Buyers Guide to Choosing the 10 Best Headlamps for Backpackers

Whether you are traveling the world on a backpacking adventure, camping out in the woods or hiking the Appalachian Trail, there's one thing you should never travel without - a quality headlamp.

Whether you’re trekking to Everest Base Camp, reading in your dorm bed or just drunkenly trying to crack the combination to your padlock, headlamps always come in handy.

There's a lot of different models on the market - so which is the best headlamp for traveling?

I've personally tested over a dozen different headlamp brands over the last ten years. I've used some of the toughest, brightest headlamps out there and have a thing or two to say about some.

I've put together this definitive headlamp review post so that you check out some of the best value headlamps  for backpacking and everyday use. By the end of this guide, you'll know exactly what the best headlamp for your adventure style is.

So let's get to it!

best headlamps Pinterest image

Quick Answer: These are the Best Travel Headlamps of 2019

 

Why should you travel with a headlamp?

I often get asked what kit I would choose when I decide to go off adventuring somewhere remote for a few weeks, and my answer is always the same – a good knife, paracord, and a hiking headlamp that can last a long time off a single charge.

Let’s put that into perspective.

Imagine riding down a Vietnamese highway and within 5 minutes it’s dark. A plague of flying insects literally come out of nowhere. I slide my helmet visor down to see, without thinking I’ve opened my mouth & a million bugs fly inside. (I was hungry, but I was kinda waiting until I arrived at the next town to eat dinner.)

A young Vietnamese bloke drives past laughing. His bike lights are dimmed and he’s got his brightest headlamp beaming on the red light setting. There are literally no bugs bothering him, all because of this bloody red light on his headtorch.

Moral of the story: if I had invested in the best headlamp with a red light setting, I could have saved room for that delicious bun rieu

If only I had one of these!

In all seriousness though, you need to seriously consider buying a good headlamp for traveling around. They are extremely useful and will save you in a pinch.

On that note, think hard about investing in an LED head flashlight, which is by far the most power-efficient model. With technology advancing, they’re smaller, lighter, and brighter than ever.

Be sure to stick around to the end of this article, where we talk about what makes the best LED headlamp for traveling and what makes a headlamp the best value for your traveling needs.

The 5 Best Headlamps for 2019

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION
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Overall Best Headlamp For TravelingOverall Best Headlamp For TravelingPetzl Tikka XP Headlamp Review

  • – Lightweight (85 grams)
  • – Red light mode
  • – Water resistant/durable
  • – Lightweight (85 grams)
  • – Red light mode
  • – Water resistant/durable
Check Best Price
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Best Value For Money HeadlampBest Value For Money HeadlampSmarter Life LED Review

  • – Affordable
  • – Red light technology
  • – Adjustable straps
  • – Affordable
  • – Red light technology
  • – Adjustable straps
Check Best Price
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Best USB Rechargeable HeadlampBest USB Rechargeable HeadlampAennon Top-Pro-XS Review

  • – Cheap!
  • – Great for hiking
  • – USB rechargeable
  • – Cheap!
  • – Great for hiking
  • – USB rechargeable
Check Best Price
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Best Cheap Headlamp Best Cheap Headlamp Internova Star Rider XL Review

  • – 5 year warrantee
  • – Red-light mode
  • – Super cheap!
  • – 5 year warrantee
  • – Red-light mode
  • – Super cheap!
Check Best Price
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Best Solar HeadlampBest Solar HeadlampHybridlight Solar Headlamp Review

  • – Environmentally conscious
  • – Charges on sun and USB
  • – Good battery
  • – Environmentally conscious
  • – Charges on sun and USB
  • – Good battery
Check Best Price

 

#1 Petzl Tikka XP Headlamp Review

Overall Best Headlamp For Traveling

The Petzl Tikka XP is the best headlamp on the market by far.

For years now, Petzl have lead the way with headlamp technology and personally, I’ve always favored Petzl headlamps – they give the absolute best light to weight ratio out of all the headlamps on the market.

The Petzl Tikka XP featured smart adaptation technology meaning the brightness of the headlamp will never decrease as the battery drains. This is also a tough headlamp that is far more water resistant than most headlamps on the market and is pretty durable.

