The Best Running Headlamp

Vitchelo Waterproof IPX6

Our Top Pick for 2016: Vitchelo Waterproof IPX6
Read our full review.

See it on Amazon for $26.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Too expensive? See our budget pick.

One of the many attractions of running is its relatively modest equipment requirements – no bulky pads, sticks, bats or balls of various sizes. Just you, your shoes and the road. Though this is an exaggerated and romanticized image of the sport it is still true that runners’ hardware requirements are small. While you might enjoy freedom from “stuff”, adding a headlamp to your kit is a good idea. Proper lighting substantially improves your safety by improving your visibility to cars and other runners and pedestrians. It also improves your ability to see and is the coolest looking accessory you can imagine (OK – so that last description may be a little untrue, but if a headlamp saves you even once from an accident, it’s worth having). It does not offend those, “anti-stuff” purists because you just wear it like a baseball cap, which so many runners consider de rigueur already. So, where should you invest your headlamp budget and what considerations are there in the selection process? Here are our recommendations for this niche illuminator.

Table of contents

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Lightweight 2.4 Ounces
Red LED Or White Light
168 Lumens
Worn Comfortably For 8+ Hours
Long Battery Life (3 AA Required/included)
Up To 120 Hrs At Lo (3 AA Batteries)
Curved Forehead Panel
Beam Angle 45° Adjustable
Red And White Light
6 Lighting Modes
Water Resistant
IPX6 Waterproof Rating
Durable, Shockproof
CE And RoHS Certified
CE And RoHS Certified

*Price at time of publishing and may not reflect current pricing.

#1 Gold pick (Winner): Vitchelo Waterproof IPX6

Vitchelo Waterproof IPX6 Gold Pick

Buy it on Amazon for $26.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-gold-winnerThe Vitchelo Waterproof IPX6 is our gold pick for running headlamps. At about $27, this running headlamp is a bargain in its array of features and durability. This sturdy, compact (2.4″ x 1.9″ x 1.5″) light packs an illuminating punch. At 168 lumens, it provides very bright light, enabling vision for as much as 360 feet. Of course, that kind of illumination comes at a price. This unit requires, and is sold with, 3 AAA Duracell batteries. Additionally, that superior lighting is expensive in energy cost; you can expect the batteries to last only five hours at the brightest setting so using the highest setting is advisable for short periods only. Indeed, for each headlamp discussed, you may need to carry replacement batteries; this is not a feature unique to this set of headlamps; all consume large amounts of power at the brightest setting and all need replacements for multiple hours of use.

Headlamps are generally designed with spotlight or floodlight style illumination; the former produces a focused, sharp light; the latter produces wider light; this headlamp is the spotlight version.

IPX, a measurement used for all of our headlamp models, indicates water resistance; IPX6 is sufficient protection for even a run in a rainstorm (according to the manufacturer: 12.5 mm spray of water (12.5 liters per minute) in any direction for at least 3 minutes), but no immersion. There is no official measurement of durability, but many reviewers on Amazon and running sites testify to its being fairly shock-resistant, withstanding normal drops, though using it as a puck in your next hockey game is a poor idea.

The Vitchelo Waterproof IPX6 is designed with both red and white lights with separate buttons designed for each color enabling quick setting changes without having to remove the headlamp. Various entities conducted research on activating the various buttons while wearing gloves. These experiments were mostly not conclusive and there were none that mentioned testing the buttons using the touch-sensitive gloves designed to enable texting, which may well be best for operating buttons as well. Few very warm gloves lack bulk, so expect challenges when operating the buttons with gloves. The six lighting modes: steady and flashing for red, high, medium, low and flashing for white, provide as many or even more options than most runners need.

Though thought unnecessary by some, having both red and white lights is preferred by many runners. The flashing red light can be used as an emergency signal and the different white light settings enable customizing lighting to various circumstances. Some runners use the steady red light setting alone for periods of their runs because the white light compromises their night vision. In this description, as in many in this article, you can notice that runners’ preferences vary, and there are headlamps out there for nearly every taste and situation.

The Vitchelo Waterproof IPX6 is adjustable to 45° to concentrate the illumination on the road or straight ahead, which is a useful feature for both visibility and safety. Vitchelo offers a 60 day money back guarantee and a limited lifetime warranty, with is quite remarkable for a $27 investment.

