Best Running Lights

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Image from Petzl Wallpapers.

There are many lights available for runners depending on your need, but some are far better than others. Each of these lights has its pros and cons.

  1. Black Diamond Sprinter. This is my top pic for most runners; it's lightweight, reasonably bright, and includes a flashing red safety light on the back. [1].
  2. Foxelli MX500. The MX500 is a very close second to the Sprinter. It's a little brighter, has a spot beam as well as a diffuse pattern, and it's fully waterproof, all at a lower price than the Sprinter. The Sprinter's rear safety light puts it just ahead of the MX500, as do regulated light levels and better build-quality. [2]
  3. GoMotion Orion. The Orion is mounted on its own running belt, putting the light at waist high, which shows the shape of the ground much better. (The Orion is new, so it's a little harder to find, but the earlier Lightbelt 100 is available as [3].
  4. Fenix HP30. If you want a bright light, this is by far the best, though it's not cheap. The light is far brighter than any other, and the battery lasts well. The HP30 mounts its battery pack at waist level and you can charge USB devices from the batteries. [4], but you need to budget for the expensive rechargeable 18650 batteries and charger.
  5. Fenix HP25. If you want something nearly as bright as the HP30, but without the hassle of the 18650 batteries in the HP30, the HP25 is a good option. It's rather heavy, but the batteries last well on their bright setting. [5].
  6. Petzl e+Lite. This should not be used as a primary light, but it's worth having as an emergency light. I've had a light die on me in an ultra before, and it's a grim experience. The e+Line will fit nicely into your pack or Race Ready Shorts and Tights. [6].
  7. Petzl Tikka RXP. This is a reactive light, so it automatically dims when you look at something close. This is not ideal for urban running, as it will dim when cars come towards you, but in the wilderness it can brighten when you look up and dim when you look at your watch. [7].
  8. Petzl Tactikka XP Adapt. This would be one of my top lights, but sadly it's discontinued. This is the only light I've found that will clip nicely into your waistband. I wish Petzl would resurrect this idea as it works so well. (Nathan has a belt adapter for their lights, but it does not swivel up and down.)
  9. Petzl MYO RXP. This used to be my favorite light, and I still like to run with it. However, lights like the Foxelli and Sprinter offer similar features at a much lower cost. [8].
  10. Coast HL6. The HL6 is the cheapest of the lights I'd recommend as a primary light. The battery doesn't last terribly long on full power, and the build quality doesn't inspire me, but if you want something cheap and viable, this is worth a look. [9].
  11. GRDE Zoomable. The GRDE offers 2000 Lumens for only $20, which seems too good to be true. I've only included this light as a cautionary lesson in what to avoid in a running light. It's heavy, uncomfortable, has too narrower a beam, and is no-where near as bright as it claims. [10].
Light Link Weight Weight on Head High Brightness (absolute) High Brightness (perceived) Battery Life on High Battery pack Waist Mounted? Waterproof Rear Light Regulated?
Black Diamond Sprinter
3.8 3.8 180 5.5 6h Rear No Splashproof (IPX4) Yes Yes
Foxelli MX500
4.7 4.7 250 6.2 8h Rear No Yes, IP7 (waterproof 1 meter for 30 minutes) No No
GoMotion Orion Not yet on Amazon 6.0 0.0 30 3.1 8h Waist Mounted Yes No (IPX3, semi-splashproof) Yes No
Fenix HP30
13.8 5.9 750 8.9 3h50 Waist Mounted Maybe Mostly, (IPX6, low pressure jets of water) No Yes
Fenix HP25
9.9 9.9 500 7.8 7h30 Rear No Mostly, (IPX6, low pressure jets of water) No Yes
Petzl e+Lite
1.6 1.0 15 2.4 55h N/A No Yes (IP67, waterproof 1 meter for 30 minutes) No No
Petzl Tikka RXP
4.0 4.0 180 5.5 2h30 Front No Splashproof (IPX4) No Yes
Petzl Tactikka XP Adapt Discontinued 3.1 4.0 8 2.0 2h30 Front Yes Splashproof (IPX4) No No
5.8 5.8 180 5.5 1h20 Rear No Splashproof (IPX4) No Yes
Coast HL6
4.4 4.4 90 4.4 1h30 Rear No "Weather Resistant" No No
GRDE Zoomable
9.7 9.7 350 6.9 4h Rear No Maybe ("Living Waterproof" claimed) No No

The table above includes the absolute brightness (in arbitrary units) that I measured directly. The perceived brightness is based on Stevens' power law to give an idea of how bright the lights will appear to the human eye. Details of the key factors to look for in a light are further down the page.