Whilst testing, I actually submerged this headlamp in a river and it kept working with no problems – it’s warranty does not cover this though so maybe don’t go too crazy.

This is an 80-lumen headlamp which offers a beam distance of 400 metres! Like all Petzl models, this headlamp comes with multiple modes including a strobe for signaling in an emergency.

Pros

  • Best light-to-weight ratio on the market
  • State of the art technology 
  • Water resistant/durable
  • Lightweight (85 grams)
  • 7 light modes and colors
  • Red light mode

Cons

  • Warranty doesn't cover water damage
  • Pricey

Best of all, this headlamp includes 'red light mode' which means this is one of the best headlamps to use if you are surrounded by insects - bugs can't see red light and so won't be tempted to fly into your face!

The headlamp has quite a few nifty new features and automatically switches to reserve mode when batteries are almost drained (signaled by blinking light). The headlamp weighs in at just 85 grams.

This headlamp has 7 different light modes and colours that adapt according to your surroundings. So you don’t have to keep clicking buttons to find the right setting, it’ll do it for you.

The headlamp can be easily attached to a bicycle or backpack so if you want to use it hands-free but don't want to wear it on your head you have options. I bought my first Petzl headlamp three years ago and it's still going strong - Petzl make quality gear.

Should you travel with the Petzel Tikka XP?

While it's a bit pricier than the others, if you want the best headlamp on the market, I recommend choosing something by Petzl.

Petzl Tikka XP is currently my top pick as the best headlamp for backpacking, and is a wise investment for anyone in need of a quality headlamp that will last the test of time. The button below has the latest price on the web....

 

 

#2 Smarter Life LED Review

Best Value For Money Headlamp

smartlite headlamp

The Smarter Life LED Headlight is one of the lightest and brightest headlamps for its price point and lumen output. It has the highest waterproof rating of IPX-6, plus it’s also dustproof and shock resistant. The battery can last up to 48hrs on the lowest setting and it only requires 1 AA battery, which is included when you buy it.

This is a fairly cheap headlamp and offers truly exceptional value for money – it has six different lighting modes to suit every landscape, including a red light used to maintain night vision and remain invisible to bugs.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • 6 lighting settings
  • Red light technology
  • Adjustable straps

Cons

  • Not as awesome as higher end headlamps
  • Battery life

You can manually set your headlight mode to suit your surroundings, without having to worry about the halo effect or flickering lights.

The SmarterLife headlamp is comfortable and tailored to fit everyone with its adjustable straps and curved forehead panel. It’s also an ultralight headlamp, so you won’t be adding much extra weight to your backpack.

Should you travel with the Smarter Life LED?

If you're on a budget, I recommend picking up the Smarter Life LED headlamp. It's about five to ten bucks more expensive than the cheapest headlamps on this list but it offers way more bang for your buck and is one of the longest lasting headlamps out there. I'm a big fan of this waterproof headlamp and its performance.

 

#3 Aennon Top-Pro-XS Review

Best USB Rechargeable Headlamp

 

Aennon Top Pro XS Headlamp

Costing just fifteen bucks, the Aennon Top Pro XS is an absolute steal. This is a sturdy, shock and water resistant headlamp which is fairly bright considering it’s a USB rechargeable headlamp.

If you are looking for the best headlamp for hiking, this may well be it – as long as you have a portable battery with you it’s possible to keep your headlamp running with no worries.

Pros

  • Cheap!
  • Great for hiking
  • Water resistant
  • USB rechargeable

Cons

  • Durability is up for debate
  • Charging capabilities has mixed reviews

From a single charge, you get a whopping 30 hours of constant light. This is definitely one of the best rechargeable headlamps on the market. It’s a fairly bright headlamp and boasts a powerful 220 lumens and has a beam distance of up to 150m!

This headlamp also has 4 light modes, so you can choose the level of brightness you desire.

The Aennon headlamp is USB rechargeable, so you don’t need to waste money paying for batteries. The LED lights in the head flashlight have a long lifetime of up to 30,000 hours, so you won’t have to stress about replacing the lights throughout your travels.

