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Headlamps: to see and be seen

We tested some headlamps to light your path and keep you visible

For most runners, unless you’re fortunate enough to do all your runs during daylight hours, a headlamp is a very handy gizmo, and for some it’s essential. Whether you need to light your path or just be visible to motorists, here are some things to consider in selecting a headlamp, and eight models we like. 

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Basic features

For city running, a basic lamp is fine–you just want to be visible. Most basic lamps have a travel lock, so they don’t accidentally get switched on in your bag and run down the charge. Most also toggle between solid and strobe. They have varying degrees of water resistance, as measured on the IPX scale (usually between 4 and 7, the higher the better). More expensive lamps have a choice of white or red beam (red is better for preserving your night vision, since it does not constrict your pupils as much as white light), and adjustable beam focus (flood or spot). Some lamps, like the LED Lenser Neo and the Black Diamond Sprinter, also have a light at the back, which is useful for being seen on roads and trails.


Night Running Gear
Photo: Adam Wojtkowiak

How bright?

Light intensity is measured in lumens. The dimmest lamp we tested (the Black Diamond Stride) is 25 lumens–all you need for safety and visibility in the city. The brightest (the Petzl Reactik and the Black Diamond Spot) are 300 lumens when used on full power–which may be great on the trails, but a less powerful lamp may still provide the intensity you need.

Battery-powered or USB chargeable?

Though it’s tempting to question why any device still takes disposable batteries in the digital age, consider that if your headlamp is dead and you forgot to charge it, you’d be happy to have one you can simply pop fresh batteries into (though it means carrying extras). And remember that a USB-chargeable lamp means you need AC or another device that’s charged up (like a laptop). Some lamps (like the Petzl Reactik) are hybrids and can be charged either way.

How heavy?

Generally speaking, the longer the battery life, the heavier the lamp. If you’re not looking for a workout for your neck muscles, go with a model that’s under 100 g.

Lamps for trail running

For trail running, you’ll want a lamp that’s decently bright (minimum 200 lumens) and has an adjustable beam, as well as being water-resistant. (Keep in mind that an intensely bright lamp can be annoying and hazardous to the eyes.) We like the LED Lenser MH6 or SEO3, the Petzl Reactik, the Black Diamond Sprinter and the Black Diamond Spot.

Lamps for city running

For city running, we like the Petzl Bindi, the LED Lenser Neo, and the Black Diamond Stride.

LED Lenser Neo. Photo: Matt Stetson

LED Lenser Neo
Intensity: 90 lumens
Rear light: Yes
Burn time: 10 hours
Weight: 54 g
Charge: 3 AAA batteries
Water resistance: Not given
Price: about $30

Petzl Bindi. Photo: Matt Stetson

Petzl Bindi 

Intensity: 200 lumens
Beam focus adjustability: 6 m to 36 m

Rear light?
Burn time:
2 hours to 50 hours
35 g
USB rechargeable

LED Lenser MH6. Photo: Matt Stetson

LED Lenser MH6
200 lumens, with manually adjustable beam focus (40m to 120m)
Beam focus adjustability: 40 m to 120 m
Rear light?
Burn time:
5 hours (full) or 20 hours (low)
93 g
USB rechargeable
Water resistance: IPX6
Price: $68

Black Diamond Spot. Photo: Matt Stetson

Black Diamond Spot
Intensity: 300 lumens. Tap housing to adjust brightness
Beam focus adjustability: 3 m to 80 m
Rear light? No
Burn time: 30 hours to 125 hours
Weight: 88 g
Charge: 3 AAA batteries
Water resistance: IPX8
Price: $39.95

LED Lenser SEO3. Photo: Matt Stetson

LED Lenser SEO3
Intensity: 100 lumens, with manually adjustable beam focus (40m to 120m)
Beam focus adjustability: 30 m to 100 m
Rear light? No
Burn time:
10 hours (full) or 40 hours (low)
105 g
 3 AAA batteries
Water resistance: IPX6
Price: $54

The SEO3 features Smart Light Tech, with brightness monitored by the built-in temperature control unit. Our tester found this lamp uncomfortably heavy for runs of longer than 10K. 

Petzl Reactik. Photo: Matt Stetson

Petzl Reactik
Intensity: 300 lumens
Beam focus adjustability: 7 m to 95 m
Rear light? No
Burn time: 2 hours to 160 hours
Weight: 82 g
Charge: hybrid (USB rechargeable or 3 AAA batteries)
Price: about $60

The Petzl Reactik is programmable via the MyPetzl Light mobile app (to check remaining battery life or automatically adjust brightness to user requirements). Assuming, of course, that you have cellphone service.

Black Diamond Stride. Photo: Matt Stetson

Black Diamond Stride
Intensity: 25 lumens
Rear light? No. The Stride is designed to be used as a rear light with another lamp.
Burn Time: 1.5 hours to 30 hours
Weight: 35 g
Charge: USB rechargeable
Water resistance: IPX4
Price: $29.95

Black Diamond Sprinter. Photo: Matt Stetson

Black Diamond Sprinter
Intensity: 200 lumens
Beam focus adjustability: 7 m to 50 m
Rear light? Yes
Burn time: 4 hours to 42 hours
Weight: 105 g
Charge: USB rechargeable
Water resistance: IPX4
Price: $80 to $120


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