1 Brightness

The images below are from the recommended lights on their brightest and widest settings. The pictures use a fixed exposure and no post-processing so they reflect the actual brightness. In practice, the perceived illumination will not differ quite as much as the images because your eyes adjust a little. For pictures of the other brightness settings and the details of the photographs, see Running Light Gallery.

Black Diamond Sprinter, with a nice diffuse patter and reasonable reach.
Foxelli MX500 has a bit of a hotspot but is acceptably even and it has good distance illumination.
GoMotion Orion is not quite as bright as I'd like.
Fenix HP30 is the brightest light I've tested and you can see how it's too bright for the camera, washing out the image.
Fenix HP25 with just the wide bulb on.
Petzl e+Lite is not enough for general use, but it makes a great emergency light.
Petzl Tikka RXP is not quite as bright or even as the best lights, but it works well. This shot is on fixed maximum brightness.
Petzl Tactikka XP Adapt is really showing its age with its dim illumination.
Petzl MYO RXP used to be my top light, but more recent lights have much better efficiency.
Coast HL6 is cheap and works reasonably well, but it's not quite as wide as I'd like.
GRDE 2000 is too narrow, even on its widest setting.

2 Recommended Lights

2.1 Black Diamond Sprinter

The Sprinter edged out the MX500 to be my top pick at [11].

  • The flashing rear safety light is a great idea and I wish more lights would do this. The safety light comes on with the main light, but you can override this to turn it on and off independently.
  • Having the battery pack at the back balances the weight of the light and makes it seem particularly lightweight. It also allows you to put the batteries under a hat to keep them warm, though that obviously prevents the safety light from being seen.
  • There is a strap that goes overhead helps stabilize the light without needing the headband too tight.
  • The Sprinter has a regulated output, so it will stay the same brightness until the batteries are nearly flat. (See below.)
  • I wish the Sprinter was better waterproofed, but splash proof to IPX4 should be fine in most situations. I've run in it in heavy rain without any issues, so unless you drop it in water you shouldn't have an issue.

There are some drawbacks to the Sprinter:

  • The Sprinter only has a diffuse beam pattern, with no spot, so it doesn't reach as far as other lights of similar brightness.
  • For trail running you might want something brighter, but you'd need to go for one of the Fenix lights to get a worthwhile bump in light output.
  • I'd rather have replaceable AA or AAA batteries rather than a built in rechargeable battery. Replaceable batteries allow me to have more than one set charged up at a time and just swap them over. The built in batteries should last a long time, but when they eventually wear out, you need to replace the light.
Black Diamond Sprinter.
Black Diamond Sprinter Brightest Setting.
Black Diamond Sprinter Dimmest setting.

2.2 Foxelli MX500

The MX500 was nearly my top pick, but it just lost out to the Sprinter.

  • The MX500 is a little brighter than the Sprinter, though in practice you're unlikely to notice much difference. Both have good light output, and you need to go to something like a Fenix to get a real improvement in output.
  • Having the battery pack at the back balances the weight of the light and makes it seem particularly lightweight. It also allows you to put the batteries under a hat to keep them warm which is important in winter.
  • It's easy to move from the diffuse pattern that is best for running to a spot beam for looking further ahead, something the Sprinter lacks.
  • I love having a fully waterproofed light, so it doesn't matter if I drop it in a deep puddle or do something else foolish in the middle of the night, far from help.
  • There is a strap that goes overhead helps stabilize the light without needing the headband too tight.
  • The MX500 is quite a bit cheaper than the Sprinter: [12].

