Choosing A Headlamp For Winter Camping

You can’t beat the hands-free lighting convenience offered by a headlamp and always pointing where you’re looking. But what sets one headlamp apart from another?  Criteria you might want to consider include:

  • Light output in terms of lumens or how intensely the light shines.  An average headlamp will output between 20-90 lumens. The power consumed by the LED light is measured in watt (W). Both Lumen and watt will affect the type of beam the headlamp outputs versus how much battery power it will consume. For example, a 3W headlamp would output an average of 100–150lumens, but the higher the lumens output, the more drain on the battery.
  • Beam distance in terms of how far the light actually goes.
  • Light bulbs. Almost all modern headlamps have LED bulbs.   LEDs are basically a light bulb without a filament to burn out, and since they are very efficient at creating light without heat loss, they don’t get hot. The LEDs longevity is further enhanced by its construction. An unbreakable, crystal clear, solid resin encases each LED and makes it nearly indestructible. The drawback to LEDs is their limited output for projecting light over a great distance. LEDs have an average lifespan of 100,000 hours of continuous or cumulative use, operate on low voltage DC power, and produce no UV light. Light output of LEDs are measured in lumens; energy input to a lamp is measured in watts.  The efficiency of a lamp is expressed as lumens per watt.
  • LED light colors. Most headlamps come with white lights because they enhance contrast and illuminate objects in a manner that looks natural. If you have a need to preserve your night vision, look for a headlamp that also has red LED lights.
  • Battery life length while projecting continuous usable light. Batteries can be expensive, so you might consider  rechargeable NiMH batteries or rechargeable lithium batteries, which would be better but more expensive. Headlamps designed to work with lithium batteries are a good choice for cold-weather usage, since lithium batteries outperform alkaline batteries in cold conditions.
  • Weight of the total unit (most range between 3-6 oz.) . The amount of weight you are willing to tolerate on your head is a personal decision. Keep in mind while winter camping you may be wearing a headlamp for extended hours as you set up camp, gather firewood at night, cook, and hang out during the long dark hours.
  • Size of the entire unit including straps.
  • Straps.  Triple straps insure that the headlamp will not creep down your face during prolonged activity. Also, a triplex strap does not need to be overly tight to stay in place.  However, a single strap unit is smaller and lighter.
  • Light adjustments or modes.  Most headlamps offer at least a high and low mode.  Others may offer 3 or more modes, alternately called “brightness levels.”  Here’s a breakdown,  from the most energy-efficient mode to the least-efficient:
    • Low beam.  A power saving mode for general use.  Usually a wide or flood scope.
    • High.  A good option for situations where you need more light to see long distances.  Typically this is also provides a spot or focused beam.
    • Strobe. An emergency blinker.
  • Moisture resistance can be important for winter camping situation.
  • Tilt.  The ability to adjust the light  up or down let one position the beam exactly where you want it. This is useful for reading, cooking or illuminating tasks at hand.
  • The On/Off Switch may lock to prevent the headlamp from being inadvertently switched on inside a pack.  You will want a switch that is glove-friendly and easily cycles through its modes.
  • Price.  Typically prices range from $30-90.


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