A head torch is an absolute must to include when packing your gear for a hike. Even if you may plan to be out during daylight hours, you never know what events might befall you that may lead to being out after dark.
There is a huge range of head torches on sale today, and we want to help you find the best one for your needs. And that does not necessarily entail spending more – you want a head torch that caters for your requirements and some may be overkill, while some may be inadequate.
What to look for in a head torch
Brightness: The output of light from a source is measured in lumens. How many lumens should you need? For casual use around a campsite, 100 to 200 lumens is about right; for night time walking and navigation, you'll want to look at 200 to 500 lumens; for trail running or mountaineering, or skiing, you'll want to consider upwards of 500 lumens in order to get the clear illumination of a wide area in front of you.
Beam distance: This usually goes hand in hand with brightness - 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.
Ruggedness: The ruggedness of a head torch is more or less determined by its IP (ingress protection) rating. 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.
Battery: Naturally, you want as long a battery life from your head torch as possible. This does rely on the size of the battery, but also the settings the head torch has that may or may not allow you to turn down the brightness. A larger battery will result in a head torch being heavier too, which is worth remembering. Also, that brighter head torches likely require bigger batteries and will therefore be heavier.
Consider rechargeable versus standard batteries too. The former are very convenient but might require you to take a power bank with you.
Weight: 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.
Light settings: 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.
Strap design: 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.
Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this page, we never allow this to influence product selections.
The best head torches
Petzl Swift RL - Best hiking headtorch 2022
Verdict: A superb, premium-standard, all-rounder headtorch that ticks all the boxes for hiking. Not the cheapest, but money well spent.
Max power 550 lumens for 2 hours (900 lumens for 2-30 hours in reactive lighting mode) | Max burn time 100 hours at 10 lumens | Max beam distance 110m at 550 lumens (150m at 900 lumens in reactive lighting mode) | Batteries 2350 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion | Weight 102g (inc battery) | Ingress protection rating IPX4 (splashproof)
If you’re looking for an all-singing, all-dancing headtorch with premium performance, look no further. The Petzl Swift RL achieves an amazing balancing act: it can virtually light up a whole mountainside with its uber-powerful 900 lumens, yet it comes in a compact, light package weighing only 102g.
It’s the best of both worlds – one headtorch for all your needs, whether that’s pottering around in your tent or trail running downhill at night. All of the features you’d expect are present: a really comfy headband, beautifully simple design (no rear-mounted batteries or connecting cables here), powerful rechargeable battery, intuitive single button operation, impressive beam with a good blend of flooding and distance, and nifty features including lock mode and charge indicator.
But the real star is the reactive lighting technology, a sensor which analyses the ambient light and automatically adjusts brightness to your needs. This preserves battery life and provides an excellent experience out on the hill.
If we’re being fussy
It’s expensive and do you really need all that power and functionality? In reactive lighting mode, burn times vary so much (depending on what you’re looking at) it’s tricky to judge if you’ll have enough juice for your outing, while the thick headlamp doesn’t feel particularly flush to the forehead.
Princeton Tec Snap Solo LED 300 - Best Value
Verdict: A simple, no-nonsense headtorch at a great price – but it’s a bit basic.
Max power 300 lumens for 10 hours | Max burn time 155 hours at 10 lumens | Max beam distance 50m at 300 lumens | Batteries 3x AAA | Weight 102g (inc batteries) | Ingress protection rating IPX4 (splashproof)
This no-nonsense headtorch keeps things simple, delivering an intuitive user experience at an affordable price.
It’s comfy and easy to use, with good stats considering the price: a max output of 300 lumens, a whopping 155-hour burn time at 10 lumens (the longest battery life on test, if the manufacturer’s stats are correct) and a 50m beam distance.
The simple, adjustable headband works well and the front-mounted headlamp – which houses three AAAs – offers ample tilt for fine-tuning your beam. A single button enables you to toggle between high (300 lumens) and low (10 lumens) modes, as well as dim the lumens to suit your needs.
But this torch’s standout feature is the way the magnetic head unit can be detached from its base to use as a handheld flashlight or attached to any magnetic surface. It’s cool and nifty, but will you actually use it in that way?
If we’re being fussy
It feels a tad front-heavy on your head, due to the large headlamp. It’s only splashproof, not waterproof, and it’s not compatible with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The beam distance isn’t great and we didn’t find any real practical use for detaching the headlamp from the base.
Alpkit Gamma III
Verdict: A decent headtorch for basic tasks, at a very affordable price-point – but it’s not very powerful.
Max power 150 lumens for 7 hours | Max burn time 45 hours at 10 lumens | Max beam distance Not stated | Batteries 3x AAA | Weight 130g | Ingress protection rating IPX4 (splashproof)
This headtorch is all about value for money. It’s far from the best designed or most powerful, and it is lacking in some areas, but for £20 you really can’t complain.
It does the basics well at an affordable price, and it is more than adequate for short spells of night walking and use around your tent. You get a maximum output of 150 lumens for 7 hours, 70 lumens for 18 hours in low, and then up to 45 hours of burn time in the white LED (10 lumens), green LED (7 lumens) and red LED (5 lumens) modes.