There are just a couple of concerns with the MX500:

  • The build quality of the MX500 is not as good as the Sprinter, with slightly cheaper materials and feel.
  • You can't use any USB cord to charge the MX500, only the ones that come with it. The opening into the light won't accept other cables, which is going to be a pain when I lose the Foxelli ones.
  • The light output is not regulated, so it gets gradually dimmer as the battery discharges.
Foxelli MX500
Foxelli MX500 Bright Diffuse
Foxelli MX500 High Medium Diffuse
Foxelli MX500 Low Medium Diffuse
Foxelli MX500 Dim Diffuse
Foxelli MX500 Bright Spot
Foxelli MX500 High Medium Spot
Foxelli MX500 Low Medium Spot
Foxelli MX500 Dim Spot

2.3 GoMotion Orion

I like waist mounted lights as you can see the shape of the ground much better, but they're rare. The only other one I've liked is the now discontinued Petzl Tactikka XP Adapt.

  • The belt works reasonably well, putting the battery at the back of the belt out of the way. This puts less weight into the light, reducing the bounce.
  • The rear of the belt includes a flashing safety light, which I think is a great idea.
  • There is a pouch you can attach to the belt to carry some extra items. It will carry my iPhone 5, but not if the phone is in its protective case.

As always, there are some downsides to the Orion:

  • The Orion is brighter than my old waist mounted Petzl, but it's still not as bright as I'd like.
  • While the Orion can zoom to a spot beam, this is not much use. It's awkward to use and hard to aim unless you're stopped.
  • The nature of waist mounted lights is you can't direct them easily. I would pair the Orion with the MX500; the Orion shows the shape of the ground and the MX500 in spot mode will reach further ahead and let you look around.
  • The light output is not regulated, so it gets gradually dimmer as the battery discharges.
  • The Orion is only waterproof to IPX3, which means it resists being splashed from above only. It should be okay in rain, but you'll need to take more care than with other lights here.

The Orion is new, so it's a little harder to find, but the earlier Lightbelt 100 is available as [13].

GoMotion Orion
GoMotion Orion Wide Bright
GoMotion Orion Wide Dim
GoMotion Orion Spot Bright
GoMotion Orion Spot Dim

2.4 Fenix HP30

The HP30 is an amazingly bright light, but it's also amazingly heavy. While I love the intense bright light the HP30 produces, I tend not to use this light as much as other lights. That said, there are times when I really don't want to go out in the dark, and this light makes it far more bearable. This is a product with rather extremes of benefits and downsides, but if you need a really bright light, this is a great option.

  • The HP30 can be used strapped around your waist, though this may not work if you have a larger waist. You can use other headlights around your waist, but those with the batteries and light in a single unit tend to be heavier and bounce too much.
  • The separate battery pack is handy in extreme cold, as you can keep the batteries warmer (a cold battery does not generate as much power.)
  • There is a strap that goes overhead helps stabilize the light without needing the headband too tight.
  • The light output is regulated, so it will stay the same brightness until the batteries are nearly flat. (See below.)
  • One a nice feature of the HP30 is that you can charge USB devices from the battery pack.
  • Combining the HP30 around your waist with the HP25 on your head provides outstanding visibility at night. The bright, wide beam of the HP30 shows up the shape of the ground and the bright spot of the HP25 gives longer distance visibility that points where your head is pointing. Of course, you're then carrying a lot of weight, so this is not a comfortable option.
  • The IPX7 splash proof rating means it won't survive being dunked, but it should survive even the heaviest rain.

The downsides to the HP30:

  • The battery pack is waist mounted, but even then it's heavy enough to be awkward. Having the battery pack clipped into a waist belt tends to chafe, but if you remove the metal holder the plastic battery pack will fit into the pockets of the Race Ready Shorts and Tights (see picture below). You can also put the battery pack in a hydration pack.
  • The HP30 produces a bright light for a long time, but to do so it requires expensive and specialist batteries. Unlike most of the lights listed here, the HP30 requires two rechargeable 18650 batteries which are about $10 each and require a specialist charger. Because of their cost, there seems to be a problem with poor quality fakes, so be careful when purchasing. The HP30 will also work with non-rechargeable CR123A batteries, but these work out even more expensive in the long run.
  • The HP30 has a flip up diffuser that can be easily operated while running, but the diffuser is rather flimsy. In fact, overall the Fenix lights do not feel as high quality as the Petzl/Black Diamond lights. They work well, and I've not had any issues with the Fenix lights even after extensive use and abuse, but I still prefer the Petzl/Black Diamond lights.

