The best headtorches will strike the right balance between battery life (or burn time) and brightness, and will also need to meet other considerations like reach, water and dust proofing, comfort, usability and of course, price.
Whether you’re fiddling about with ropes in an effort to bail off your climb, taking a compass bearing as you navigate yourself back to your tent, or just getting settled down in your tent for the night – the value of headtorches, (or headlamps, as our U.S. friends call them) cannot be underestimated – especially when the summer solstice has passed and the 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 headtorches: a small, lightweight ‘emergency’ headtorch and a slightly heavier weight workhorse. The compact emergency one is usually stored out of the way in say, the personal items section of our lid and is only reached for when your main headtorch has run out of juice.
Our main headtorch is generally a beefed up version of its smaller counterpart, usually carrying more weight, but with that; greater battery life, brighter lumen output and possibly a reactive beam. These features are usually the extent of the features headtorches carry – after all, their sole purpose is to provide as much lighting as possible, for as long as possible.
What Are The Best Headtorches?
Here’s are the features and aspects to consider when buying a headtorch…
Brightness: The most obvious feature of a headtorch. How many lumens (measurement of brightness) does the headtorch in question emit? They’re there to provide lighting in dark situations, after all. The brightness of a headtorch 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 headtorch 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 headtorches. It it 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 headtorch 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 headtorch on high power for long periods – night navigation comes to mind. Standard headtorches 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 headtorches 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 headtorch 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 headtorches with replaceable batteries though, because there’s always the option of using rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. It’s worth checking out the GP Xplor PHR15 which not only uses rechargeable batteries but has an integrated USB port so you can plug in power up using a portable power bank.
Other Features: The weight of the headtorch will be of particular interest for runners or fast-and-light hikers. Some people may also look for a red light mode which helps to preserve night vision and will stop you from winding up the entire refuge with your early-morning alpine start. Finally, other things to consider are the waterproof and dustproof ratings (measured IP and IPX ratings) and any easily accessible dimming modes – if you’re using the headtorch in winter, consider whether you’ll be able to the modes while wearing gloves or with cold hands.
Top 9 Best Headtorches: On Test
- Petzl Bindi – Best Headtorch For Walking
- Lifesystems Intensity 105 – Best Value Headtorch For Walking
- Black Diamond Spot 325 –
- Biolite Headlamp 330
- GP Xplor PHR15
- Alpkit Gamma III
- Petzl Actik Core
- Coleman CXS+ 300
- Black Diamond Iota
BEST BUY: Petzl Bindi
Lumen Range: 6-, 100- and 200-lumens.
This is a great headtorch 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 thread on 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