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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rechargeable (Lithium Ion)
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.
So bright for a light that’s so small and light. Great for Summer use where you don’t need long run times.
Ultralight and compact. Makes a great emergency backup plus it has red and white strobes to help you be seen.
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.
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.