Should you travel with the Aennon Top-Pro-XS?

While it doesn't have as many cool tricks or specs as it's competitors, for the price, this is one of the best waterproof, lightweight and cheap hiking headlamps on the market.

 

#4  Internova Star Rider XL Review

Best Cheap Headlamp 

Internova Star Rider XL

The Internova Star Rider XL is the best budget headlamp on the market and costing just $10, it really is a steal.

It may not have the same kind of power as some of the other headlamps in this review but it packs some serious punch for it’s price and it’s hardy meaning it will last a long time.

Pros

  • Super cheap!
  • Red-light mode
  • 5 year warrantee

Cons

  • Not as powerful as others
  • Not as high-tech as others
  • Light doesn't reach far

It has a decent lumen output and you’re able to tilt the headlamp 60 degrees, enabling you to focus light where you need it.

The headlamp includes multiple light modes for any situation which is perfect for traveling. See through dense terrain while trekking on high mode or star gaze without straining your eyes on red mode.

You can use this headlamp in all weather environments as its IPX-3 water resistant. Without a doubt, my favourite feature of the Internova Star Rider XL is the 5 year warrantee. I’m forever breaking things when travelling, so it’s a great peace of mind knowing that they’ll fix it, no questions asked.

Should you travel with the Star Rider XL?

If you are looking for something cheap and efficient - look no further! The Star Rider XL provides some serious bang for it's buck, and while it's simple compared to it's competitors, it certainly gets the job done. 

 

#5. Hybridlight Solar Headlamp

Best Solar Headlamp

best reading headlamp

The Hybridlight Solar Headlamp is an environmentally conscious headlamp that utilizes renewable energy from the sun for power. Just in case the sun isn’t shining, they also include a USB charger (it’s always good to have a backup).

The battery never has to be replaced on this headlamp as it’s recharged by the sun. The length of the battery is actually pretty commendable as well. Pretty damn cool though since it’s solar powered – real handy on longer hikes where solar is the only source of power around.

Pros

  • Environmentally conscious
  • Charges on sun and USB
  • Battery lasts a while

Cons

  • Weak light
  • No red light mode
  • Decent durability

The light output of the Hybridlight is pretty meager (75 lumens) and it also lacks a red light mode. When you consider that this is a solar charged headlamp though and a cheaper one at that, there’s not much else you can expect. The light can be rotated 180 degrees, which still makes it useful.

If it wasn’t for the weak lumen rating, this would be one of the best hiking headlamps available. Don’t fault the equipment itself too much – consumer solar technology still has a ways to go.

Should you travel with the Hybridlight Solar Headlamp?

If you hike a lot or are particularly environmentally conscious, this could be the headlight of your dreams. While no red-light is a deal breaker for me, the solar technology and respectable battery make the Hybridlight a great headlamp for anyone looking to harness to power of the sun. 

 

#6. Black Diamond Icon Review

Best Headlamp for Climbers

black diamond headlamp

This Black Diamond headlamp is a beast! With an IPX-7 waterproof rating, 500 lumens, and enough features to cover most everyone’s needs, the Icon can go just about anywhere and do anything. It is, hands down, one of the best headlamps for climbers and mountaineers who need a piece of equipment that will last.

When investing in the Black Diamond Icon, you’ll know right off the bat that this bad boy will get the job done. As we mentioned before, it’s bright and is very resistant to water and dirt. 

Pros

  • Very bright
  • Tough
  • Tons of features

Cons

  • Big
  • Heavy
  • Expensive

Best of all, you can modify the intensity and width of this headlamp’s light, making it more or less wide/powerful as you need it to be. There is a red light setting as well as a green light mode, the latter of which you don’t see very often.

Ergonomically, the on/off button is responsive though it tends to get turned on accidentally when left in a bag. There are two customizable head straps as well, so it’ll stay snug on your head.

Given all of these of features, it’s a given that the Black Diamond Icon is heavy. At 8.2 ounces, it may be too heavy. As such, this is not the best headlamp for hiking or camping as it may be too burdensome.

