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Updated Jun 20, 2023 8:41 AM
If the best fishing took place in the middle of the day, we wouldn’t need to worry about seeking out the brightest headlamps for fishing. And of course, some of it does. But most anglers know that dusk and dawn are magical times on the water, when game fish like brown trout and striped bass—and the bait and flies they feed on—are at peak activity.
You need artificial light for the many tasks associated with fishing, such as changing lures and putting on fresh bait. A headlamp frees up both hands for the work. You don’t want to have to clamp a flashlight in your teeth while tying on a Size 18 Blue-Winged Olive.
Even if there’s still some daylight while you’re fishing, there may not be while you’re on your way to the water, or when you’ve reeled up and called it a night. Steelhead fishers know the importance of the first-light bite, and that often means a pre-dawn trek to your spot. Likewise, rising trout may keep you on the water well into the dark, and when you’ve had your fill, a portable light will make it easier to get back to your vehicle. While a flashlight works, a light you don’t have to hold in your hand is even better—enter the best headlamps for fishing.
How We Picked The Best Headlamps for Fishing
I’ve got plenty of experience with headlamps in the retail world, examining and writing about hundreds of new models a year. I’m also an avid nighttime angler on the shores of Jamaica Bay and the Long Island coast, so I’m acquainted with what’s available. As always there are options beyond what are presented here, but this selection will give you a good idea of what you can hope to find. You can’t go wrong with any of my picks.
Best Headlamps for Fishing: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Fenix HM23
- Output: 240 lumens max
- Weight: 1.5 ounces
- Power Source: single AA battery
- Three brightness settings ranging from knot tying to trail running
- Waterproof housing
- Commonly available batteries
- Max output can be a little low for some activities
Like most things, the best headlamp is the one you have with you. And at just over an ounce, you won’t notice the Fenix HM23 stashed in tackle box or vest pocket. This handy little lamp—which is one of the most powerful—produces up to 240 lumens in a package that only weighs 1.5 ounces, so there’s no excuse to leave it at home. Toss one in your bag, and you’ll be glad you did on those days when “one last cast” takes you well into the darkness.
Three output levels provide just enough light to tie knots without spooking fish, but can be ramped up to provide the brightness needed for a leisurely jog back to the trailhead. Unlike some headlamps that can be uncomfortable, the HM23 uses a silicone holder for the lamp housing, adjusting to the contours of your head without any pressure points. The aluminum housing is rugged, so it will survive those drops that will inevitably happen out in the wilds.
Brightest Headlamp: Fenix HM50R Rechargeable
- Output: 500 lumens max
- Weight: 2.2 ounces
- Power Source: rechargeable, or use one CR123 battery
- Bright, yet light
- Detachable lamp
- Glass lens susceptible to breakage
The Fenix HM50R emits 500 lumens at peak output for up to two hours, and will run as long as 128 hours on the low setting. It’s made of aluminum, operates by a simple push button, and it’s IP68 waterproof. And yet it still weighs barely over 2 ounces.
The glass lens is a breakage risk, but it also assures the best light transmission, which translates into the brightest, clearest light. Being able to detach the light from the headband and use it as a small, 90-degree handheld flashlight really is handy, and in fact allows the HM50R to double as an everyday-carry pocket torch as well as a fishing headlamp.
Fenix has introduced an HM50R 2.0 which offers 4 settings, with an even brighter 700 lumen max, but a shorter advertised battery life.
Best Waterproof: Princeton Tec Roam
- Output: 170 lumens max
- Weight: 5.6 ounces
- Power Source: Uses two AA batteries
- IPX8 waterproof, so weather is no issue
- Uses widely available batteries
- Runs 18 hours on fresh batteries
- A bit heavy at 5.6 ounces
We don’t know why you or your headlamp would end up 328 feet underwater, but if you do, the light will still work, at least for a while. The Roam is an evolution of Princeton Tec’s diving headlamp, and that awesome water resistance will serve you well when fishing in the rain or the surf.
The 18-hour runtime will likely last numerous outings on basic AA batteries (bonus points for rechargeable batteries). Having one brightness level yields simple operation: twist the bezel and the light comes on; loosen it and the light goes off, without having to cycle through other settings first.
