Light up the night - and the trails - with these tried and tested helmet-mounted lights for mountain biking

As the days shorten and the clocks go back, time to ride in daylight hours becomes severely limited outside of the weekend. Invest in a set of lights however, and you can open up a whole world of nocturnal riding activity. The best MTB light set-up should include a handlebar mounted light plus a helmet mounted light to give you the best visibility in the dark.

1. Exposure Zenith MK2

Best mountain bike helmet light

Weight: 161g | Lumens: 510, 975, 2,100 | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Bright
  • Sturdy
  • Fully programmable

Reasons to avoid:

  • Pricey (but worth it)
  • Mounting issues with some helmets

Unmistakably from the stable of highly-regarded light brand, Exposure, the Zenith MK2 gets a CNC-machined body housing both the lamp and the battery. The all-in-one unit attaches to a helmet with Exposure’s slick vent mount, which keeps things secure and low-profile to avoid getting caught on low-hanging branches. Most of the time it’s an excellent solution, but we have experienced issues with some helmets using a MIPs liner.

The Zenith MK2 is a bit more powerful than the Joystick or the Diablo, but the flipside is extra weight. On balance we think the extra 20g or so is worth shouldering as you get a bigger battery, which means a longer run time for any given power output. And toggling between modes is particularly simple on the Zenith because you can use Tap mode to knock the power up or down without searching for the button. There are loads of advantages with the Exposure Zenith, but the bottom line is that we could ride faster with this light than any other on test.

Read the full Exposure Zenith MK2 review

Exposure Diablo Mk14 light

The latest Exposure Diablo is brighter and lasts longer than the previous version, although it costs a bit more

2. Exposure Diablo MK14

All-in-one convenience

Weight: 149g | Lumens: 2,000, 1,000, 500 | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Fully customisable
  • Low-profile helmet mount
  • In-saddle, user-friendly, Tap technology

Reasons to avoid:

  • Run time is a little lacking
  • Fiddly set-up and somewhat clunky App

Smaller and lighter than the Zenith, the Exposure Diablo is another great off-road option. It shares a similar CNC-machined aluminium case, with the lamp and battery enclosed in the single unit. With no wires to route, or manage, it works a dream mounted to your helmet. Exposure’s through-vent mount is also light, low-profile, and simple, although it can struggle for space on some modern MIPs-lined helmets.  Fortunately you can also use a GoPro-style mount, which is something a lot of the latest helmets include as standard.

There are loads of modes, all etched into the light body so you don’t have to check the instructions every time you use it. Better still, you can use Tap mode to cycle through the modes by simply tapping the light while you’re riding along, saving you fumbling around for buttons. There’s also a remote that can be mounted to the bars, and an App you can access via your smartphone. A crisp, white beam and ample power as a secondary light makes the Diablo highly recommended for serious night riding.

Read our full test review of the Exposure Diablo MK12

Gloworm X2 Adventure Lightset

3. Gloworm X2 Adventure Lightset

Best value helmet light

Weight: 299g | Lumens: 400, 1,400, 2,000 | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Excellent value
  • Customisable
  • Remote control app

Reasons to avoid:

  • Battery life on full beam is low

If you’re happy to forgo the convenience of an all-in-one unit, and run a wired unit with separate battery pack, the advantages are potentially a longer run time and less weight on your head (but more on your back). Of these types, the Gloworm X2 Adventure is our pick of the crop. There’s a twin-LED lamp unit that’s made from CNC-machined alloy, and this is tethered to a two-cell battery.  similar in size and build to the Hope R4+, using a twin LED machined alloy head, but combined with a lighter and smaller two-cell battery. There are a couple of helmet mounts in the box, but the GoPro style option is definitely the more secure.

There’s ample power in full beam, but battery life isn’t great, so we’d power the light down to the 1,400 lumen setting to eek out the run time. Or customise your own power mode using the brand’s latest smartphone app. As the lamp unit runs a spot and a flood beam, if you’re planning on running it as a helmet light, we’d also recommend swapping the flood for another spot – there’s a spare in the box. Overall, the lamp unit does sit a little high, but the Gloworm X2 is a great package at a cracking price.

Read the full review of the Gloworm X2 Adventure Lightset

Sigma Buster 700

4. Sigma Buster 700

Best helmet light under £50

Weight: 148g | Max lumens: 700 | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Great value and good lens light

Reasons to avoid:

  • Modest battery life.

If you’re looking for a helmet light that costs less than £50, the Sigma Buster 700 is a great option. The lumen count sounds trifling, but out on the trail it has enough power and a sufficiently focused beam to light up the way ahead. Run time at full power is around 90 mins, which should be enough for most night rides, especially if you power it down (or turn it off) on the climbs.

We were impressed by the helmet mount – the flexible base deforms to the shape of your helmet. It sits a little high, but for the money the Sigma Buster 700 is a great way of getting into night riding without breaking the bank.

