Selecting the right head torch for your needs can seem daunting when there are so many on offer but we've put this guide together with a few tips to help you make the right choice.

There are 3 main considerations that you might want to think about when choosing a head torch:

  1. the main use for the head torch,
  2. the power source,
  3. light output (lumens) / beam pattern.

What are you going to use the head torch for?

Hiking

If you just need a head torch as a safety aid to keep in your pack in case you are benighted then a small, simple head torch should suffice. If it’s rechargeable be sure to regularly check it is charged. There’s nothing worse than needing your light and its battery is empty.

Trail running

Look for a strap that goes over the top of your head as well as around it for greater stability and comfort. Given the speed of running, you ideally want a combination of a longer reaching spot beam to look ahead down the trail with some flood beam for seeing closer for foot placement.

Camping

Most usage will be at closer quarters and inside the tent. A more diffuse flood beam will be easier on the eyes and outright lumens output will be less important that longer run times. Some head torches have covers to turn them into tent lanterns (if not then the Montbell Crushable Lantern Shade is a super light option).

What time of year it will be used?

Summer - with short nights, it’s unlikely you will need to use a head torch for any length of time. With battery run time being less important you can choose a lighter, smaller light.

Winter - a much greater likelihood that you’ll need to use a head torch whilst walking, during navigation and around camp. As a result, choose a brighter light with a decent battery capacity or the ability to change batteries. We would recommend carrying a main head torch in Winter and also a back up to be used in case of failure of the main torch or if you need to change its batteries etc.

Alkaline Batteries or Rechargeable Lithium Ion?

More head torches than ever are now available with a rechargeable lithium ion battery. This can be great when you have access to a power source or power bank and it’s certainly a more environmentally friendly option.

For long trips in remote locations, where it’s likely you will need to change to new batteries and might not have access to a power source, then a head torch using AA or AAA batteries gives the peace of mind that you can keep your light running.

Regular batteries

Advantages

  • Easily replaced so can carry spare batteries
  • Widely available

Disadvantages

  • Alkaline batteries have poor run times with higher lumens output
  • Not environmentally friendly
  • Cost of frequent battery replacement

Rechargeable (Lithium Ion)

Advantages

  • Can achieve greater lumens output for longer
  • No cost of replacing batteries
  • Can be recharged from a power source so not reliant on battery availability

Disadvantages

  • More expensive to buy initially compared to regular battery head torches
  • Need charging so power source needed
  • Not always replaceable so can’t carry a spare

What light output and beam pattern is needed?

Type of beam pattern

Spot – as the name suggests, a tight beam pattern giving a bright narrow beam with excellent throw (the distance a light can reach). Great for seeing greater distances but not so good for reading a map or around camp as the bright spot can be dazzling.

Flood – a large, diffuse beam with an even spread of light. Poor for distance but excellent for manual activities, around camp or reading a map.

Some head torches have a separate spot and flood light which the user can switch between. They can also be operated together for a balanced beam with excellent light coverage but also a longer beam throw.

How many lumens do I need?

The lumens is the measure of light emitted from the head torch. Lumens will guide how bright a head torch might be but the beam pattern will also have a significant impact on its effectiveness for different activities.

Recommended lumens for different activities

Map reading / Cooking – somewhere from 8 to 30 lumens will be sufficient for close quarters use whether reading or cooking.

Walking –Too many lumens and your night vision will be negatively impacted so as few lumens as possible to safely walk is best. Otherwise you will be unable to see the features in the landscape and only within the beam. Around 40-80 lumens is enough for most walking unless negotiating tricky terrain where you need to see a bit further. You’ll be surprised how little light is needed if you let your eyes adjust to the darkness.

Trail Running – for running off road you will need a good spread of light close to plus some throw to see your route and spot obstacles. Around 200 lumens is adequate but many trail running lights have more.

Navigation – you will want 300-400 lumens to be able to pick out features in the landscape combined with a beam with a good spot lens with plenty of throw to see as far as possible. However, the ability to quickly drop the lumens is vital if you are having to look down at the map regularly so think about ease of use or programmable settings here too.

Our favourite head torches

Best for ‘Fast and Light Summer Adventures’

Petzl Bindi

So bright for a light that’s so small and light. Great for Summer use where you don’t need long run times.

  • Max lumens: 200 (2hr burn time)
  • Burn time: 2hrs to 50hrs
  • Approx. range: 6m to 36m, depending on setting
  • Weight: 33g

Best for ‘Emergency Backup’

Petzl e+lite

Ultralight and compact. Makes a great emergency backup plus it has red and white strobes to help you be seen.

  • Max lumens: 50 (9hr burn time)
  • Burn time: 9hrs to 70hrs
  • Approx. range: 6m to 10m, depending on setting (strobe visible at 100m)
  • Weight: 26g

Best for ‘Alkaline All-rounder – hike, run, camp’

Black Diamond Spot 350

For those who prefer alkaline batteries, the Spot is a great choice. It’s not the lightest or brightest but does everything well.

  • Max lumens: 350 (4hr burn time)
  • Burn time: 4hrs to 200hrs
  • Approx. range: 8m to 85m, depending on setting
  • Weight: 86g (with batteries)

Best for ‘Versatility and Innovation’

Petzl IKO Core

Big lumen output for the weight, innovative and comfortable strap design, case becomes a lantern for camp plus it’s rechargeable but can also use AAA if needed.

  • Max lumens: 500 (2.5hr burn time)
  • Burn time: 2.5hrs to 100hrs
  • Approx. range: 10m to 100m, depending on setting
  • Weight: 78g (with Core battery)
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