TAYLOR: Your alarm blares in the predawn hours. It’s cold. It’s dark. The questions of why you do this stupid sport are going through your head for the fifth time this week.
Or maybe you’re on the other end. You’re done with work at 6:30pm, but still need to get in those miles.
You’re not alone if this is how you feel about getting out for your early/late runs. One of the least motivating factors of running in the wee-hours is certainly the lack of light.
Street-lights don’t usually do enough to make you comfortable on all of your normal routes. And if you’re like me, you live in a place with zero street lights and large predators. But these runs need to happen!
Headlamps can bring physical safety and peace of mind. Make your dark and dirty runs a little more enjoyable with more light.
› Best for Dawn and Dusk
Black Diamond Sprint 225
TAYLOR: Black Diamond’s Sprint 225 is perfect for the daily grind. It’s a simple lamp that offers the basics and a good amount of light!
For starters, it’s rechargeable via micro USB. Don’t bother digging through the junk drawer or stealing batteries from the remote.
The Sprint 225 is one of the lightest headlamps on the market (1.8 oz) and packs a powerful punch. It maxes out at 250 lumens – which is not ideal for long hours in the dark, but it sure does well when the sun is either coming or going. I feel it would be great for running predictable terrains like roads or gravel/paved paths.
I’m always a proponent for night-time trail runs too. The Sprint 225 works great for the slower ambles or hiking. This headlamp lives in my running pack as an emergency light and/or backup to a more powerful headlamp on longer nighttime adventures.
ROBBE: I don’t got much to say, other than this is my overall favorite running headlamp because you can just grab and go. Tiny, transportable, super comfortable, lightweight, rechargeable, and bright. I also love that you can set the lighting level to any level you like by just holding the button down. What else do you really need?
PRICE: $44.95Shop Black Diamond Sprint 225
› Most Versatile
Petzl ACTIK Core
TAYLOR: Ain’t gonna lie to ya, Petzl got game! But really, they make the best headlamps in the business and the ACTIK Core series proves that well.
The ACTIK Core is a game-changer on many levels. I’ve brought many iterations of this lamp on runs throughout the years, including 100-mile races. It’s a versatile headlamp that would probably fit most runner’s needs.
It comes in a light package (2.7 oz with Core battery). Petzl’s Core technology is a great system. This means you can use the powerful rechargeable battery or switch over to three AAA batteries if needed. An extra rechargeable battery is pretty cheap too.
In terms of lighting, three levels of lighting offer 6 lumens (130 hours of burn time), 100 lumens (8 hours), and 450 lumens (2 hours). For reference, 100 lumens is plenty of light to hike or slowly run on moderately technical trails. The ACTIK Core also offers red light settings.
Having the option to go up to 450 lumens, easily interchange batteries when needed, comfortable fit, and having a light package gives buyers just about everything you would want in a running headlamp.
PRICE: $69.95Shop Petzl ACTIK Core
Petzl IKO Core
TAYLOR: For those seeking more out of their headlamp, the Petzl IKO Core was made for you. It’s non-traditional in a lot of ways and is perfectly suited for many circumstances.
It looks like the inside of a bike helmet was pulled off and a bright light was attached to it. Petzl created a new AIRFIT headband to achieve a few goals: zero bounce, comfortable fit, and render itself useful for other tasks.
The AIRFIT headband is semi-rigid and can be rested on the crown of your head rather than tightening an elastic strap around your melon. Because of how it is worn and because it so lightweight (2.7 oz.) there is literally zero bounce.
Petzl’s Core hybrid battery system shines once again. A rechargeable battery pack is included but in a pinch, AAA batteries can be used. The battery pack itself sits nicely below the band at the rear of your head.
In terms of lighting performance, the IKO Core runs stride for stride with Petzl’s ACTIK Core. The only exceptions are that the IKO is an LED light and will last for two and a half hours on full blast (500 lumens). Tbh, the lighting performance looks identical when doing a side-by-side comparison.
