Ten Best Head Torches For Running Reviewed

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Best Headtorches For Running Reviewed 2021 | Top Headlamps To Light Up The Trail

Lightweight headtorches for fast-paced runs on roads and trails, rated and reviewed by fell running guide Dave Taylor and the Outdoors Magic team

Fell running guide Dave Taylor tests out ten of the best head torches for trail running use on his local stomping ground in the Peak District. We’ve selected a spread of what’s out there ranging from Petzl’s latest super sophisticated, self-adjusting Nao right through to the budget-bargain Alpkit Gamma.

Technical Matters

Once upon a time if you had a head torch the chances are it was the Petzl Zoom; there wasn’t really much alternative.  Things have moved on and nowadays the choice isn’t so simple: there’s Intelligent Lighting, Reactive Lighting, Regulated Output, USB Rechargeable and Programmable torches to consider.

With prices ranging from less than £20 up to ten times that, it can be difficult to make the right choice and get value for money.  And of course there’s the L word – Lumens.  It’s tempting to go down the “mine’s brighter than yours” road but is brighter really better?

Burn Time Testing

For some runners a torch giving three hours battery life is perfectly adequate whereas those doing events such as the High Peak Marathon or 24 hour “rounds” like the Bob Graham need something that will stay lit for longer.  With battery life the manufacturers’ claims might not be what you actually get – the middle of Bleaklow in winter is not the place to find out that the claimed burn time is over optimistic!

So I timed how long it took for all the torches to go from fully charged to black-out.  The regulated torches retained their brightness before switching off suddenly, whereas the unregulated ones gradually dimmed as the batteries drained.

All torches were tested on full power with the exception of the RXP, Nao and the Trail Elite (the rationale being that with these torches, the user would only use maximum power occasionally and that having the torch on a lower setting, comparable in brightness to the others would be a more useful test).

Beam Patterns

Each manufacturer states the brightness measured in lumens but all torches have slightly different beam shape, spread and tint so the best test is to see what the beam actually looks like in the dark.  For comparison I photographed each torch on its highest power and widest beam using the same exposure and aperture.

What Do You Need?

For off road running at night I need a torch that satisfies a number of criteria:

  • Brightness – is it sufficient for the terrain?
  • Battery Life – will it last the run before the batteries need changing?
  • Ease of Operation – how easy is it to turn on / off, adjust and change batteries especially when wearing gloves?
  • Comfort – how does it feel on the head while running for several hours?

With that in mind I put ten torches to the test on night time runs in the Peak District.

About The Tester

Dave Taylor is a professional fell running guide and outdoor instructor based in the Peak District. He’s an experienced off-road runner who has won both individual and team medals in British and English championships to his credit. He was the race planner for the 2014 Marmot Dark Mountains race.

This article was updated by the Outdoors Magic team in March 2021 with the addition of the Biolite Headlamp 330, Black Diamond Spot 325, GP Explor PHR15, Nitecore HC65, Petzl Swift RL and LEDLenser MC3.

Alpkit Gamma III

Price: £26
Weight: 140g
Best for: Easy trails and footpaths
Key attributes:
Cheap and easy to operate but underpowered, fairly large and heavy.

The Gamma III is the least powerful of the torches on test and by far the cheapest.  The beam is adequate for running on easy trails and footpaths but not bright enough for moving faster over more technical ground.  It has just one 180 lumen beam with a mix of white, green, and red LEDs, the latter two being lower-powered and useful for map-reading and talking to other runners without wrecking their night vision.

An additional rear red light on the battery pack can be switched on and off and is useful in group situations for people to follow as well as being a good safety measure if you find yourself running on unlit roads. The torch is not regulated so the light gradually dims as the battery drains.  The 3 AAA batteries are housed in a separate pack to the rear and are easy to change.

One button on the top of the torch cycles through all the modes and is quite easily located whilst wearing gloves.  Having the batteries on the back of the head and with a top strap the Gamma III is well balanced and small foam pads on the light and battery packs give added comfort.

There are lighter headtorches (weight-wise) out there – it’s charged by 3 x AAA batteries after all – but you’d be hard pressed to find one on the market that offers better value for money. Speaking of which, we think there are few in the business better than Alpkit when it comes to delivering excellent products without the bank emptying price point.

Full Specifications

Max output 180 lumens / Green, Red and White LEDs for multi-functionality / Rear red caution light / Water resistant to IPX4 / Detachable and adjustable over-head strap / Pivoting head unit.

Read our full Alpkit Gamma III review.

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BioLite HeadLamp 330

Price: £60
Weight: 69g
Best for: Long trail runs
Key attributes:
Bright and lightweight, with a sleek design and efficient output. No rear red light for road running though.

