Best Large Headlamp

Posted March 5, 2014 by Joel Schopp in Backpacking

The Fenix HP11 is the best large headlamp for most people based on our long term testing and abuse.


In our best small headlamp review we stated that the Fenix HL21 is the best headlamp for most people.  We stick by that statement.  However, some people want a brighter and longer lasting headlamp and those people will love the HL21’s big brother the HP11.  We love both for a lot of the same reasons, but the HP11 has more batteries (4AA) for longer runtime and a brighter light.  We get a lot of compliments when we bring along the HP11 on how bright it is, and we get those compliments without turning it up to high.  When we do turn it up to high people generally make comments about the inferiority of their own lights.

Why Not a Flashlight

prefer headlamps over flashlights.  That’s head torches over hand torches for our British readers.  Headlamps free up your hands so you can still use them.  Using a headlamp also means that your light is always pointed where your head is pointed.  Headlamps also come with a handy strap to attach it to things like your head, a helmet, a cross brace in a canoe, your rearview mirror in the car, a tree branch, your tent attic, etc.  Headlamps are simply more versatile than a plain flashlight.

Why We Love the HP11


The HP11 is rated IPX-6, which means it is capable of withstanding strong water jets.  We’ve used it in the rain and even submerged it and had no water leak in.  We’d rather it was IPX-8 like the HL-21 but we think its water resistance is sufficient.


Almost all the headlamps out there get dimmer as your batteries get lower.  The reason is that the brightness is driven by the voltage of the batteries.  This is annoying.  What is more annoying is that rechargeable AA batteries have a voltage of 1.2V compared to AA Alkaline batteries 1.5V.  The lower voltage of rechargeable batteries means that if you throw rechargeable batteries into most headlamps you are 20% less bright to begin with.

Fenix lights are all voltage regulated.  This means that you get the rated brightness when you turn it on all the way until the batteries are too drained.  It also means that you can use rechargeable batteries and get the same brightness as alkaline batteries.  No more worrying about what AA batteries to use.


Ruggedness is harder to measure.  This Fenix light is rated impact resistant to 1M.  It has a 15 day free replacement and 2 year free repair warranty.  But that doesn’t tell you how well it will resist crushing at the bottom of a pack or knocking around as you keep bumping your helmet into things like caves, rock walls, or tree branches.

We’ve talked to a few owners of the HL11 and they all speak highly of its ruggedness.  These same people have broken several Black Diamond and Princeton Tec headlamps and have never managed to phase their Fenix Headlamps.


In our minds most of the headlamps out there now are bright enough.  In practical terms this means you can have a bright spot beam that will let you see down a trail or across camp.  The Fenix HP1 comes in at 277 Lumens on high.  That is not a limited peak number, you can run that bright for almost 4 hours.  So how bright is 277 lumens?  Too bright for most use outside of using it as a search light.  That’s why we didn’t pick the HP15 with 500 Lumens, we just don’t need that extra brightness. We usually use the light on the 55 Lumens (25 hours) setting.  We don’t have to replace the batteries very often.

Unlike most headlamps, you can have the high brightness setting be diffuse by flipping down the included diffuser.  The diffuser also acts to protect the spot lens when you store the light.

Where most lights fail is not having a setting that is dim enough.  With many lights it’s hard to read in your tent without blinding yourself or your tent-mates.  The low setting here lasts 206 hours at 4 lumens.


HP1 takes four AA batteries.  The same kind you can pick up at any corner drug store.  The same kind you can throw in a charger at most people’s houses.  Sure lithium-ion has more capacity, but I dare you to pick up a 26650 at a 7-11 or Walgreens.  Planning a longer trip, bring extra batteries.  Planning a shorter or mid length trip just bring the batteries in the light.  Standard batteries make your life easier.

Speaking of battery life the HP11 has a very efficient LED, the CREE XP-G (R5).  This results in long runtimes at the four different brightness settings.  55 Lumens is bright enough for most of what you want to do, and doing it for 25 hours on four AA batteries is amazing.


This Fenix flashlight has a single LED.  It has a single button to turn it on and off and a second button to change brightness.  There are no red leds, no automatic brightness based on a light sensor, no battery packs, no zippy retractable head strap, no secondary leds for flood, no fuss.  It is as stripped down as you can get.  A battery case connected to a single light source.  We like that.  Minimalism and simplicity are virtues we value.

What Others Are Saying

Probably the most detailed review was done on the candlepower forums.  “The HP11 is much bigger and heavier and is something you would tend to put on for extended periods.  On the higher outputs you start to become aware of the beam of light projecting from your forehead. The tight hotspot means you see a narrow column of light projecting forwards, which is quite good fun :-)

A quick youtube review so you can see it light things up in the dark, courtesy of

About the Author

Joel Schopp

Joel is a a rock climber, canoer, backpacker, camper, father, skiier, programmer, swimmer, cyclist, zipliner, kayaker, and adventurer in no particular order. He is president of the Central Texas Mountaineers, Texas regional coordinator for the Access Fund, and sits on the board of the non-profit Ascend Outdoor Adventures. Joel wants you to have the best gear so you don't think about your gear and instead focus on the wonder that is the outdoors.


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