we worry about snapping the dial strings and rendering the headlamp useless in the field. This means we’re unlikely to take it on any extended off-trail romps, and we’ll pack it carefully in our gear bags to keep from damaging it.

Actual weight: 3.2 ounces (92 grams)

Maximum light output: 500 lumens

Battery source(s): 1,300-milliamp-hour lithium-polymer rechargeable (included) or three AAA batteries (not included)


  • Comfortable
  • Easy to change batteries


  • Questionable durability of the headband strings
Shop the Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp

Best Running Headlamp for Trails – Runner-Up: Petzl Swift RL ($130)

Best Running Headlamp - Petzl Swift RL - product photoWe’d like to take a moment to appreciate the headband on the Petzl Swift RL headlamp. Its padded softshell material on the front half is incredibly comfortable and is done without a huge weight penalty. This is one of the most comfortable headbands we’ve found in our search for the best running headlamps.

Petzl’s innovative Reactive Lighting technology sets this headlamp apart from the rest. In addition to providing a consistent level of light with 900 lumens, it can also be set to adapt to ambient lighting conditions, growing dimmer where there’s other light around and brighter where there’s not. This technology is also found in the Petzt Nao RL, our top headlamp choice for ultrarunning, reviewed below.

All of that said, this is a lot of headlamp — and a lot of cost — for your everyday trail running headlamp. You can very much enjoy running with a headlamp that’s half the cost of this one. Nevertheless, one of the runners on our testing team likes this light so much that they have been using it regularly for almost seven years for both trail running and ski touring. Other than the headband stretching out a bit over time, mostly from being worn over a helmet in the case of our tester, the headlamp continues to perform flawlessly, making it a worthy investment, especially if you regularly run in the dark.

Actual Weight: 3.6 ounces (100 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 900 lumens

Battery Source(s): 2,350-milliamp-hour lithium-ion rechargeable (included)


  • Fabulous softshell material on the headband
  • Reactive lighting adjusts brightness automatically


  • It’s a lot of headlamp and spendy for an everyday trail running light
Shop the Petzl Swift RL

Best Running Headlamp for Trails – Honorable Mention: ZebraLight H600d Mk IV 18650 XHP50.2 5000K High CRI Headlamp ($89)

Best Running Headlamp - ZebraLight H600d Mk IV Headlamp - product photoTeam 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 ZebraLight 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 will 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 it easy for us to recommend this headlamp as a daily trail running companion.

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 is a headlamp that will be incredibly bright for several hours during a pre-dawn or post-dusk run. Unfortunately, it won’t hold steady all night without a battery change. That said, the main downside of this headlamp as a daily runner is its higher weight.

Actual Weight: 4.6 ounces (129 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 1,616 lumens

Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliamp-hour 18,650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (not included)


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

Best Headlamp for Ultrarunning: Petzl Nao RL ($170)Best Running Headlamp - Petzl Nao RL - product photo

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 offers both regular and Reactive Lighting options. The latter setting adapts to ambient light by growing dimmer when it’s lighter out and brighter when it gets dark. If you’re into this Reactive Lighting but don’t need such a robust package, check out the Petzl Swift RL, our runner-up in this guide’s best headlamp for trail running category.

The Nao RL also has a red light in the back to keep you visible to approaching cars or other runners. It can run either as a solid red light or as a strobe, and you can control it independently from the front light. The reflective headband also increases your visibility to others.

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

Now for the downsides. This headlamp’s comfort is not amazing, and we recommend a buff under it for a full night of running. Also, it’s expensive.

Actual Weight: 5.2 ounces (146 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 1,500 lumens

Battery Source(s): 3,200-milliamp-hour lithium-ion rechargeable (included)


  • 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
Shop the Petzl Nao RL

Best Headlamp for Ultrarunning – Runner-Up: Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra ($130)

Best Running Headlamp - Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra - product photoIf you’re someone who wants the best running headlamp for all-night efforts, but you just 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 us a little extra peripheral vision even when we’re mostly looking straight ahead.  This 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 tilt of your head.

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-milliamp-hour hour rechargeable (included) or three AAAs (not included)


  • Multiple options for carrying battery pack
  • Option for combined flood and spot lighting


  • Headband is stiff at first and requires breaking in
Shop the Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra

Best Headlamp for Ultrarunning – Honorable Mention: Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp ($100)

Best Running Headlamp - Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp - product photoThe Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp is a feature-filled package and a great headlamp for ultrarunning. The headlamp includes both 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 18,650 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 there’s a lot going on up front, and you’ll want to wear a layer, such as 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.

The primary downside of this headlamp is the comfort factor due to having all of the weight on the front, but as we said, this can be mitigated with a thin gaiter or a similar layer underneath the headlamp.