Best for Ice Fishing: Nitecore HU60
- Output: 1600 lumens max
- Weight: 4.2 ounces (without power pack)
- Power Source: USB rechargeable
- IPX7 waterproof rating means it can shrug off an occasional splash
- Outputs from 5 to 1600 lumens handle wide variety of tasks
- Cable allows battery pack to be stuffed in a pocket to maintain function in cold weather
- Can also utilize any USB power source capable of providing 2 amps or greater
- Needs a 9V or greater power source to reach high and turbo settings
Ice fishing offers a unique challenge for a headlamp: freezing temperatures. Sub-zero cold has a negative impact on batteries, cutting run times significantly. Fortunately, the remote power pack on the Nitecore HU60 can be stashed in a warm pocket, where it can remain functional no matter how cold it gets. The waterproof, rechargeable power pack can also be swapped for any USB power source, so you can keep enough juice on you to power the light for days.
The light offers outputs from 5 to 1600 lumens, so you can tie knots inside your ice fishing shelter without disturbing the fish below or run your snow machine across the lake in total darkness. The LEDs offer both spot and flood patterns, so you can have the right lighting for the task at hand. Runtimes with the included battery range from 45 hours on ultra-low to 90 minutes on turbo. You can control the output using buttons on the lamp or using the included wrist-mount wireless remote. An IPX7 waterproof rating protects against splashes, making it ideal for use around water, frozen or otherwise.
Best Rechargeable: Nitecore NU32
- Output: 550 lumens max
- Weight: 2.7 ounces
- Power Source: USB rechargeable
- 1800mAh battery, quick recharge
- Long runtime
- White, color-corrected white, and red settings
The NU32’s battery recharges quickly and will give you light for anywhere from one hour on the top setting to 330 hours on the 1-lumen low setting. It also offers a high Color Rendering Index (CRI) beam that mimics daylight, to accurately show colors and contrasts, as well as a red setting that’s less disruptive to wildlife – and to your own night-acclimated vision. Having to use two buttons to operate the light might take a little getting used to, but it’s a small price to pay for the versatility.
Like many headlamps, the NU32 can be tilted downward to throw the light right where you need it, which will benefit your neck during a long night of changing flies or baiting hooks. Overall, the lamp is model-tested to withstand being dropped from more than three feet to a hard surface, which is generally a solid impact-resistance rating. A potentially important safety feature is its ability to flash an SOS signal should you get into trouble. Finally, it weighs less than 3 ounces, so it’s unlikely to feel heavy during a long night of casting.
Best Budget: Coast FL13 Dual-Color
- Output: 250 lumens max
- Weight: 2.5 ounces
- Power Source: uses two AAA batteries
- Compact and lightweight for comfortable use
- Long runtime
- White, red, flashing red settings
- Lifetime warranty
- Shorter runtime than other lamps
- Minimal water resistance
It’s always nice to get a useful, lifetime-warranted light for under $20. But the Coast FL13 would still be a good deal at a higher price. You get two levels of white light in a wide flood beam, red light for tasks while preserving night-acclimated vision, and a flashing red light that can serve as an emergency beacon. Even the low white setting emits 54 lumens, more than enough to adjust tackle or find your way back to your vehicle, and the 13 hours of runtime is enough for several trips (the 250-lumen high beam will deplete the two AAA batteries in just a couple of hours, so use it sparingly).
Rated IPX4 for water resistance, the light will withstand a splashing or a shower, but it’s not submersible. One of the nicest things about the FL13 is the compact, 2.3-ounce lightweight design – the less equipment you have strapped to your head, the better. There’s also a hinge along its bottom edge that allows the light to be tilted.
Best Lightweight: Streamlight Bandit
- Output: 180 lumens max output
- Weight: 1.3 ounces
- Power Source: USB rechargeable
- One of the lightest headlamps
- Cap brim clip
- Two brightness levels and flash
- Lifetime warranty
Light weight is hugely important for a headlamp to be comfortable. The featherweight Bandit is barely noticeable on your head, and if you don’t like the elastic band, you have the option of clipping it onto your cap brim. Despite its light weight and small profile, it delivers a perfectly capable 180 lumens, with runtime ranging from two to just under 10 hours. It’s controlled by a single, easy-to-find push button above the lamp window.
The Bandit’s light is generated by a chip-on-board (COB) LED, which creates a wide, even beam. Its water resistance is rated splash-proof, less than many lights but generally enough for fishing, provided it isn’t submerged, and the 6.6’ drop rating of its polycarbonate housing and lens is among the best available. The switch is also an LED indicator that lets you know when it’s finished charging, which usually takes about 2.5 hours.
