THE BIG TEST: hillwalking headtorches reviewed (2018)

There’s no need to stop hillwalking when the sun goes down – but you do need the right headtorch, so we’ve taken a closer look at six of the best from across the price and performance range.

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THE RUNNERS UP


GP Xplor PHR15 £35

Tester: Graham Thompson

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  • Power range 300 lumens for 5 hours, 150 lumens for 8 hours, 5 lumens for 69 hours

  • Beam distance 157m

  • Batteries 3x AAA (alkaline or rechargeable)

  • Weight 110g

GP’s Explor PHR15 offers all the power you need for most walking situations, and at a great price. The automatic distance sensor is brilliant for reducing power use, as the torch simply turns up the power when you look into the distance. The PHR15 uses 3x rechargeable batteries (recharged via the onboard USB socket) but will also accept AAA alkalines. The single-button operation is easy to use, allowing you to switch between power settings and turn the auto sensing option on or off. One slight niggle is that you can’t lock-off the operation button to prevent accidentally turning it on when it’s in your rucksack. Battery life is also a little shorter than others here, and the times GP quotes are for alkaline batteries (5-69 hours), with rechargeables providing a lesser 3-42 hours.

Pros

Price, weight, rechargeable and alkaline options, ease of use, decent power and burn times 

Cons

No means of locking the button to prevent accidental operation when stored in a rucksack, some higher-priced options offer more power and durability, burn times are slightly less than some

Buy it if

You want a low-priced but great general-purpose hillwalking headtorch with a good practical power output and the option of standard or rechargeable batteries


Lifesystems Intensity 230 £30

Tester: Tim Butcher

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  • Power range 230 lumens for 6 hours, 70 lumens for 18 hours, 9 lumens for 110 hours

  • Beam distance 85m

  • Battery 1x lithium-ion rechargeable

  • Weight 88g

The Intensity 230 is great for the environment and your bank balance – as it’s well priced and uses a USB rechargeable built-in battery unit that is charged via a port on the side. A power indicator light lets you know how much juice is in the tank. I found the 70 lumens power setting was just enough light to get me off the hill, while saving the 230 lumens boost for short sections on trickier ground. The torch has a single-button operation, which is easy to use even with gloves on. The downside is if you are heading into the wilds for a few days without access to a means of recharging then you cannot slip in a spare battery of any form if the juice runs out. Also a 100-150 lumens setting would have been more useful when walking and prevented the need to use the 230 lumens, which burns battery life. 

Pros

Price, weight, rechargeable battery, ease of use, decent power and decent burn times 

Cons

Cannot fit spare battery, 100-150 lumens would be a useful additional setting, no means of locking the operation button to prevent accidental operation when stored in a rucksack, some higher priced options offer more power and durability

Buy it if

You want a day-to-day headtorch for hillwalking that is well priced, light and good for the planet thanks to its rechargeable battery


Fenix HP25R £80

Tester: Jon Bennett

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  • Power range Spotlight settings: 1000 lumens for 1.5 hours, 350 lumens for 4.5 hours, 130 lumens for 12 hours, 30 lumens for 42 hours Floodlight settings: 350 lumens for 2.5 hours, 130 lumens for 9 hours, 30 lumens for 40 hours, 4 lumens for 150 hours

  • Battery 1x lithium-ion rechargeable or 2x CR123A

  • Weight 236g

This has everything you need and more, with one floodlight and one spot, both with four power settings and easily operated via glove-friendly buttons. You can’t turn the buttons on accidentally either, as when the lamp is tipped up to its highest position the buttons are covered, but when tilted slightly in normal use they are exposed. The huge power output is provided by a rechargeable battery pack at the back of the head. It is recharged by a micro USB plug but you can fit CR123A batteries, although these are not as readily available as standard AAA or AAs. This headtorch offers more power than required for general walking, and others are lighter or lower in price, but for hard users this is a stunning option if you need extra durability and power.

Pros

Ease of use, robust construction, decent burn times and massive maximum output

Cons

Price, weight, more power and performance than most hillwalkers will really need

Buy it if

You Want a headtorch for more than just walking, or just like loads of light and don’t view the weight or price as a drawback


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The Top Three


Alpkit Manta £35

Tester: Jon Bennett

Does the combination of a low price and a high power outweigh any design drawbacks for this headtorch?

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  • Power range 300 lumens for 11 hours, 150 lumens for 26 hours, 30 lumens for 90 hours

  • Beam distance 140m

  • Battery 1x lithium-ion rechargeable

  • Weight 219g

It’s Good

As always with Alpkit, the price is stunning for what you get, as it’s both well built and well featured. The three main power settings of high, medium and low are managed by a single button with a very positive click, which is easy to find with the fingers too. 

