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Flashlight and Headlamp Lumen Chart: How Many Lumens Do I Need?

Featured Image For Post explaining the brightness of headlamps and flashlights and introducing the flashlight and headlamp lumen chart

Determining the lumen level of a headlamp or flashlight can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be. High lumen level flashlights are nice, but you don’t need as many lumens as you think for most activities. An affordable $30-50 350 lumen light with a long beam distance is all most people need. So how many lumens do I need for a Flashlight or Headlamp?

All you need is a 250-350 lumen flashlight or headlamp to accomplish 99% of tasks. That’s enough to light up a room/tent, hike through the woods at night, ride a bike in the dark, read a book, spotlight objects at a distance, and do almost anything else you need. The only time you’d want additional light is for spotting objects at a distance (100+ meters) or if you have an external power source.

Just be careful, because some manufacturers have deceptive lumen ratings. They overinflate their numbers and lie about battery runtimes. Do your research and purchase a flashlight/headlamp from a reputable manufacturer. Don’t get burned by flashlight lumen ratings that seem too good to be true.

In the rest of this post I’ll explain different lumen ratings needed for various activities and explain why high lumen ratings don’t mean much. Most people never actually use the advertised lumen ratings on their light, so you don’t need to spend $200-$300 on a 1000+ lumen flashlight or headlamp!

Flashlight and Headlamp Lumen Chart

Flashlight and Headlamp Lumen Chart explaining lumen needs for different activities.

Flashlight and headlamp brightness is measured by the amount of lumens emitted from the bulbs. As you increase the lumen level more light will come out of the bulb. Having a higher lumen flashlight is nice, but you rarely need more than a 250-350 lumen light to perform most tasks.

It’s nice to have a 1000+ lumen flashlight for certain tasks, but it’s rarely necessary. I actually have a 3500 Lumen Ledlenser H19R Headlamp that I use for spotlighting animals on my farm. It’s insanely heavy/expensive, but I need to be able to spotlight something at 300 meters away for 3-4 hours hours at a time.

That makes sense for my needs, but 99.99% of people would never actually need to go over 350 lumens for general use (75-100 meters) or 500-750 lumens for long distance sightings (100-150 meters). You can find a nice 350 lumen headlamp/flashlight for $30-$50 with a long battery life, so don’t waste your money going higher than that.

Most people never actually use the total lumen rating in their flashlight. They turn the brightness setting down to conserve battery life and they’ll still be able to see 15-30 meters away. Here’s a list of different lumen ratings you need for various activities. You’ll be surprised that you don’t need many lumens to perform most tasks.

  • Lumens To Read A Book: It doesn’t take much light to read a book in the dark. All you’ll need is 25-50 lumens of light. Any flashlight should be able to provide that even on the low lumen energy saving modes.
  • Lumens To Navigate A Small Room/Tent: All it takes is 35-60 lumens to light up a small tent or average sized room in your home. It will be plenty of light to navigate the room, find objects in the dark, and perform any task you need.
  • Lumens To Walk Outside At Night: You don’t need more than 100-150 lumens to walk through the dark outside. That gives you a 30-50 meters of light in front of you and plenty of peripheral light to avoid tripping on objects.
  • Lumens To Ride A Bike At Night: Riding a bike at night will require a slightly higher lumen rating than walking since you’ll be moving faster. You only need 150 lumens to see 30-50 meters in front of you, but aim for a flashlight in the 250-400 lumen range. A flashlight only holds its maximum brightness for the first 10-15 minutes of usage. The light will dim as the battery drains so you need to have enough light to see on the middle setting which extends the battery life. Black Diamond Storm 400 headlamp is a great choice with a 100meter max beam distance and 5 hour run time on high.
  • Lumens To Spotlight Far Away Objects: You need to increase your budget and lumen rating a little bit if you’re trying to spotlight objects that are farther than 75-100 meters away. Look for a 400+ lumen flashlight to extend your range spotlight range above 100 meters. Once you get into the 1000+ lumen range you’re dealing with a specialized tool to perform security, rescue, and other jobs that require an extreme amount of light. Beam width also plays a role in this so make sure you check the Max Beam Distance.

