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Montbell Headlamp Guide

Whether on the trail or in camp, after the sun goes down lighting becomes a necessity…and just a friendly reminder that using your phone as a flashlight is not going to cut it. A headlamp is the superior solution as it provides light while also freeing up your hands for things like trekking poles, a granola bar, or kitchen utensils when you’re making dinner in camp. We’ve created this guide to help you find an appropriate headlamp for whatever it is you have planned for the outdoors.

Some terms such as lumens may be difficult to understand. For now, just know that the more technical your pursuits are, the brighter your headlamp will need to be (i.e. more lumens, longer beam distance). For the more scientifically inclined, be sure to read the Increase Your Knowledge section below to learn more about these terms!

But first, ask yourself...

Where will you be using your headlamp?

On day hikes

Even if you plan to be home long before sundown, you should always take a headlamp in case an emergency keeps you on the trail past sundown. A compact headlamp that you can easily fit into a small day pack and pull out in a pinch will be best. The following headlamps (Power Head Lamp series included) also feature a strobe mode to help you get noticed in case of serious emergencies.

While backpacking

Have some backpacking trips planned this summer and foresee yourself navigating trails at night? If so, you will need the high output lighting provided by the Power Head Lamp Nature Guide. Make sure to bring enough backup AAA batteries to last the entire trip. If you happen to be bringing a solar charger, the Rechargeable Power Head Lamp may be a better option. It will let you save the pack weight and money that would be taken up by single use batteries, and it creates less waste. All of these models are also highly waterproof, giving you peace of mind even if there is a downpour while you're on the trail.

In camp

Whether you're at an established campground or have stopped for the night in the backcountry, cooking dinner or stoking the campfire are relaxed activities that happen right in front of you. In these cases, ease-of-use is more important than lighting power. These lightweight, highly compact models fit into a pocket or a small bag, and deliver just the right amount of light you need in camp. Use the warm light mode on the Mini Head Lamp or Compact Head Lamp to enjoy a relaxing atmosphere while reading or eating dinner. If versatility is what you seek, the Compact Multi Lamp attaches to tent/tarp poles and can be worn around the neck.

"I love when it's night and a bright beam of light temporarily blinds me," said no one ever. For group settings, the Power Head Lamp Nature Guide is a great choice with its red light LED which is better at preserving your night vision, and more importantly, those around you.

When watching wildlife or stargazing

Do you enjoy nighttime wildlife observation or astronomy? For activities like these, you’ll need the Power Head Lamp Nature Guide, which is designed around its red light LED. As mentioned, it will help preserve your night vision while allowing you to see instrumentation and take notes of your observations. (Curious to know the science behind this? Be sure to read through our Increase Your Knowledge section.) The headlamp also activates from its red light LED to help ensure you don’t accidentally blind yourself, your neighbor, or startle that nocturnal opossum you're watching.

On alpine pursuits or ultra-running competitions

For technical pursuits that require uncompromised vision for a longer time in the dark, you'll want an extremely high level of light output. The EX Power Head Lamp delivers that output at a cost effective price. The battery pack is located on the back to balance the weight of the unit and a top strap further secures the fit, allowing you to focus more on what's in front of you and less on the headlamp. This model is also compatible with a rechargeable battery pack (sold separately).

Increase your knowledge!

What are lumens?

Lumens are a measurement of the total amount of light emitted from a light source in all directions. Hard to visualize? For comparison, your phone's flashlight app most likely produces around 40 to 50 lumens. So how many lumens do you need? If you're going to be in camp, 10 to 60 lumens will be fine. Easy walking at night? 60 or more. Nighttime trails? 200 or more will be needed. And fast-paced pursuits like nighttime trail running? At least 300 to 400 lumens is necessary.

What should I know about beam distance?

This means how far the headlamp's LED will cast light. If you're illuminating objects near you in camp, use a lighting mode with a shorter beam distance. If you're looking further away for something like trail markers, then use a mode with a longer beam distance.

How should I use different lighting modes?

Montbell headlamps feature a variety of lighting modes, each serving a specific function. Remember, modes delivering more lumens and a longer beam distance will also drain the battery life quicker. Make sure to use lighting modes wisely depending on the situation!

Spotlight white LED (high): Focuses the beam to illuminate objects in the distance such as trail markers when hiking at night.
Floodlight wide LED (low): Casts a wider, lower powered beam. Great for walking in camp or pitching a tent.
Strobe: Helps alert others in emergency situations.
Warm: Casts a soft glow to use when looking at things nearby, such as books or trail maps.

Red LED: Helps preserve vision at night. How though? Science time! The eye has two kinds of cells responsible for vision, rods and cones. Rods produce a receptor protein called rhodopsin that enables vision in low light. Rhodopsin is extremely sensitive to light, and our eyes take around 30-40 minutes to make enough to fully adjust to the dark. White light immediately depletes rhodopsin and restarts the 30-40 minute adjustment process. However, red light with its longer wavelength doesn't affect your rhodopsin stores, making it a necessary lighting mode for activities like astronomy and useful when sharing a tent.

Side note!
Designed for courteous use in crowded campsites and small mountain huts in Japan, our headlamps always turn on starting from the lowest lumen mode. That means polite use around other people.

Will my headlamp turn on in my pack?

All Montbell headlamps (*excluding the EX Power Head Lamp) feature double-click activation to prevent accidental activation inside of your pack. So know you have lighting you can count on when you go to set up your tent at night after long hours spent hiking.

What is the difference between run time, reserve time and burn time?

Run time: This is the time it takes for the headlamp to go from max lumen output to 10% of that.
Reserve time: Additional time a headlamp emits light from 10% of original lumen output to when it no longer provides usable light in the dark.
Burn time: The total time a headlamp will provide usable light. (Run time + Reserve time = Burn time)

What does that mean for you?
If using the Power Head Lamp Nature Guide on high mode with alkaline batteries, it will gradually go from 300 to 30 lumens over about 4 hours. During most of this run time, it will provide output sufficient for nighttime hiking. In reserve time, it will deliver enough light for walking in camp for about 36 hours, but this won't be enough for active pursuits in the dark.

If using the Rechargeable Power Head Lamp on high mode with a fully charged lithium-ion battery, it will provide a more constant lighting output over the course of 5 hours of run time. It will then drastically drop off before reaching reserve mode, where it will provide an additional 10 hours of light suitable for walking or use in camp.

What is the IP Code?

Ingress Protection Code (IP Code) is a rating system that shows how well an electrical enclosure can withstand environmental conditions. After the IP are two digits. The first represents the level of protection against solid foreign objects like dust (6). The second digit stands for the level of protection against liquid ingress like dripping water (1), water splashes (4) and immersion (7). An "X" means there is no data available to establish a rating.

Our Compact Multi Lamp is rated IPX4, meaning you can confidently use it in the rain. All of our other models are rated IPX6, delivering excellent waterproof performance even in downpours.