You can get the light on its own as Fenix HP30 or as the Fenix HP30 Kit which includes batteries and charger.

The HP30.
The HP30 is available as a kit with the rather expensive rechargeable batteries and charger.
The external battery pack fits nicely into Race Ready shorts.
You can mount the HP30 around your waist.
Brightest spot setting
Fenix HL30 Direct 3.jpg
Fenix HL30 Direct 2.jpg
Darkest spot setting
Brightest diffused spot setting
Fenix HL30 Diffuse 2.jpg
Darkest diffused spot setting

2.5 Fenix HP25

While I love the brightness of the HP25, I find it's too heavy for extended use. If I need this level of brightness, I prefer to take the HP30 which has a waist mounted battery pack. However, because the HP30 is so much more expensive, the HP25 may be a more viable option for those wanting a bright light on a reasonable budget. The HP25 is [14].

  • The HP25 is a bright light, with over seven hours of runtime on full output. The batteries are replaceable, so it's easy to swap them for fresh ones if you're running all night.
  • Having the batteries at the back allows you to put them under a hat to keep them warm.
  • There is a strap that goes overhead helps stabilize the light without needing the headband too tight.
  • The HP25 has separate LED bulbs for spot and diffuse beams. This allows you to tweak the beam pattern to suit your need. You can have a bright diffuse beam with a dimmer spot, or vice versa. However, this is a lot more hassle than just flipping up a diffuser to change beam pattern, especially if you need to click a few times to change intensity.
  • The IPX7 splash proof rating means it won't survive being dunked, but it should survive even the heaviest rain.

The downsides to the HP25:

  • Having the battery pack at the back balances the weight of the light, but the HP25 weighs is more than twice as heavy as the Sprinter. I find this is a lot of weight on my head, and I don't like it for protracted periods.
  • I don't think the build quality is quite as good as Black Diamond or Petzl. I've not had a problem, and I wouldn't suggest the build quality is inadequate, but I prefer the better built lights.
The Fenix HP25.
Brightest flood setting
Fenix HP25 Flood 2.jpg
Darkest flood setting
Brightest spot setting
Darkest spot setting

2.6 Petzl e+Lite

The Petzl e+Lite worth considering as a backup light, but don't use this as your primary light unless weight is of paramount importance. It's not quite bright enough for general use and the lithium batteries are pricy. However, it will fit in the pocket of my Race Ready Shorts, so it makes a great 'oops' light. The e+Lite is [15].

The e+Lite showing the small case it fits into.
E Lite 1.jpg

2.7 Petzl Tikka RXP

The Petzl Tikka RXP is a sophisticated light that automatically adjusts the brightness depending on the conditions.

  • When the sensor sees little light, the brightness of the LEDs is increased. So if you point your light into the distance, the brightness will increase, and if you point at something nearby, the brightness is reduced. This can work quite nicely when running, as it can be configured to use the dimmer wide beam when you're looking near your feet, and the longer throw spot beam when you look up to see further ahead. If you look at your watch (or anything else close up) the light will dim so you're not blinded.
  • The Tikka RXP also has a constant mode that is regulated, and both modes have three levels of brightness.
  • There are two LED bulbs, one with a diffuse wide beam and the other with a narrow focused beam, along with a light sensor.
  • You can also program the light using a computer (PC or Mac) to change the configuration.
  • The Tikka RXP comes with a rechargeable battery for [16], but can buy a converter to take 3 AAA batteries, or you can buy spare rechargeable batteries ([17]). This is the best of both worlds for batteries.

There are some important caveats to the RXP:

  • However, the close up mode is also activated if a light is shining at you, making it a poor choice for running near oncoming cars. I've also found the light will go dim if you're near reflective signs that bounce more of the light back. It can be quite disconcerting to be plunged into darkness as you approach a street sign.
  • The battery life varies on usage, so if you're doing a longer run, you'd want to carry spare batteries.
  • The battery is part of the light, which makes it less balanced than lights with the batteries at the back.
  • There is no overhead strap, which means you have to have the headband tighter.

