The best head torches will strike an optimum balance between battery life (or burn time) and brightness, and will also need to meet other considerations like overall reach, water and dust proofing, comfort, usability and of course, price.
Whether you’re getting an early Alpine start to reach a mountain summit as the sun rises, heading out on a night hike or just settling down in your tent for the night – the value of head torches (or head lamps, as our U.S. friends call them) cannot be underestimated – especially when the days get shorter and the dark nights start to draw in.
“…it always seems to be the case that you always need your headtorch most when you’ve conveniently left it at home.”
Whilst we understand that everyone packs differently, we find it best practice to carry two separate head torches: a small, lightweight ‘emergency’ head torch and a slightly tougher, heavier workhorse. The compact emergency option is usually stored out of the way in say, the personal items section of a rucksack lid and is only reached for when your main head torch has run out of juice.
Our main head torch is generally a beefed up version of its smaller counterpart, usually a little heavier, but with that; greater battery life, brighter lumen output and possibly a reactive beam. These features are usually the extent of the features head torches carry – after all, their sole purpose is to provide as much light as possible, for as long as possible.
What Are The Best Head Torches?
Here’s are the features and aspects to consider when buying a head torch…
Brightness: The most obvious feature of a head torch. How many lumens (measurement of brightness) does the head torch in question emit? They’re there to provide lighting in dark situations, after all. The brightness of a head torch will inevitably influence both the battery life and weight – as it takes more batteries to power a bright beam for long periods. Lumen ratings can be as low as 50 or reaching over 1000. Between 200-300 tends to signify a head torch that will balance brightness and battery life well.
Beam Width and Distance: The width and distance of the beam are a big factor. Many brands now have models that allow you to select between a wider (and less focused) beam, or a focused beam (but narrower). It’s a great feature to be able to change the width and distance of the beam to suit different environments.
Reactive Lighting: Reactive lighting is a fairly modern addition to head torches. It is essentially the ability to adjust the brightness of the torch’s beam based on how light or dark the surroundings are – similar to that of your smartphone screen adjusting its brightness based on the surrounding light. Whilst it is of course battery-efficient to run your head torch on its lowest power settings, reactive lighting allows you to get the most out of the surroundings whilst using only the power that’s required.
Battery Life: Burn time is obviously a big deal, particularly when you’re going without power for multiple days, or you know that you’ll need to consistently use the head torch on high power for long periods – night navigation comes to mind. Standard head torches on their highest output will only normally last maybe 2-3 hours, whereas on their lowest setting they might run for over 100 hours. We’re now starting to see some head torches that are able to offer up an impressive balance between high lumen output alongside impressive battery life.
Rechargeable or Replaceable Batteries: The choice between a rechargeable lithium-ion battery or AA or AAA batteries is something to consider. An alkaline powered head torch will go through a lot of batteries in its lifetime, and consequently, you’ll be leaving behind a fairly hefty footprint on the environment. Integrated lithium ion batteries are an economical – and environmentally friendlier option. A single lithium-ion battery could avoid the use of up to 900 batteries from entering the landfill.
Don’t write off head torches with replaceable batteries though, because there’s always the option of using rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. It’s worth checking out models like the GP Xplor PHR15, which not only uses rechargeable batteries but has an integrated USB port so you can plug in and power up using a portable power bank.
Other Features: The weight of the head torch will be of particular interest for ultralighters. Some people may also look for a red light mode, which helps to preserve night vision and will stop you from annoying everybody else in a bothy or mountain hut with your early-morning alpine start. Finally, other things to consider are the waterproof and dustproof ratings (IP ratings) and any easily accessible dimming modes – if you’re using the head torch in winter, consider whether you’ll be able to switch the modes and operate the buttons while wearing gloves or with cold hands.
