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How Many Lumens do I Need for Trail Running?

How Many Lumens do I Need for Trail Running?

Trail running at night or early in the mornings is sometimes necessary to get in a training run. Usually trail runners head out into the darkness due to their busy schedule, it offers cooler temperatures, shorter days, or they signed up for a race that involves running in pitch black.

Getting out on the trails in the early or late hours of the day is fun. I personally enjoy the darkness of the trail because of the quietness and the fact that time passes by so fast. The one piece of gear needed for a night run is a headlamp or some sort of lighting device. There are many options out there due to the range of sports that might require one.

Important aspects to look at for in a headlamp for trail running are the lumens, comfortability, battery life, light quality, durability, weight, and the waterproof ratings. These features are all important especially when looking for a light to guide you down the trails.

When referring to headlamps, a common term you’ll hear is “lumens”, which is the amount of visible light from the light source. There are headlamps that range from as low 30 all the way to 900+ lumens.

So, how many lumens do I need for trail running? The number of lumens a trail runner needs depends on the terrain and speed they plan to go. When looking for a headlamp for all around trail running, I would recommend one that has at least 200 to 300 lumens.

When investing in a headlamp for road running, not as many lumens are required because the surface is usually flat and not as technical. Usually 40-50 lumens are adequate for nighttime running on the streets. Unlike in the woods, I recommend around 100 lumens as you can always dim them down to a lower setting. Using headlamps at a lower setting will allow the battery to last longer.

Lighting options for trail running:

Lighting up your run can be done in multiple ways. Other options are available like chest, waist, knuckle lights, and the classic flashlight. Some people even use multiple types of lighting devices at this can improve depth perception. The most common combination is a headlamp with a knuckle light or flashlight.


Headlamps are great because they are a hands-free option that provide light while on the trail. They are easy to put on, and user friendly when adjusting the lighting options. There are a lot of headlamps out there, which makes it easy to find a headlamp with at least 300 lumens for an affordable price.

With so many options, different aspects should be considered in a headlamp. Due to all the features available, finding the right one can be difficult. Headlamps for trail running should be comfortable and have minimal bounce. There are many headlamps that have a poor battery life, are too heavy, or lack the sufficient quality of light needed.

One major downfall to using a headlamp is the lack of depth perception. When running on the trails, this can be a hard thing to adjust to. A lot of people use a flashlight to give a wider range of light, which can help resolve the issue. Being able to see is  important when having to tackle difficult terrain.

Recommended headlamp for shorter night training runs:

Black Diamond Sprinter

On short night training runs, I would recommend the rechargeable Black Diamond Sprinter. This headlamp has 200 lumens, which is perfect for a night out on the trails. The sprinter also has a flashing red tail lamp to help be seen, which is a great safety aspect especially for urban areas.

The headlamp is lightweight as it was designed specifically for runners. There is also a removable head strap that adds security to the placement of the headlamp and comfortability.

Even though this headlamp is lightweight, the major downfall is the battery life. Rechargeable batteries usually have a lower battery life. Like this one, the headlamp will not last all night long as the max power dims quickly. For that reason this headlamp is perfect for short night training runs.

Recommended headlamps for all night and 100+ mile trail races:

Multiple options for a headlamps that last all night long are available. There are some headlamps that will last on high for hours but tend to be bulky, which in that case I would avoid using for trail running. All of the recommended head lamps below have great battery life. Even if a headlamp has a great battery life, I always suggest bringing extra batteries when tackling a long night run or 100 mile race.

Petzl Nao (575 Lumens)

The 575 lumens, Petzl Nao, is perfect for scrambling and technical trail runs as the beam is adjustable. The smart lamp reacts to ambient light and adjusts automatically, which makes it perfect for those harder and grueling runs. Also, it has rechargeable batteries that can be swapped for two AAA batteries instead.

So, if the light goes out in the middle of the run or you need to charge the battery pack, you have the option of using it with batteries instead. One major downfall to the Petzl Nao is one of the reasons why it is so great. There are two lighting modes where the beam is reactive and constant. These two modes require practice. Playing around and getting use to the settings is necessary and takes time.

Black Diamond Revolt-300 Lumens

Another great headlamp and my personal favorite is the Black Diamond Revolt with 300 lumens. This headlamp is a great rechargeable option, which the battery pack can be switched out with AAA batteries in case the battery pack runs out.

This affordable and no frills headlamp is perfect for the ultra-distances due to the battery life and simplicity. One major con is the fact that you would still need to carry around extra batteries as the battery life is not spectacular.

Petzl Actik- 450 Lumens

A favorite headlamp of the ultra-distance world is the Petzl Actik Core with 450 lumens. The headlamp has two different beam patterns and is rechargeable. Like the Nao and Revolt you can switch out the battery pack for 3AAA batteries. The headband is also reflective, detachable, and washable. Lot of runners like this one because it is at the higher end of the lumen spectrum, which perfect for fast moving activities.

Waist and Chest Lights

Another option for lighting the trails are the waist and chest lights. These are great because they usually have a higher lumen and get rid of the hassle of wearing something on your head. Many runners out there do not think headlamps are comfortable no matter what model they purchase. Waist and chest lamps eliminate the comfortability issue of a headlamp.

Kogalla Ra Adventure Light

A popular waist and chest light is the Kogalla Ra Adventure Light. The Kogalla Ra comes with the Ra Portable light, battery pack, mini USB cable, magnetic panel, strap attachment system, and red/green light filters.

The Ra has a high-quality bright light while also being lightweight. The 800 lumens offers a wide dispersement so that the whole area in front of the runner is lit and visible. The magnetic panel allows for trail runners to attach the light in multiple locations and ways.

A con to this high-quality light is that a lot of runners and hikers say that attaching the light can be a hassle. The difficulty of attaching the light is something to consider especially for an important trail race. Runners do not want to waste their time adjusting and putting on their lighting device.

Another part to note is that the waist and chest lights do not move with your head.  Think about this before purchasing one, as it can be frustrating and not ideal when switching over to this lighting system for trail running.

Knuckle Lights Advanced

Knuckle lights are another great alternative to a headlamp. They are hand lamps or simply lights you wear and attach to your hand. They are great because you can grab them on the go.  Knuckle lights are bright and have a low angle that helps with depth perception, which is a major issue when running in the dark.

The company Knuckle Lights makes the Knuckle Light Advanced that has a combined 280 lumens. Each hand light offers 140 lumens. There are lights for each hand because the swinging motion of the arms allows one light to be pointed in front of you at all times.

Although these rechargeable lights are great for depth perception, you do have to carry them which can be inconvenient. If you were to stop to tie your shoes or anything else, you would have to either take them off or readjust.

Closing thoughts on trail running at night:

Running in the early mornings and at night is an amazing experience as long as you are being safe. The darkness offers a quietness that is so different to running in the day. Headlamps are vital to your safety. Being able to see your foot placement on the trails is important.

As a trail runner, I highly recommend training a couple times in the dark. If there is a race on the schedule that has some running during the nighttime it is ideal to get some practice in. Wearing a headlamp and having limited visibility is something to get used to. The more you practice, the more natural it will become.

If you are experiencing a headache when running with a headlamp, I highly suggest loosening the strap as this is usually the culprit. Experiencing some bounce with certain headlamps is normal, and throwing on a hat or headband underneath helps hold it in place. Although sometimes the commonly used headlamp is not ideal for runners.

Luckily there are other options available to provide light while out on the trails.


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