Best head torches for hiking 2024: Lighting up the great outdoors

By: Andrew Forrest - November 2023

Head Torch

In this comprehensive buyer's guide, we'll explore the top head torches of 2024, delve into the key features to consider, and help you navigate your way to the ideal best head torch for your needs.

A quality head torch is your guiding light, enhancing your safety and adventure while out in the dark. They are versatile, providing hands-free lighting whilst walking, hiking and running, whether out and about in the hills, running on roads and pavements, or out walking your dog.

But with so many options available, finding the perfect one can be challenging.

Table of contents 

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What we will cover in this best head torches guide

  • The best head torches for 2024, each chosen based on their performance, waterproofness, features and durability.
  • What brightness do you need, and what a lumen is?
  • What level of waterproofing do you need, and what is an IPX number?
  • A guide to the many other things to consider when buying a headtorch, including battery life and burn time, comfort, weight, brightness angle adjustment, storage lock, headbands, focus beam adjustors and light colour.
  • Tips for maintaining and extending the life of your head torch.

Best head torches for 2024

Best head torches: At a glance


When it comes to head torches, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The best head torch for you will depend on the specific activities you engage in and your individual preferences. I have a couple for various situations, but I ensure one of them is always in my rucksack, whatever time of year.

There is always a 'play-off' between your batteries' brightness and burn time, weight versus burn time, how waterproof you need it, whether it can use rechargeable batteries, etc. Once you have read this What to Consider Guide when buying a head torch and combined that with your intended use, you can decide as to which is the best for you.

These head torches have been carefully chosen based on their performance, comfort, waterproofness, durability, and features.

Best overall head torch

Petzl Swift RL

The Swift RL is a compact, ultra-powerful and rechargeable head torch with Reactive Lighting technology to adjust brightness to your needs automatically. It is excellent for hiking, running or many other activities in the dark.

Petzl Swift RL
Blue:
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Petzl Swift RL
Features 4.5  
 
 
 
 
Construction 4.5  
 
 
 
 
Comfort 4.5  
 
 
 
 
Performance 4.5  
 
 
 
 
Value 4.5  
 
 
 
 

Specs:

  • Lumens: Highest setting: 1,100 lumens, lowest setting: 3 lumens
  • Distance: Highest setting: 155 metres, Lowest setting: 5 metres
  • Burn Time: Highest setting: 2 hours, Lowest setting: 70 hours
  • Battery: Rechargeable 2,350 mAh lithium-ion (included)
  • Charges via micro USB-C port
  • Charging time: 5 hours
  • IPX4 rated (weather-resistant)
  • Weight: 100g

Features:

  • Lighting modes: White - Reactive Lighting, White - continuous, Red - continuous, Red - strobe
  • Lighting levels: Reactive Lighting and Standard Mode
  • Beam patterns: Wide, Mixed (wide & focused)
  • Tiltable
  • Lighting lock function
  • Adjustable, reflective and washable headband
  • Rechargeable battery pack, battery life display with five-level gauge
  • Storage pouch with lantern function
  • Single button controls all functions
  • Available in various colours

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Very bright
  • Easy to use

Cons:

  • Charges via Micro-USB - why can't it be USB-C?
  • Potential issues with Reactive Lighting

Description:

The Swift RL is a compact, ultra-powerful, rechargeable head torch with Reactive Lighting technology to automatically adjust the brightness to your needs. It provides an impressive 1,100 lumens of brightness if needed but weighs just 100 grams.

The 1,100 lumens is brighter than most hiking and running head torches, and the reactive lighting, which adapts the brightness to the ambient light, ensures your battery lasts longer.

The head torch is comfy with a fabric strap and only weighs 100g. Wearing it while running, I felt no movement and it stayed static on the front of my head. Being adjustable means you can wear it over hats.

I found the head torch is easy to use with a single button, which moved between reactive modes and differing beam brightness. With the brightest setting, you can see up to 155m away and, the mixed beam gives you good lighting around you whilst being able to see further away. Still, other head torches have a dedicated button for this, which can be helpful depending on your needs. The Petzl Swift RL was updated from 900 to 1,100 lumens, so make sure you buy the newest model.

Reactive lighting is great for battery life and, whilst hiking, I found no issues with it, apart from it being difficult to tell at times whether you were in standard or reactive mode, which impacts your battery life. However, you can cover the sensor, which makes the beam brighter if in reactive mode.