BioLite’s Headlamp 330 runs off USB power and looks to move consumers away from an over-reliance on disposable batteries. This is by no means a new idea, but the unique thing with this is that BioLite have achieved all this in an impressively small and lightweight package.

Better still, the HeadLamp 330 also packs a punch when it comes to brightness, offering the wearer, you guessed it – 330 lumens. That’s 330 lumens at a weight of 69g, with an average burn time of 40 hours on the low setting and 3 hours 30 minutes on high – and all at the price of £60.

Comparing the HeadLamp 330 to its competitors is interesting. The Petzl Bindi for instance, while being around 20g lighter, only has a burn time of 2 hours. Then there’s the Black Diamond Iota which weighs the same as BioLite’s 330, but only offers 150 lumens.

Bringing all of this efficient, lightweight power together in such a sleek design is impressive. A small button on the top of the head torch is the sole function to switch light settings and although some may find it tricky to locate or compress with gloves on, it keeps up with the minimal design of the head torch.

The settings include a white spot, flood and strobe, along with a red spot setting for use in close proximity with others or for maintaining your night vision. At the bottom of the battery unit, which sits at the back of your head, is a micro USB port, covered by a water repellent seal. There’s also an indicator light that illuminates once the head torch is switched on.

Full Specifications

Max output 330 lumens / Red night vision mode / Adjustable front panel / 40 hour burn time on LO, 3.5 Hours on HIGH / Rechargeable via Micro-USB.

Selected for the 2019/20 Outdoor 100. Read our full review of the BioLite HeadLamp 330 here.

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Black Diamond Spot 325

Price: £40
Weight: 86g
Best for: Trail runs and all-round outdoor use
Key attributes:
IPX8 waterproofing, variable dimming modes, slim design.

The headline stat for the Spot 325 is that it is rated to IPX8 in terms of waterproofing. This means that you’ll be able to submerge it 1 metre underwater for up to 30 minutes and it’ll keep trucking on (though it’ll probably need drying out afterwards).

The headlamp does not support USB charging, instead it uses three AAA batteries, which give it 4 hours of burn time on its high setting (325 lumens), 8 hours on medium (160 lumens) and 200 hours on the lowest (6 lumens). These power modes can be changed via the single button on the top of the head torch, whilst a smaller button sits on the side to allow for changing between lens settings which include dimming, strobe, red night-vision and lock modes. Finally, a nice tap setting that Black Diamond have called ‘Power Tap’ sits on the side of the headtorch, letting you change brightness settings with just a simple tap.

We tested this headtorch in the Black Mountains of Wales and it proved to be a really good little companion for the trip. First of all, the adjustable strap is easy to use and lets you find the perfect fit, and it’s comfortable to wear all evening. Then there’s the versatility, and this is what really makes it stand out from other headtorches. It has a lot of settings; from just a simple low beam for reading in a tent, through to a strobe for running in country lanes. The red night-vision is handy, as is the useful lock mode. Its credentials make it an impressive all-rounder for hiking, camping and running in the UK.

Full Specifications

Max output 325 lumens / PowerTap technology / Uses 3 x AAA batteries / Brightness Memory function / Proximity and distance modes, plus dimming, strobe, red night-vision and lock mode / IPX8 Waterproof-Tested to operate at least 1.1 meters underwater for 30 minutes.

Selected for the 2019/20 Outdoor 100. Read our full review of the Black Diamond Spot 325 here.

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GP Explor PHR15

Price: £35
Weight: 110g
Best for: Trail runs and all-round outdoor use
Key attributes:
Effective, good value and with clever, eco-friendly charging options, though not the lightest.

This headtorch has a max output of 300 lumens, offering a range of 157 metres on the highest setting. With just a single function button at the top, you’re able to cycle through the different brightnesses of 300-, 150- and 5-lumens. On the low setting you’ll get a maximum run time of 69 hours and on the 300-lumen setting you’ll get 5 hours.

The most innovative feature, however, is how it is powered. The headtorch employs 3 x rechargeable AAA batteries, each rated to 300 charge cycles, which can therefore theoretically replace the need for 900 single-use alkaline batteries. That’s a far more eco-friendly solution that even outperforms standard lithium-ion cells too. Another benefit to the use of replaceable AAA batteries over an inbuilt lithium cell is that if you do find yourself out of juice and with no power source available to charge the batteries, then you’ll be able to add in any other type of AAA battery – giving you light, potentially when you could need it most. Similarly, the rechargeable batteries can be charged in situ, by simply plugging in the headlamp via its micro-USB port.

Full Specifications

Max output 300 lumens / USB rechargeable / Distance sensor smart brightness control / Beam distance of up to 157 metres / 3 brightness levels plus flashing mode / IPX6 water resistant.

Selected for the 2019/20 Outdoor 100. Read our full review of the GP Explor PHR15 here.

