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.
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).
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.