The only issues I had with it were whilst running. If you are moving from areas of little light, unlit streets, etc., to lit streets, it adjusts the light automatically, which is ideal. However, a lot of my runs are all on dark roads. I found that if a car came past in the opposite direction, the light dimmed, but it didn't come brighter immediately once the car had passed, and that was when I needed it the most, as my eyes took a few seconds to readjust after the vehicle passed.

You can change to continuous red lighting, which preserves your night vision and is better for reading without blinding those around you. The tilt function also helps with that, where you can tilt it to the ground whilst speaking to someone.

It is rated as IPX4, so weather-resistant. I've had it in continuous heavy rain for a few hours with no ill effects.

The battery is rechargeable via micro-USB - just a minor gripe here; with USB-C becoming more universal and even Apple has swapped over now from their lighting connector, why can't everyone use USB-C - it has been around for almost ten years! We'd then only need the one charging cable across devices, which charges quicker than micro-USB.

There is a 5-level gauge on the battery, so you can see how much power you have left and get a spare rechargeable battery to take along with you.

It does come with a very lightweight storage pouch, which can double as a lantern when you put the head torch inside.

There may be more waterproof head torches out there, such as the Black Diamond Storm 500-R, and ones better for trail running like the Petzl Nao RL, but for a lightweight all-rounder proving impressive brightness, long burn times and being weather resistant, the Petzl Swift RL is hard to beat.


Best head torch for trail running

Petzl Nao RL

This Petzl Nao RL is an ultra-powerful and rechargeable head torch with Reactive Lighting technology, making it perfect for running on night-time trails. It provides an incredible 1,500 lumens of brightness but weighs just 145 grams.

Petzl Nao RL Head Torch - Front
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Petzl Nao RL Head Torch
Features 4.0  
 
 
 
 
Construction 4.5  
 
 
 
 
Comfort 4.5  
 
 
 
 
Performance 5.0  
 
 
 
 
Value 4.0  
 
 
 
 

Specs:

  • Lumens: Highest setting: 1500 lumens, lowest setting: 10 lumens
  • Distance: Highest setting: 200 metres, lowest setting: 10 metres
  • Burn Time: Highest setting: 2 hours, lowest setting: 80 hours
  • Battery: Rechargeable 3,200 mAh lithium-ion (included)
  • Charges via USB-C port
  • Charging time: 3 hours 30 minutes
  • IPX4 rated (weather-resistant)
  • Weight: 145g (with battery)

Features:

  • Lighting modes: White - reactive lighting, White - continuous, Red - continuous, Red - strobe
  • Lighting levels: Max Burn Time, Standard, Max Power
  • Beam patterns: Wide, Mixed (wide & focused)
  • Lighting lock function
  • Adjustable reflective headband with removable top strap
  • Rechargeable battery pack at rear, battery life display with five-level gauge, can charge other devices
  • Storage pouch with lantern function

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Very bright
  • Weight distributed evenly

Cons:

  • Expensive... but it is very good!

Description:

This Petzl Nao RL is an ultra-powerful, rechargeable head torch with Reactive Lighting technology, perfect for running on night-time trails or roads. It provides an impressive 1,500 lumens of brightness if needed but weighs just 145 grams.

The 1,500 lumens is more than twice as bright as your average trail running head torch. You can tweak the brightness down so that the rechargeable battery lasts longer, and there is also reactive lighting, which adapts the brightness to the ambient light, making further battery savings.

The wide beam allows you to see close up, whilst the mixed wide and focused beam allows for near and distance vision on the move. For safety, if you are using on the roads, there is a red light on the back of the battery pack, which can be continuous, strobed or switched off, and a reflective headband.

Fitting is easy straight out of the box, and the rear battery pack distributes the weight across the head, making it balanced and very comfortable to wear, so much so that I hardly noticed that I had it on. There is also an additional top strap for support, but I found it was fine without that.

The battery is rechargeable via USB-C charging, and a spare battery is also available. The battery charge indicator with a 5-level gauge lets you know the current level. The battery pack can be used as a charger itself.

There is a lock function to avoid accidentally turning on, and it comes with a storage pouch, which can double as a lantern if you put the head torch inside.

Not just for running, it can also be worn on hikes.


Best waterproof head torch

Black Diamond Storm 500-R

The Black Diamond Storm 500-R is a lightweight, powerful head torch with an IP67 rating, which means it is waterproof up to 1 metre underwater for up to 30 minutes.

With a maximum beam distance of 120 metres, various light modes, and a 2,400 mAh battery only weighing in at 100g, it is a great all-round head torch besides being waterproof.