Top 10 Best Head Torches: On Test
- Petzl Bindi – Best Head Torch For Walking
- Nitecore HC65
- Black Diamond Spot 325
- Biolite Headlamp 330
- Nathan Neutron
- Alpkit Gamma III
- Petzl Iko Core
- LEDLenser MH3
- Black Diamond Iota
- Edelrid Novalite
BEST BUY: Petzl Bindi
Best for: Lightweight hiking, emergency use
Key attributes: Superlight, compact, rechargeable via USB
This is a great head torch for people who like to travel light, and it’s also a handy option as your backup. Pack it in the bottom of your rucksack and you’re probably going to forget you’ve even brought it out with you, until you find yourself desperately in need of a light source, with your main torch out of juice. The Bindi comes in at the extremely low weight of 35g and has an impressively compact size but, with a full beam of 200 lumens there’s still a good power to it. The strap is just a thin bit of bungee, but it holds surprisingly well, it’s comfortable and is easy to adjust. There are also reflective strips embedded within it to make you more visible to others. The lithium-Ion is non-replaceable and is charged via a micro-USB port.
200 lumen brightness / reflective headband / lithium-ion 680 mAh battery / rechargeable via micro USB port / charge indicator / lighting modes: proximity, movement and distance / lock functions to avoid accidentally turning it on / IPX4 splash resistant.
Read our full Petzl Bindi review
|BUY NOW: PETZL.COM|
Black Diamond Spot 325
Best for: Wet-weather hiking and hillwalking
Key attributes: Highly water-resistant
Black Diamond are one of the go-to brands when considering a headtorch purchase, we’ve certainly been impressed with their offerings in recent years and the Spot 325 is no different.
The Spot collection was initially launched in 2017 with a 200-lumen model, it then got an update to 300 lumens in 2018 before seeing a complete overhaul for 2019, becoming what we see here. This overhaul hasn’t just involved an increase in power, they’ve also reduced the size of the entire unit, added a new mode selector, and updated the LED.
Power modes on this are able to be changed through the simple press of the main button on the top of the headtorch, whilst a smaller button located on the side allows for switching between the lens mode settings, including; dimming, strobe, red night-vision and lock modes.
With three AAA batteries the Spot 325 is able to offer 200 hours of power on the lowest (8 lumens) power mode and four hours of charge on the higher (325 lumens) mode. A feature we were big fans of on the Spot 325 was the IPX8 waterproof rating. This means that you’ll be able to submerge it 1 metre underwater for up to 30 minutes and it’ll keep powering on – not bad.
PowerTap transitioning between full and dimmed power / low-profile design / three AAA batteries, included / brightness memory – turn the light on and off at a chosen brightness / full strength in proximity and distance modes / dimming / strobe / red night-vision / lock mode / IPX8 waterproof.
Read our full Black Diamond Spot 325 review.
|BUY NOW: BLACKDIAMONDEQUIPMENT.COM|
Biolite Headlamp 330
Best for: Multi-activity trips, lightweight hiking
Key attributes: Versatile, fully-featured, comfortable to wear
The BioLite HeadLamp 330 is ideal for active outdoorsy types who will be wearing a headtorch on the move as well as in camp. Although it’s not the most powerful lamp out there, it still puts out a bright, powerful beam and has both flood and spot modes. There’s also a red light option to preserve night vision and provide low impact lighting, as well as a white strobe SOS mode.
It also has a USB rechargeable 900mAh lithium ion battery (positioned at the rear of the lamp), a comfy headband that integrates the electronics without the need for loads of wiring, and a projection beam of up to 75 metres.
You should get 3.5 hours of light on high mode and 40 hours on low. That 330-lumen headline refers to total lumens (230 Lm spot and 100 Lm flood), and you can only have one or the other of the LED modes activated at any time.
Read our full BioLite HeadLamp 330 head torch review.
White flood and spot modes / red light option / white strobe SOS mode / USB rechargeable 900 mAh lithium ion battery / 69g / integrated electronics in the headband / 3.5 hours of light on high mode / 40 hours of light on low mode / 330-lumen / beams up to 75m / supports pass-thru charging /
|BUY NOW: UK.BIOLITEENERGY.COM|
Nathan Neutron Fire RX
Best for: Road and trail running
Key attributes: Lightweight, low-profile and compact, packing plenty of punch for its size
US brand Nathan’s Neutron Fire RX running headlamp has been designed specifically with road and trail runners in mind. It has a 360-degree reflective headband and a 160-lumen light output (or up to 200 lumens in ‘sprint’ mode) with five different lighting options, plus an unusual side strobe function that can illuminate in red, green or blue.
