My first headlamp was one I picked up at the Black Diamond outlet store when it was a tiny place near the airport.
I didn’t know much about headlamps and grabbed it on a whim. Black Diamond (BD) has long discontinued that model.
It died on me from too much water running into it when I hung it off my pack in a shelter on the Appalachian Trail (the AT).
My wife replaced hers with a BD Spot, a very popular headlamp on the AT. I replaced mine with the slightly heavier BD Storm which is full featured, down to multiple colors, to better read maps with.
Like many backpackers we both moved on to Nitecore NU25 headlamps.
The NU25 is a little dim in town where there is a lot of light pollution. But it has been great on the trail.
What I now look for in a headlamp
The first thing is that it has enough power—throws enough light. Too weak and it doesn’t do the job.
The second thing is being waterproof. Otherwise it is just going to fail on me. Probably at a bad moment.
But the third thing is light weight. The longer I hike the more I find a heavy headlamp on my head galling and annoying. The weight doesn’t bother me as much when the headlamp is in my pack waiting for the “just in case” I need it moments.
But while hiking I find weight on my head nags at me.
Having a red and a white light is important too—that way I can switch to red light around other hikers and avoid annoying them. Other colors really don’t have enough utility to justify extra weight.
I also have started to like rechargeable batteries rather than disposable. I can top off my headlamp in town or using my battery pack. That way I’m never guessing when my batteries need replacement and never catch myself carrying extra batteries “just in case.”
Right now the NU25 is just enough. Just bright enough. Light enough. Batteries last long enough.
Everything else out there that offers a little more weighs at least twice as much—and costs more too.
Which is probably why the NU25 has come from nowhere to being one of the most popular headlamps on long trails.
Would I use it for night skiing? No. For in town jogging? No. For bicycle use at night? No. For occasional trail use when I’m starting before dawn or hiking after sunset? Absolutely.
Obviously the NU25. Whether you buy it on Amazon, from REI or direct from Nitecore should depend on where you get the best price and/or where you can return it no questions asked.
If you need something brighter there are other headlamps. My guess is that about 10% to 15% of backpackers need a brighter headlamp than the NU25 on its middle setting to be comfortable.
If you do a lot of night hiking (let’s say eight hours a night, six nights a week, for example) you might want to consider having long lasting battery life as a priority.
If you hike in extreme weather regularly and get submerged a lot you want more waterproof than water resistant. The NU25 is fine for rain, mist or snow but not for swimming.
Bottom line is that there are so many headlamps out there that there is one for every use. The NU25 is a niche headlamp that fits thru-hiking.