Petzl also make a more expensive version, the Nao for [18], but I don't think it's worth the extra. There's also the cheaper Tikka R+ for [19], but you don't save enough to make that worthwhile.

The Petzl Tikka RXP.
Using both bulbs
Just the spot bulb
Just the flood bulb

2.8 Petzl Tactikka XP Adapt

The Petzl Tactikka XP Adapt is unusual in that it can be waist mounted, which makes it one of my favorite lights. Sadly, Petzl has discontinued this light, though it can still be found occasionally. There is no replacement light that includes the ability to be waist mounted, so it's worth tracking down. The waist mounting works best with compression shorts/tights to prevent the light wobbling around.

  • The waist mounting works wonderfully and I still love this light.
  • The XP Adapt uses three AAA batteries, so you can replace them mid-run.
  • It's the lightest light I've tested that can be your main light.

The age of the Tactikka XP Adapt is showing when compared with other lights:

  • The light output is poor, and I often want something brighter.
  • On the full power the battery life is only 2 hours
  • The output is not regulated, so it gets dimmer as the battery runs out.
  • The Tactikka XP has a diffuser that moves in front of the beam, but instead of flipping up and down, the Tactikka XP's diffuser slides to the side. This is a fiddly affair and it's impractical to move the diffuser while running.
The XP Adapt comes with a head strap and a clip for use at waist level. There is also a mount for use on a helmet which works well cycling. There are colored diffusers that I've not found useful.
A diagram showing the XP Adapt with the waist mounted adapter.
Brightest setting
Waist Tikka 2.jpg
Dimmest setting

2.9 Petzl MYO RXP

The MYO RXP was my favorite light for a long time, but more recent lights have surpassed it.

  • The regulated output can be used so that you will have power for an overnight run, and on its lowest power setting it will run for 96 hours.
  • In regulated mode the light will flash a few times when the battery drops too low, which gives you some warning before it runs out of power.
  • The RXP also provides an unregulated mode that is brighter than the brightest regulated beam. This unregulated mode is useful when you need a lot of light for a short period of time.
  • The RXP can generate a very dim light which works well near dawn. I can balance the output from the RXP on so I have enough to see by, while allowing my eyes to adjust so that I can see a little further using the available light.
  • The RXP is IPX4 splash proof so it works well in heavy rain as long as it is in the normal position. If you run with it wrapped around your hand, the rain can get in the underside and cause problems until it dries out.

The downsides:

  • The RXP is heavy for its light output; it is similar to the Sprinter, but nearly twice as heavy.
  • The RXP uses three AA batteries, so it is a little heavy, but having the batteries on the back balances things quite well.
  • The rear mounted batteries keep them warmer in cold conditions if you wear it with the back under a hat; you'll probably need two hats to make that work.
  • The RXP has a diffuser that flips up and down, making it easy to swap between diffuse and spot beams while running.

The MYO RXP is [20].

Full view of the RXP.
A closer view, showing the diffuser over the light. The diffuser flips down for a spot beam. There are two controls; the level button and the high power button.
Brightest diffused spot setting
Myo RXP Diffuse 2.jpg
Dimmest diffused spot setting
Brighest spot setting
Myo RXP Direct 2.jpg
Dimmest spot setting

2.10 Coast HL6

The HL6 is good value for money, with a reasonably bright light that has a smooth, even beam pattern. While the battery life is short on full power it takes standard AA batteries so you can swap them easily. The light has a twist to zoom beam pattern, but I found this stiff and tricky to use when running. [21]

Coast HL6
Coast HL6 Wide Bright
Coast HL6 Wide Dim
Coast HL6 Spot Bright
Coast HL6 Spot Dim

2.11 GRDE Zoomable

The GRDE claims 2000 Lumens and costs only $20, which is amazing. Sadly the reality falls rather short and it's only included here as a cautionary tale of what to watch out for when buying a running light.

