Every Home Needs a Head-Mounted Flashlight
To many people, the word headlamp means one thing — it’s what cars have on front. There is a different kind of headlamp, though — it’s a powerful and practical flashlight that you wear mounted on your head. It’s one of the most useful tools that anyone could own.
What makes headlamps so useful?
The headline feature on a headlamp is this: it allows you to light your way without having to tie up one hand holding a flashlight. Whether you need to fix a flat at night, inspect the crawlspace under your home, look for a tripped circuit breaker at night or even study the insides of your refrigerator when you clean it, having a light strapped to your forehead aiming itself where you’re looking while leaving your hands free to work, is a useful idea. It’s a wonder that most people continue to buy handheld flashlights when they have a hands-free alternative.
What do you look for in a lamp?
Battery life: While excellent brightness is always desirable in a headlamp, having any kind of light at all is far more important in the situations that headlamps are used in. Battery life, then, should be at the top of your list. Depending on the model, headlamps offer anything up to 200 hours of battery life. You shouldn’t settle for anything less than 50.
Brightness: Many good models give you the ability to choose both brightness and long battery life — they give you a switch. When you need extra-bright light for a specific task, you switch on the high-power mode. The rest of the time, you switch to the conservative mode where you get a reasonable amount of brightness and the greatest possible battery life.
A low-power setting isn’t just vital to prolong battery life with. With low-power mode, you get lighting over a wide area. This means that you don’t need to constantly turn your head to light up things (you will especially appreciate flood lighting when you need to walk at night or look for a tire nut that you’ve dropped while fixing a flat).
The model you choose, then, should at least have a low-power floodlight mode that gives you reasonable lighting over a 30-foot area and also a bright, narrow-focus mode for specific tasks. It’s also important to have a strobe on the back — safety lighting to warn traffic to your presence.
A lockout mode: This is a feature that you see on a few models these days. It makes sure that the headlamp switch can’t accidentally turn on when the unit bounces around in a backpack or car trunk. If the switch can be accidentally turned on, it would drain the batteries. The feature is a lifesaver. A battery indicator can be a lifesaver, too — it makes sure that you never guess incorrectly about the level of charge you have.
Other useful features: Water resistance is a great idea — you never know the kind of situations you’ll find yourself needing to use your light in.
There are a few gimmicky features that manufacturers often throw in — these can be safely ignored if you are on a tight budget. They don’t contribute much. For instance, many models come advertised with triple-power LEDs. This feature doesn’t make headlamps particularly brighter, though. Others offer red or green floodlights on top of the conventional white kind. The idea is that when you’re in a very dark area, red and green light can help you see farther. While this feature can be useful in some settings, a good white headlamp works well in most cases.
How much should you pay?
Some of the best models on the market cost no more than $40. They give you every one of the useful, basic features mentioned above. Black Diamond Spot is a great model to go with in this price range. If you have higher budget, models exist that are priced two, three or even four times as much. A brand called Petzl, for instance, has models with reactive lighting technology — they adjust the lighting intensity they deliver depending on where you turn to look. Most people should be okay with a quality basic model, though.
Whatever end of the model range you may choose to buy from, the important thing is to have a headlamp of some description on hand — one at home, one in your backpack and another one, perhaps, in the car. There are times when these units truly are a lifesaver.