Nitecore NU31 headlamp review


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Sep 05, 2023

Nitecore NU31 headlamp review

A traditional style headlamp that performs well but won't break the bank. The red LED is useful for skywatchers, and the simple two-button operation is easy to navigate. Good value for money USB-C

A traditional style headlamp that performs well but won't break the bank. The red LED is useful for skywatchers, and the simple two-button operation is easy to navigate.

Good value for money

USB-C charging

Reflective headband

Charging could be quicker

Slight green tint from the white LED

Can't change rechargeable battery

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Nitecore is a China-based manufacturer of flashlights, headlamps, battery chargers and other electronics. Founded in 2007, Nitecore has quickly become a leading flashlight industry brand known for its innovative products and high-quality construction; it has distributors all over the world.

The company offers many variations of bright output, long runtime flashlights, including tactical flashlights, everyday carry (EDC) flashlights, headlamps and lanterns.

LED Color: White and redBrightness (Lumens): 550 lumensRuntime: 8 hours on 200 lumens (high mode)Weight: 3.37 oz / 95.5 gWaterproof Rating: IP66Battery Type: Inbuilt 1,800mAh Li-on battery

In this review, we are testing the reasonably priced Nitecore NU31 — a rechargeable headlamp with three light sources — primary white light, auxiliary red light and auxiliary white light. This headlamp has many qualities found in several of the models in our best headlamps guide. On paper, it looks like it could be a great value purchase for skywatchers looking for an affordable headlamp with astro-friendly features — a dedicated red light, great waterproofing rating, USB-C charging, long run time, fuss-free operation, good range, comfortable strap and excellent build quality. We've used it as our main headlamp for a couple of weeks to see how it fares against the competition.

If someone asked you to imagine a headlamp — you'd probably summon an image in your mind that looks just like the Nitecore NU31. Available in three colors, Tangelo Orange, Chill Blue or Slate Grey, that's about as design conscious as this headlamp is, as well as the highly reflective branding and dotted pattern on the headband. The headband comes pre-attached so you can use it straight out of the box, but it can be removed should you want to wash it or swap it for another strap.

Unusually, the lamp's housing is aluminum on the front, not plastic, increasing the overall durability of the headlamp as well as having a positive impact on heat transfer and cooling.

The hinged bracket allows you to tilt the light 60 degrees, which is helpful for close-up work, but not quite as generous as the 90-degree tilt seen on the Silva Terra Scout XT headlamp. The back of the bracket (the bit closest to your forehead) has little hexagonal cutouts to help dissipate heat.

There are two buttons on top, one larger, stippled button which is the power button — also used to adjust the brightness level. A smaller mode button is used to switch between the primary light, the auxiliary white light and the auxiliary red light.

There is a neat battery charging/power indicator in the form of four tiny LEDs which is only visible when you are not using the torch. We don't have any concerns about this, as leaving the torch on and trying to look at the indicator right next to the light would dazzle you.

To access the red light, you need to hold down the 'mode' button when the headlamp is switched off. Having tested a large number of models with single-press buttons, we did forget on a few occasions and instinctively pressed the power button instead of the mode button which activates the white LED. Just something to get used to so it becomes second nature and to avoid accidentally ruining night vision.

High: 200 lumens; 8 hours run-time; 90 m beam range Mid: 60 lumens; 38 hours run-time; 46 m beam range

Auxiliary White Light: Low: 50 lumens; 42 hours run-time; 15 m beam range Ultra Low: 6 lumens; 147 hours run-time; 6 m beam range

Auxiliary Red Light: Constant: 5 lumens; 80 hours run-time; 5 m beam range Slow Flashing: 10 lumens; 50 hours run-time

The white LED floods are nice and bright; despite having a 100-degree wide-angle beam, they still seem quite directional so the illuminated area in front of you is fairly narrow. Some people prefer this, as we did when walking through the campsite — no need to disturb everyone in your peripherals as you make your way to the loo! The beam distance is sufficient, a maximum of 145m.