Black Diamond Storm 500-R
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Black Diamond Storm 500-R - front
Features 4.5  
 
 
 
 
Construction 4.5  
 
 
 
 
Comfort 4.0  
 
 
 
 
Performance 4.5  
 
 
 
 
Value 4.0  
 
 
 
 

Specs:

  • Lumens: Highest setting: 500 lumens, lowest setting: 6 lumens
  • Distance: Highest setting: 120 metres, lowest setting: 12 metres
  • Burn Time: Highest setting: 7 hours, lowest setting: 350 hours
  • Battery: Rechargeable 2400 mAh lithium-ion
  • Charges via micro USB-C port
  • Charging time: 3 hours
  • IP67 rated (waterproof up to 1 metre underwater for up to 30 minutes)
  • Weight: 100g

Features:

  • Lighting modes: White, Red, Green, Blue and dimming and strobe
  • Lighting levels: Low, medium and max
  • Beam patterns: Proximity and distance modes
  • Lighting lock function
  • IP67 waterproof rating – operates up to 1 metre underwater for up to 30 minutes
  • PowerTap™ technology allows instant transitioning between full and dimmed power
  • Adjustable recycled headband
  • Rechargeable 2400 mAh battery with micro-USB charge port

Pros:

  • Waterproof
  • Lightweight
  • Bright
  • Comfortable

Cons:

  • Charges via Micro-USB - why can't it be USB-C?

Description:

The Black Diamond Storm 500-R is a compact, lightweight, waterproof, bright, rechargeable head torch. Its waterproof rating means it will work when submersed up to 1 metre deep for up to 30 minutes and comes with various lighting modes.

The main plus point for me was the waterproof rating, and even with that, the weight is not adversely affected, coming in at 100g. It is heavier than a lot on this list, but we are only talking of 20-30 grams difference.

Its brightest setting, which reaches distances of up to 120 metres, will last 7 hours on a full battery. The medium setting of 250 lumens, which can be used in many situations, will last around 19 hours.

There is one button to switch on, off and light strengths and the other button switches between flood, spot and colours (red, green and blue) depending on how long you hold the button down. Instructions weren't easy to follow, but after playing around with it for a few minutes, you can work out what needs to be pressed and when.

It also has PowerTap™ technology, where you can instantly switch between full and dimmed power. I sometimes found this a little temperamental and kept accidentally swapping between them when I didn't want to.

The adjustable fabric headband was comfortable and easy to use.

Overall, it is a head torch that's waterproof and can take whatever the weather throws at it.


Best budget head torch

Petzl Tikkina

A good general, lightweight head torch, very easy to use and at a price point that is hard to beat. I leave mine permanently in the car, in case I need it whilst out and about and sometimes throw it into my rucksack as a spare in case anything goes wrong with my main head torch.

It's far from the brightest or has the best battery life, but for wandering around a camp, on dark roads or as a spare in a drawer at home, it is hard to go wrong considering its price.

Petzl Tikkina
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Petzl Tikkina
Features 3.0  
 
 
 
 
Construction 3.5  
 
 
 
 
Comfort 3.5  
 
 
 
 
Performance 3.5  
 
 
 
 
Value 4.5  
 
 
 
 

Specs:

  • Lumens: Highest setting: 300 lumens, lowest setting: 7 lumens
  • Distance: Highest setting: 65 metres, Lowest setting: 10 metres
  • Burn Time: Highest setting: 3 hours, Lowest setting: 120 hours
  • Battery: 3 x AAA (included), also compatible with rechargeable CORE battery
  • IPX4 rated (weather-resistant)
  • Weight: 92g

Features:

  • Lighting modes: White
  • Lighting levels: Max burn time, standard and Max Power
  • Beam patterns: Homogenous and comfortable proximity lighting, with wide uniform beam
  • Tiltable
  • Detachable, washable headband

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to use
  • Weather Resistant to IPX4

Cons:

  • Not as well-built or bright as others, but that is reflective of the cheaper price
  • Battery life not as good as others
  • Not many features and only white light

Description:

The Petzl Tikkina is a cheap, entry-level lightweight head torch that's great around a camp, on roads, as a spare, to leave in your car or to throw in your rucksack as a spare in case anything goes wrong with your main head torch.

It's a simple, easy-to-use head torch with one button and three light modes but no lock function, red light or strobe.

You press the one button and cycle through the three modes to use it. It's not the brightest at 300 lumens, so it's not one I'd use for hiking where I don't know the paths or trail running, but it serves a purpose.

