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The Best Head Torches

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Tired of fumbling blindly in a pitch-black tent? Here are the best head torches you can buy

With the best head torches, the dark days of winter and nighttime adventures are no excuse to stay indoors. You can still get out on dog walks, night hikes and cold-weather camping trips if you’ve got a bright head torch to light your way.

Here we’ll look at how to compare the power of different head torches, and explain all the key features you need to look out for when shopping around. We’ve also selected our pick of the best head torches for a wide range of different outdoor pursuits, from evening plods around the block to nighttime hikes and cycle rides.

The best head torches to buy

1. Silva Trail Runner Free

Our top pick of the head torches for trail runners is – surprise, surprise – Silva’s Trail Runner Free. The Trail Runner Free’s 108g weight won’t weigh you down over longer distances, and the hefty 400-lumen power provides a maximum range of 80m that will illuminate the darkest of woodland trails.

We were impressed with how the beam is designed to always illuminate the ground both directly in front and further on from your feet, and this makes it easier to judge distances and avoid obstacles as you jog. The silicone-coated headband sits well without slipping, too, and you can either stick to using three AAA batteries or buy Silva’s USB chargeable battery pack to give longer runtime.

Key specs – Weight: 108g; Modes: 3; Maximum brightness: 400 lumens; Power source: Rechargeable or battery-powered

2. Biolite Headlamp 200

The lightest headlamp in our roundup, Biolite’s Headlamp 200 weighs a paltry 50g and its sleek, simple moulded design is barely there – if you hate the feel of heavy, bulky torches wrapped around your head, you’ll love this model.

The claimed 200 lumens is enough to illuminate more casual backcountry adventures such as camping and backpacking and this torch sports a decent battery life of 40 hours on its lower setting. That said, you’ll need to be close enough to electricity to recharge it via USB every few days, so it’s less useful for dedicated wild campers roaming far from the madding crowds.

It’s easy to fit and adjust the Biolite Headlamp’s single strap, and the torch itself can be tilted to get the beam just so. Crucially, it’s also simple to switch on and flick between modes while on the go, even if you’re wearing gloves.

Key specs – Weight: 50g; Modes: 8; Maximum brightness: 200 lumens; Power source: USB rechargeable

3. Lifesystems Intensity 280 LED Headtorch

The Lifesystems Intensity 280 headtorch is both compact and exceptionally lightweight, meaning it’s easy to pack away or keep as a spare for emergency use. The result is a head torch that’s very easy to wear and light on the head, allowing for excellent manoeuvrability and flexibility on the go.

Better still, it's water-resistant down to the IPX6 standard, meaning that it’s protected against direct water jets rather than just splashes – this affordable head torch is ready to survive everything the great outdoors can dish out.

The USB rechargeable Li-ion battery provides an impressive 110 hours of usable light time and the beam is fully adjustable. It’s a great option for those needing a more budget option with features often found on more expensive torches.

Key specs – Weight: 90g; Modes: 7; Maximum brightness: 280 lumens; Power source: Li-ion rechargeable, USB cable included

4. Petzl Duo Headlamp

We realise that it's seriously pricey, but if you’re in real need of reliable illumination (and if your life might ever depend on it or if you regularly work outdoors), the Petzl Duo Headlamp would be our top choice. It offers up to a whopping 1,100 lumens of adaptive light, which is as much as you should ever need if you’re working outdoors, night skiing, illuminating a landscape or even taking on extreme adventures such as caving.

A generous burn time of up to 23 hours means you can keep going without worrying about battery life, and we like the snug, stay-put headband, which is comfortable despite sporting a battery pack on the back and weighing an admittedly hefty 370g. It also fits neatly over helmets and is waterproof to one metre.

Key specs – Weight: 370g; Modes: 5; Maximum brightness: 1,100 lumens; Power source: Li-ion rechargeable, USB cable included

How to choose the best head torch for you

How much do I need to spend?

There’s a head torch for every budget. If you just want one for nighttime dog walks, a reasonably cheap and straightforward model will suit you fine.

However, if you need a head torch for an activity where a reliable source of light could be a lifesaver, such as night running or hiking, we’d recommend picking one as expensive as you can afford – and, ideally, one that lets you buy spare, high-quality rechargeable batteries so you always have a backup close to hand, or that you can charge via USB.

Are they comfortable to wear?

They certainly should be. Try a new head torch out before you take it on any longer trips and make sure it sits snugly on your head with no discomfort. You don’t want it to come off if you lean your head forward and it should stay put even if you shake your head around. It shouldn’t dig in anywhere (which is key if there’s the weight of a separate battery pack to think about).

A top strap makes a head torch more stable for running and climbing, and it’s worth checking to see if the straps will reach comfortably around a beanie hat and any helmet you plan to wear your new torch with. Some straps are reflective, which is ideal for making sure you’re visible at night.

What kind of brightness do I need?

The brightness of a head torch is measured in lumens, and this can stretch from as low as 50 to a blinding 1,000 lumens and beyond. The more lumens a head torch packs in, the more illuminated the path in front of you – the downside is that the more powerful the beam, the shorter the battery life. Most torches have multiple modes offering different lumens, so you can easily switch between them and only use the brightest beam when necessary. Around 300 lumens is recommended if you’re heading somewhere pitch dark and rural, while less than 300 lumens will be adequate in semi-lit areas.

Head torches usually use LED light(s) or a krypton or halogen bulb – or a hybrid of two types. Multiple LED lights are the most effective, and generally provide the best balance of brightness to battery life. Note that different models focus their lumens in different ways (a “beam pattern”) – a long, narrow beam is useful for runners and cyclists as it illuminates the way ahead, while a wider beam is great for camping and working outdoors at night.

What other features do I need?

Many head torches list a total burn time (the amount of useful light you’ll get from a full battery), but it’s hard to compare them properly as so many factors affect battery life. Still, a head torch that boasts a long burn time is a sensible idea if you’re roaming away from home. But remember that cold weather can eat away fast at a full battery as they don't perform as well at low temperatures.

Many head torches use regular alkaline batteries. Lithium-ion (li-ion) or lithium-polymer (li-po) batteries are a handy feature that saves both money and the environment, and some lights are rechargeable via a USB cable, which means you can recharge them from a portable battery or at home. These are less useful if you’re off on a multi-day hike or wild camp away from home – in that case, you’re better off picking a torch that takes AA or AAA batteries and packing lots of spares— rechargeable batteries and USB-charging head torches are more planet-friendly choices.

Head torches either come with batteries built into the central light or in a separate battery pack – if you buy the latter, check the pack sits well on your head and isn't irritating to wear. Most head torches are adjustable, allowing you to aim the beam up and down as needed. A red light setting is useful for better night vision if you’re watching wildlife, and water resistance is a must if you’re planning to go exploring in inclement weather. We also like a softer light mode for reading or doing chores inside a tent. Make sure you pick a design with buttons that you find easy to use with gloved fingers too.

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