If there's one hiking accessory that you should always remember to pack in your sack, it's the humble head torch. You might think it's your walking poles, but it's a head torch. Even as the world's most accomplished mountaineer, if you find yourself out in the hills after dark and can't see anything, you're still basically screwed.
It doesn't matter what time of year it is, a head torch should always be in your pack. A headtorch is your illumination salvation. It's a vital bit of safety kit, not least because it can also be a useful way of signalling to Mountain Rescue in an emergency. If you're planning to wild camp in Fells, a dependable headtorch is a must.
A couple of must-dos: before venturing out, always make sure your headtorch works and that you've packed a set of spare batteries (or a fully juiced power bank and charging cable). And then consider taking a lightweight spare or backup headtorch.
Black Diamond Storm 500-R - Best head torch 2023
Alpkit Qark - Best value
Silva Terra Scout H - Best head torch for sustainability
Petzl NAO RL - Best head torch for running
Petzl Actik - Best head torch for simplicity
BioiLte HeadLamp 325 - Best lightweight head torch
NEBO Mycro 500 - Best head torch for camping
Today, the choice of hillwalking headtorches is greater than ever. The widespread adoption of the Light Emitting Diode (LED) and the lithium-ion battery have both revolutionised headtorch design. They are now lighter, brighter, more robust and longer lasting than ever before.
The best head torches 2023
1. Black Diamond Storm 500-R
Best head torch 2023
The powerful and multi-functional Storm 500-R is one of the brightest and best-equipped headlamps
- Light modes for map reading
- Very bright
- Great weatherproofing
- Ergonomics take getting used to, hybrids can be more versatile
2. Alpkit Qark
This Alpkit Qark headtorch undercuts many rivals in terms of both performance and price. Despite
- Good value
- Not as tough as some
- No battery level indicator
3. Silva Terra Scout H
Best head torch for sustainability
Product sustainability is becoming more important in the outdoor industry, and increasingly this
- Sustainably made
- Easy to operate
- No dimming function or SOS strobe
4. Petzl NAO RL
Best head torch for running
The headline-grabbing 1500 lumens on offer here is eye-catching to be sure. But this is only for
- Very bright
- Easy to use on the go
- Overkill for many runners
5. Petzl Actik
Best head torch for simplicity
The Actik is one of Petzl's best-selling headlamps. This latest model has sleek and angular looks
- Pleasantly simple
- Durable, 360-degree swivel bracket
- So-so weatherproofing
6. BioLte HeadLamp 325
Best lightweight head torch
This is the lightest and most compact headtorch here, which, combined with a moisture-wicking and
- Red and white light modes
- Not as powerful as some others
7. NEBO Mycro 500
Best head torch for camping
For camping, you don't need 1000 lumens and a rear-mounted battery pack. For camping, features
- Battery level indicator
- Aluminium case
- Others have better run times
Choosing the right head torch for you
As LED technology has got cheaper, it's also led to a proliferation of junk lights. In our experience, these might promise incredible functionality, but they invariably break, die or fail as soon as the weather closes in. That's why we've picked out the best hillwalking headtorches from various tried and tested brands that promise durability and reliability. These, in addition to balancing size, weight and real-world performance.
How many lumens should you need? For casual use around a campsite, 100 to 200 lumens is about right. With nighttime walking and navigation, you'll want to look at 200 to 500 lumens. Then for trail running, mountaineering, or skiing, you'll want to consider upwards of 500 lumens in order to get clear illumination of a wide area in front of you.
The brighter a head torch, often the greater its maximum distance. But a very long distance of hundreds of metres normally requires a focused beam. Consider how important this is for your outdoor pursuits.
A head torch's ruggedness is determined by its IP (ingress protection) rating to a degree. The IP is followed by two digits - the first determining dust protection (scale of 0 to 6), the second against moisture (scale of 0 to 9). Head torches don't often have a first digit in their IP rating, and instead, use an 'X'. This means they haven't been tested against dust protection, but this doesn't necessarily matter if the head torch has good moisture protection (IPX4 or more) because it should result in good dust proofing too.
Size and settings influence run times. Head torches that allow you to turn down the brightness boost run time. Likewise, with a larger battery. But a bigger battery is heavier too, which is worth remembering.
Consider rechargeable versus standard batteries too. The former is very convenient but might require you to take a power bank with you.
This is mostly dependent on the battery size. So while a head torch with a bigger battery might be heavier, you'll get longer running time and/or brightness in return. And vice versa.
Head torches that have a lot of lumens and several light settings are very versatile. But the design of the buttons on the headtorch is very important here. You want to be able to use them while wearing the head torch and, therefore, to be intuitive. You may also want to be able to operate the buttons while wearing gloves.
A headband is the easiest to fit and adjust, even when wearing a helmet. But head torches with an overhead strap offer a more stable fit and are, therefore, better for activities like trail running, even if they are more fiddly.