Gear Review and Advice: Headlamps and Night Hiking

Between the AT, CDT, and Long Trail, I've hiked into or through the night more times than I can count. Last year on the AT, we night hiked to escape the heat of the day in the Mid Atlantic. This year on the CDT, we night hiked to push more miles per day. We night hiked to avoid the impending darkness that was approaching sooner and sooner. Really, I personally night hike because I enjoy it. 

If you night hike, you're gonna need a headlamp, flashlight, or a full moon. That last one works especially well in the Basin of Wyoming when you and your bud are trying to push through the desert as quick as possible and test your limits. (Yeah, I'm looking at you Mayor.) We hiked through the entire night in the Basin during our 63 mile push and maybe only used our headlamps for an hour at most. 

Anyways, a headlamp or flashlight will be necessary, and just like EVERYTHING else, the options are seemingly endless. 

What I've used: 

  • Black Diamond ReVolt Rechargeable Headlamp
  • Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
  • Petzl Tika XP Headlamp

Black Diamond and Petzl are undoubtedly the most popular and well known choices when it comes to headlamps. Last year I used all three headlamps over the course of the AT. This year I strictly used the Petzl Tika XP. I have my gripes with each of them, but truthfully, they're all great headlamps, so here's some thoughts!

Here's a photo of Scooter illuminating the Ski Hut with his headlamp. 

Here's a photo of Scooter illuminating the Ski Hut with his headlamp. 

BD ReVolt: 

I originally bought this headlamp because of its ability to be charged directly from my Anker Battery Pack. I knew that it had the Lumen power I needed, the red lamp that would prevent hikers from getting angry at me at night, and it was fairly light. 

As far as specs are concerned, the ReVolt is 3.4oz fully loaded with batteries. Speaking of those, it runs off of 3 Rechargeable AAA's, lithiums, or gives you the option to charge via USB. The headlamp itself is labeled as waterproof which provides a little bit of comfort for a thru hiker. As far as the light goes, it boasts One Triple Powered LED, and a Double Powered LED, combing for up to 300 Lumens with alkaline batteries. The thing is almost overkill as far as brightness goes, but it really does come in handy in the Green Tunnel at night or anywhere where there is no moon light. The red light is a double powered LED providing more than enough glow when you're packed in a shelter trying to avoid waking everyone up with your bright headlamp. (Don't do that. Use your red light for the love of god.)

The headlamp is easy to use with it's memory lighting allowing for you to turn the light back on to the adjusted brightness without having to cycle through all of its options. It has pretty much everything a thru hiker would need as far as a headlamp, however: the reason I switched last year was because the rechargeable aspect of the headlamp failed not 500 miles into my thru hike. I was left without a headlamp until the next town so I immediately texted my dad and told him to send out my backup, which was the Black Diamond Spot. Enter the time period where I was carrying two headlamps. SO UL of me right?

BD Spot: 

Another formidable headlamp made by BD, the Spot is a lesser expensive option to the ReVolt listed above. For the recent 2017 model, it boasts the same 300 Lumen Power of the ReVolt, but is not rechargeable, making it IMO MUCH more dependable. Last years model only put out 200 Lumens so they've made some adjustments this year. Sure, the rechargeable aspect is nice, but at this point, I prefer batteries. I like knowing that another piece of gear (shouldn't) fail me because of an electronic problem. 

At 3.2oz, its just under the weight of the ReVolt, making it a little more appealing. They also claim that the headlamp was and still is fully waterproof up to 3.3m. The only fault in this design is that sure, the headlamp will operate if water enters the battery compartment, but eventually those batteries will corrode. Kind of pointless right? Nonetheless, it offers the red light that backpackers and thru hikers should have, is light, and was and still is a good headlamp. Along with the power and weight being pretty spot on, it also offers a lock for the light preventing it from turning on in your pack or pocket. It does everything you need it to at a fairly decent price with some fairly decent technical specs. Overall, an awesome and affordable option for lighting. 