The in-built 1800 mAh battery is equivalent to the power you'd get out of seven AA batteries. It was perfectly adequate to use for five nights of camping with plenty of remaining charge to spare. We made sure to switch it on and off as required and monitor use using the battery indicator so we weren't caught out.

The IP66 waterproof rating protects it against hose-directed water, rain and snow. It would be fine if you're considering wearing this at sea (i.e. night fishing) but don't drop it as it shouldn't be immersed. If you're looking for something submersible, consider the Knog Bilby 400. IP66 protects it from total dust ingress.

As we'd expect from most headlamps, the Nitecore NU31 features a lock function to prevent accidentally pushing buttons and turning the light on in your backpack or camera bag. Hold down both buttons to activate it — the primary LED will flash three times to indicate you've locked it, and do the same to turn it off.

We like that the Nitecore NU31 uses USB-C charging. A couple of models we've reviewed take micro or mini-USB; this just means more cables to carry (or forget).

You can charge the headlamp up by plugging a USB-C cable directly into it (no batteries to remove); you can also still operate the headlamp while it's charging, so you can still read your book in your tent and top up your headlamp's juice at the same time. We charged it using our Ugreen 145W power bank, as found in our best power banks guide.

This is a fuss-free, back-to-basics headlamp without complicated menus to navigate or functions that will be largely redundant. We love that it has USB-C charging instead of micro-USB which seems a bit dated now. The fewer cables we need to remember to pack, the better!

The headband and bracket are comfortable and reflective, a bonus safety feature. The throw of the light is as sufficient as what most people would typically need a headlamp for. The red light functionality is great for skywatchers to help preserve night vision.

We have reviewed a plethora of headlamps and listed our favorites in our best headlamps guide. We will undoubtedly be adding the Nitecore NU31 to the list, largely thanks to its affordability and USB-C charging — an improvement over some models in our guide — we think anyway.

For another traditional-looking headlamp with a red LED, we recently gave the Silva Terra Scout XT 4.5 out of 5 stars. This eco-friendly headlamp is made from hemp and 100% recycled plastic and features a hybrid battery design — use either 3 x AAA batteries or purchase a Silva Hybrid Battery, which transforms it into a rechargeable device. The only real downside to this headlamp is that you can't lock it. This means being extra careful when packing to avoid accidental battery drain. The Petzl Actik Core 450 is similar to the Silva Terra Scout XT but with a useful lock function.

Best headlampsBest cameras for astrophotographyBest telescopesBest stargazing tentsBudget telescopes under $500

Another one of our five-star choices is the BioLite HeadLamp 425. Like the Nitecore NU31, it is rechargeable using USB-C, has a red flood light, glove-friendly power button and 'run forever battery' which means you can charge and use it simultaneously. It is also incredibly lightweight and comfortable to wear.

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Tantse Walter is a photographer and adventurer that's spent seven years facilitating global adventurous expeditions. She loves getting into the nitty-gritty of sourcing and planning trips. Whether that be for astrophotography location scouting, or just for the love of exploration. Tantse enjoys taking creative, bright and bold photos of people, places, animals and the night sky. Tantse’s photos have been purchased by notable companies such as Ford and Cross Country Trains as well as an upcoming book about the songs, rituals and musical history of Capoeira.

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LED Color: White and redBrightness (Lumens): 550 lumensRuntime: 8 hours on 200 lumens (high mode)Weight: 3.37 oz / 95.5 gWaterproof Rating: IP66Battery Type: Inbuilt 1,800mAh Li-on batteryTwo button operationReflective headbandAluminum housingThree levels of floodlightSOS modeLong battery lifeHigh:Auxiliary White LightAuxiliary Red Light:Lock functionLi-ion Battery small battery indicatorIP66 ratedBest headlampsBest cameras for astrophotographyBest telescopesBest stargazing tentsBudget telescopes under $500