Using a headlamp while working on cars is like growing an extra arm. All of a sudden you can see what you’re working on clearly, and both hands are free to tackle the problem.
My choice for the best headlamp is based on practicality and fact, and although everything can be argued to be subjective, I would say objectively there is no better choice than the Fenix HL60R.
Unlike walking in a cave, or sitting in a tent; mechanics have certain needs out of headlamps:
Lumens – lumens measure the intensity of light output. For short range work, such that a mechanic would need, a selectable range between 100 and 1000 lumens is ideal.
Durability – the housing is entirely made of metal (aluminum) and is IPX-8 certified.
IPX-8 meaning the headlamp is sealed against ingress of liquids up to 2 meters. Which is important when working with things like oil, coolant and other fluids.
THe HL60R is also certified to be impact resistance up to 1M.
Direction adjustability – perhaps the most important feature is that the lamp direction can be adjusted up or down by way of stepped clicks. This is important in both preventing head fatigue, as well as getting light to shine exactly where you need it to be. When working on cars or machinery, more often than not, the area you are working on is either below you, or above you.
Battery capacity and rechargability – 18650 battery vs normal AA batteries. mAh between batteries can not directly be compared. To compare battery capacities, we first need to multiply mAh by volts to get mWh.
A normal alkaline/NiMH AA battery at full charge of 1.48v outputs 2300 mAh, giving it a rating of 3404 mWh. In contrast a lithium 18650 battery at full charge of 4.2v outputs 3500 mAh, giving it a rating of 14700 mWh. A significant 4+ times the energy capacity.
Note: The HL60R comes with a 2600 mAh battery, dont forget to order a 3500+ mAh battery separately.
This is important for two reasons; first unless you like changing the battery every 1-2 hours, then a 18650 is nearly essential.
Second, the nature of lithium is that the power is constant until the very end. Typical alkaline batteries start to fade as they discharge and as such provide even less “usable” light well before full depletion.
Further, the HL60R has a charging port, allowing the lamp to be charged without having to remove the battery.
Comfort – Most other “work” headlamps have a battery pack on the back of the strap. This prevents someone from being able to comfortably place their head against the ground when laying on their back. Further, this type of battery pack normally adds weight because of the low energy capacity of traditional AA batteries.