The battery life on the highest setting, which you use a lot as it isn't very bright, is only 3 hours.

The headband feels comfortable, and the light is tiltable, so there is no need to blind people when talking to them.

Overall, the Petzl Tikkina is cheap and great for around the camp, as a spare or for general use around the home or car. If you are buying, the brightness was upgraded last year, so make sure you pick up one with 300 lumens, as that is brighter than the previous version.


Best head torch for sustainability

Silva Terra Scout H

The Silva Terra Scout H is a head torch made of plant fibres from hemp and recycled plastics, with up to 90% lower CO2 footprint than standard plastics.

So, whilst being good for the planet, it is also a good solid all-around lightweight choice with 350 lumens of brightness, IPX5 water resistance and is compatible with rechargeable and ordinary AAA batteries.

Silva Terra Scout H
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Silva Terra Scout H - front
Features 4.0  
 
 
 
 
Construction 4.0  
 
 
 
 
Comfort 4.0  
 
 
 
 
Performance 3.5  
 
 
 
 
Value 4.0  
 
 
 
 

Specs:

  • Lumens: Highest setting: 350 lumens, lowest setting: 50 lumens
  • Distance: Highest setting: 65 metres, Lowest setting: 30 metres
  • Burn Time: Highest setting: 3 hours, Lowest setting: 25 hours
  • Battery: Rechargeable 1250 mAh lithium-ion (included)
  • Charges via USB-C port
  • Charging time: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • IPX5 rated
  • Weight: 76g (with battery)

Features:

  • Lighting modes: White and Red
  • Lighting levels: Max and Min
  • Beam patterns: Intelligent light - long reach spot and close flood
  • Made from hemp and 100% recycled fabrics
  • Adjustable headband
  • Hybrid - works with rechargeable battery or standard AAAs.
  • Battery level indicator

Pros:

  • Sustainable
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable

Cons:

  • Many much brighter head torches are available
  • Distance, not the best
  • Battery life is not great

Description:

If you want to be kind to the planet, this is the most sustainable head torch we have found. The Silva Terra Scout H is a head torch made of plant fibres from hemp and recycled plastics, with up to 90% lower CO2 footprint than standard plastics.

It is sustainable and a good solid all-around lightweight choice with 350 lumens of brightness and IPX5 water resistance. It is compatible with rechargeable and ordinary AAA batteries. Still, if sustainability isn't high on your priority list and you want a very bright head torch or a much longer battery life, you should look at the other head torches on this list of best head torches.

It is easy to use as just one button, which cycles through your various options of max and min power and switching to the red light.

The immediate flood is okay around you, but the long-reach spot didn't appear to reach much more than 50 metres. On low power, the spot didn't seem a long way in front of the flood. I do prefer the brighter lights. Overall, the light modes are a bit limited.

The wide headband was very comfy and didn't experience too much slippage while running on the road. On a trail, I only took out on one where I knew the route, so I coped ok with that as I knew what to expect, but if you are moving faster through unknown or even ground, I do find the Petzl Nao RL much better, but it is quite a lot more expensive.

The battery life is okay, but a long way short of the head torches with better batteries, so suited to one-off trips where you can charge in between, or as it takes standard AAA batteries, you can take spares with you.

It has an IPX5 rating, so it is weather-resistant and more waterproof than some in this list.

Overall, if you are looking for a sustainable head torch, this is the one for you, but if that isn't a criterion you need, then there are better value head torches for the same money.


Best brightest head torch

Ledlenser H15R Core Rechargeable Head Torch

The Ledlenser H15R Core rechargeable head torch provides a whopping 2,500 lumens, which gives a maximum distance of up to 250 metres and great focus-ability with its wheel switch.

But, unless you need something this bright, the additional brightness comes with a downside: it requires a bigger battery and is heavier; at 380g, it is almost 4x heavier than any other head torch in this list!

Ledlenser H15R Core Rechargeable Head Torch
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Ledlenser H15R Core Rechargeable Head Torch
Features 4.0  
 
 
 
 
Construction 4.5  
 
 
 
 
Comfort 3.5  
 
 
 
 
Performance 4.5  
 
 
 
 
Value 4.0  
 
 
 
 

Specs:

  • Lumens: Highest setting: 2,500 lumens, lowest setting: 20 lumens
  • Distance: Highest setting: 250 metres (boost), Lowest setting: 20 metres
  • Burn Time: Standard power (1,000 lumens) 5 hours, lowest setting: 80 hours
  • Battery: Rechargeable 4,800 mAh lithium-ion
  • Magnetic charging cable Type A
  • Charging time: 3 hours
  • IP67 rated (waterproof up to 1 metre underwater for up to 30 minutes)
  • Weight: 380g