On a side note, the latch that holds the battery compartment tight maybe a little delicate – mine broke after extended wear and tear.

Should you travel with the Black Diamond Icon?

The Black Diamond headlamp is a monster but a powerful one. It’s big, heavy, and expensive, but for people who need optimal performance and durability, the Icon is the best headlamp for work in adverse conditions.

 

#7. Black Diamond Spot Review

Best Headlamp for Backpacking

 

best backpacking headlamp

 

The Black Diamond Spot is a very reliable backpacking headlamp. It offers 300 lumens of brightness, several touched-related features, and an impressive IPX rating of 8. The Black Diamond Spot is also reasonably priced.

For those who go outdoors often and need a headlamp that is both durable and bright without sacrificing too much, the Spot is an excellent choice.

The Spot is what you’d expect from a typical Black Diamond headlamp - trusted, reliable, and effective. When you’re out backpacking for a few days, you’ll need all of these qualities to ensure your comfortable and safe. 

Pros

  • Very durable
  • Good brightness
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Little bit heavier
  • Little less battery life
  • Not much else

Granted, the Black Diamond Spot is not the lightest headlamp on this list – at 3 ozs (with batteries), it’s still a tiny bit weighty. But for those who go into the wilderness, the extra weight is well worth the extra features you get.

The lamp has good but not great battery life so you may want to take an extra set with you.

At the end of the day, the weight and battery life are minor complaints. Everything else about this backpacking headlamp is worthy of applause. This is still one of the best headlamps for outdoor use, whether you’re going a multi-day odyssey or just camping for the weekend.

Should you travel with the Black Diamond Spot?

There’s a reason the Black Diamond Spot is a staple of the industry - it’s effective, tough, and doesn't cost an arm and a leg to buy. For those who need a solid headlamp to take backpacking, this an easy purchase.

 

#8. Coast HL7 Review

Best Headlamp for Camping

best headlamp for reading

If you’re going ca camping for the weekend and just need something easy for after dark, the Coast HL7 maybe for you. This LED headlamp is compact, bright, and, most importantly, a great deal. 

The Coast HL7 is a simple headlamp - there is no weatherproofing here or crazy features. It’s just a powerful light attached to strap that goes around your head. 

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Bright
  • Compact

Cons

  • Poor battery
  • Bit heavy
  • No waterproofing

This is a high beam headlamp though with surprisingly powerful and uniform light output. It has 240 lumens, which is respectable, but those lumens are used well. Both the angle and the intensity of the light can be adjusted easily, which makes this a great headlamp for reading.

The Coast HL7 is also rechargeable by USB! Granted, the battery itself is not all that strong so you’ll have to recharge it often. Be sure to have a USB charger/converter in your before going out with this.

The Coast HL7 is also quite heavy (4.5 ozs). While it may not be great for ultralight backpacking or trail running, it’s still a great headlamp for camping (since it can sit in your glove compartment).

Should you travel with the Coast HL7?

If you need an easy-to-use camping headlight that is bright enough to illuminate your campsite and can be recharged in the car, the Coast HL7 is a great choice. It’s probably not a wilderness backpacking headlamp, but it’ll do fine otherwise.

 

#9. Petzl NAO+

The Brightest Headlamp

best reading headlamp petzl

With a whopping 750 units of brightness, this is THE high lumen headlamp. The Petzl NAO+ has the highest lumen rating out of any headlamp reviewed in this guide and is crazy bright. On a dark night, this thing could light up the moon (not actually) or, more likely, just about anything within 100 meters of you.

Petzl headlamps are among the best in the business (remember: the Tikka XP was our favorite) because they are innovative and effective. The NAO+ is probably one of Petzl’s most daring headlamps to date and achieves in many ways.

Obviously, this is a bright headlamp, there’s no questioning that, but what else does the NAO+ offer?

Pros

  • Very bright
  • Innovative tech
  • Great when it works

Cons

  • Poor battery
  • Glitchy
  • Expensive

The NAO+ feels like an attempt at making a “smart-lamp.” This headlamp has a dizzying array of features that are meant to impress and perform.