Consider Dual Purpose Convertible Headlamps and Right Angle Flashlights

Right Angle Flashlight Lumen Ratings

Go with a high lumen flashlight if you’re on a tight budget and need a long beam distance. You can find high quality 1000+ lumen flashlights for 1/3 of the price of a headlamp. The affordable 650 lumen coast XPH30R headlamp and Coast XPH34R 2075 lumen headlamp can be removed from the head harness and used as a traditional flashlight or clipped to your clothing.

You may also want to consider a right angle flashlight that can be used as a regular flashlight, headlamp or attach it to your pants/shirt using the built in clip. The 2000 lumen Wurkhos HD15 is a great all around right angle flashlight. It comes with a head to use it as a headlamp and it can be removed to turn into a traditional right angle flashlight. It has a wide floodlight for close up peripheral light and a long 151 meter maximum beam distance.

Don’t Be Tricked By Fraudulent Lumen Ratings

Budget flashlight and headlamp manufacturers tend to overinflate their lumen ratings to trick customers into buying their products. Just look at the most popular headlamps on Amazon and you’ll see what I’m talking about. There are multiple headlamps claiming 10,000-20,000 lumen ratings at an unbelievable price point ($20-$30).

That’s just not possible to produce a headlamp with those lumen ratings at that price point. You have to spend $50-$100 for a 1000 lumen light and $150-300 for anything above that. It’s better to buy a $20-$30 (250-350 lumens) flashlight/headlamp from a trusted manufacturer than waste your money on cheap junk.

Flashlight and Headlamp Lumen Levels Drop Fast As Batteries Drain!

High lumen flashlights trade more light for a shorter battery life. As the battery level drains the flashlight will quickly start to dim. You may get 1000 lumens for the first 15 minutes, but it will drop down to 200 lumens after an hour. It will still be usable, but for 80% of the the flashlights battery runtime it will perform just like a 200-300 lumen light.

High lumen lights are great for spotlighting an object at a distance for 30 seconds, but then you’ll want to lower the brightness to one of the energy saving modes. That’s the only way to maintain the battery level and get 300-400 lumens for a few hours.

You Rarely Use Flashlight On The Maximum Brightness Setting

You rarely use a flashlight with maximum lumen setting

Think about the last time you used a flashlight hiking through the woods or navigating your house in a power outage. I highly doubt you cared whether or not you could see 100+ meters ahead of you. People rarely need to use their flashlight on the maximum brightness setting.

The medium 100-150 lumen setting is perfect for navigating the woods (30 meter distance) and low setting is enough for inside the house or a tent. Running your light on medium/low will significantly extend the battery life and you’d only need to use the high mode for a few minutes at a time to spotlight objects at a distance.

As you increase the lumen rating the battery life will also suffer. Running a flashlight or headlamp on the maximum brightness level will shorten the battery runtime by 70%. So instead of getting 15-20 hours on medium you’ll be stuck with 4-5 hours on high. That’s not a big deal with rechargeable lights, but you’ll tear through batteries with a non-rechargeable flashlight.

Beam Width and Flood Modes

Make sure you look at the advertised maximum beam distance to get a better idea of the beam width. A 300 lumen light with a narrow beam will project farther than a 500 lumen light with a wide floodlight style beam. Narrow beams project farther, but you won’t have as much peripheral light available.

So try to narrow down your options based on your intended use. You don’t want to go with a narrow beam if you’re only hiking in the woods and wide beams don’t make sense if you’re spotlighting things at a distance.

Flashlights With Long Beam Distance

You can get a much higher lumen rating out of a flashlight at a cheaper price point than headlamps. A typical long distance 650-1000+ high lumen long range flashlight will set you back about $30-$50. Coast flashlights seem to offer the best bang for your buck, but there are many high quality brands.

Anything from Coast, Fenix, Convoy, Sunwayman, ArmyTek, Olight, Sofirn, Small Sun, Zebralight, Emisar, Noctigon, Lumintop, Acebeam, etc. will be high quality. Fenix Flashlights tend to be expensive and Nitecore/Klarus lights have had quality control issues in the past.