Features:

  • Lighting modes: White and dimmable
  • Lighting levels: Low, standard and boost
  • Beam patterns: Advanced focusing system, seamless beam for flood or spot and any level in between
  • Lighting lock function
  • IP67 waterproof rating - operates up to 1 metre underwater for up to 30 minutes
  • Tiltable
  • Battery status indicator
  • Fuss-free magnetic charging
  • Anti-microbial adjustable headband

Pros:

  • Very bright
  • Waterproof

Cons:

  • Very heavy for a head torch
  • Uncomfortable for long periods due to the weight
  • Only white light

Description:

The Ledlenser H15R Core rechargeable head torch provides a very impressive 2,500 lumens, which gives a maximum distance of up to 250 metres and great focus-ability with its wheel switch.

But do you need this for hiking and running in the dark? In my opinion, you don't. Other head torches on this list provide plentiful lighting, excellent battery power and are waterproof/weather resistant at less than one-quarter the weight of this one. If you want something bright but light, for hiking, I would use the Petzl Swift RL and for trail running, the Petzl Nao RL.

Whilst the Ledlenser H15R Core rechargeable head torch provides a very impressive 2,500 lumens, quite a few other brighter head torches are available, even in the Ledlenser range. For instance, the Ledlenser H19R SE - Rechargeable LED Head Torch provides 4,000 lumens at around twice the price. The H15R was chosen for the best blend of brightness combined with price and other features.

The Ledlenser H15R Core, using its standard power output of 1,000 lumens, will last around 5 hours. Charging via a supplied magnetic cable fully charges the 4,800 mAh battery in 5.5 hours.

The wheel switch made for an effortless operation and controlled the brightness.

The outer case, which adds to the weight, has a rating of IP67, so it is watertight for being submerged up to 1 metre deep for up to 30 minutes.

The light can tilt, so you are not blinding people while you speak to them, and the advanced focusing system enables seamless beam focusing for flood or spot illumination or anything in between.

There is a low battery warning and a battery status indicator.

With the weight, it wasn't very comfortable for hiking after wearing it for quite an extended period, and due to the weight, I didn't bother testing this one for running as, in my opinion, it just wasn't suitable.

Overall, If you work in wet or dusty environments, when you don't need it on for too long, or maybe taking the dog out if you let it off the lead, then this head torch would be ideal, but for me, it is too heavy for hiking and running.


Best ultralight head torch

Petzl Bindi Head Torch

The Petzl Bindi head torch is an ultra-compact head torch that fits in the palm of your hand if you are in the 'ultra-light' brigade, where every gram counts, this weather-resistant, rechargeable head torch may suit your needs, coming in at only 35g!

As you'd expect, when it only weights 35g, you're not going to get an ultra-bright head torch with all the bells and whistles, but you do get a 200 lumen, weatherproof head torch with three lighting modes, white and red light and a lock function.

Petzl Bindi Head Torch
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Petzl Bindi Head Torch
Features 3.5  
 
 
 
 
Construction 4.0  
 
 
 
 
Comfort 3.5  
 
 
 
 
Performance 4.0  
 
 
 
 
Value 4.0  
 
 
 
 

Specs:

  • Lumens: Max Power: 200 lumens, Max Burn Time: 6 lumens
  • Distance: Max power: 36 metres, Max Burn Time: 6 metres
  • Burn Time: Max burn time 50 hours, Max Power 2 hours
  • Battery: Rechargeable 680 mAh lithium-ion via Micro-USB
  • Charging time: 4 hours
  • IPX4 rated (weatherproof)
  • Weight: 35g

Features:

  • Lighting modes: White and red
  • Lighting levels: Max burn time, standard and max power
  • Beam patterns: Proximity, movement and distance
  • Lighting lock function
  • Tiltable
  • Thin, ventilated headband

Pros:

  • Very light
  • Weatherproof

Cons:

  • Not the most comfortable strap, but so light you do struggle to know you have on
  • Not the brightest or best battery life, but that's a function of how small it is

Description:

The Petzl Bindi head torch is an ultra-compact head torch weighing in at only 35g and will suit those who travel very light, where every gram counts.

It suits a purpose, and if you are looking for something very light that still gives out 200 lumens, this is a head torch for you. For me, whilst it is lightweight, for the sake of another 60g, I prefer something much brighter with better battery life, such as the Petzl Swift RL, albeit there is an associated uplift in price.