Power comes from a built-in rechargeable battery, with a USB port tucked away behind the battery pack at the back of the head. The battery can be removed easily and replaced as needed, so you could carry a spare if required (NB: The warranty would be voided if you do this, but Alpkit has told us it is looking into it). 

The focus control is a nice touch, with a simple aluminium ring for adjusting the beam from floodlight to spot, which can even be operated with gloved hands. Compared to others around this price you get a far more solidly constructed headtorch with longer burn times, and IP64 rating means it is splash-resistant.

However

Some higher priced torches offer more, such as higher waterproofness ratings so they can be submerged for longer periods. This is also a heavier torch, so the battery pack is placed at the back of the head for more comfort. Although both the power and burn times are great for hillwalking and camping, you can get even more power and burn time if you pay a little more. 

Annoyingly, but like many others, there’s no ability to lock the operation button to ensure the headtorch doesn’t turn on accidentally in your rucksack. The other main drawback is that you cannot fit readily available AA or AAA batteries, and as mentioned above there is a warranty issue with taking a spare rechargeable. But if you suspect you won’t have access to some means of recharging the battery you may have to take a spare, fully-charged lithium-ion rechargeable with you. 

Surprisingly there is no low power indicator either. 

Verdict

Superb value for money, with great power output for hillwalkers, but it is heavier and more bulky to carry and lacks some benefits of higher priced torches.

  • Power 5/5

  • Battery life 4/5

  • Comfort 3/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 5/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%

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Petzl Actik Core 350 £50

Tester: Graham Thompson

This lightweight headtorch is not the most powerful, but does it provide all the features most hillwalkers will actually require?

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  • Power range 350 lumens for 2 hours, 100 lumens for 7 hours, 5 lumens for 160 hours

  • Beam 95m

  • Battery Petzl Core Rechargeable or 3 x AAA

  • Weight 81g

It’s Good

This has all you really need for hillwalking, with a reasonable 100 lumens for seven hours, which is great for general night walking, and you can boost that to 350 lumens for short bursts to find the route. So long as you switch back to a lower power settings you can get reasonable burn times. This is also lighter and more compact than higher powered torches, so you don’t mind carrying it in your rucksack even if it is rarely used. 

It’s operated with just one button, which makes it easy to turn on and switch through the functions. You even get a red light to manage night vision better. The option of either 3x AAA batteries or a rechargeable battery gives a choice of power, and there is a USB socket so you can recharge the battery without removing it from the torch. But you can also take it out for charging, as the USB socket is built into the battery itself rather than the torch. 

However

Burn times are lower than some other torches around this price, but that is due to having 3x rather than 4x AAA batteries, and the result in part is less weight and bulk on your head. You have to ask the question: do you really need a torch this light when if you add a few grams you can get longer burn times or more power? But to me this torch has all you need in general – why carry more?

The bigger drawbacks are that there is no means of locking off the operation button, apart from removing the battery, so if you accidentally turn this on when it is sitting in a rucksack you may lose power. Rated as IPX4, it can resist a spray of water – but others are higher rated and can survive being submerged. 

Verdict

Great for most hillwalkers, as it is light, compact and has a good power source and output, but some others offer more power, longer burn times and more water resistance.

  • Power 4/5

  • Battery life 4/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 88%

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Black Diamond Storm £50

Tester: Tim Butcher

With more power and features than last year, is this the best option for hillwalkers... or can you have too much of a good thing?

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  •  Power range 375 lumens for 75 hours, 8 lumens for 310 hours

  • Beam 100m

  • Battery 4x AAA

  • Weight 120g

It’s Good

This popular headtorch has new features for 2019, with power rising from 350 to 375 lumens and a massive quoted burn time of 75 hours. It’s also rated waterproof to IP67, which means it can be submerged to 1m for up to 30 minutes, so Black Diamond is right to brag that the Storm is engineered for epics. 

The white LED light is fully adjustable for brightness from 8 lumens right up to 375, so you can choose exactly how much light you want, and the long burn time means you shouldn’t have to worry about running out of juice. If you value red, blue and green light, then you have those on board too. 

The unique PowerTap feature means you can tap the casing for a short boost at full power, which is useful on complex ground, while the lock function ensures the Storm can’t get turned on accidentally, which is superb and one of the many features that set this headtorch apart. 

However

For something as simple as a headtorch the Storm isn’t quick to get to know, and I struggled to work out how to use it during our outing on Fleetwith Pike. Even after a few more days of use I still get lost within its functions. Operation is complex, with three different buttons, and I found the power tap boost kicked in when I grabbed the casing to adjust the tilt angle. 