Actual Weight: 5.2 ounces (146 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 1400 lumens

Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliamp-hour 18,650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (included) or two CR123As (not included)


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


  • Heavier than comparable running headlamps
  • Both the light and the battery are in the front
Shop the Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp

Best Headlamp for Ultrarunning – Honorable Mention: Nitecore UT32 ($75)

Best Running Headlamp - Nitecore UT32 - product photoGram counters who want an ultrarunning-worthy headlamp should look to the Nitecore UT32, which is yet another offering built on the powerful 18,650 rechargeable battery. This headlamp tips the scales at 144 grams while offering both a spotlight and a floodlight and up to 1,100 lumens of light at its brightest setting. It can also provide more than 400 lumens for a night and a half. If you need to go longer, no problem — the battery is really easy to change in the field. See what we mean about the golden era of headlamp lighting and batteries? Case in point right here.

This headlamp has no bells and whistles, so to move your beam up and down to accommodate hills, you’ll have to rotate the whole battery package in the O-ring pair that hosts it. Other than that, we had no issues with comfort, even though all the weight is up front. If you really want to go minimalist, you can remove the strap that goes over the top of the head to save another 20 grams — but then you may start to sacrifice some comfort. Proceed at your own risk.

There are literally no downsides to report with this headlamp. This is an awesome minimalist take on giving you loads of light with a long-lasting battery.

Actual Weight: 5.1 ounces (144 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 1,100 lumens

Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliamp-hour 18,650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (included) or two CR123As (not included)


  • Lightweight for its light and battery power
  • Comfortable


  • None — this is a great minimalist ultrarunning headlamp
Shop the Nitecore UT32

Best Waistlight for Trail Running and Ultrarunning: UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light ($160)

Best Running Headlamp - UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light - product photoSome people hate the feeling of having a headlamp on when they’re running at night. When conditions or your preferences call for putting a light on your waist, we call upon the UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light. While it’s a bit on the heavier side, it’s super comfortable around the waist, which means a lot to those of us whose abdomens become sensitive during ultramarathons. It’s easy to adjust both the belt and the angle of the light, and the buckle is easy to unclip with tired or cold hands. The light comes with a tilt mechanism to adapt the beam on the fly for uphills, downhills, and flats. It’s also easy to change this light’s battery in the field. 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. Finally, changing the batteries on the go is a breeze.

The main downside of this system is its weight. It’s not lightweight, and for those looking to go fast and shave grams, this can be a hefty load to bear. If your priority, however, is having a powerful waist-worn light to get you through a long night of running, then this waistlight is the one.

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

Actual Weight: 5.9 ounces (167 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 600 lumens

Battery Source(s): 2,600-milliamp-hour 18,650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (included)


  • 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
Shop the UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 Waist Light

Best Ultralight Running Headlamp: Nitecore NU25 UL ($37)Best Running Headlamp - Nightcore NU25 UL - product photo

The Nitecore NU25UL is 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.

This is an upgraded version of the original Nitecore NU25 and a hat tip from 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. The iRunFar team is still testing the new headlamp design for comfort and functionality.

Weighing under two ounces,  this is a great backup or simple ultralight headlamp if you’re counting grams. This headlamp is a powerhouse of light for its weight. It’s sufficient for a couple of hours of light for trail running, as long as the trail isn’t super technical. Using 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-milliamp-hour lithium-ion rechargeable (included)


  • Weighs less than two ounces
  • Great value
  • Good backup headlamp option


  • We don’t love the aesthetic
Shop the Nitecore NU25 UL

Most Ridiculously Bright Running Headlamp We’ve Seen: Nitecore HC35 ($100)

Best Running Headlamp - Nitecore HC35 - product photoIf 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 therefore grab our attention as runners. Add in the fact that you can quite easily 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 main downside of this headlamp is comfort. Since all the weight sits on your forehead, you absolutely need some fabric underneath as padding for longtime wear. The aesthetic is different from most of the other headlamps that we tested. We think it looks quite alien-like.

Actual Weight: 7.6 ounces (217 grams)

Maximum Light Output: 2,700 lumens

Battery Source(s): 4,000-milliamp-hour 21,700-size lithium-ion rechargeable (included), one 18,650-size lithium-ion rechargeable (not included), or two CR123As (not included)


  • Exceptionally bright
  • Easy to change batteries in the field


  • Not comfortable and requires fabric padding underneath
  • We don’t love the aesthetic
Shop the Nitecore HC35

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.

Our opinion is that 200 lumens are plenty for straightforward trail running on developed trails, and 300 lumens will get 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, the Petzl Swift RL, and the Petzl Nao RL in this guide — that allows you to look farther for trail signs, course markers, or to see what’s going bump in the night on the side of the trail.

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 or setting up camp in the dark. Long-throw, also called spotlight, is going to be the most common type of light used on the trail. It casts a narrower beam out in front of you, lighting up the trail ahead. 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.

For runners, having enough light on the trail directly in front will be most important, though having multiple light options is a bonus. Fortunately, most headlamps nowadays offer both types of lighting, and some — like the Petlz Iko Core and Fenix HM65R Rechargeable Headlamp — also have a setting that provides both flood and long-throw light at the same time. 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.

Best Running Headlamp - the Fenix HM65R is a great ultrarunning headlamp

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

Type of Battery

Headlamps generally use rechargeable batteries or single-use AAA or AA batteries. There are a few varieties of rechargeable batteries, including Petzl’s proprietary Core rechargeable battery, the 18,650 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 18,650 battery is popular for its reliability, long run time, and ability to be recharged many, many times — all of which 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 Petzl Swift RL, Silva Trail Runner Free Ultra, and Fenix HL18R-T Rechargeable Headlamp, come with a rechargeable battery and can run on disposable batteries. This is ideal for situations where you may not have access to power, such as on an extended backpacking trip, or when you simply want that extra versatility.

