Hiking with headlamps

Headlamps become more essential for hiking as the length of days wane in September. The author's "good enough" Energizer headlamp. Brian Patton selfie.

Headlamps become more essential for hiking as daylight wanes in September. The author’s “good enough” Energizer headlamp. Brian Patton selfie.

“I have been one acquainted with the night. / I have walked out in rainand back in rain. / I have outwalked the furthest city light.”—Robert Frost

Every day-hiking checklist tells you to pack a headlamp or flashlight and extra batteries. I must admit, I don’t always follow the rules and seldom have all the “10 essentials”, especially a headlamp or flashlight. However, I’ve been lucky and always tossed some sort of battery-powered light source into my pack at the last minute on hikes where it was eventually needed.

My most memorable near-fiasco came a few years ago when I was returning from a 21-km mid-September hike up Frosty Mountain in Manning Provincial Park. I still had 5 kms to go when I was enveloped in total darkness. I dug a penlight and headlamp out of my pack, but their batteries were weak and fading. I tried saving  juice by not using a light, but couldn’t  feel the broad trail with my feet in the darkness. If my batteries died, I would have to spend the night on the trail or literally crawl out on my hands and knees. To make a long story short, one light bit the dust and the other barely got me back to the trailhead. Lesson learned.

Nowadays I always carry two headlamps with me, particularly in September when daylight fades early. I use the economical Energizer LED headlamps, which are readily available through many outlets (a good selection at Canadian Tire). There are more highly-rated headlamps on the market, but I’ve never spent more than $20 for Energizer models. They’re lightweight, run on AAA batteries, and have always provided enough light for navigating nighttime trails (more powerful lamps can blind your fellow hikers). And I’m happy to travel with two headlamps in my pack since it’s easier to grab the spare than change batteries in the dark.

As mentioned, there are more respected and expensive headlamps on the market, and you can check ratings at Outdoor Gear Lab. (Energizer makes several more sophisticated models than the one tested by OGL.) You can find an excellent selection of headlamps with user reviews at Mountain Equipment Co-op.