Head torches are a vital piece of kit during winter months. They offer a hands-free solution with the
light shining where you look which is far more useful than a handheld torch. Trying to hold a torch whilst setting up your tent, trail running or looking at a map, for example, is tricky to
say the least!
Weight, brightness, ease of use, cost, comfort and stability are all key factors when deciding which head torch to purchase, with brightness and battery life both increasing significantly over the past few years.
Let’s look at some key features for your next head torch....
Generally, the quicker you are
moving or the more technical it is underfoot the more lumens you will need. A running headtorch, particularly for the trails, should have a minimum of 350 lumens although 500 is recommended. A camping head torch or one for more general use, will be just
fine with less. To summarise the numbers of lumens needed for different activities:
- Emergency use: 10
to 50 lumens
- Every day, urban and campsite use: 100 to 250
- Outdoor sport use and navigation: 300 to 600
- Mountaineering, technical trail running and skiing:
500 to 900 lumens
Don’t forget brightness is
offset by power consumption, so a very bright head torch at full power won’t
last as long as something less bright. The good news is, higher power models
usually have a larger battery to compensate, although they may come at a premium
Many head torches offer different brightness and light settings by pressing a button or turning a dial, e.g. low, medium, high. This
allows you to extend the battery life if lower lumens are sufficient. Petzl’s
Reactive Lighting also helps to address the brightness/burn time balance. More on that later.
How long you need the battery
to last will depend on what you are doing and the brightness you need balanced
with the size of the battery. A rechargeable head torch will not only help save
the planet and your pocket but is more efficient at delivering power than
standard alkaline batteries, especially at low temperatures, it’s also easy to
carry a spare battery pack. Most rechargable head torches can be charged using a micro usb.
Many head torches also have a
reserve function, a small amount of light that lasts long enough to get you
back home or to another battery.
On LED head torches, the distance the beam will reach depends on the brightness of the LED along with the focus pattern. Choosing a suitable beam pattern for your intended use is important. If running in the dark, trail runners typically need both flood and spot lighting for proximity/distance lighting while flood only lighting is sufficient for more casual use around the campsite or reading.
Head torches will often have a spot focused LED for long distance with a second wide angle LED for proximity/flood lighting. Or, they may have several balanced LEDs to produce a very even wide beam pattern at different brightness levels. Have a think about the activities you’ll need your head torch for and whether you’ll need to see long distance, wide angle or close up or even all three!
Reactive Lighting is a technology developed by Petzl where the head torch
senses the amount of light bouncing back and adjusts the brightness produced.
Aiming the head torch into the distance activates full brightness and gives
longer reach but when checking a map, the light output is reduced helping to
reduce glare while also increasing burn time and making it perfect for all
Once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back! Not having to manually
change the brightness with cold, often gloved hands is a complete game changer!
Head torches weighing much more than 200g can feel cumbersome and uncomfortable on your head, especially if you’re wearing them for long periods. How much weight you’re prepared to carry on your adventure with you is personal preference. Many organised events require you to carry a head torch as part of the essential safety kit. In this instance, weight plays a crucial factor choosing a head torch.
Even for lighter models,
thinking about how you want the weight distributed is important and there’s
generally two main designs. An ‘all in
one’ unit with the light and battery at the front or a ‘split’ design with the
light on the front and battery on the rear. There are advantages to both
including how compact the head torch feels and its balance on the head, much
will depend on personal preference, comfort and the battery size needed
For active outdoor use in the UK some degree of water resistance is essential to ensure your head torch keeps the rain and moisture at bay. A torch’s waterproofness is measured using an IPX rating
, from IPX1 to IPX8, with a higher number representing a higher waterproof level. IPX4 is the minimum waterproof standard to consider, ensuring protection from splashing water from any direction. Some head torches are more durable than others and if you need your head torch to accompany you on the toughest of
adventures, look to see if it’s impact resistant.
Closely linked with ‘weight’
above is the overall comfort of your headtorch. Adjustable straps use varying
combinations of elastic webbing, sweat bands and cord. Where possible, try on
your head torch to make sure it feels comfortable for you and adjusts well for
your head, hair and headwear. Your head torch shouldn’t jiggle around when you
move, yet it shouldn’t be so tight that the strap leaves a mark.
Check how easy it is to turn on
and off your head torch and switch between functions. You won’t want to faff
around taking your gloves off when it’s blowing a gale! If this is something that will bother you, choose a head torch with reactive lighting so there will be no need to manually adjust settings.
Price plays a major factor in
any purchase. If you’re after a durable, reliable head torch to use on all your
epic adventures then you can expect the pay more than a head torch for occasional
use. By spending a little bit more, you can land yourself a decent piece of kit
which will come up trumps when enjoying your favourite activities.
A tilting function for the head torch beam can also be very useful in mist or driving rain and snow to avoid
glare or more simply to give a better pool of illumination for your
Another feature you may want to
add to your wish list is a red or coloured light mode. This is useful if you
venture out in a group or camp with others. A
red light function is kinder to eyes and is less likely to wake your tent buddy
up in the middle of the night.
A strobe or flashing light mode
is mainly used for signalling, making it ideal for seeking aid.
Our top picks
Here are our top picks for head torches suited to certain outdoor activities:
- Occasional camping - OS Headtorch - Easy to use with a long battery life. The red light is ideal for reading and whilst preserving night vision.
- Regular hiking and camping adventures - Petzl Actik Headlamp - 450 lumen brightness. The
phosphorescent reflector helps you find it in the dark, and the red
lighting preserves night vision. Compatible with the CORE rechargeable
battery (sold separately)
- High-intensity sports like trail running - Petzl IKO Core Headlamp - Rechargeable headlamp combines multiple technologies to provide 500 lumens at a total weight of only 79 g. Works with AAA batteries too.
- For emergencies - Petzl e+LITE Emergency Headlamp - Rechargeable with 40 lumens of continuous or strobe lighting (red or white) to be seen. A whistle is attached to it and it can be stored with its batteries for up to 10 years.
If you're an avid camper and you're looking for additional lighting, lanterns make the perfect tent companion. Hook them up or lay them on the ground and you'll have continuous light to help you pack, read, cook and enjoy time out in the wilderness.