6 Best Headlamps for Trail Running

    Whether you’re a pre-dawn or post-sunset runner, having one of the best headlamps for trail running makes a substantial difference

    If you’re even a casual trail runner, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered less-than-optimal lighting conditions. Whether you’re a pre-dawn or post-sunset runner, or you simply want to get the most out of when and where you run, having one of the best headlamps for trail running makes a substantial difference.

    Running in low light can make you nauseous, plus it strains your eyesight and causes headaches. It’s not quite as simple as going out and picking up an inexpensive headlamp at the nearest big-box store, however. You want a running headlamp that’s comfortable, has a great battery life, doesn’t bounce around as you move, and of course, offers sufficient light. When you research the best headlamps for trail running, you’ll quickly realize that there are several hundred types and models available.

    Many runners will tell you that around 300 lumens — the measure of the visible light emitted — is a good sweet spot on the trails, though there are certainly folks who don’t need them as bright as that and others who want them to be much brighter than that (by comparison, a mountain biker would likely need 900 to 1,000 because of the higher speeds involved). And while we can generalize a good lumen output for most runners, everyone is different and has different preferences. It’s important to find what works for you.

    We’ve sorted through the masses and created a list of the six best headlamps for trail running. Some models are a bit expensive, but the safety, peace of mind and flexibility they provide are well worth it. As a bonus, all the headlamps for trail running we’ve included can be used for just about any outdoor pursuit, from backpacking and camping to mountain biking and fishing. Happy trails!

    Best Headlamps for Trail Running

    If you’ve never been frustrated by your headlamp’s short battery life or how frequently you need to readjust its strap, consider yourself lucky. Even among the very best headlamps for trail running, the top models are certainly not all created equal. The models we discuss here have notable differences and serve different needs, but all are well worth some consideration.

    1. BioLite Headlamp 750

    BioLite is a relative newcomer in the headlamp space, having released its first model in 2018. The company is best known for its excellent camp stoves, but has made some serious waves with its high-performance headlamps in the last couple of years.

    You’ll notice one of the Headlamp 750’s most unique features as soon as you see it. The light is integrated directly into the fabric band, rather than clipping or threading on. That means no bounce or slip as you run, and the flush design is ultra-comfortable for long wear.

    This BioLite headlamp has a max output of 750 lumens and eight lighting modes, including individual flood and spot lights that work together or separately. For highly technical conditions, Constant Mode keeps the headlamp on High (500 lumens and a 426-foot beam distance) for two hours without dimming whatsoever. When you need to scope out unknown terrain ahead, the 30-second Burst Mode delivers an insanely bright 750 lumens.

    (The accompanying link is to purchase this product is through Amazon, and we recommend going that route or through another third-party, as BioLite’s sales directly from their own website are notoriously slow — up to five weeks for shipping — and BioLite’s customer service isn’t great.)

    One of the things we think makes the 750 one of the best headlamps for trail running is that it has a backup reserve. It runs 5 lumens for eight hours even if your battery drops to a critical level, meaning you will literally never get left in the dark.

    The power unit sits at the back of the 5.3-ounce headlamp and has a dimmable red light with solid and strobe modes. This is where you charge the 750, and another of our favorite features is Run Forever, the ability to pass-thru charge, or charge while you use it. BioLite includes a 3-foot charging cable, so all you need to — literally — charge on the run is a power bank.

    Pros/By far the lowest-profile and most comfortable headlamp to wear at a reasonable $100, plus it has pass-thru charging
    Cons/The 750 has an IPX4 waterproof rating, so it’s only water-resistant, which can be problematic at times. It’s also worth noting that the advertised 750 max lumens is strictly on the 30-second Burst mode
    Bottom Line/The multitude of light modes and extreme comfort of the BioLite 750 makes it one of our top picks for best headlamps for trail running

    2. Fenix HL60R

    If you’re looking for not just the best headlamps for trail running, but the brightest as well, the Fenix HL60R should be at the top of your list. The HL60R has a respectable 400 lumens on High, but a whopping 950 on Turbo — with a 381-foot light beam, to boot. There are five brightness levels in all, plus a red light mode.

