While all light sources serve the same purpose of providing brightness where it’s scarce, the question of ‘what’s the best type of lighting’ hinges on its intended purpose. Flashlights and headlamps have been the two most popular options for quite some time now, and even within each range, there are thousands of options suitable for different tasks and different people. So whether you’re a camper, hiker, part of a search and rescue team, law enforcement, security, military or just an average Joe needing a reliable lighting source to locate things in their basement, you’ll find a product that fits your specific needs. Understanding the basics of flashlights and headlamps will enable you to make the right choice.
But before I get into the specifics of flashlights versus headlamps, let’s talk about lumens and beam distance. These two measurements represent how strong the light illuminated by the source is, and the type of beam it produces. Obviously, the more lumens a product has, the brighter it will be. Beam distance, on the other hand, as the name implies, refers to how far the light will reach. There are long distance torch light models that can illuminate hundreds of metres in front of you, while there are also models that only illuminate the immediate area in front of you, but with a wider beam. So whether you need a 2000 lumen long distance torch light or a 150 one with a wider beam, your choice will depend on your needs and how you intend to use the light.
Flashlights and Their Characteristics
Having a quality flashlight is like having a good knife – spending a bit more money will get you a product that performs great and will serve you for many years. Most high-performance flashlights use LED bulbs, and unless you’re looking for a spotlight for search and rescue missions that has a long, bright beam, you should look for something in the range of 50-500 lumens. The best flashlights will be made of metal, but there are some plastic models that are quite durable and resistant to the elements as well.
You’ll also want the flashlight to be reliable, adjustable (feature multiple modes) and be completely waterproof. You don’t want the flashlight to be too heavy, because after all, you’ll be carrying it in one of your hands, so you want to reduce strain as much as possible. Also, you want to consider whether the on/off switch is a push-button, rotating part or slider. Since flashlights are larger in size than headlamps, they can hold bigger, more powerful batteries. Rechargeable batteries are the way to go, as they’re usually more powerful, last longer and better for the environment. The main features to look for in flashlights are adjustable beams, multiple power settings, single-button use.
Headlamps and Their Characteristics
If you’re performing a physical activity that requires the use of both your hands, then headlamps are probably the better solution for your needs. A good headlamp should be comfortable, lightweight, durable, and it should produce enough light for your needs. For most people, the ideal range is between 100-200 lumens, but some activities, such as route-finding and scrambling require a light with at least 300 lumens. Just like flashlights, headlamps for outdoor use should be waterproof. The waterproof rating of headlamps and flashlights is measured with an IPX rating ranging from 1 to 8.
You want at least an IPX rating of 4. As far as batteries go, headlamps don’t have the room to house larger, powerful batteries, so you’ll have to do with AA or AAA batteries. There are some USB headlamp models that are lighter, but they have a shorter run time. The features of headlamps can vary greatly. One of the most useful ones a headlamp can have is the red-light mode, which helps you read maps, cook over stoves, something which campers can really appreciate. This mode will also help keep the light alive for longer. Another useful feature is the emergency mode which works as a strobe light to alert nearby rescuers. Most LED models feature low and high modes, adjustable beams and adjustable power levels.
No matter whether you decide to go for a headlamp or a flashlight, you get what you pay for. The price range of these tools can vary greatly – from basic models costing $20 to high-performance models costing over $300. Some of the best brands that produce both quality flashlights and headlamps are Olight, NiteCore, TruNite and LED Lenser. That being said, decide what your budget is before you start looking, then decide which features you want from all the different products to pick accordingly. Remember, having a huge range of features is only great if you intend on using them frequently. Otherwise, you’re paying for something that you don’t really need.