Battery Life

Battery life is one of the most important considerations when choosing a headlamp. The best running headlamp is one that won’t die on you unexpectedly. No one wants to be stuck on a ridgeline or descending a steep scree slope with a dead battery — even though it seems like even 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 and the Petzl Swift RL, have Reactive Lighting technology — the ability for the lamp to sense the available light and adjust the brightness accordingly, which saves battery life.

Fit and Comfort

If something is going on your head, potentially for hours at a time, it should be comfortable. Pick out a lamp that won’t cause headaches, 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, and others use minimalistic cord-like structures. If you’ll be using the light in the winter or for a more technical outing, look for a lamp that will be comfortable over a running hat or helmet. The Petzl Swift RL has an incredibly comfortable strap, and the small size of the light makes it easy to wear for long periods.

Best Running Headlamp - the Fenix HL18R T displayed in the field

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


There are situations where you’ll either be carrying a backup headlamp, like during a long ultra with many hours run at night, or stowing away the single light you brought during a pre-dawn run that extends past sunrise. It’s nice to have a headlamp that stows away easily in a running shorts pocket or hydration vest without creating undue pressure on some part of your body. It’s also a good idea to have a backup light source in your pack whenever you head out into the mountains in case you get back later than anticipated. The small size and bright light of the Nitecore NU25 UL make it a great “just in case” option.


While weight is arguably one of the less important elements when choosing a headlamp, a combination of minimal weight and maximal battery life is 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 on the back of your head or in a pack, an option that takes the weight off of your head. 

Why You Should Trust Us

We run far at iRunFar, and that often includes running in the dark during 100-mile races, multi-day fastpack adventures, or pre-dawn start times. Our testers have experience not only with running on their local trails in the dark but at premiere long-distance races like the Hardrock 100, UTMB, and Tor des Géants, where it’s not uncommon 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

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, so has the need for the everyday runner to have a high-quality headlamp. We identify both heritage brands and new innovative companies bringing the light to the trail and put the lights through the paces — testing their durability, versatility, fit, and battery life — to ensure that you won’t be light-less out on the trail.

Unfortunately, we were unable 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!

Please note that in the lighting world, product models are routinely discontinued, while new ones frequently come to market. At the same time, we here at iRunFar often keep using our top picks in our daily running … they’re our top picks, after all! Sometimes that continued use results in uncovering product failures. With all this — product discontinuations, product introductions, and product failures — in mind, we routinely update our buyer’s guides based on past and ongoing testing as well as research by our authors and editorial team. While these updates can appear to be us pushing the newest product, it’s anything but that. When we update any buyer’s guide, most of the products are likely to remain the same. That matches our goal: to get you in the best gear that you’ll be using for a long time.

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 out onto the trail. The average headlamp maxes out at 300 to 600 lumens. That’s because as lumens go up, power usage increases, and battery run time drops.

As runners, we want a light 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. But if you really 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

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’ll be on technical terrain, going off trail, or on a trail that’s difficult to follow, you might consider a headlamp with a brighter setting so that you can bump up the brightness when you need it. However, there is such a thing as too bright. Headlamps that are either too dim or too bright can strain the eyes, especially over the course of the 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 all types of trails.

What types of batteries do headlamps use?

Most headlamps can run off of either rechargeable battery packs or disposable AA or AAA batteries. The majority of contemporary headlamps use some type of rechargeable battery pack — and can often accommodate disposable batteries as well if you don’t have access to a power source to recharge the battery pack. 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 use of a headlamp. If you mostly run during daylight but occasionally start or finish in the dark, battery power will be less important than for someone who consistently runs through 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 that has an easy mechanism for swapping batteries. Larger batteries, such as that of 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

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

What are the different modes on 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: the lumens of the white light can be turned up or down, affecting battery life, and the width of the beam can widen or narrow, sometimes automatically, as with Petzl’s Reactive Lighting technology, which can be found on the Petzl Swift RL and the Petzl Nao RL.

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

While headlamps are by far the most common type of light in use, some waistlight options, like the UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 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 would like the advantage of multiple light sources, a waistlight may be the solution for you.

Best Running Headlamp - testing a Black Diamond headlamp while fastpacking

iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks wears a Black Diamond headlamp along with her 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, there are a few things you can try. 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 pressure of the band against your head. 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 to be extremely comfortable. Similarly, trying a lighter-weight 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 using a waistlight, such as the UltrAspire Lumen 600 3.0 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 or 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. 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, 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 come in 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.

Call for Comments

  • What’s your favorite running headlamp?
  • Trail runners, what headlamp do you use the most on the trails?
  • What is your prized running headlamp for all-night ultrarunning?
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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 Managing Editor of iRunFar. She’s been running since she was 13 years old, and writing and editing about the sport for around 15 years. She’s served as iRunFar’s Managing Editor since 2013. 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.