The Coast G55 Flashlight (194 meter range) is a great long distance 650 lumen flashlight at an affordable price point. You get a decent battery runtime out of all the brightness levels and even the low light mode has a 77 meter range (17hour runtime). They’re not as pretty as some of the premium manufacturers, but you’re getting a great product with high quality control.

Coast updates their products constantly so that might not be available, but any of their $30-$50 flashlights will perform way above the price point. They have any type of any lumen rating or max distance range you could ask for so check through the listings of Coast Flashlights to find something that fits your budget. Even their entry level models are a great value for like $10 and 200-400 lumens.

The Fenix LR35R (10,000 lumen) 500 meters and Fenix PD40R 405 meters fall at the extreme end of the distance spectrum. They’re expensive, but the ridiculous long and battery life make up for that. The Coast XP18R Professional (36,500 lumen) 330 meters and Coast XP11R (2100 lumens) 220 meters are much cheaper options that perform at a professional level.

Unfortunately, I can’t go over every flashlight brand/model, but hopefully the recommendations above helped you narrow down your flashlight choices. There are lots of flashlight holders to convert any flashlight into a headlamp if you’d like maximum brightness and beam distance without spending a fortune.

Headlamps With Long Beam Distance

Woman using a high lumen headlamp

Here are a few headlamps that can provide various distances. I decided to rank them from the lowest beam distance (least expensive) to the longest beam distance. They’re all high quality headlamps so pick whichever model suits your budget and needs.

  • Coast XPH30R 1000 Lumen (rechargeable): This is a budget rechargeable headlamp that performs way above its price point. The 1000 lumen beam has a 165 meter beam distance with a 7.75 hour battery life. The low light modes extend the battery runtime to 40 hours (40 lumens) and it can be removed from the harness to be used as a flashlight.
  • Black Diamond Storm 400 (non-rechargeable): 100 meter range with a 5 hour runtime on max brightness. There are multiple brightness settings with the lowest setting extending the runtime to 200 hours, but you can expect a 20-30 hour range at the medium setting (150-200 lumens). There are 3 brightness settings high/medium/low and red light mode.
  • Fenix HM50R 700 Lumen (rechargeable): 115 meter range with a 1 hour runtime on the highest brightness setting. You can expect 5-15 hours on the medium/low settings and up to 42 hours on the extended battery mode. There are 4 brightness levels and red light.
  • Ledlenser MH10 600 lumens (rechargeable): 150 meter range on high with a 10 hour battery life. Medium setting gets 100 meters (15 hours) and low 20 meters (120 hours) and red light mode. This is best budget spotlight headlamp since it has a ridiculously long battery life.
  • Ledlenser MH7 600 lumen (rechargeable): 200 meter range with a 3.5 hour battery life on the highest brightness setting. Medium mode has a 120 meter range 170 lumens (8 hour) and low mode 20 lumens has a 40 meter range (40 hours). This unit is similar to the MH10 light above, but you’re trading a longer range for a shorter battery life. The boost mode doesn’t try to conserve the battery so you end up with a longer beam distance, but a shorter battery life.
  • Ledlenser H15R 2500 lumen (rechargeable): 250 meter range with a 4 hour runtime on max brightness. There are multiple dimming modes that allow you to adjust the beam distance to your needs to conserve battery life. At the lowest setting you can get an 80 hour run time, but it’s only working at 20 lumens (20 meters). Moderate settings will get you 15-20 hours at about 100 meters making this a perfect entry level headlamp for the professional market.
  • Ledlenser H19R 3500 lumen (rechargeable): This is one of the most powerful headlamps on the planet with a 300 meter max range and 4 hour battery life. Even on the lowest setting you can see 80 meters out for 20 hours. These headlamps are designed for professional use to be used for search/rescue operations and long distance applications. There’s also a bluetooth version that allows you to customize the brightness settings dialing in the perfect amount of light to conserve the battery.