What to Consider When Choosing a Headlamp for Fishing
We all know the basic premise: a small lamp, rechargeable or battery-powered, mounted on an elastic headband. There is a wide range of brightness levels, sizes and weights, and handy features like optional color settings. Think a bit about your fishing: Do you need a bright beam for going to and from the water? Will you be out for long stretches that might make a heavier model uncomfortable? Do you like being able to get batteries at any convenience store or gas station, or would you prefer to charge up at home and not mess with batteries at all?
Here are some headlamp characteristics to keep in mind.
I think a lightweight headlamp is the best choice. There are lots of great lights that feel burdensome on my forehead. Some, mostly pretty powerful models, have an overhead strap for support, and distribute the overall weight by placing a battery pack at the back of your head. Lights like these may be great for industrial or utility workers, but I prefer a light where small cells or a rechargeable battery are in the lamp housing and the weight is right around three ounces.
The best headlamp for fishing is not necessarily the brightest. There are models bright enough to light up an airport runway, but they’re heavy and expensive. Brightness is measured in lumens, and one lumen is considered about the brightness of a candle. You only need a few lumens to clip on a lure (turn your back to the water first!), but you’ll want more walking to and from the water, especially in dicey spots like rocky trails or jetties. Most lights give you two or three brightness levels to choose from; 20 lumens or so, a fairly typical low-power output, is probably enough for most tasks. It will also use a lot less power than the high setting, which brings us to…
Also called burn time, this is simply how long your light will work on a full charge or fresh set of batteries. Some lights with great circuitry and LEDs (incandescent headlamp bulbs are all but obsolete these days) yield prodigious runtime, sometimes hundreds of hours on the lowest setting. But your light isn’t likely to be on for long stretches, usually a few minutes or even a few seconds at a time, so a light with 10 hours of runtime will probably last many trips before you need to recharge or replace the cells.
Most headlamps are simple to operate, with one or maybe two push buttons. Some even have a motion detector that lets you turn the light on and off with a wave of your hand. Lights with multiple brightness settings must often be clicked a few times to cycle from the level it’s currently on to “off.” It’s not burdensome, once you’re accustomed to it.
Q: Is 300 lumens good for a headlamp for fishing?
Yes, I’d say 300 lumens, with a lower-power setting or two, is a good choice for a fishing headlamp. That’s enough light to see where you’re going on your way to and from the water, and the lower brightness levels, or even a red-light setting, will be fine for working with tackle.
Q: How much do headlamps for fishing cost?
A headlamp for fishing should cost between $20 and $70. You do get what you pay for, but options at the lower end of the scale don’t necessarily mean poor quality – a fishing headlamp is a fairly simple device, after all. Stick with a well-known brand that’s gotten some good reviews and you should be fine.
Q: What’s the best headlight for fishing?
Of the models listed here, I’d say the Streamlight Bandit is the best choice, primarily because of its low profile and very lightweight. I like the light from COB LEDs, and I like the option of using the light as a clip-on. Streamlight is a good brand, and the price is good, too.
Q: What is the most reliable headlamp for fishing?
With advances in technology, most headlamps from reputable manufacturers are planet-reliable for fishing. But around the water adds an element of danger for any electronic device. Choosing a waterproof model, like the Princeton Tec Roam, assures that an accidental dunk won’t lead to the demise of your light source.
Q: How many lumens do I need for fishing?
How many lumens you need for fishing depends on the task at hand. Tying on lure or flies only requires a handful of lumens, somewhere between five and 20 should suffice. But long hikes, or perilous walks such as on jetties or along rugged coastlines, can require much more. Consider 300 a good starting point. And if you’re using your headlamp to help navigate a boat in the dark, you’ll want as many as possible. Look for models capable of putting out 1,000 lumens or more for this task.
Q: What is the best waterproof headlamp for fishing?
There are many excellent waterproof headlamps available for fishing. I find the Princeton Tec Roam to be one of the best on the market. Princeton Tec has been making waterproof dive lights since 1975, so they know a thing or two about keeping water out.
Best Headlamps for Fishing: Final Thoughts
Anytime you’re fishing in low light, or naturally in complete darkness, a headlamp is a godsend. The best headlamps for fishing are easy to stash with your gear, comfortable to wear, and always ready to give you a good look at the lure you’re clipping on or the fish you’ve just brought in. You’ll probably find yourself using your new headlamp for non-fishing purposes, too, like rummaging in a dark closet or poorly lit corner of your basement or garage. It’s a handy gadget that will make your fishing more enjoyable and successful.
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