Disclaimer: Since I am only one man, I unfortunately have neither the time nor the resources to acquire and laboriously compare many different pieces of gear. As such, the reviews on this blog are only my honest assessment of certain pieces of gear and clothing that I’ve purchased and used over the years. If you are looking for exhaustive comparisons backed up by hours and hours of testing and data, I’d highly recommend checking out reviews from sites like The Wirecutter (or its sister site, The Sweethome) and OutdoorGearLab, both of which I refer to in these reviews and when I’m shopping for myself. I am not affiliated with any of these sites, but I rely on their research like any other consumer, and have found their work to be helpful, transparent, and extremely thorough. All of this said, thank you for reading, and I hope you find that the following recommendations positively inform your outdoor gear research and purchasing.
When my old Petzl Tikka Plus breathed its last breath a few years ago, I began looking for a new lightweight all-purpose headlamp to suit my outdoor and travel needs. My criteria were fairly simple: long battery life, moderate brightness, red light capable, comfortable, and a price of less than $50. Salvation came in the form of the Black Diamond Spot.
Just as a note, I purchased my Spot before Black Diamond updated it in 2015. The good news is that since that update, the Spot has only gotten better (TLDR: more lumens, better optics, more waterproof). You can read a comparison of the pre and post-2015-update versions at OutdoorGearLab. They're in the process of updating their review to reflect the new changes, but for now their information is about the same version that I purchased.
So what criteria must one consider when looking at headlamps? The big factors are brightness, battery life, durability, weight, and price.
The Spot occupies a sweet spot amid these criteria. At a price point of only $40, this light gives you the best beam, battery, and bang for your buck. With the improvements of the newest iteration, it is also slightly more durable (transitioning from a waterproof rating of IPX4 to IPX8). The Spot has both white and red light (the latter of which is indispensable when you want to preserve your night vision or not disturb others). It sports a fully dimmable main spot as well as a pair of floods, with levels appropriate for everything from night hikes to reading a book in the tent.
It has an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars across almost 300 Amazon reviews, and the team over at The Wirecutter has proclaimed the new version of the spot as their best headlamp.
I'd like to look into acquiring a Black Diamond ReVolt in the future (currently a OutdoorGearLab's Editors' Choice), which is very similar to the Spot except it sports USB-rechargeable batteries. It also gives you the added flexibility of being able to use traditional non-rechargeable alkalines in a pinch.
For some extra reading, I'd recommend you read OutdoorGearLab's guide on how to choose the best headlamp. They go into a great amount of detail about which aspects are important to consider (like beam distance/optics quality) and which can be misleading (lumen output or manufacturer-advertised battery run times). It's an excellent resource to help you organize your priorities before researching or buying.
For the time being, if I had to recommend a versatile headlamp at an excellent value, I would have to go with the Black Diamond Spot for $30.