The rear battery pack takes three AAAs and features a red LED so you can be seen from behind, while the stretchy, adjustable headband is comfy enough, particularly if you use the optional overhead strap (10g extra).
The headlamp itself has a good tilt function, up to almost 90° in range.
If we’re being fussy
The maximum lumens of 150 is disappointing. The rear battery pack isn’t particularly comfy against the head and the connector cable has a little too much slack. Burn times are pretty low and the overall build quality is (understandably) rather cheap and basic.
Biolite Headlamp 330
Verdict: A minimalist, ultra-lightweight and extremely comfy headtorch – but the battery isn’t great.
Max power 330 lumens for 3½ hours | Max burn time 40 hours at 5 lumens | Max beam distance 75m | Batteries Rechargeable lithium-ion battery | Weight 71g | Ingress protection rating IPX4 (splashproof)
There are three main things to note about this minimalist headtorch. Firstly at 71g (on our scales), it is easily the lightest product on test – 31g lighter than the next lightest – thanks to its streamlined design. Secondly the excellent ‘3D Slimfit’ headband – which feels snug on the head, is made from soft, smooth materials, and features a flush headlamp with no bounce – is probably the comfiest on test. And thirdly, the 900mAh lithium-ion battery can be recharged really easily from within the rear-mounted casing via a micro USB cable.
Weight, comfort and simple recharging are, therefore, this headtorch’s big selling points. Its overall stats are pretty decent too. The maximum power output is 330 lumens, delivering a 75m beam for 3½ hours, while in the 5 lumens low mode you get a 5m beam for a 40-hour burn time. The torch also features red night vision, a lock button, battery indicator and tilt function.
If we’re being fussy
900mAh is the lowest power rating on test for a rechargeable battery, meaning burn times are not particularly great. The headlamp itself feels rather flimsy, as if you could accidentally snap it off, and its power output and beam penetration could be better.
Black Diamond Onsight 375
Verdict: A well-designed, waterproof headtorch with nifty features – but it’s a tad over-priced.
Max power 400 lumens for 5 hours | Max burn time 110 hours at 8 lumens | Max beam distance 110m at 400 lumens | Batteries 3x AAA, or 1800mAh rechargeable lithium-ion for £24 | Weight 140g (inc batteries) | Ingress protection rating IP67 (submersible)
It’s billed as a climbing headtorch, but the Onsight 375 serves the hillwalker almost as well.
The design is simple yet robust, with a rear battery pack linked to a front headlamp via a partly-coiled cable. Power is ‘dual fuel’ via either 3x AAA or a BD1800 rechargeable lithium-ion battery (sold separately for £24). Illumination levels vary slightly between the two, but the lithium-ion gives the best output: 400 lumens for 5 hours in max, 200 lumens for 13 hours in medium, and 8 lumens for 110 hours in low. With AAAs, the max output is 375 lumens.
The headlamp has dual-beam configuration, with the main beam providing wide, evenly-dispersed light and the secondary beam adding a narrower, longer-distance light. To toggle between the two, you simply tap the right and left side of the front housing – a clever little feature. You also get IP67 waterproof rating, the best on test, which means the torch is fully submersible.
If we’re being fussy
If the BD1800 battery was included in the price, it’d be a bargain – but at £84 for the whole package it’s arguably a tad over-priced for only 375 lumens. You might be better served by one of Black Diamond’s simpler and cheaper models. It’s heavier than ideal and you can’t charge the battery in the headtorch – you have to use a separate charging base (19g).
Verdict: A powerful, fully-featured headtorch at a good price – but it’s bulky and heavy.
Max power 400 lumens for 7 hours (600 lumens in boost mode) | Max burn time 60 hours at 20 lumens | Max beam distance 180m at 400 lumens (200m in boost mode) | Batteries 1550mAh rechargeable lithium-ion, or 2x AA | Weight 142g (inc rechargeable battery) | Ingress protection rating IP54 (splashproof)
This headtorch looks reassuringly sturdy, with a comfy yet very secure three-point headstrap, and a chunky, front-mounted headlamp with a single main white light LED and a secondary coloured LED.
This headlamp delivers powerful illumination, up to 600 lumens and 200m in the boost mode. A single rubberised button toggles between the main power levels (20, 170 and 400 lumens), as well as green and blue, strobe, and red night vision settings. The quoted burn times range is 7-60 hours, while the beam distance range is 40-180m.
A lithium-ion battery – rechargeable via a magnetic USB cable docking system – provides this output, or you can switch in two AA batteries.
Other features include a locking function (to avoid turning it on by accident), a focusing bezel (for switching between flood beam and pinpoint spotlight) and the constant current and energy-saving modes.
If we’re being fussy
It’s a tad on the bulky and heavy side, with most of the weight at the front, which feels a little unbalanced. The boost mode only lasts for about 10 seconds, which diminishes its usefulness. Toggling between modes is a little confusing at first and there is no dimming function.