Read our full test review of the Sigma Buster 700

5. Hope R4+ LED light

Versatile and sturdy helmet-mounted light

Weight: 440g | Lumens: 550, 1,000, 1,500 | Rating: 8/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Versatile (could work as handlebar light)
  • Spare mounts included
  • Good beam pattern

Reasons to avoid:

  • No remote
  • Hard to see fuel gauge

The Hope R4+ is another light, in a similar vein to the Gloworm X2, that works as either a helmet light or a handlebar light. Obviously as the former you have to deal with a cable running down the back of your helmet to a separate battery stored in a jacket, hydration pack or hip pack. Not everyone likes this set-up, but it does usually offer the advantage of less weight on your head, and potentially a bigger battery for a longer run-time. Hope offers the R4+ with either a 4-cell or 2-cell Li-Ion battery – obviously the latter makes more sense for helmet use.

With 1,500 lumens, the R4+ throws out plenty of light, with a nice beam pattern with an even spread. As you’d expect from the UK manufacturer, the build quality is first rate, but the lamp does sit relatively high on your head, so you may need to remember to duck in the woods.

Read the full review of the Hope R4+ LED light

Magicshine RN 1500

6. Magicshine RN 1500

A lightweight light that packs a punch

Weight: 142g | Lumen: 300, 750, 1,500 | Rating: 8/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Reliable and consistent
  • Lightweight
  • Crisp white light

Reasons to avoid:

  • Limited programmability

Another lightweight all-in-one unit at a respectable price, the Magicshine RN 1500 pumps out a claimed 1,500 lumens. It sits a bit proud of your helmet for our liking, and there’s no GoPro mount adaptor in the box. You can buy one separately for £8.99, and this lets you save another 25g off the weight printed above.

At full blast, the Magicshine RN 1500 runs for about an hour, but tone it down to 750 lumens and you’ll get about 3 hours. Using full power on the descents and 750 everywhere else should work well for most night rides. While a little more expensive than the Sigma Buster, the Magicshine RN 1500 offers a useful boost of power and run time, so we’d recommend stretching to it if your budget allows.

Read the full review for the Magicshine RN 1500

How we test

All the lights here were ridden back-to-back on the same test loop by our experienced testers (with over 30 years of experience reviewing mountain bike products), mixing open trails with wooded singletrack to see how they coped with different environments. When testing helmet lights, low weight is key, but being able to access the light’s settings on-the-fly is also important. To have to remove the light or your helmet to change modes is inconvenient.

The beam of a helmet light needs to be more focused than a handlebar light, so that it can overpower the bar light to highlight obstacles on the trail. Run time needs to be roughly the same, obviously, although it makes sense to reduce the brightness on climbs, when you’re going slower.

A low-profile light gives more head clearance when there are low branches, and the mount itself needs to be secure, so the lamp doesn’t fall out or jiggle around. Finally, we photographed all the beam patterns to let you compare relative brightness.

What to look for in the best mountain bike helmet lights

If you’re riding in woods, forests, or even jungle, on tight singletrack with lots of turns, hidden drops and undulations, we’d recommend adding a helmet lamp to your night ride light set-up because it lets you look over that log (or snake pit) to see what’s on the other side. You can spot a turn, look round a corner and just get a better picture of what’s going, even on trails you know.

best mountain bike lights

A powerful light on your bars combined with a decent light on your helmet is the ideal combo

1. Helmet mount type

Usually most helmet lights attach using a plastic mount, held in place with two Velcro straps that loop through the helmet vents. However, some helmets have optional clips for GoPro cameras, and you can often get an adapter that lets you bolt the light straight on, eliminating the Velcro part.

2. Power

Light output is measured in lumens and the higher the number the brighter the light. Some manufacturers quote claimed lumens, but others state the measured lumens, which is a truer reflection of the actual light output. Most lights also have high, low, and medium settings, but some also get secondary modes that are accessed when you turn the light on. We’ve also started to see programmable lights that can be configured using an app or some sequencing built into the on/off switch.

3. Beam Pattern

We’ve included pictures of all the beam patterns to show what the light looks like on the trail. Ideally the helmet light needs a spot beam with good intensity to complement the bar light which should have a broad spread with soft transitions and edges and a pool around the front wheel for picking your way through technical terrain.

4. Fuel Gauge

To show remaining battery life a fuel gauge is essential, but it’s surprising how many lights don’t have one. The simplest are just flashing LEDs (green for good, red for bad) but some of the best use a read out or percentage countdown displayed on the back of the light.

5. Cable

If your helmet light connects to a cable, then ideally look for a coiled cable or a short option that you can add an extension. The worst is a super long fixed design that you’re going to have to coil up yourself and stow in your bag, leaving it vulnerable to getting snagged on your helmet, hair or low branches.

6. Remote

Usually this is fitted to the bar, near the grip. The idea is you don’t have to reach up to toggle the light on or off and you’re also more likely to use the different power levels and preserve battery life. It’s really handy on a helmet light, less so on the bar because you can just reach across.