Gear Review: Fenix HL20 Headlamp

Some headlamps only provide a little light to get you by. Not so with the 105-lumen Fenix HL20–and it runs on a normal AA battery too!

From snake hunting in South Carolina swamps and trudging through countless trails and bushwhacks in Lineville Gorge, NC, to exploring caverns in Speedwell, VA, the Fenix HL20 proved itself to be one tough lightning bug. Bikers and frequent wilderness wanderers will enjoy a comfortable strap that doesn’t bounce, and a beam that throws over 200 feet (tested on a football field).

Essentially a battery case with aluminum light housing on top, the headlamp can be adjusted up or down vertically. The HL20 has three modes of output. On an alkaline battery, it averaged about 1 hour and 30 minutes on the full light mode (105 lumens), about five hours on medium (48 lumens), and the low mode has lasted over two days (4 lumens). The modes are cycled by pressing a large button on the right side of the headlamp, which was manipulated easily even with muddy thick cave gloves. Be careful though, as the big button is easily turned on in a pack, so flip that battery when storing! Oh, and if you crash your plane, it has an SOS mode that blinks for 15 hours (fortunately I didn’t have to test this feature).

While backpacking in Linville Gorge, I brought lithium batteries (33% less weight, longer life), and went without a change on the entire trip. Certain headlamp companies (some Petzl models for instance) don’t like lithium batteries in their headlamps which is a bummer, but the HL20 loves them! One AA is much easier to carry than three AAAs; plus, they work in the GPS too.

The plastic housing went through epic punishment over the year of testing. During a snake research trip, the light fell off the hood of a Jeep going 45 miles an hour, and it didn’t even suffer a scratch. On multiple cave visits, this light cleaned up well despite heavy mud in every crack possible and even survived a 2-foot water dunk when it fell off a rock during lunch. At night while car camping, the low lumen output works great for reading, without bothering tentmates.

On the downside, the beam is not focusable. It has a tight, well defined spot, but light dispersal is six feet wide on the low setting. A clip-on light dispenser comes with the headlamp and works, but I never really used it because it’s fragile. I’ve seen the same dispenser break on other Fenix models.

Bottom Line: Good price, one battery, high output

Price: $45

Batteries: 1 AA

Weight: 2 oz.