Whilst the Petzl Bindi is super light at only 35g, it does mean that battery life and brightness are impacted. The standard beam of 100 lumens will last only 3 hours; on max power at 200 lumens, you get only 2 hours of battery life.

The 680mAh rechargeable battery is charged using a micro-USB port with a charge indicator. The headband is minimalist, which, whilst not the comfiest, is so light that you don't really notice you are wearing it.

I found it okay during a mountain marathon, as it was very light and only used at the overnight camp. Because of the lack of a relatively bright output, I wouldn't use it as my first choice for hiking or trail running, but if you are used to lower light levels, it may be okay for you.

The red light helps preserve night vision, and does have a strobe function that it claims is visible at 400m for 200 hours.

Overall, one for the light-weight warriors out there, mountain marathons that you only use for overnight camp, dark trails that you know or on roads.


What to consider when choosing a head torch

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to finding the best head torch. The best head torch for you will depend on the specific activities you engage in, your individual preferences and your budget.

Knowing your intended use, you can then choose the brightness you need. That, along with burn time, comfort and how waterproof you need it to be, are the key factors to consider when buying head torches. Finally, we will look at what other features a head torch can provide in this buyer's guide to head torches below.

Be warned, though, with LED lighting getting cheaper, there are many, many inexpensive, plasticky head torches around - I've tried a few just having them as backups or leaving them in the car 'just in case', but all have stopped working or fallen apart quite quickly! I would advise paying a little more and going with a tried and tested brand, especially if your life could depend upon it out on the hills in the dark.

How to choose the best brightness (lumens) for your head torch

Manufacturers generally state the brightness of their head torches in lumens. Lumens are a measurement of how bright a light source is. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light.

The batteries in a head torch only have a set amount of power, so brighter head torches use more battery power. There is a trade-off between brightness and how long the battery will last or how big a battery you need, which impacts its weight.

So, when choosing head torches, you must take into account their intended use, whether you need them for close-up activities, which require less light or for navigating on hills, which requires more.

We've set out in the image below a rough guide to the amount of lumens you need for various activities.

Guide to the range of lumens needed for various activities

Guide to the range of lumens needed for various activities

Besides the absolute number of lumens, there are other things to consider when looking at the brightness of head torches.

Brightness and light sensor mode

As just mentioned, your intended need will determine the brightness of a head torch. Brightness determines the intensity of the light, whilst a light sensor mode, which some of the best head torches have, automatically adjusts the brightness based on the surrounding environment, conserving battery life.

A strobe mode can help attract attention. With the various light modes available, you can adjust the head torch more easily to suit your needs.

Brightness memory

The brightness memory feature found on some of the best head torches allows a head torch to recall the last used setting, which offers convenience by saving time and effort when switching it back on. This function is handy when you need quick access to your preferred brightness setting without cycling through all the available modes.

Maximum distance

Brightness isn't the only light-related factor when choosing a head torch. Determining how far the light will reach, i.e. its maximum beam distance, is another factor to consider when selecting a head torch. Head torches with higher lumens typically have a greater maximum beam distance, ensuring you can see far ahead when navigating trails or spotting distant landmarks.

This is usually provided by a focused or spot beam. The best head torches provide both a spot and a flood beam, and you can set different intensities on each or have a focus beam adjustor. The flood beam lights up a more expansive area just in front of you, whereas the spot is a narrow, more focused beam for looking at things further away.

It is a little trial and error to see what works best for you and your needs. For hiking in the dark, I often use a medium flood and medium spot, changing the spot briefly to high if I need to see further ahead. If I'm trail running, I use the high flood and medium spot to see more of the area just in front of me as I reach and pass through it quicker running than when hiking.

Focus beam adjustor

Rather than having separate spots and floods, many head torches use just one light source with a focus beam adjustor, so you can adjust to pick the width of the bright beam you need, narrow for seeing further away and wide for close-up map reading.

For hiking, you can just keep moving this versatile and flexible beam focus to get a beam width somewhere in between, so it is wide enough to see the immediate path you are walking on, but focus it more on a spot beam when you want to see further away.

Multiple LED colours (red light and green light)

Multiple LED colours in a head torch offer additional lighting options for different needs. Besides the white light, head torches often have red light (preserves night vision) and green light (better for map reading as it provides a sharp contrast). Some offer different whites, with cool white and warm white sometimes available.

