When people think about the essential homestead tools for off grid living some of the first things that come to mind are products like chainsaws and generators. Few people would think to mention the lowly headlamp. Yet, from our off-grid experience so far, functional headlamps are absolutely essential. Our back to nature lifestyle means that we don’t have light switches anymore, so when the sun goes away we are completely reliant on our head gear.
And we use them! ALL. THE. TIME. And lots of them.
One of our off grid living goals is to always be prepared, meaning we need to be able to access essential tools when we need them. We live a little like squirrels, stashing headlamps in every nook and cranny of our house and property: from the bed to the water system and even in our truck.
Our goal is to always have headlamps within an arm’s reach because we just never know when we might need one… like this time we had a huge windstorm at night on our property and had massive clean-up to do! In any case, it just makes sense to keep light sources handy because odds are that when you need to find one it will already be pitch black outside.
Let’s be clear – there is no such thing as the perfect headlamp. Different headlamps can serve different purposes, but each headlamp has some special features that might make it the right choice for any given situation.
Though we are no means headlamp experts, we think our ample experience with them give us the credibility to talk about some features with you. Use these tips as a guide for finding the best headlamps for your situation- or be like us and have a few of each type, just in case.
Features to Consider When Picking the Best Headlamp For Your Needs
There are lots of features in headlamps that are important to understand in order to make a smart buying decision. Let’s take things one step at a time.
Headlamp batteries come in a few main types and are the biggest factor for how big your lamp will be. This tiny Vitchelo headlamp uses watch batteries. This makes for a small lamp, but they can be a pain to replace because watch batteries aren’t as easy to come by as double A or triple A batteries.
Though double A batteries make for big, sturdy headlamps that last a long time, they can be cumbersome to wear on your head. Triple As make for smaller lamps, still last a long time, and are easier to replace than watch batteries. They are our first choice for our homestead, but your needs might be different.
When choosing between double A and triple A headlamps it is important to remember that double As are a better value because they will last longer for the price. Twelve packs of double As and triple As are usually the same price, but you will get more battery hours out of a double A pack.
When it comes to light output, not all headlamps are created equal. Some are really dim, like a PETZL model that we use for reading. For our needs, this dimness isn’t a bad thing because it allows us to use this lamp in indoor spaces without blinding each other.
In contrast, our Vitchelo V800 Plus is extremely bright- so bright that it makes it safe enough for Jesse to use a chainsaw at night. But this brightness comes at a cost to battery life and we run through batteries pretty quickly with it.
Most headlamps have brightness settings between these two extremes, and many allow you to adjust the brightness level to fit your situation.
A tip: use the lowest brightness setting you can get away with in order to save the battery.
Types of Light
Besides brightness, there are many different forms of light that most headlamps can give off. Your best option would be to find a headlamp that implements two or more of these features in one design. The Vitchelo V800 Plus is extremely diverse, although the battery life isn’t as long as other headlamps.
Spotlight: This setting is very bright and focused and will surely blind anyone that looks at you. It’s good for true emergencies when you really need to see what you are doing.
Floodlight: A broader, dimmer setting that is better for taking in the whole scene, indoor work, and for reading.
Blinking: This is a setting where the light blinks on and off fairly rapidly. It’s a great feature for when you are more worried about being seen than seeing. We use this setting when we run on the rural rounds around our house. It’s our not-so-subtle way of alerting vehicles on the road of our presence.
Red Light: The red light feature is designed to reduce the impairment of night vision. In all honesty it’s not a valuable feature for us at home, but it can be useful on camping trips when you need to be able to see but don’t want to reduce your visibility too much.
Head straps are pretty standard from one form of head lamp to another, but some include a strap that goes over top the head. This is pretty unnecessary unless your lamp is really big or you will be using it for hours at a time. Then the additional strap will make the lamp significantly more comfortable to wear. This headlamp is pretty good (closest to the one we use – the model we have is like 10 years old!) if you want one with a headstrap.
Controversy Time: Are Rechargeable Headlamps Worth It?
This might offend some people, but in our opinion rechargable headlamps are stupid. Yes, we know how bad batteries are for the environment, but using rechargeable batteries is a far better choice than having a lamp that needs to be recharged constantly.
The whole point of a headlamp is that it gives you light when you need it, and often in a pinch. Rechargeable headlamps are impractical because you never know when you might need to use it and it’s hard to plan ahead with charging. From our experience headlamps usually die in the dark, and a lot of off grid charging methods (like solar power) aren’t going to work then.
The overwhelming positive of batteries being readily accessible whenever we need them makes battery-powered headlamps a lot more practical for us than any rechargeable model out there. But again, your situation will be different so this is a call you need to make for yourself.
We have found that headlamps are an extremely critical tool on our homestead. Hopefully this article has given you a good starting place for finding the models that will work best for you!
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