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp, Black, One Size
$29.96
Black Diamond Equipment LTD

I used it as a backup until I got to an REI in Asheville where I swapped my ReVolt for the Petzl Tika XP and sent the BD Spot home. 

Petzl Tika XP: 

The heaviest option out of all 3 headlamps, the Tika XP is also the most reliable of the three in my opinion. It boasts 180 lumens with 3 options for brightness and a red LED for those shelters and camp scenarios. It doesn't have nearly as many 'features' as the above headlamps, but it is my workhorse for how reliable it is. In the 3,000+ miles I've used this headlamp, I have yet to experience any fault or failure in the product. It's as easy to use as any headlamp out there, but instead of being laden down with tons of features to fail, it presents the most simplistic design out of all of the options. It has one button which controls every aspect of the light, and provides more than enough light and power for any endeavor. 

Honestly, there's not MUCH to say about this headlamp because it's so simple. It takes 3 AAA batteries, gets the job done, and won't fail on you. For that reason, I chose to bring it along with me on the CDT and LT this year as well instead of swapping to a lighter and more 'capable' headlamp that had a bunch of features I really didn't need. I tend to value reliability and design over features/aesthetic/ability. 

Night Hiking:

Night hiking is probably the most underrated type of hiking. The miles seem to fly by due to the lack of light and lack of interest in the time. I've night hiked roughly 300-400 miles over the last two years, and I enjoy it probably more than most. If it's the middle of summer, nap and take a siesta during the day and crunch out some miles when the sun goes down. Click the headlamp on and go. I really enjoy it because it offers a different way to experience the trail. Different animals are active at night. You think differently at night. The trail is completely different without light. The lack of light makes you think more carefully about your steps, in turn paying more attention to the trail and each moment. Although you don't get the views you do during the day, you get something much more. Solitude. Time to think. Time to enjoy the most basic of reasons I and hopefully you hike as well. To do just that; hike. Sure, theres a level of eeriness in the woods at night, especially if you're alone. Sure, it's a bit more dangerous to traverse technical terrain at night when you can't visibly see each and every root and rock. 

Red Bass and I lighting up the sky with our headlamps in the Winds. 

Red Bass and I lighting up the sky with our headlamps in the Winds. 

I night hike and truly enjoy it because of the stillness in the air. It's quite calming when the only thing you can hear is the occasional gust of wind ripping through the trees. I find comfort in making the most of each minute and hour on trail, and that means taking the opportunity to hike as much as possible, even at night. It's not for everyone, but to me it's something that is unavoidable during a thru hike, making it that much easier for me to enjoy. I've had some of the most mind blowing experiences while night hiking.

Mayor and I heard coyotes and wolves howling in the Basin this year on the CDT around hour 5 of hiking through the night. I pushed my limits more than I ever have this year during our night hike through the Basin of Wyoming. Last year on the AT, Shotgun and I night hiked for 9+ miles one night and 2-3 of those miles were spent trying to outrun a Bobcat that was stalking us. 

Conclusion:

There's a lot of headlamps to choose from out there, and these are just the three that I've used in the past, so don't limit yourself to these options. I know plenty of folks who have used headlamps from Walmart, or other off brand lights. Some are more reliable, lighter, and flashier than others, but generally, headlamps all do the same thing. I'm currently looking into some lighter options, specifically a flashlight. There are some sub 1-2oz flashlights out there that are brighter than most of these headlamps. Casting light from the hip rather than the head creates less shadows, allowing for a more clear step while night hiking. I'll be picking up some flashlights later on so keep posted for a review of those when it comes time. Night hiking is fun if you allow it to be. Hike at night to get some extra miles or to find the perfect sunrise spot. Wake up early, click the headlamp on and climb the next mountain to get the perfect sunrise.

It's not for everyone, but dang do I enjoy night hiking!