    Thanks to its all-metal housing, this Fenix headlamp for trail running has an IPX8 waterproof rating, meaning it’s fully submersible up to two meters. No matter what conditions you’re out in, you’ll have light, and that’s not something most other headlamps on the market can say.

    In addition to its rugged waterproof construction, the HL60R incorporates a couple of thoughtful and highly useful features that make it one of the best headlamps available. For one, you adjust the light modes/brightness levels from dials on the side, rather than a (much more common) button directly on top of your head. This may seem like a minor detail, but when you’re running, biking, hiking, or whatever-ing at night, the last thing you want to do is be reaching up and blocking your line of sight.

    The Fenix HL60R is also rechargeable via a built-in micro-USB port, so you can charge it on-the-go. Even better, it runs on either a single rechargeable 18650 Li-ion battery or two non-rechargeable CR123A batteries, offering excellent flexibility on longer excursions.

    Pros/Priced under $100, the value is incredible
    Cons/At 6.1 ounces, it’s on the heavier side and certainly bulky. High and Burst modes also eat through the battery quickly, and it gets hot after a few minutes on Burst
    Bottom Line/Overall an excellent headlamp, but 950 lumens is honestly probably overkill for the average runner. If you do more extreme night activities like skiing, hunting, or canyoneering even occasionally, there’s no reason not to get the HL60R

    3. Petzl Nao+

    With a $199 price tag, this Petzl headlamp for running is the most expensive on our list — but it’s also the most innovative.

    It’s reactive to ambient light, meaning it auto-adjusts the brightness and length of its light beams to adapt to lighting conditions. This eliminates the need to switch back and forth between lighting modes, which is something runners “run” into frequently. Note that while the technology is impressive, it isn’t perfect. The Nao+ can sometimes be “tricked” by rain or dust, adjusting the lighting inappropriately.

    The numbers behind the Petzl Nao+ are equally impressive: It has a max light output of 750 lumens and a maximum light beam distance of up to 459 feet. That 750-lumen rating is on “high;” “low” emits 120 lumens. There’s also a red indicator light on the battery, which sits on the back of the head, for increased visibility. A quick note on the battery: The Nao+ runs solely on its rechargeable battery. Many people like the flexibility of headlamps that use both rechargeables and traditional batteries, particularly for backups on longer trips.

    As if the Nao+’s adaptability wasn’t enough to set it apart among the best headlamps for trail running, it also comes with a handy app. MyPetzl Light lets you monitor battery life and adjust and save settings, including specifying the amount of time you want the headlamp to stay on. It then adjusts the brightness to conserve battery and accommodate that timeframe.

    Pros/No question — the reactive lighting
    Cons/This Petzl running headlamp is the heaviest and bulkiest on our list at 6.5 ounces, and the most expensive. Battery life is also poor, though that’s unsurprising given all its technology
    Bottom Line/Although pricey, there’s really nothing like the adaptive nature of the Nao+. If you’re frequently out in changing lighting conditions, go for it

    4. BioLite Headlamp 330

    If you’re interested in a BioLite headlamp but the 750 is more than you really need, the 330 is a fantastic option. Like the Headlamp 750, the 330 is flush-mounted with the light integrated directly into the fabric. You also get the same 3-D molded moisture-wicking sweatband, and the battery is on the back.

    Unlike the 750, the Headlamp 330 doesn’t have Burst mode, pass-thru charging ability, or a rear light. Burst mode is really only necessary for extreme nighttime activities, and even then, many users mention rarely using it — so you’ll have to decide for yourself whether that’s an important feature. And although the 330 can’t be charged while wearing it, it is still rechargeable via micro-USB.

    One area where the BioLite 330 has an advantage over the 750 is weight. The 330 weighs just 2.4 ounces, less than half of its sibling. That makes it an attractive option for thru-hikers, backpackers and frequent travelers, where every ounce counts. Another thing to keep in mind is that in many scenarios, a headlamp’s medium setting is sufficient. The Headlamp 330’s Medium (“Spot”) is 230 lumens, while the 750’s is 250 — a nominal difference.

    The Headlamp 330 has four light modes: dimmable spotlight, floodlight (broad beam), spot and flood, and red night vision/strobe. It also remembers your last setting and will return to that when it’s turned on again, which is a nice detail.