The band that holds the lamp in place is wide, comfortable and adjustable; you can detach the lamp to wash the band which is necessary on a regular basis as sweat and dirt accumulate in it. Offered in black, blue, green, white and yellow supports some personal taste, though the color is primarily in the lamp and not carried into the band.

The battery compartment on this headlamp is not its strongest feature. To prolong the life of the unit, open and close the battery compartment gently.

#2 Silver pick (Runner-up): SmartLite Ultra LED Headlamp

SmartLite Ultra LED Headlamp

Buy it on Amazon for $39.97*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-silver-winnerThe SmartLite Ultra LED Headlamp, offered at about $32, is an excellent runners’ headlamp. The unit weighs 1.4 oz. without batteries, though the increase in weight is not significant as this model runs on a single AA battery (included).

Frequently, you see the Cree light bulb added to the title of this mighty light such as SmartLite Ultra Cree XP-E because of the excellent reputation of the Cree bulb. Cree is a cutting edge American manufacturer of LED bulbs, known for adding brightness and decreasing size of their very popular LEDs. In this case, the bulb is bright, powerful and so efficient that a single AAA battery (included) provides the energy necessary to this tiny champion.

Weighting 1.4 oz. without the battery, the mass is little increased by the addition of a single AAA. The dimensions of this welterweight are 2.2 x 1 x 1 rendering it the smallest of our recommendations. Offered in black, white, blue, green and orange, the SmartLite Ultra’s color offerings are bright and interesting; each headlamp is sold with a matching headband presenting a fashionable, sleek, stylish appearance. Adjust the headbands to your persona needs and rest assured that this minuscule tool will stay in place without irritating bouncing or pulling.

Though small, this headlamp matches functions with the big boys. The bicolor light offers six operating modes. For the white light, the modes are high, medium, low and flash; for red, flash and steady. A single convenient button controls all settings and it is a quick process to change modes while running.

At 100 lumens, this headlamp provides light for a distance of about 300 ft. It has a waterproof rating of IPX6 and is known for its durability. Remember that “waterproof” in manufacturing is not the same as “waterproof” in conversation or Merriam Webster; in this case, waterproof means that if exposed to strong showers of water for periods of a few minutes, the light will continue to function; it will not function underwater. This headlamp comes with a lifetime warranty, so use with confidence.

You can directionally adjust the beam quickly and easily while you are wearing it and the battery compartment is easy to open and close. As with nearly all headlamps, the battery is drained most quickly in the highest power mode. The SmartLite Ultra runs for approximately eight hours on high.

Some reviewers criticize the single button control system which required you to cycle through the white modes to reach the red modes. For people who use red light to preserve their night vision, activating the white modes first is a problem. However, once you master the controls, you can cover the lamp while moving through the bright white modes to reach and red, thereby preserving your night vision.

An advantage of single button control is that there is no time lost searching for the correct button, that the single button centrally located is a snitch to find and that you will not confuse the unit by accidentally pressing two buttons at once.

Though this review is primarily for headlamps used for running, you may find you want this Lilliputian illuminator everywhere you go. It’s perfect for night dog walks, working on detailed projects from sewing to electronics and it stores so small that you may find it a regular addition to your pocket or purse.

#3 Bronze pick (3rd place): LuxoLite CREE LED Headlamp

LuxoLite CREE LED Headlamp

Buy it on Amazon for $34.97*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-bronze-awardThe LuxoLite CREE LED Headlamp sells for approximately $26. Still an excellent choice for night running, our Bronze pick is significantly heavier and larger than our gold and silver designates. This unit weighs almost three oz. before adding the three AAA batteries required to power its bicolor lights.

Sold in five colors, black, white, green, orange and blue, the headband that accompanies this unit is textured similar to utility belts which is different from the smooth, elastic headbands of the headlamps previously reviewed. The headband is very stretchy and is an adjustable fit for children to adults. Since the headband is somewhat wider than the previously reviewed headlamps, you may prefer to wear a sweatband or cap under the band as the imprint of the bands’ texture may cause irritation or skin imprints.

