Many people like to explore outside at night, and still more like to explore even darker spaces. The subterranean world is more fun to you than climbing a mountain. Today, we are talking about spelunking, which is a fancy word for caving. There is so much to explore in the dark earth, from considerable caverns to underwater rivers. When spelunking, the essential piece of gear you will need is a headlamp as there is never any light underground.
What kind of lamp do you need? Something simple, or something loaded with features. Think about what features will best suit your caving headlamp as some are better than others. One perfect for ultra-marathoning might not suit your needs while caving. Let’s make a list to help you choose the perfect headlamp for your next subterranean adventure.
The best headlamp in the world won’t be useful at all unless it’s tough. You will head to dark rocky areas, and no matter how hard you try that lamp will get knocked around. You need something tough so look for something with an IPX rating of 6 or higher. With an IPX6 rating, a headlamp is water resistant and is dustproof. It can also take drops onto hard rock. I prefer IPX67 or above for all my headlamps as the lamp will be waterproof and can take some hard drops. (I’m clumsy!) Also, consider headlamps that can attach to helmets with either clips or that have straps on the tops and the sides. Safety first! Always wear a helmet while spelunking.
You will need to consider the beam you will need while spelunking. You might think brightness would be most important, but it is better to focus on the beam rather than the Lumens, or brightness.
While a wide floodlight is best when in huge spaces like large caverns, chances are you will be in small spaces. Tiny crawl spaces that require more of a tight, focused beam. Consider a headlamp that has a more focused beam, with the option for a floodlight if needed. Again, it is a matter of preference and your needs while caving.
Ah, burn time. You need to know how long you will be in the deep dark to help you choose your headlamp. If the lamp burns out an hour into your 8-hour journey, you’re stuck. Like stuck in a deep dark hole while you cry for help stuck. Look for lamps that will give you enough burn time for your desired activity, or you can carry spare batteries for. You can also look for headlamps that have the reactive light technology, which adapts according to the ambient light around you.
When you are in the dark with a spotlight for hours at a time, eye strain may happen for you and your caving buddies (remember never to spelunk alone!). This is where night vision can reduce that problem. Look for a lamp that includes red LED lights or other colors to help reduce your eye strain. Despite taking a little while to get used to, night vision will save your eyes in the long run.
Now onto the good part. Let’s check out several headlamps good for caving. I am only sharing five here with you, but there are many options that would work for caving. These are in no particular order.
PETZL ULTRA RUSH
Okay, I love this headlamp. Not just because the name “Ultra Rush” is awesome, but because this little headlamp is beyond powerful. Flip that switch to its most powerful setting of 760 Lumens and you will blind everyone around you.
With continuous lighting, your light will stay steady and never dim until you are in reserve mode. And with a spotlight that reaches up to 170 meters in distance, you will see all the way into those deep, dark shafts. While this headlamp is a hefty 368 grams in weight, it’s worth it as this little lamp is rugged, and is waterproof for up to 30 minutes in one meter of water. The only drawback for this device while caving is the lack of a night vision mode.
PETZL ULTRA VARIO TRIOS CAVING HEADLAMP
This little headlamp is perfect for spelunking, hence the name. It meshes with most caving helmets and comes stock with mounting plates and a headband to allow you to mount the lamp the way you want on your helmet. It is also available as part of a helmet/light combo, making it a solid choice for caving.
The Ultra Vario Trios is a rechargeable workhouse with a continuous beam that sustain itself up to an outstanding 520 Lumens with a maximum focused beam distance of 210 meters. It can last up to 10 hours at 200 Lumens! You will never be in the dark with this IPX67 rated headlamp as the four manual modes will keep you going for your entire caving day.
PRINCETON TEC CORONA
I checked with hard core cavers and asked them what they used. These next two lamps were at the top of their list for durable lamps perfect for those on a budget but are some of the best headlamps in the game.
The Princeton Tec Corona reduces eye strain and comes with a lifetime guarantee from Princeton Tec. With eight shatterproof LED lights, you can cycle the lamp from one LED to all eight to reduce or brighten your output. And the price is amazing: Under USD 120 on Amazon.
PRINCETON TEC APEX
This was the second on the list from hard core cavers on a budget. The Apex is affordable at under USD 100 and comes with one 3 watt LED and four smaller yet super-bright LEDS combining to give a 275 Lumens spot light. More, you can choose the colour of your LEDs. Choose red, white, or green light to suit your preference, helping you reduce your eye strain and keep your night vision. Again, this headlamp comes with Princeton Tec’s lifetime guarantee.
The final lamp is the versatile Fenix HL60R. Fenix is ignored by all but the most serious lamp buyers, and that needs to stop. This lamp is perfect for caving with four super bright LEDs to offer warm white light and one red LED for night vision. This light goes up to an outstanding 950 Lumens in Turbo, enough to light large caverns. The continuous light can last up to ten hours at a time making long days spelunking easier. Thanks to the aluminium alloy body and the IPX8 rating and it can take all the punishment you need while crawling in small spaces and is waterproof for up to 30 minutes in 2 meters of water.
There are many other lamps optimal for caving, such as the Olight H2R Nova which goes from a pocket clip to a headlamp in seconds. Fenix has several all-weather lamps just as suitable, or even the Snow Peak Snowminer which has an interesting headlamp/lantern combo. It’s all about preference, your needs and what’s optimal for you. Or, if you are not sure how to choose any headlamp, check out our blog post on how to pick out a headlamp here.
So get out and explore those caves!! Keep safe and have fun!