Best Flashlight for Night Hiking or Camping

Hiker at Dawn

Hiking in the day comes with its fair share of challenges and planning considerations. However, they pale in comparison when one plans to travel further than their legs can go in a day. The first considerations for overnight hiking are usually food, water and shelter, yet few advice can be found about illumination. So, here’s how to select the best flashlight for hiking, backpacking, camping or simply a night spent out in the wilderness.


Go Hands-Free: Use Your Head

Many of us consider headlamps used mainly for underground exploration in confined areas, where the hands are not readily available for holding onto a flashlight. The same applies for hiking as well.

For night trekking, you do not want to lose the use of one hand just for the purpose of illumination. Not only should you keep both hands free for support, they should be free for self-defense if required, as most predatory animals tend to be more active at night.

Hiking with flashlight on also does one important thing: warn animals of your presence. Most animals, such as bears, would prefer to avoid human contact if possible. Bears also do not like to be surprised, so announcing your presence with an active flashlight may help to keep you both on separate paths.


See Price and Availability of the Zebralight H502w Headlamp


If you’re planning to set up camp for the night, having both hands available greatly enhances the efficiency of setting up a fire or pitching a tent. For the purpose of such work, consider a headlamp that can be rotated in its holder so that its angle of illumination can be adjusted. Most close-up tasks require your head to be upright yet your eyes are looking down. Choose an adjustable headlamp and your neck will thank you.

The headlamp should light up as much of your immediate path or work area as possible with a strong ‘floody’ light. Choose one with a frosted lens for maximum ‘floodiness’.

As this is mainly used for short distance lighting, anything of around a hundred lumens of output should be more than sufficient. The flashlight should have multiple modes that can be switched to in order to provide higher output if required.

Some recommendations for headlamps:

  1. Zebralight H502w
  2. Fenix HL50
  3. Fenix HL23
  4. LED Headlamp from Smarterlife Products


Keep A Backup Flashlight Handy

The headlamp should be primarily for navigational purposes and should provide ample short distance illumination. However, a handy backup flashlight should always be within reach when a little bit more ‘throw’ or light is required. For example, to investigate a noise a little further up ahead where the light from the headlamp is unable to reach.

The backup light can also act as a defensive tool. Shining a bright light directly at an animal can temporary stun it, or at least make yourself harder to see. If your flashlight has the ability to strobe, the disorientating flashes can also help deter or distract predatory beasts, such as coyotes, from making their approach.

It is also handy for say if you need to get up in the middle of the night and make your way around (perhaps to relief yourself) without having to put on your headlamp.

The ideal flashlight should have a maximum output of at least 200 lumens with an orange peel reflector that can produce a distinct hotspot, with a good amount of spill to illuminate the surroundings of your target within that hotspot.

At this point in writing, the only 2 flashlights able to hit 500 lumens with just one AA battery are:

  1. the Zebralight SC5 and
  2. the Manker T01


See Price and Availability of the Manker T01


Being extremely bright is a huge plus, but the backup flashlight is also supposed to be within reach for various ad-hoc scenarios, including those that may require preservation of night vision. A powerful flashlight with an ultra-low, sub-lumen mode makes it a very versatile tool. Anything between 0.1 to 1 lumens can actually provide ample short distance illumination for days, for when you absolutely need to conserve your power supply. If you’re traveling with a companion, observing light discipline by not blasting everything with your powerful flashlight while you rummage through your belongings is also something an ultra-low output would be useful for.

Another useful feature to look out for in your backup flashlight is beacon mode. This mode emits a flash periodically to indicate your location should there be an emergency situation where you’ll need a rescue team to pinpoint where you are. This mode should be energy efficient and last for days on a reasonably charged cell.

Finally, one last tip is to consider getting a diffuser that can be attached to the flashlight’s bezel to turn it into a lamp. This will allow it to bath a small area (perhaps inside the tent) with light. Sure beats lugging around an actual lamp. Just make sure the diffuser you are getting are the right measurements for your flashlight’s bezel.

Single AA flashlight recommendations:

  1. Zebralight SC5w Neutral White
  2. Manker T01
  3. Our recommendations for Best AA Flashlights


Powering Your Flashlights In The Wild

There will be no power points out there to recharge your flashlights, or batteries for that matter.

Lithium-ion batteries or nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) cells may be cost effective and great for the environment in the long run, but if they go flat while you’re out there, you’ll still have to fall back on your primaries or be left in the dark.

With that said, it will still be good to equip yourself with a good supply of Eneloop AA batteries. Yes, although these are more expensive batteries, they perform much better and should last much longer than regular alkaline primaries. They can also provide increased outputs when used in today’s advanced flashlights running on AA batteries.

Think of how many hours you will be actively trekking each night and check through your headlamp’s runtime at a hundred lumens, which should last about 3 hours on a single cell. Then bring along just as many cells for your backup flashlight, though you should only use it half the time. Top up with regular alkaline AA primaries if you fall short.

Suppose you do come across any civilized trading outposts, most likely you’ll be able to cheaply resupply your AA batteries as compared to batteries of other sizes.


Wrapping Up

In summary, for you night hikers out there, here’s what we’ve covered for your illumination requirements:

  1. Get a ‘floody’ headlamp with an adjustable angle
  2. Keep a strong backup flashlight handy with an orange peel reflector, ultra-low and beacon mode
  3. Go for AA powered flashlights
  4. Bring along Eneloop AAs and top up with spare AA alkaline primaries

Hope this post is useful for your next night hiking expedition. Share this post if you know someone who may need it!

Do you have any other tips for night hiking or camping flashlights? Leave them in the comments below.

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