Head torches with a battery pack on the back often have an additional red light on the battery pack, which is good for road walking to alert traffic coming from behind, but also, if you are walking in a group, people behind you can see it.

Button size and ease of use

Most of the time, once my head torch is on, I leave it at that setting. But if you feel you will be changing settings more often or changing settings wearing thick gloves, consider button size. Some buttons are small and fiddly, whereas some head torches have larger, easy-to-use buttons.

It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with all the buttons on your head torch and how to use it before you set off. In the cold of night, especially with gloves on, you want to avoid having to start fiddling with lots of small buttons!

Burn time and batteries used in the head torch

Burn time is how long head torches will last on a single charge or set of batteries and plays a pivotal role in head torch selection. Basically, the brighter the light, the more power is needed. Other things affect this, like the efficiency of the built-in electronics, but how bright your head torch is is the crucial determinant of how long your batteries will last.

So, there is a play-off between brightness and battery life. You can get larger head torches with bigger or additional batteries, but they are heavier and generally cost more. So, again, there is a play-off between bigger batteries and head torch weight, which impacts its comfort.

An additional consideration for some is that some head torches with larger battery packs on the back of the head may not fit under climbing helmets, so placement of the battery pack may also need to be considered depending on your needs.

As mentioned above, many of the best head torches have different brightness settings, so you can lower the output when you don't need it as much. Or they may have various dimming and strobing settings to help further preserve the battery life.

Rechargeable vs. replaceable batteries: pros and cons

When it comes to head torches, both rechargeable and replaceable batteries bring their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Rechargeable batteries are becoming much more common, and most use standard USB charging, which is a great plus as you can recharge at home, in the car, via power packs or solar panels, and anywhere you can plug in a USB. They are generally more expensive but can work out cheaper in the long run.

As I always take my power pack with me on all hikes for my camera and mobile, it can recharge my headtorch. I also find them cheaper to run than to keep buying replacement AAA batteries.

The only downside, as I've found with lithium batteries in general, is that they lose power quickly when it is cold.

They are not for everyone, though, as some people just like the certainty of having spare AA or AAA batteries with them if their batteries run out. This may be more of a concern if you are heading on multi-day walks or more remote mountaineering where you have nowhere to charge.

The portable power bank I use is also heavier than carrying a few spare AAA batteries, so if weight is a concern, replaceable batteries may be a better option for you. I do not mind the power bank weight though, as it is being carried anyway to recharge my mobile and camera.

If you are still deciding which way to go, there is now some middle ground. More and more head torches now use rechargeable batteries and AAA interchangeably, so you can mainly utilise the rechargeable ones with a few spare AAA batteries as a backup.

Regulated vs unregulated light output

Unregulated and regulated light output can impact your head torch's battery life and performance. Unregulated torches will lose brightness and slowly grow dimmer as the batteries deplete. In contrast, regulated torches will maintain consistent brightness until the batteries are nearly exhausted when they just stop working or give out a very low level of light for a very short period.

I prefer the regulated output, as you always get that same level of brightness for longer, but when the battery goes, it goes with minimal warning, so you need backup for when that happens.

Rear battery pack vs front battery pack

The placement of the battery pack can impact the comfort and balance of your head torch.

A rear battery pack allows more batteries to be carried without adding weight to the head torch itself. Weighting the back also offers better weight balance if you are running.

A front battery pack is lighter and integrated into the head torch itself, saving the need for any external cables. They are also more comfortable when wearing a helmet.

Weight vs battery power

With head torch straps and lights being relatively light, the main differentiators in weights of head torches are usually the batteries and battery housing. As mentioned above, the brighter the head torch, the bigger the battery needs to be.

So, there is a play-off between brightness, the needed battery power, and the related battery power against weight. Heavier head torches may offer more battery power and longer life but can be cumbersome and uncomfortable. Lighter options may sacrifice battery life and brightness for a more comfortable fit. Again, it comes down to your needs as to which to choose.

Storage lock function

This enables you to lock the head torch button so that it doesn't accidentally turn on in your pocket or rucksack or wherever it is stored or in transit so that it doesn't drain the battery.

Comfort of the head torch

When in use, the head torch is constantly worn, so it must feel comfortable, especially for extended use and activities involving constant movement. So, whilst brightness, burn time and waterproofness are what most people choose their head torches on, comfort and fit are also crucial factors when finding the best head torch for your needs.

Factors that impact comfort include the weight and balance of the head torch, the design and adjustability of the headband, and the overall shape of the torch.

