35th anniversary celebration: Headlamps are superior to flashlights

a cartoon character with a hiking stick and a headlamp walking in front of a headlamp on a white background Illustration by Katie Hicks

Into the early 2000s, we published a series of “Classics.” The writer would argue for something that you could not live at the lake without—watermelon, beach towels, a beloved web chair. Twenty years on, we’re asking, what are the new cottage classics?

My husband can run from the dock to the cottage, up our steep, root-encrusted path, in the dark. When it comes to using lights outside, we prefer to avoid them to better view the stars or enjoy a campfire. 

One summer, though, even a simple flashlight might have saved the day, or the night, as it happened. DH (Dear Husband)’s ribs would have thanked him had he taken just a moment to slip on the best light in a cottager’s arsenal—the hands-free headlamp that’s embraced by serious campers and coal miners alike.

Anyone who doubts the superiority of a headlamp over the flashlight on our ubiquitous cellphones has only to imagine nighttime visits to the outhouse. Consider the acrobatics that ensue while you clutch a phone in one hand. You could set the phone down, like a regular flashlight, where it will illuminate the ceiling, or wall, or anywhere other than where you need it. But that’s risky. Those black holes where light can’t get out? They’re not just in space. A headlamp is safely attached to your skull, can be set at an angle, and also ensures that, when you get up to pee in the night, you don’t get sucked into checking your work email. (Curse those notifications!) 

Headlamps rule when you crawl under the cottage on your belly to address a plumbing leak, or you indulge in cross-country skiing at night, or you need to gather wood in the dark for the fire. Keep one beside your bed or under your pillow, ready for duty just like any other flashlight. 

It’s true that even headlamps have shortcomings. A blinding flash when your buddy turns toward you is like meeting a car with its high beams on. And don’t be surprised when moths fly into your face. Remember, there’s a beacon of light shining out of your forehead.

Like other flashlights, headlamps require batteries, a problem when they accidentally get turned on in your bag. A canoe tripper I know solves this potential mishap by stowing the light with one battery installed backwards. Finally, the strap that you find on cheaper lamps can get stretched out over time, becoming as useless as the elastic waistband in worn-out underwear.

But straps can be replaced. So can headlamps, for that matter. Thus, there was no excuse for my DH to be racing up the hill in the dark of night, except that after 50-plus years, he knew every rock and root in the path. What he didn’t remember was the pine tree that had fallen across it just days before.

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