You can connect the headlamp to your smartphone to receive metrics. There’s also the “reactive lighting technology,” which allows the headlamp light to automatically brighten and dim based upon the environment.

As a gut check though, we must state that a lot of these features are still in their developing years. The NAO+ is still quite buggy, especially the reactive tech, and may frustrate you.

On top of that, this Petzl headlamp also suffers from quite poor battery life and awkward ergonomics. The cherry on top is that the NAO+ is also very expensive.

To use a simile, the Petzl NAO+ is like a Ferrari – sexy, futuristic, and hyper-charged, but prone to breaking and a huge investment.

Should you travel with the Petzl NAO+?

If you’re a techie and have the money to spend, the Petzl NAO+ is sure to inspire you. It’s arguably one of the best headlamps for runners who like to go out in pitch dark, but may require some troubleshooting and patience.

 

#10. Fenix HL30

The Headlamp for Running

best running headlamp

The Fenix HL30 is a comfortable, easy to use headlamp that will serve trail runners very well. It has a strong flood-type beam, straightforward settings, and is durable enough to handle sudden impacts or poor weather. We think it’s one of the best headlamps for runners who just want something to grab and go.

The technology behind the headlamp is pretty standard. 200 lumen output, dim/flood/red light options, and a robust IPX-6 waterproof rating ensure that this headlamp will get the job done. At 4 oz, it’s not the lightest headlamp on this list but it still feels light enough given the quality of the weather sealing.

Pros

  • Good light
  • Very comfortable
  • Reliable

Cons

  • Poor battery
  • Limited features
  • Tad bit heavier

Most of all, the Fenix HL30 feels very comfortable when worn. It’s snug on the head and has a second strap to help it stay in place. Comfort can be a tricky thing to measure in a headlamp but this one seems to be objectively superior to others.

In terms of negatives, there’s only a few with the Fenix HL30. The biggest is that the battery life, which is fueled by 2 AA batteries, leaves a bit to be desired. They do run out a little quick on the highest beam setting and may not last an entire night’s worth of running.

Should you travel with the Fenix HL30?

If you’re looking for a comfortable running headlamp for illuminating those tough trails and rainy days, the Fenix HL30 is great. You’ll need to change the batteries often so ultra-distance runners may want to take note.


Considerations When Looking for the Best Headlamp

Weight

Considering that you'll be carrying around all the time (mostly on your head!), you should invest in a lightweight headlamp. Nowadays there are plenty of ultralight headlamps on the market and you can pick up cheap headlamps that still weigh very little so you shouldn't have to compromise on weight when picking out a decent headlamp for your adventures.

If you think that you'll be doing some really adventurous stuff, like mountaineering or thru-hiking, then you'll probably need to invest in more durable, high power headlamp. To cope with the extra stress, these are often made from heavier materials. 

Just be conscious of the balance between weight and performance. The best headlamps for climbing on other extreme sports will be strong enough to handle the elements but light to not be cumbersome.

Battery Life

The best headlamp for traveling will have a long battery life. Your headlamp should be able to last at least 10 hours minimum, regardless of the setting. If you're trekking somewhere remote, the last thing that you want is for your headlamp light to die on you...

Some headlamps use disposable batteries and others can be recharged via USB port, power bank or a solar charger. Personally, I'm a big fan of USB charging or hybrid headlamps and I like the idea of solar charging headlamps. Granted,  these often can't hold a big enough charge, which is obviously problematic. 

Note to that battery life and weight are directly correlated to one another. The lightest headlamps will usually have the worst battery life while the high power headlamps will often require more batteries and thus be heavier.

Brightness & Beam

High beam headlamps should have a decent lumen output - the higher the lumens, the brighter your head-torch will be. The best LED headlamps provide a good level of brightness and beam distance in diverse conditions. Most decent headlamps use proximity and movement modes to adapt light according to their surroundings.

All that being said, lumens doesn't necessarily means that a headlamp's light will travel far. In fact, a high lumen headlamp may have a shorter distance than other ones with less lumens. In this case, the distance of the headlamp's light comes down to quality design and manufacturing.