Head torch straps

Most head torches have a strap that fits around the back of your head. Some also have an additional overhead strap, which can be helpful for activities where your head is moving more, like running, making the head torch more stable, which is why they are found in quite a few running head torches.

The additional overhead strap can provide a more balanced fit. All the straps are generally adjustable and stretch, which should ensure a secure fit, while anti-slip silicone strings or grippers on the inner side of some of the straps are there to enhance stability and comfort further. This silicon is often helpful for runners if your head gets sweaty whilst out running.

I always find this overhead strap a little annoying, and for hiking especially, I find that just having the one strap behind my head works fine. Many overhead straps are detachable, so you can remove them if you decide it is not for you. I generally find the wider straps more comfortable, albeit at the expense of weighing a few more grams.

Tilt and angle adjustment

The tilt and angle adjustment feature on many of the best head torches can considerably boost their usability and comfort. It allows you to adjust the angle of the light beam to optimise visibility, which helps prevent neck strain, and you can adjust it so that you are not shining it directly in someone's face when you are talking to them. You can also customise the lighting angle for stopping to look at your map.

Weight

The weight of a head torch can significantly impact user comfort during extended use. Heavier head torches can feel cumbersome and uncomfortable, while a lightweight head torch may sacrifice battery life or brightness, as discussed above.

You need to find the right balance between weight and performance that suits you. Most head torches are light, but if the weight on your head is a concern, go with the lighter head torch and carry the weight (power bank or spare batteries) in your rucksack so the weight is carried more comfortably.

Waterproofing and durability of the head torch

Waterproofing and durability are paramount when choosing a head torch for various outdoor conditions. If you only wander out walking the dog on dry nights, your needs will be much different than night-time hiking in bad weather. A head torch with durable construction and decent battery life will provide reliable performance in challenging conditions.

How waterproof a head torch is, is shown by its 'IP' rating, so this is the number to look out for when buying your head torch.

What is an IP or IPX Rating, and what do they mean?

As electric and electronic equipment can malfunction, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) developed what is known as Ingress Protection (IP) ratings, which grade the resistance of an enclosure, your head torch in this case, against dust or liquids getting into it.

IP ratings consist of two numbers. The first number shows how well a device is protected against solid objects on a scale of 0-6, with 0 being no protection and 6 meaning that even dust cannot get into it.

The second number relates to how well a device is protected from liquids, so generally rain in the case of head torches, on a scale of 0 to 9, with 0 being no protection and 9 meaning it is protected from high-pressure hot water from different angles.

We've set out in the image below all the various IP grades in between.

Ingress Protection (IP) Ratings Guide

Ingress Protection (IP) Ratings Guide

Quite a few head torches are tested for water ingress but not solids/dust ingress. If that is the case, the first number is unknown, so it is replaced by an 'X'. This gives us IPX ratings. So, you will see ratings such as IPX4, which means it is protected against splashing water from any direction. So, whilst not having a solids ingress rating, it is safe to assume that small solid objects won't get into it either.

For most general use, you'll need a head torch between IPX4 (splashproof (rain) from any angle) and IPX8 (protected against water immersion for a short period).

Innovative features and technologies in head torches

Many of the features above have been on head torches for many, many years. The main improvement over time has been with batteries, battery life, and the LED bulbs. Some head torches are starting to come out with additional tech features which, whilst not essential, some of you may wish to try.

These new features include Bluetooth connectivity for remote control and customisation, solar charging capabilities for eco-friendly power options and adaptive lighting systems that adjust the brightness and focus based on your surroundings.

Tips for maintaining and extending the life of your head torch

Proper maintenance and care are crucial to ensure the optimal condition and reliable performance of your head torch. You need to store it in a cool, dry place, avoiding exposure to extreme temperatures and clean the head torch regularly.

When not in use, it is good practice to remove the batteries from the headtorch and again store them in a cool, dry place.

If you use rechargeable batteries, check the manufacturer's instructions. If you are not using them for extended periods, recharge your batteries regularly - generally about every 5-6 months.

While walking in cold conditions, if you are not using your head torch, keep it in your pocket to keep it warm until you need it. Remember that below zero degrees, your battery life can be reduced by up to 50% because of the cold.

Summary

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to finding the best head torch. The best head torch for you will depend on the specific activities you engage in, your individual preferences and your budget.

By considering factors such as brightness, burn time and battery life, comfort, waterproofness and durability, you can choose the best head torch that meets your needs and preferences. With the best head torch for your needs, you'll be well-equipped to navigate the great outdoors and embrace the thrill of adventure, no matter where it takes you.

November 2023