An Official Caving Headlamp Buying Guide for Beginners

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Unless this is your first time learning about spelunking, you probably already know that a headlamp is a critical piece of caving gear. Its hands-free lighting feature gives utter convenience that professional cavers require. It doesn’t matter whether you are on a horizontal clear path or in a tight spot, it simply illuminates the way. Without a good caving headlamp, you should not embark on a new adventure to any wild caves.

Welcome to this special headlamp buying guide, in which we are going to reveal how to select the proper headlamp since their capabilities vary greatly. If you don’t keep these factors in mind, it would be almost impossible to find the most practical one or get the most out of your light.

  • Type of Activity
  • Beam Type
  • Beam Distance
  • Weight
  • Average Run Time

All of these factors play a significant role. Allow us to talk about them in a tad more detail so that you can see which variables differentiate headlamps and set one product apart from another.

1 – Type of Activity

Let’s talk about the activity first.

No two caving headlamps are the same due to their features; therefore, it is pertinent to think about your activity first. Your activity defines the exact type of headlamp you need. For instance, if you are buying a headlamp for boating inside the cave, you need a water-resistant model that can withstand some degree of exposure to rain and snow.

A group kayaks in an underground pool with individual kayaks, headlamps, and other caving gear.
Red River Gorge in Stanton, Kentucky.

If the headlamp is great and has an immensely powerful beam but can’t tolerate shallow, short-term immersion, it is good for nothing.

Similarly, for vertical caving, a headlamp with good tilting option is the best, because, for vertical caving, a caver adjusts his headlamp unit up and down over and over again to get the view he needs. The tilting option is very handy for him, especially when he is climbing.

For just exploration, you can count on the headlamp that provides good beam distance, beam width, and battery life. These three features work incredibly well inside a horizontal cave.

2 – Beam Type

Generally, the headlamps have two beam types – Flood & Spot.

The flood beam type is good for the general tasks as it gives a wide spot. It actually produces a dispersed light in a wide-angle which is very helpful if you are trying to look closer objects, like maps, walking surface, and rock formations in tight spaces. It illuminates close objects quite brilliantly, however, this beam type doesn’t throw light a long distance.

On the other hand, there is a spot beam type. This beam type is focused and narrow. It lights the path far ahead of you. For that reason, cyclists and hikers often count on this beam type; they have to see the entire surface clearly to move well. For caving, the spot beam is great for covering dark, uncharted territory. The darkest hours will become comfortable for you if you have this beam type in your headlamp.

There are some other beam types too that you can find in the headlamps, such as a uniform beam. It is without dark rings or splotches and also has quality reflectors.

A figure stands before a brightly illuminated cave wall and/or entrance.
We’re not sure if a headlamp can provide THIS much light…but you won’t need it anyway.

3 – Beam Distance

Beam distance plays a significant role inside a cave.

When you see the beam distance numbers in the description of your headlamp, you are actually reading the length of meters. In a way, this means how far the headlamp can project usable light. If you are a novice and it is hard for you to understand which exact feature you need for the next caving adventure, just focus on this one.

Since the beam distance tells you how far the light goes, that’s why the feature of the spot beam depends on it.

According to our experience, headlamps without good beam distance are not good. Even if you are in a horizontal, safe cave, weak beam distance won’t allow you to relish the true beautiful formation of the cave. On the contrary, a good beam distance lets you see as far ahead of you as possible; you not only see the path but the entire structure of the cave clearly.

A man looks upward at an ice cave ceiling with his caving headlamp illuminating it.

4 – Weight

Most headlamps weigh around 7 ounces.

The companies know very well that when it comes to caving, extra weight is a big no-no. The caver shouldn’t notice the weight once he is inside the cave. If the weight is too much, he can’t explore the cave casually and the weight on his head can distract him instead. Particularly for children and inexperienced cavers, the extra weight of the headlamp can be very cumbersome, and could even strain their neck.

But the weight feature can be puzzling and disturb the average runtime.

For instance, let’s say you are opting for a lightweight headlamp. You can expect to receive less than normal running time since the headlamp won’t be able to hold powerful batteries compared to some of the heavy-duty ones. Fortunately, this is not a big issue. Just see what kind of batteries your headlamp needs and carry an extra set of them in your backpack.

The extra flexibility by having lighter gear can give you an advantage in more ways than you can imagine.

Three cavers stand by a cave opening with their headlamps on.

5 – Average Run Time

What is the average run time of the headlamp?

It is up to you to decide how many hours you are planning to stay inside the cave. Visitors usually don’t think about this aspect but the life of the professional cavers relies on it. They know any accident or unfortunate event can compel them to stay inside the cave for days.

If you are buying the headlamp online, you can see the runtime in the description, but it is often displayed on the packaging as well. The caving headlamp companies try to attract you by showing how long your headlamp will last from the time it is fully charged.

If the manufacturer says you won’t be able to use the headlamp after 2 hours, it means that the original light will be reduced after this period and your headlamp will stop producing usable light.


We hope this guide will help you learn how to buy the best caving headlamp for your caving needs. If you want to connect with us to ensure that you are getting a good headlamp, send us an email or feel free to get in touch in the comment section. We will happily help you choose between your top picks if you are looking for a second opinion. We’ve reviewed headlamps in this article here, so check that out next.

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