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This $17 headlamp is as close to perfection as lights get

The Klarus HC3 gets bright enough for all my illumination needs, but this one special feature puts it at the top for me.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Klarus HC3 headlamp kit -- lamp, headband, and charging cable
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

As someone who perpetually feels like I could use a third hand, I've been on the hunt for the ultimate headlamp for ages. The concept is simple: secure a light to your head or cap, and voilà -- it puts the light exactly where your gaze lands, illuminating your target area.

Also: This $10 gadget is my favorite repair tool of all time

But, shockingly, finding the perfect headlamp is no easy feat. They're often too bulky or heavy, equipped with absurdly intricate controls, use some specialized proprietary charger that I'm going to lose within a month, or boast a beam so bright it could compete with the sun. And don't get me started on the tactical, high-intensity strobe feature designed to disorient ninjas.

I don't need any of this. Well, OK, maybe the ninja distraction feature might one day come in handy, but 95% of the time, all I need is to light up something within arm's reach, and for the remaining 5%, I want to see the ground by my feet when moving about at night.

Then, I came across the Klarus HC3. This is as close to perfection as a light can be, and it's also hands-free!

View at Amazon

Tech specs

  • Max/min power: 100 lumens (white)/6 lumens (white)/4 lumens (red)
  • Modes: Medium/high/low/red strobe
  • Runtime: 4 hours (high), 5 hours (medium), 27 hours (low), 18 hours (red), 36 hours (red strobe)
  • Impact resistance: 2-meter drop
  • Weatherproofing: IPX5 (dust-resistant, and resists sustained, low-pressure water jet spray and rain)
  • Motion activation: Yes
  • Battery: 500mAh
  • Weight: 1.31oz/37g

The light itself is simple to use. There are just two buttons to get used to, one for on/off, and the other for controlling the motion activation (more on that later). 

There's also an adjustable clip for attaching the light to a headband, pocket, webbing straps, cap, or anything that you'd like.

I prefer mounting the Klarus HC3 to my cap than using the headband

I prefer mounting the Klarus HC3 to my cap than using the headband.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Charging is handled by a micro USB port, which is not ideal, but it is covered by a rubber plug when not in use to keep out dirt and moisture. I would have rather a USB-C port because that would mean one less cable type to worry about, but at least it's not some silly proprietary charger -- I vowed a long time ago that I didn't need these in my life anymore.

Also: This tiny travel adapter replaces a whole bag of chargers for me

It also helps that there are also some LED indicators to show the charging battery status.

Battery status light
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Pressing the main button cycles through a white light at three strength levels (medium, low, and high), then a red light, and finally a strobing red light. I haven't had to use the strobing effect yet, but it can certainly be useful when you want your presence known on the road or in a low-lit environment.

Also: The 5 best headlamps you can buy right now

It's helpful that if you leave the lamp on a light mode for a few seconds, the next press turns the light off instead of switching to the next color setting.

That's an awesome touch! I would prefer if it started on the low output setting -- the one I use the most -- but medium is a good middle ground between being too bright and too dim.

Night vision preserving red light

The red light is best for night vision.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Earlier, I mentioned a motion sensor. This allows you to turn the light on and off with a wave of a hand in front of the unit.

Here are the sensors: an infrared emitter and a receiver.

Infrared emitter and receiver that controls the motion sensing

The infrared emitter and receiver control the motion sensing.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

And here's it in action. This is much better than fumbling for buttons. And if you don't want the feature, don't worry, you can manually turn it on and off.

Motion sensing magic!

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

For under $20, the Klarus HC3 is a fantastic headlight, one that is sensibly balanced, lightweight, comfortable, easy to operate, and rugged enough to put up with drops and falls. As someone who has tried countless head-mounted lights, this one is as close to perfect as they get.

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