Both the black and white units are accompanied by basic black headbands. Each of the remaining colors (blue, green and orange) have solid bands matching the color of the lamp. The bright blue, neon green and sunny orange bands draw attention to the headlamp. This color variation is the single attempt to distinguish the band and is quite effective.

At 168 lumens, the LuxoLite Cree Headlamp tops our modest lumens chart providing over 360 feet of light at the maximum white light setting. Offering six mode lighting, the LuxoLite, for the price tag, is a strong investment. The white lighting options are high, medium, low, SOS flashing and red steady and flashing. The LuxoLite features separate buttons for the white and red lights. This is a matter of personal preference. In single button lights, the button is often placed in the middle of the headlamp and is somewhat larger which can be easier to use and adjust. In multi-button versions, similar to this one, people enjoy being able to immediately activate the red light without having to cycle through the white settings. You can also adjust the beam direction. This is convenient so you don’t have to bend your head to see objects right in front of you and so you can turn your head to look at a fellow runner without shining your light directly into his or her eyes.

All of the headlamps we include in our list measure about the same on the durability and IPX waterproof scales. At IPX6, this lamp can withstand strong showers of water for several minutes without malfunctioning; humidity in the air should not cause condensation to form inside the unit. Additionally, the LuxoLite can withstand standard dropping without breaking. Supported by a 100% Lifetime Warranty, this product clearly has the good will and confidence of the manufacturer behind it.

Uniquely for the headlamps in this piece, the LuxoLite includes a carabineer you can use to attach the lamp to your belt or any convenient place when not in use.

#4 Budget pick (Best cheap): yalumi LED Headlamp

yalumi LED Headlamp

Buy it on Amazon for Too low to display*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-cheap-budget-pickOur most economical selection in runners’ headlamps is the yalumi LED Headlamp it can be yours for approximately $15, which is a steal in the multifunctional headlamp market.

This the largest headlamp presented in this piece (9.5 x 3.5 x 1.8). The advantages of the larger size is particularly in replacing batteries as the battery case is easier to open and close.

The yalumi features three white light modes: economy, bright, and strobe. At 105 lumens, visibility is about 300 feet; one button controls all three settings.

Offered in four colors, the yalumi headband features an interior camouflage print and exterior solid color. In black, you may order this product with the matching black headband or contrasting gray; in green, the housing of the light is neon green as is the solid interior; the band’s exterior is gray with green details; in magenta, the interior is magenta camouflage with a black exterior with pink details. The headband is attractive and elastic with anchors to hold the desired size. The lamp is permanently attached to the headband so you must use caution when cleaning the band to avoid exposing the housing to significant water. Its IPX4 rating indicates that it can endure only a small amount of splashing before being adversely affected.

The budget headlamp consumer purchasing the yalmui is getting a product with slightly lower water and drop tolerance. The yalmui IPX rating is IPX4 meaning it does not suffer from modest splashing. If you run through puddles and splatter some water droplets on the headlamp, it will continue to function. If you run in a light to medium rainfall, all bets are off; that is too much water exposure for the yalmui.

Although the IPX rating does not in any way indicate how durable the unit is, products with higher IPX scores do tend to be more hard-wearing. Dropping the yalmui is not a good idea; this unit is equal to normal wear and tear, but not to being dropped onto a hard surface.

The careful economic buyer can do well with the yalumi because it has the necessary features, though it must be treated carefully to prolong its life.


Pre-purchase considerations

Why do you Need a Running Headlamp?

There are two basic reasons for wearing a headlamp when running: to see and be seen. Of the two, being visible in the dark is clearly the more important concern if you are a road runner. If you are hit by an automotive vehicle you may die; few runners die from falls attributable to unseen rocks, sticks or potholes.

For trail runners, the situation is reversed; it is vastly more important for you to see your trail as there are no vehicles to pose a risk to life or limb. In this case, you want to ensure that the light you select is adjustable so you can see the trail without running with your head down for miles and one that enables you to see details clearly; being seen from a distance is less important.

Visibility and Durability

Nearly all headlamps include in their specifications their lumen ranking. As with many other machines you may purchase from dishwashers to cars, the specifications are not always useful and tend to be a little deceptive. Yes, the manufacturers provide accurate lumen data with the correlating distance it enables you to see. However, this is measured with fresh, new batteries for a very short period of time; the visibility listed is probably only available to you at the very beginning of your run. This does not render the lumen data useless; it simply means that it is more situational than you may have anticipated.