As for other uses, it can be easily worn around your neck, wrapped around a tree branch to be your backwoods porch light, can be adapted into a lantern with the provided cover. It’s a versatile piece for most outdoor needs.
PRICE: $89.95Shop Petzl IKO Core
› Best for Trails
Petzl SWIFT RL
TAYLOR: I’ve never been impressed by a headlamp as I have by the Swift RL. Would two hours of 900 lumens fitting comfortably on your head impress you too?
Need more? Well, RL means reactive lighting. So, the same technology that dims your phone when going through different lighting is at work here too. It optimizes the brightness for the lighting that surrounds you, and, in turn, saves your battery. Situations like coming into aid stations and not wanting to blind folks, bright moonlit strolls, running through well-lit neighborhoods on your way out to the trails, and running against oncoming traffic all come to mind as being very beneficial times for RL.
This light has max burn (up to 100 lumens for 10-50 hours), standard (up to 300 lumens for 5-40 hours), and max power (up to 900 lumens for 2-30 hours) options.
You can choose to turn off the reactive lighting if you prefer a single mixed beam of light, but the lumens will vary. On max power, it will go up to 550 lumens for two hours.
At 3.6 oz it isn’t a featherweight contender. But I can guarantee you won’t find these lighting capabilities in a lighter package. Also, even though it is heavier than some other lamps, its unique “split-at-the-rear” band will keep the Swift RL comfortably in place at any pace.
One knock I do have for the Swift RL is that it is not part of Petzl’s Core series. I know that a larger battery is needed to accommodate the RL and power, but it would be a cool adjustment for the future (if even possible). The Swift RL is rechargeable via USB and you can purchase an extra Accu Swift battery for $59.95.
PRICE: $119.95Shop Petzl SWIFT RL
› Best for Ultras
ROBBE: The Petzl NAO+ packs a powerful punch in a small package, and for good reason. At 750 lumens, it throws a tractor beam large enough to make a UFO green with envy. It also has REACTIVE lighting to automatically adjust brightness depending on your setting. At its brightest setting, you can get 6.5 hours of battery life. Half that to 320 lumens and you guessed it– 12 hours of battery life, enough to get you through the night in most ultras. I wore this during an all-night 50-mile race last year (it’s incredibly lightweight and comfortable), and several friends have depended on it for 100-mile races. Features a rechargeable battery and Bluetooth connectivity to the Petzl app where you can regulate all the light settings.
PRICE: $99.95Shop Petzl NAO+
› Best Waist Light
UltrAspire Lumen 600
ROBBE: The hidden secret of the lighting world, the waist/belt light has become a favorite among ultrarunners for a few reasons. For starters, you don’t have a thing on your head (or in your hands). Additionally, the light casts a lower beam to the ground for better depth perception, so you’re not tripping over rocks and roots. Runners who love it really love it. Check out our review last year if you don’t believe me.
As the name suggests, this light packs 600 lumens in a lightweight package; a rear pocket also offers storage space for all your nutrition essentials between aid stations. As a cherry on top, the belt is water-resistant to the highest IPX7 rating.
PRICE: $99.95Shop Ultraspire Lumen 600
› Best Hand-Held Light
Nathan Terra Fire 400 RX
ROBBE: If you’re looking for something to literally grab-and-go, check out this handheld light. At 400 lumens, it’s bright enough for pretty much anything and will last up to 5 hours on the brightest settings. Two other settings are available, with the lowest providing 12 hours of battery life.
The adjustable soft-strap secures the light to your hand and a downward 24-degree angle allows for optimal light position from a natural hand position. Did we mention it’s rechargeable? Because it is, which is awesome because I have an entire junk drawer filled with batteries I need to recycle.
It also offers a rear red strobe light option for additional safety on the road.
PRICE: $99.95Shop Nathan Terra Fire 400 RX
Nick currently lives in Tempe, AZ, where he studies Sports Journalism at Arizona State University. He loves waking up early to log miles before the desert heat blisters the day. He enjoys movies, listening to Jimi Hendrix, and rooting for his hometown Vegas Golden Knights.