The World’s Best Headlamp


It’s strange to think that it’s only about 20 years since the now-ubiquitous headlamp crossed over from the climbing world to offshore sailing. Prior to that, when we needed both hands (most of the time), we either fumbled around in the dark or jammed a huge heavy flashlight between our jaws, thereby insuring that our dentists’ children would go to the very best universities. Of course there were incandescent bulb pen-lights but they produced about as much light as an anaemic firefly.

Hands-Free Light

Then came the halogen bulbed headlamp…and there was hands-free light. Light that could reach the top spreaders on our 75-foot mast to check for a snag when grinding a reef out on a black night. Light that perfectly lit that tricky job that required both hands in a dingy engine room.

Short Battery Life

Of course the halogen bulb munched batteries like Kleenex, the whole thing was a bit cumbersome, and the bulbs died regularly. But hey, those of us with a mirror image of the word “MAG-LITE” permanently imprinted on the back of our throats did not complain. So what if we got personal Christmas cards from the president of Duracell every year? It was worth it.


Low cost LED headlamps arrived a few years later, which, together with the availability of long lasting rechargeable batteries, well and truly solved the short battery life problem. But at a cost: We were back to the anaemic firefly. Good luck seeing tell-tails with one of those.

The World’s Best Headlamp

And then, about three years ago, I discovered the world’s best headlamp, the Fenix HP10 LED. As far as I’m concerned, this thing is just about perfect:

  • The focused-cone of the light will pick out a tell-tail at 70-feet while the spread-cone lights the whole sail.
  • Four AA rechargeable batteries will keep it burning continuously at its brightest setting all night.
  • Despite the fact that I have dropped it at least, oh I don’t know, let’s say a bazillion times over three years, it still works.
  • It’s waterproof.
  • It’s comfortable and well-balanced.
  • The battery compartment closes with two substantial knurled screws instead of those infernal plastic clips that our smaller headlamps are cursed with.
  • The battery contacts are high quality and don’t seem to corrode or lose their spring.

Though the thing has two buttons and enough settings to confuse a technically savvy 12-year-old, let alone me, I just tend to leave it on full brightness.

Not only do we use the Fenix on deck at night, I have it on my head and on pretty much full time when I’m maintaining or fixing anything below. I can’t remember the last time I screwed around with a trouble light.

At just about US$60, these lights are not cheap, but they are worth it!

Of course, since it’s so great, Fenix have discontinued the HP10. But they now have an HP11 to replace it and my hope is that it is just as good, or maybe even better.

To Buy

USA Canada

(Sorry, Amazon UK does not seem to list them, but I’m sure there are other sources in Europe.)


What do you use to provide hands-free light? Please leave a comment.

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 18 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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