The Cheap Athlete’s Running Headlamp Recommendation

It’s fall here in New Jersey which means that the sun doesn’t rise until about 7 AM. For the early-as-hell-o’clock trainers like myself, well, that just sucks.

And those of us with typical office jobs who want to run after work? Well, you’re looking at a 6 PM sunset.

Whomp, whomp.

Gone are the days of 5:30 AM sunrises and strolling out after work for some well-lit miles. Now darker days tempt you to go back to bed or send you to the pub for a few post-work beers.

Is a running headlamp necessary?

For those of us who plan to run through the winter or run in an overnight relay then you should strongly consider a headlamp (they’re mandatory for relays). You’ll probably also want some reflective gear and blinky stuff to let cars know that there’s a silly human trying to better his life by moving around in the dark and cold.

Light has this amazing ability of allowing us to see stuff like potholes, cars, roadkill, other runners or countless other obstacles that we encounter out on the roads.

And, quite frankly, that’s an ability I’m willing to pay for.

I’ve seen some people carry a flashlight but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Your arms swing when you run so you choices are 1) mess with your running motion or 2) deal with a light that shines all over the place.

A much better option is to slap a light right onto your forehead that will shine directly where you’re looking at all times.

What should I look for in a running headlamp?

As a veteran of about 7 overnight relays and countless early morning runs, I know a thing or two about headlamps.

Want proof?

Not pictured above is my first headlamp ever. That P.O.S. would’ve been labeled – “You had one job and failed miserably”

Now you’ll basically want to look for about 4 things when buying a running headlamp:

More lumens are better than less lumens

The very first headlamp I ran with gave me a weak 40 lumens or so. You know those 40 lumens did for me?

Nothing.

I was running in the middle of the night and had to try and memorize the road in front of me when a van would pass because my headlamp was useless. You should look for at least 150 lumens but try to get something in the 220+ range. More lumens = more seeing stuff.

USB chargability

Headlamps are battery-powered and batteries die. If you plan on running a lot with this headlamp then anything that uses alkaline batteries should not even be considered. Having to change batteries every couple of weeks is both wasteful and expensive and USB chargability no longer comes at a premium.

I have found that USB-charged lamps last about 5-8 hours between charges and make life a whole lot easier. So just plug that bad boy in overnight about once a week and you’ll be good to go.

Weight & bulkiness

The headlamp in the top right of the picture above was an Energizer one I purchased from Home Depot. Fresh off my first Blue Ridge Relay with the worthless, P.O.S. 40-lumen “lamp” I found this 150-lumen headlamp when purchasing, I don’t remember, a shovel or something.

Because all good running gear comes from Home Depot right? You probably noticed it wasn’t on my list of where I like to buy stuff, huh?

I used it for a while but it used AAA batteries and I grew real tired of changing out the batteries. Additionally it’s super bulky and managed to hammer my glasses into my nose which each footstrike. Mrs. Cheap Athlete couldn’t even use it because it would fall straight down her face.

We could do better.

Price

Everything on this blog comes down to one thing – price vs. value. Buying crappy gear stinks and paying way too much for stuff also sucks. Here at The Cheap Athlete we’re always aiming for that sweet spot I depicted in this article.

So let’s focus on the two headlamps that team CA owns that don’t suck.

As the owner of both an expensive and inexpensive headlamp I can say with complete confidence that your budget for a good headlamp does not need to exceed $20!

Now before you jump on me for owning an expensive one let me remind you of my favorite way to buy gear – with other people’s money. It was a gift and a damn good one at that. This was also purchased a few years ago before all the cheapo lamps on amazon starting popping up.

Why do we actively use two headlamps? Well, that’s because Mr. Cheap Athlete is a sweaty beast and Mrs. CA wanted her own. Fair. Plus we don’t always run together and each needed our own.

What’s the difference between the expensive and the super-cheap one?

The Petzl has this nifty option where it will adjust to the light around you (you can turn this off). So if you start out in the dark and continue past sunrise the headlamp will progressively dim until it turns off when it’s no longer needed. That’s fairly handy as it saves battery life but can also be annoying when you are running toward oncoming traffic. The headlamp will think it’s light out and turn off so I have to look away from the car in order to keep the light on.

Headlamps are amazing multi-taskers

If you’ve ever seen a neighbor walking a dog or mowing their lawn with a headlamp then you can be about 94% sure that person is a runner. Once you own a headlamp you realize it’s an amazing tool to have around the house. For example, I use my headlamps for:

  • Mowing the lawn
  • Walking my mother-in-law’s dog
  • Grilling
  • Installing ceiling fans
  • Reading Runner’s World during power outages
  • Beer-fueled hijinks

The possibilities are endless and we keep one in the kitchen because, well, we have a bunch and you never know when you’ll need one!

Conclusion

We are big advocates of headlamp usage here at the Cheap Athlete as they help you see stuff and help others see you. Since runners should almost exclusively run against traffic the headlamp serves as an early indicator to the not-done-my-coffee-yet drivers barreling down our roads.

Having owned a wide variety of headlamps I, along with about 970 other reviewers on Amazon, recommend this Aennon headlamp which currently costs $15! It’s super light, charges via USB and projects a nice 220-lumen beam of light. Climb out of the rabbit hole and just get this one.

Happy running in the dark!

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