The compact, lightweight design has a low-profile light unit and a slimline headband to minimise weight and bulk in use. With a max burn time of 25+ hours, it’s suitable for even the longest late-evening runs but is also a great grab-and-go headlamp for shorter sessions.
With a 160-lumen output on ‘high’ setting and a crisp white light beam, it’ll serve most trail and fell runners well too. If you need even more illumination, you can switch to a 200-lumen ‘sprint’ mode, which gives you a short boost of high intensity white light. If you’re into fastpacking or ultralight backpacking, you might also be attracted by this headlamp’s low weight and small pack size.
White LED spotlight with 5 lighting modes (low/medium/high/sprint/strobe), plus side strobes with Red, Green, & Blue light options / 200 lumens burst, 160 lumens high / IPX4 waterproofing / rechargeable Lithium Ion battery pack / rechargeable via micro USB port.
Read our full Nathan Neutron Fire RX review
|BUY NOW: NATHANSPORTS.COM|
Alpkit Gamma III
Best for: Trail and road running
Key attributes: Array of different light modes, rear red light for running
The Alpkit Gamma III has more than meets the eye. It’s able to offer up to 120 lumens of power through its main light located front and centre of the headtorch. Surrounding this main LED are three more smaller 5mm LEDs that offer green light, red light and a white lower power mode. Coming packed with a rear-mounted red light and secure, yet compact design, you can tell that this headtorch has been designed for runners who won’t let a dark evening spoil their training.
180 lm of illumination / green, red and white LEDs / rear red caution light / water resistant / detachable and adjustable over-head strap / pivotal head unit / 3-year guarantee.
Read our full Alpkit Gamma III review.
|BUY NOW: EU.ALPKIT.COM|
Best for: Challenge hikers, technical users
Key attributes: Extremely bright, durable, functional
With a housing made from an aero-grade anodised aluminium alloy, 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.
It has an extremely bright main beam, boasting an output of up to 1000 lumens and a beam distance of 110m. It cycles through five levels of brightness, plus strobe, SOS, beacon or red light functions. These are all cycled through via one glove-friendly button that is fully pressed, half pressed, held or double clicked to cycle between all the various settings.
The maximum runtime you’ll get is up to a whopping 800 hours – though that’ll be on its lower, most economical setting. On its highest setting, you’d be likely to get around 2 hours and 45 minutes of runtime off a fully charged battery. Usefully, the battery supplied by Nitecore can be charged while in the head torch via a built-in Intelligent Micro-USB. To do this you just need to unscrew the cap (being careful not to lose it) and plug in the cable.
Up to 1000 lumens brightness / turbo, high, mid, low and ultra low brightness settings / strobe, SOS, beacon or red light modes / adjustable beam angle / waterproof IPX8 aluminium body / adjustable head strap / rechargeable lithium-ion battery / power and charging indicators / USB charger lead included / up to 800 hours battery life (at ultra-low output)
Read our full Nitecore HC65 review
|BUY NOW: NITECORE.CO.UK|
Petzl Iko Core
Best for: Lightweight hikers, technical users
Key attributes:Lightweight, compact, bright and extremely comfortable to wear
The Petzl Iko Core doesn’t look like most other head torches – there’s no bulky light unit at the front, no overhead strap and no chunky elastic headband. Instead, the Airfit headband is an ultra-thin, semi-rigid frame that is contoured to sit comfortably around your head. This design makes for more even weight distribution, aiding overall comfort. Rear adjustment consists of a single elasticated pull cord, which works very effectively with minimal fuss (no more fiddling with strap buckles and the like).
