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