For normal hillwalking, 375 lumens seemed excessive, as only 100 lumens is really needed to safely navigate at night, and the main beam is so bright and distant on full power that it cut out all of my peripheral vision. 

You don’t get the option to recharge the batteries directly, so you either need to take spare alkalines or get an additional recharging kit for the batteries. As it takes 4x AAAs rather than the 3x used on other torches it has a longer burn time, but this also adds extra weight and bulk. 

Verdict

Great light output and burn time for hillwalkers and camping, but you need to consider if the extra features are worth the time spent working out how to use them.

  • Power 5/5

  • Battery life 5/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 3/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 88%


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Family Camping Kit: Exped MegaMat Duo 10 M Reviewed (2018)

Reviewed by Ben Weeks of Trail magazine

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For car camping, camper vans or basecamp use, Exped claim that the MegaMat is as close as it gets to sleeping on your bed at home. We’ll be the judge of that…

  • Comfort rating: -48 °C

  • R-Value: 9.50

  • Thickness: 9.9cm

  • Length: 182.9cm

  • Shoulder Width: 103.9cm

  • Foot Width: 103.9cm

  • Weight Mat: 3340g

  • Weight Pump: 45g

  • Weight Packsack: 150g

  • Packed height: 55.1cm

  • Packed diameter: 30.0cm

  • Pack volume: 38.9 litres

The problems with large camping mats can be mostly summed up as ‘back related’. Thick air mats lacking insulation can often be cold, giving you a chilly back. The plastic material that many inflatable beds are made of doesn’t breathe at all, giving you a sweaty back. The difficulties in getting the optimum inflation can result in a less than perfect night’s sleep, give you a stiff back. So does the MegaMat back up its comfort claims?

It’s good

“That mattress is amazing!” That was my wife’s verdict the morning after our first night’s sleep on the MegaMat. She has never been a natural camper, and was not looking forward to our tent-based holiday, as previous attempts with ‘value airbeds’ and proved problematic for all the reasons stated above. But this was different. The mat is 10cm thick and its vertical sidewalls carry this depth right to the edge for an completely level sleeping surface. The open-cell PU foam insulation inside the mat provides an R-value of 9.50, meaning that it’s comfort rated down to an astonishing -48°C. We’re not likely to test it out in those sorts of conditions, but it’s good to know getting cold is unlikely to be a problem. But neither is it too warm. The stretch tricot top surface is comfortable next to the skin and breathable, so there’s no stickiness. There’s a foam Mini Pump included to help get the the mat inflated, although the expanding foam gives you a head start.

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However

Let’s be clear - the MegaMat if for out-of-the-car-boot type camping set up. It’s fairly hefty and takes up a fair bit of space when packed - this is not a mat to be carried in a rucksack. Pumping it up is not particularly quick when using the provided foam pump, but it’s possible to connect an electric pump to the mat (using the foam pump as an adapter. It can be a little tricky to wrestle it back into its bag when packing up, but that’s normal for this type of mat. The only real problem with the Duo, though, is its size. at a little over 1m wide, it’s bairly much larger than a recular single bed mattress, so you need to be fairly cosy with whoever shares your mat. Campers used to sharing the close confines of a tw-person backpacking tent will be used to this lack of elbow room, but campers who prefer a little more space may be better off with the wider and longer MegaMat Duo LW+.

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Verdict

It’s not light, small, or what you’d call a budget-buy. But if you regard a good night’s sleep as a worthwhile investment, the MegaMat Duo comes approved by my wife, and that’s high praise indeed!

  • Portability 3/5

  • Convenience 4/5

  • Design 5/5 

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 3/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 80%

Used and Abused: Victorinox Night Vision (2014)

PRICE: £570

Used by Simon Ingram, Trail Magazine editor
Used for 6 months

Lights built into watches are nothing new, but torches built into posh watches rather are. I’ll admit I became infatuated with this watch because it had the name of the best Swiss Army knife on it (which, come on, is pretty cool) and was a gizmo that struck the balance between being something I could wear on the hill without looking like I belonged in an office, and in the office without looking like I belonged on the hill. The push-button torch is actually a genuinely useful thing, when you remember it’s there. I’ve used it for a variety of practical applications on and off the hill (reading important things in the dark, rummaging in a rucksack for a headtorch, dazzling colleagues) and have to say this is far from a pointless gimmick. And the watch itself is lovely: precise, pretty and – while heavy, and with a rather fiddly strap – something to cherish. 

Verdict A Swiss mountain machine that isn’t Ueli Steck.

www.victorinox.com

Originally published in Trail Magazine, 2014