The 500-lumen output comes from an array of 7 LEDs arranged in two rows. The beam of each little LED overlaps to give a consistent bright white circle of light. The Iko has a flood or mixed beam, plus 3 white brightness levels, all operated by a single tap of the small orange button that is located, a little strangely, on the bottom of the LED array. There’s also a coloured battery charge indicator that flashes when the lamp is turned on or off, for checking remaining battery life. You can also press and hold the button to activate a lock function that will prevent accidental operation (useful if it’s stashed in your pack).
It is powered by a rear battery compartment that can take either 3 x standard AAA batteries or Petzl’s own rechargeable 1,250mAh CORE battery pack. The CORE batteries can be removed from the head lamp, so if you have two you can instantly swap out a dead pack for a fresh one. They go from zero to fully charged in about 3 hours via a mini-USB port. They’re also pretty powerful – using the Iko with standard batteries gives you up to 350 lumens, but using the CORE system takes it to 500 lumens.
500 lumens output / flood or beam lighting modes / 1250 mAh Lithium-Ion CORE rechargeable battery (included) / charging time: 3 hrs / water-resistant (IPX4).
Read our full Petzl Iko Core review.
|BUY NOW: PETZL.COM|
Best for: All-round outdoor use, including cycling and running
Key attributes: Functional, effective, good value
Whether you’re a wild camper or a night time trail runner, this torch screams functionality and versatility from the hilltops. You can wear it on your head or chest, which means the number of evening activities you can do with it is greatly increased. It is powered by a single AA battery (included), and with a low battery indicator to keep you up to speed, the LedLenser MH3 delivers up to 200 lumens. This light can be focused with a simple, intuitive, twist of the lamp. It can also be tilted within a 60° angle, meaning you can adjust it to sort your situation. It has a maximum light distance of 130 metres and an optimum light distance of 40 metres. 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.
200 lumens max output / 130 metres max beam range / 35 hours max burn time / focusing beam / adjustable beam angle / uses 1 x AA battery / IPX4 splash resistant.
Read our full LEDLenser MH3 review.
|BUY NOW: LEDLENSER.CO.UK|
Black Diamond Iota
Best for: Ultralight hikers, emergency use
Key attributes: Lightweight, compact, reachargeable via micro-USB.
The Black Diamond Iota isn’t the brightest head torch on the market, but it’s certainly high-powered enough to be useful and it’s tiny size and light weight means it’s perfect for sticking in your backpack as a just-in-case option – you’re simply not going to notice the tiny size, or compact weight of 56g in your pack, or on your head for that matter.
Unlike Black Diamond’s Spot head torch which is also featured in this round-up, this has an in-built lithium ion rechargeable battery with a micro-USB port rather than AAAs.
150 lumens / lithium ion rechargeable battery / 3-hour USB charge time / full strength, dimming and strobe / PowerTap transitioning between full and dimmed power / IPX4 splash resistant.
Read our full Black Diamond Iota review.
|BUY NOW: BLACKDIAMONDEQUIPMENT.COM|
Best for: Emergency or back-up use
Key attributes: Functional, effective, good value
Edelrid’s best known for climbing hardware, but it also sells a small range of head torches including the compact Novalite. We’d say this is one of those head torches that’s perfect as a stand-by option rather than your prime mover – it’s the one you keep in your bag just in case your Plan A torch runs out or fails on you.
Complete with a single AA battery, it weighs in at 70 grams, which isn’t super light, but certainly won’t slow you down.
The light has a single central LED with a claimed 134 lumen spot beam plus a pair of peripheral lower-powered bulbs churning out 31 lumens for close-up work around camp and so on. Otherwise there are few frills: a simple light head with secure angle adjustment, a top-mounted switch that cycles through high, middle, ‘eco’ and SOS modes on the main beam and a simple but functional elasticated headband.
134 lumens of illumination / choice of three brightness levels and SOS strobe mode / runs of 1 AA / burns 8-35 hours / IPX6 water resistant / adjustable light head angle / elastic headband.
Read our full Edelrid Novalite review.
|BUY NOW: EDELRID.COM|