Water Resistance

The weather is unpredictable, so it’s better to be prepared and invest in a water resistant headlamp. All head torches should be at least a little waterproof, whether you're exploring a cave or trekking through snow, there's bound to be a chance of water no matter where you are.

To determine a headlamp's waterproof ability, we use an IPX scale. Headlamps typically range from IPX-1, which protects from dripping fluids to IPX-8, which can withstand over 3 feet of water.

If you just want basic protection from splashing water in all directions, then a weather resistant rating of IPX- 4 is what you want. For mountaineers looking for a climbing headlamp, they'll probably want something closer to 7 or 8.

Comfort

This is a minor issue but one you should think about nonetheless - be conscious of how your headlamp fits. Consider the following:

  • Does the lamp have a single strap or two? Two straps will help the headlamp stay in one place and stop from sliding down. This is crucial for people who use headlamps for running.
  • Can the straps be adjusted? If not, hope your head is the most average shape ever.
  • Do the straps feel good? I like wider ones that put less pressure on the cranium.
  • Is the headlamp too heavy or too light? The lightest headlamps can slide on your willy-nilly; heavier ones can just feel burdensome.
man uses headlamps at night

When your hostel says 'light's out' but you can't put down your book...


Headlamp Review

Headlamps are an essential item for hikers, cyclists, backpackers, climbers, and mountaineers. Sometimes it can be hard to determine what is the best headlamp for you, especially since there’s so many to choose from. Hopefully, after reading our in-depth headlamp reviews, you feel armed with all the info you need to pick up a headlamp and hit the road!

Take one more look at our headlamp comparison table and think about all of the factors we have talked about so far. Is one jumping out to you and your style of adventure?

PRODUCTDESCRIPTION  
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Overall Best Headlamp For TravelingOverall Best Headlamp For TravelingPetzl Tikka XP Headlamp Review

  • – Lightweight (85 grams)
  • – Red light mode
  • – Water resistant/durable
  •  
  •  
  • – Lightweight (85 grams)
  • – Red light mode
  • – Water resistant/durable
  •  
  •  
Check Best Price
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Best Value For Money HeadlampBest Value For Money HeadlampSmarter Life LED Review

  • – Affordable
  • – Red light technology
  • – Adjustable straps
  •  
  •  
  • – Affordable
  • – Red light technology
  • – Adjustable straps
  •  
  •  
Check Best Price
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Best USB Rechargeable HeadlampBest USB Rechargeable HeadlampAennon Top-Pro-XS Review

  • – Cheap!
  • – Great for hiking
  • – USB rechargeable
  •  
  •  
  • – Cheap!
  • – Great for hiking
  • – USB rechargeable
  •  
  •  
Check Best Price
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Best Cheap Headlamp Best Cheap Headlamp Internova Star Rider XL Review

  • – 5 year warrantee
  • – Red-light mode
  • – Super cheap!
  •  
  •  
  • – 5 year warrantee
  • – Red-light mode
  • – Super cheap!
  •  
  •  
Check Best Price
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Best Solar HeadlampBest Solar HeadlampHybridlight Solar Headlamp Review

  • – Environmentally conscious
  • – Charges on sun and USB
  • – Good battery
  •  
  •  
  • – Environmentally conscious
  • – Charges on sun and USB
  • – Good battery
  •  
  •  
Check Best Price

 

Final Thoughts

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can guide your light to any direction you choose…

There you have them my fellow travelers: the best headlamps of 2019. Like the elves’ most beloved star, “may (these) be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

Having the right headlamp on your adventurers will absolutely improve your experience. You will be able to go, read, function, and excel in dark or otherwise dim situations and your life will drastically improve. I always recommend bringing a headlamp, even if it’s just to the outdoor toilet.

Consider what kind of headlamp is best for your needs and then choose the appropriate one for yourself. You’ll need a model that can handle your style of adventure and you don’t one that will break on you in the middle of your trip.

Hopefully, we have given you everything that you need and you now know which headlamp is best for you. All you need to do is take the plunge and buy one for yourself!

If you think that there is a better headlamp than the ones we have already, please tell us about it in the comment section. We’re already excited to see what’s new out there!

Yay for transparency! The links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you buy anything, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going. 

 

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