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Petzl Bindi

Price: £35
Weight: 35g
Best for: Fast and light runners, trail runs up to 2 hours
Key attributes:
Extremely light and compact, good value, though operation is slightly fiddly.

This is a phenomenally light and compact headtorch that will be barely noticeable in your backpack or even your jacket pocket. It’s also packs a surprisingly bright punch at 200 lumens on its maximum setting.

There are five settings altogether – low, medium, high, a red light and a flashing strobe – all of which are cycled between by just the one button. If you’re running it constantly on its top setting it’ll last 2 hours which is still pretty good considering the 200-lumen brightness. It’s not absolutely waterproof but it does have an IPX 4 rating, meaning it can face up to splashes or rain from any direction.

As such, this ticks all the right boxes: it’s light, compact, bright (for its size), the battery life is decent and its price isn’t too bad either. The bungee might not look secure or comfortable, but you’d be surprised. In fact, when you haven’t got it switched on, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing it. The only downside is that the button can be slightly hard to press with cold fingers or when you’re wearing gloves.

Full Specifications

Max output 200 lumens / Reflective headband / Rechargeable via micro USB port, with charge indicator / 3 lighting modes: proximity, movement and distance / Red lighting night vision mode and lock function / IPX4 rated (weather-resistant).

Read our full Petzl Bindi review here.

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Petzl Tikka RXP

Price: £59
Weight: 115g
Best for: Short-ish evening runs
Key attributes:
Reactive lighting, USB rechargeable, programmable with Petzl OS. But fiddly and confusing controls that are difficult to operate with gloves.

The RXP uses Petzl’s Reactive Lighting system which alters the output according to the ambient light conditions.  In Reactive mode the RXP gives plenty of light when looking at the ground in front and powers itself up when looking up at more distant objects.

This is a really useful function for night navigation as you don’t get dazzled when looking at your map and should also eke out battery life by only giving you as much light as you need.  There is a very slight delay in this transition as the torch reacts.  Three settings allow you to choose power levels depending on the amount of light needed which for running is either maximum or standard and will give between 2 ½  and 5 hours of battery.

It is also possible to switch the torch to constant lighting, again with 3 power levels.  The RXP can also be used with 3 AAA batteries but you need to purchase a separate adaptor for this. The USB rechargeable battery can also be tweaked with different power levels using Petzl’s free OS software and a computer.

The downside of the torch is that it is complicated to use.  Two very small buttons are difficult to locate with gloved hands and the sequence of presses to cycle through the various settings is confusing. With gloves on it’s also different to tell the difference between the buttons and the flap over the USB port. With use you’d probably get more accustomed to it, but it’s not an intuitive control system – the single knob on the Nao is a lot easier to use.

The battery is in the head unit making it quite bulky and meaning all the weight is up front.  As a result the RXP bobs slightly when running quickly although the headband with a double strap at the back of the head goes some way to prevent this.

The RXP will suit runners looking for Reactive Lighting at an affordable price and who don’t need too much battery life. But using it whilst wearing gloves is likely to make you wish you’d spent a little bit more on its big brother the Nao. Overall, it has decent light output and the Reactive Lighting system is a really neat idea. Unfortunately the Tikka RXP is let down by an over-complicated control system with hard to use buttons and odd sequences. We’d suggest splashing out a little more for the Nao.

Full Specifications

Max output 215 lumens / Reactive or constant light modes / Wide, focused or mixed beams / Locking on-off switch / Rechargeable 1800 mAh Lithium-Ion battery.

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Petzl Swift RL

Price: £97
Weight: 100g
Best for: Trail running, mountaineering and skiing
Key attributes:
Reactive lighting, impressive 900-lumen max output, relatively lightweight given its power.

The Swift RL’s ‘Reactive Lighting’ technology results in a longer burn time (or battery life), and requires less manual adjustment. The light sensor automatically adjusts brightness and beam pattern depending on the current level of light in the environment. This optimises battery usage and keeps the head torch going for longer. But if you’d prefer something a bit more traditional, you can switch to a ‘Standard Lighting’ mode.

The Swift RL is a fine example of an ultra-bright head torch coming in a lightweight, extremely convenient, body. An impressive 900 lumens from a 100g item will definitely appeal to fast and light trail runners. With an ergonomic adjustable headband, with two-part Petzl patent construction, this has a really comfortable fit and will stay fixed on your head even when you’re moving over rough and broken terrain. Speaking of the headband, it’s reflective for heightened night-time visibility.

Full Specifications

Max output 900 lumens / Reactive or constant light modes / Proximity vision, movement and distance vision / Reflective headband / Rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery via micro USB port, with battery charge indicator / Lock function / Rated IPX4 (weather-resistant).

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2020/21. Read our full review of the Petzl Swift RL Headlamp here.