  • The GRDE is bright, but I'm not convinced it's 2000 lumens. My brightness test suggests it's only half the output of the 900 lumen HP30, and the perceived brightness is going to be close to the MX500.
  • The GRDE uses the expensive rechargeable 18650 and the light comes with two batteries. Two reputable brand 18650 batteries would cost more than the GRDE does, so I suspect their quality is poor. There are comments on line of safety problems with charging the batteries in the light, another indication of quality issues.
  • The widest beam pattern is not wide enough for running, though it is smooth and even. On its narrowest setting the beam projects an amazing distance, though I'm not sure how useful that is for running.
  • The light is rather uncomfortable, with the light mounted on a plastic plate the sits on your forehead.
  • There's waterproof rating, just a vague claim of "Living Waterproof", whatever that means. I didn't chance running in the rain with it.

For more details: [22].

GRDE Zoomable
GRDE 2000 Wide Bright
GRDE 2000 Wide Dim
GRDE 2000 Spot Bright
GRDE 2000 Spot Dim

3 What to look for

There are four factors to consider with a running light; location, the beam pattern, regulation and brightness.

3.1 Location

The first step in choosing a light is to work out where you want the light; in your hand, at your waist, or on your head.

Head mounted: Notice how 'flat' the path looks.
Wiast Mounted: Notice the texture and shape of the path.

3.1.1 Head Mounted

Most people use head mounted lights, and they have a number of advantages:

  • Head mounted directs the light where you point your head, making it easier to see where you're going.
  • Head mounted also works better for directing the light to things in your hands, like putting on gloves or looking at your Running Watch.
  • Head mounted lights are better at showing up branches or spider webs that are about to hit your face.
  • Most of the lights are head mounted, so you have the widest choice.

3.1.2 Waist Mounted

Waist mounted lights are fairly unusual, but they're worth considering for several reasons.

  • Waist mounted lights are much better at showing you the shape of the ground, and any obstacles are a lot more apparent. This is because a head mounted light aligned with your eyes so there's few shadows. . This is best seen in the images above.
  • In rain or dusty conditions a waist mounted light will not create glare in front of your face. With a head mounted light, the beam picks up the rain or dust, and because of the closeness these particles are brightly lit. It can be hard to see through these spots, and the effect can be quite claustrophobic.

I sometimes run with BOTH head and waist mounted lights, which provides the best of both worlds. The waist mounted light gives me the shape of the ground, and a head mounted spot light helps me look around.

3.1.3 Handheld

I don't recommend handheld lights for several reasons. The biggest problem is that keeping the light pointed in the right direction changes your arm movement and this messes up your Running Form. In addition, handheld lights occupy one of your hands making it tricky to do anything in the dark, though knuckle lights overcome this.

3.2 Beam Pattern – Spot vs Diffuse

The spot beam illuminates further.
The diffuse beam illuminates wider and more evenly.

Many lights project a narrow spot beam that illuminates longer distance, which can be handy for navigation, especially on ill-defined trails. Most of the time I prefer a light with an evenly diffused beam, even though it does not reach as far as a spot beam.

3.3 Regulation – Light output over time

With a regulated light the light intensity will stay constant over most of the life of the battery. When the battery is nearly depleted, the light will rapidly dim (see the graph below.) The regulation is nice, but when the end of the regulation period is reached, the light intensity can drop so quickly that you get caught out.

The difference between regulated and unregulated light output.

3.4 Brightness

The brightness you need depends on your situation. In many cases you just need to see what's immediately ahead of you, so brightness is not critical. If you're on trails, then a really bright light can help see what direction a trail is taking, or help with navigation. A bright light can also help psychologically, as a small pool of light can become confining and claustrophobic. However, if there's a little more ambient light, then a dim light can work best. A dimmer light can provide enough to shoe you what's ahead without compromising your night vision. Having a light that will go both very bright and very dim is ideal, and several of the lights I recommend can provide both extremes.

4 Other Thoughts

4.1 Safety lights

A flashing red light clipped to the back of your waist band is a worthwhile addition for running in urban situations. The Nathan Clip-On Safety Strobe is less than $10, though a light with a rear safety light is a better bet.

The Nathan clip on safety strobe.

4.2 Batteries

I use Enloop Low Self Discharge rechargeable batteries in my lights. The 'low self discharge' means that they won't go flat if you leave them in a drawer for a few weeks. I got the La Crosse Technology BC-700 Alpha Power Battery Charger which is more expensive than many at $50, but well worth it for keeping the batteries healthy.