    Pros/Outrageously comfortable and rechargeable at a nice $60 price point
    Cons/We wish it had a rear light and that the battery life was a bit longer
    Bottom Line/This is one of the best no-frills headlamps for trail running you can get. BioLite itself says it best in one of the original ads for the 330: “Meet a headlamp that feels great, stays put, and gets the job done -- wherever you may be.”

    5. Black Diamond Sprinter 275

    The Black Diamond Sprinter 275 was specifically designed with runners in mind. Whether you typically run trails or in a more urban setting, the Sprinter 275 truly shines with its fairly limited — though highly efficient — feature set.

    What we love most about the Sprinter 275, and what we wish all the best headlamps for trail running had, is what Black Diamond calls “dual fuel.” Similar to the Fenix HL60R, it runs on either a rechargeable battery pack or three AAA batteries. Like most modern rechargeable headlamps, the Sprinter 275 uses a micro-USB cable.

    Keeping runners in mind, operation of the “strom-proof” Sprinter 275 is simple. The interface features a single button with PowerTap for one-touch brightness adjustment, and the headlamp does have Brightness Memory. There’s just a single universal beam of light, as opposed to having separate spot and floodlights, but the light projects out a respectable 150 feet and has a unique wide design.

    The BD Sprinter 275 weighs about 4 ounces including the batteries, and its top strap is removable. Weight is evenly distributed, thanks to the battery being on the rear, and there are three (optional) red strobe lights on the back for added visibility. Also on the battery pack, there’s a 3-LED battery meter that flashes to let you know how much juice you have left.

    Pros/The “dual fuel” flexibility and the rear strobe light
    Cons/Battery life is too short for extended use (i.e., multi-day hikes) and lack of night vision
    Bottom Line/While the Sprinter 275 is fairly basic, its functions are very well-executed. This is one of the best headlamps for trail running relatively short distances, but pick something else if you’re frequently out for several hours

    6. Nitecore NU25

    Although the Nitecore NU25 is the least expensive headlamp on our list, don’t let that fool you. This low-profile, ultra-lightweight model is packed with features that rival the very best headlamps for trail running. To begin with, it weighs less than two ounces!

    The main spotlight has four brightness levels plus SOS mode. Some people will find the Mid and High levels sufficient, at 48 and 190 lumens respectively, but there’s also a 360-lumen turbo boost. Note that the NU25 reverts to High after 30 minutes in Turbo to prevent overheating. There are two other lights on the headlamp: a natural white light excellent for making out colors in the dark, and a red auxiliary light with three modes including strobe

    This Nitecore has impressive battery life, running up to five hours on High, eight on Mid, and a whopping 160 hours on Low. However, once the battery dips below 50 percent, the headlamp dims considerably. Not only is the NU25 rechargeable via micro-USB, it can be charged while wearing it — a feature typically only seen in higher-end headlamps, like the BioLite 750. You can’t use non-rechargeable batteries in it, but in our opinion, being able to use the headlamp while it’s charging makes up for that.

    The Nitecore NU25’s simple user interface integrates two surprisingly clever features. Pushing the two top buttons simultaneously locks (and subsequently unlocks) the headlamp so it can’t accidentally turn on when not in use. Finally, monitor the battery status by holding the red light button. LED lights flash to indicate how much life remains: Three blinks mean you have more than 50 percent, two blinks equals 10 to 50 percent, and one blink means the battery has less than 10 percent.

    Pros/We're highly impressed with how many features you get for under $40. The battery life is also decent
    Cons/It's not necessarily a "con," but we have concerns about long-term durability since the headlamp housing is made of plastic
    Bottom Line/The NU25 is an excellent and surprisingly feature-rich budget headlamp, especially for shorter runs. We're not sure how the plastic would hold up to the elements, though, so it's not our first choice for frequent long runs or multi-day trips

    Taryn Shorr is an avid outdoor enthusiast, frequent traveler, and wannabe photographer based in southern Arizona. She lives for the opportunity to explore The Great Outdoors, both at home and in new destinations, and firmly believes that nature is a form of both therapy and religion.


    Feature image by mavo, Shutterstock

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