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Silva Trail Speed Elite

Price: £210
Weight: 162g
Best for: Elite trail running, mountain biking and skiing
Key attributes:
Very bright, great battery life and very versatile – but not cheap.

The Trail Speed Elite, even on its medium setting allows fast running over rough terrain.  I didn’t need to use the full 660 lumens although I did try it out just because I could!  The tiny lamp unit has two lights, one above the other: Silva’s Intelligent Lighting.

This produces a mix of spot and flood which gives a wide and penetrating field of light. The large rechargeable battery gives eight hours on medium power, long enough to get you through the night on all but a winter 24 hour round.  A large button on the side of the lamp is simple to operate whilst wearing gloves.

Most of the weight (120g) is in the large, padded, rechargeable battery pack worn on the rear of the head – there is the option of extending the cable to wear in a pocket or bum bag for added versatility and efficiency in really cold conditions – and the Trail Speed Elite feels well balanced and stable even when running fast over rough ground.

It’s fearsomely expensive, but a combination of epic light output, decent battery life and easy to use controls along with cold weather-friendly remote battery options and a handy bike mount make this the headtorch of choice for serious, fast-moving runners.

The Trail Speed Elite is the torch for the fast movers.  It may be a bit overkill for your average fell runner but its brightness and versatility allows it to be used for mountain biking  – it comes with helmet and handlebar mounts – and even night skiing if that’s your thing, thus increasing its value for money.  Simple functions via a big button make gloved use easy and the ability to carry the battery in a pocket makes it a good choice in cold conditions.

Full Specifications

Max output 660 lumens / Rechargeable Li-ion battery / Regulated LED output / 4 different light modes / IPX6 waterproof rating / Max burn time (min power setting) 10 hours / Low battery warning (flashing at 20% power) / Max, Min, Wide, Blink light modes / Max beam range 90m.

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Nitecore HC65

Price: £57
Weight: 122g
Best for: Hikers, campers and runners who will trade a little extra weight for high power and super-tough build quality.
Key attributes:
Rugged, waterproof to IPX8, extremely bright and highly functional, but a fraction heavy.

Nitecore’s HC65 is primarily aimed at hikers and campers. Weighing in at 122g with the battery, it might be slightly on the heavy side for gram-counting backpackers and fast-moving trail runners, but it’s still worth considering for those who want a fully waterproof and extremely rugged headlamp with a superb light output.

With its housing made from an aero-grade aluminium alloy that has a military grade hard-anodised finish, this thing is basically as tough as head torches come. It’s also rated at IPX8 in terms of waterproofness which means it’s submersible to 2 metres.

The button for turning it on and off and cycling through functions is located on one of its sides and the side is unscrewed when you want to add or remove its battery. The included headband has a typical around-the-head strap and then one over-the-top one. That top strap can be removed, however you wouldn’t have a particularly reliable hold, even despite the amount of adjustment potential you get.

Handily, the housing can be tilted up or down to allow for 180 degree pivoting and it will hold in its position securely without shifting as well.

Full Specifications

Max output 1000 lumens / Uses 18650 Rechargeable Li-ion battery or 2 x CR123 cells / 5 brightness levels, ranging from 1 to 1000 lumens, plus a strobe, SOS and location beacon / Auxiliary red and white light / Built-in micro USB charging circuit / Max burn time of 800 hrs on ultralow (1 lumen) setting  / Max beam distance 110 metres / Waterproof to IPX8 and resistant to impacts up to 1.5 metres.

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2020/21. Read our full review of the Nitecore HC65 headlamp here.

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LEDLenser MH3

Price: £35
Weight: 190g
Best for: All-round outdoor use.
Key attributes:
Simple yet functional, although rather heavy.

The MH3 can be worn on the head or chest, which makes it a pretty versatile beast. Powered by a single AA battery and with a low battery indicator to keep you up to speed, this headlamp delivers up to 200 lumens max output. This light can be focused with a simple, intuitive, twist of the bezel. It can also be tilted within a 60° angle and has a maximum light distance of 130 metres (at a real stretch). The optimum light distance is about 40 metres, meaning the way ahead is still well lit whichever setting you have it on. The head torch has a maximum burn time of 35 hours, with the lowest settings activated, and a minimum burn time of 4.5 hours.

Weighing in at 190g, the MH3 LED from LEDLenser isn’t the lightest. Its IPX4 rating means it is splashproof, but not submersible. It’s not a Rolls Royce by any stretch of the imagination, but it will serve you very well when the sun goes down.

Full Specifications

Max output 200 lumens / Power, low power functions / Max beam distance: 130m, Min: 40m / Max burn time: 35h, Min: 4.5h / IPX4 rated (splashproof) / Advanced Focus System, Rapid Focus and Smart Light Technology.

Selected for the Outdoor 100 2020/21. Read our full review of the LEDLenser MH3 here.

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