Durability and water resistance are important. Even the most careful runner may drop the headlamp once or twice and you want to select a model that is somewhat shock resistant.

It is also important to understand the IPX water resistance system. If you need a light for deep sea diving or swimming, you probably need a headlamp that specifically guarantees underwater performance. None of the runners’ headlamps in this piece function underwater; we do not expect you to run underwater so that function would be superfluous and expensive. However, if you love to run in in the rain, take careful note of the IPX to make sure you purchase a model suited to your needs.

Budget

We included headlamps in a wide range of budgets so you are certain to find one you can afford. A cautionary note in terms of expenditure and durability is that though the increased price generally reflects increased functionality, there is also usually an associated durability upgrade, though unstated. In addition to budget, consider your personal habits. Do you tend to drop things? Are you very meticulous in managing your equipment or do you tend to almost forget about things until you need them again? Try to objectively examine your behaviors; you may want to increase your budget for a rather hardier unit if you honestly know you are more inclined to let your possessions take care of themselves than execute precise management of them.

Headlamp Fit and Style

All of the headlamps we researched include adjustable bands that secure them around your head and keep them in place for long runs; and they all weigh fewer than 3 oz. without batteries. Many people run with the headlamp secured around a cap, headscarf or headband, which adds stability. Runners exhibit different sensibility the slight motion of the headlamp as they run or the pressure of the band around their heads; consider if these are likely to be an issue for your; if so, you may want to consider other forms of illumination.

Examine the models for acceptability of color and headband style. There are significant differences among the headlamps discussed here and you may find you have a stronger opinion about this style issue when you consider how much time you will spend wearing the light.

Maintenance and Longevity

Consider the modest maintenance demands of these headlamps. You will certainly be better satisfied with the purchase if it serves you as long as possible. You can support this by paying a modest amount of attention; do not store the headlamp with the batteries installed for a long time as the batteries tend to leak and ruin the unit. Do not store the light in a moist environment. For example, storing the lamp in a moist athletic bag is not likely to promote a long life. When wet or moist, encourage the unit to dry by opening it as much as possible and storing it in a dry, warm place…for example, if you return from a moist run, placing it disassembled on the clothes dryer while your gear is drying would be helpful.

As long as you are making the purchase and expenditure, doing all you can to ensure its continued performance is the best way to promote your goal of being pleased with the investment.

Conclusion (Wrapping it up)

If you need a running headlamp, there is one out there to suit your needs and budget…and maybe even your style if you look carefully enough. Once you have your lamp, you may well find, as the advertisers of these products insist, that there are uses for it all over the house, from attic to kitchen and from sewing table to first aid unit.

Discussion and comments

We want to know what you think. Do you own any of the products we discussed? Which did you buy and how did it work out for you?

Do you know of an even better product?

Comment below and help your fellow consumers make the right choice. Over to you!

Resources

  1. C.J. Schexnayder, Vehicles vs. Runners: Dealing With the Dangers of Road Running, SB Nation, Feb 22, 2012
  2. Steve Guttenberg, TIPX Ratings Described, Just Elation, May 2, 2013
  3. THE HEADLAMPS FOR RUNNERS TEAM, Headlamps for Runners, September, 13, 2015
  4. Paul Cuno-Booth, 7 Headlamps for Runners, Reviewed, Trail Runner, April 8, 2015
  5. THE HEADLAMPS FOR RUNNERS TEAM, Running Headlamp Reviews – 2016’s Best Headlamps for Runners, Headlamps for Runners
  6. Jediah Porter and RJ Spurrier, The Hunt for the Best Headlamp, Outdoor Gear Lab, May 10, 2015
  7. Doug Gantenbein, What’s the Best Headlamp for Running?, Outside Live Bravely, July 17, 2012
  8. Allison Pattillo, 7 Runner-Friendly Lights for Nighttime Workouts, Competitor.com, 2014
  9. Jacqueline Windh, Trail running at night – training tips for headlamp runs, Running Ultramarathons, November 23, 2014

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