Buying guide: head torches

Even on summer hikes, it’s much better to carry a headtorch and not need it, than suffer the consequences if you get caught out. Here’s what to look for...

woman in hiking gear and hat and rucksack in dark with head torch illuminating her breath

by Trail magazine |

While it might be tempting to assume that a head torch is only necessary if you intend to walk in the dark, in truth one should be a permanent fixture in your hiking kit. After all, even during the long days of summer and unplanned event could see lighting drawing in before you're off the hill.

Of course, if you're camping out then a head torch is even more critical. Pitching a tent, cooking a meal, or simply finding your way out of your sleeping bag to go for a midnight pee are all much harder in the dark.

So, we've established that a head torch is essential, but what should you be looking for? Read on to be illuminated by this guide...

Batteries

Most headtorches use AA or AAA batteries, but some use rechargeables. Consider how easy it will be to change the batteries, possibly in the dark with cold/wet hands and away from an electrical supply to recharge them.

Tilt function

This will allow you to direct the beam of light – for example to the ground ahead of you, a map, or to the tent guy line you are adjusting. This needs to be easily adjustable, but not so loose and floppy that it fails to stay in place once set.

Light output

Light output is measured in lumens – 80-100 lumens is suitable for camping and general walking, 200+ lumens is ideal for navigating open hillsides. Higher powers are useful for terrain with few features, and activities, such as mountain biking, running or skiing.

Burn time

The light output will dim over time as the batteries run down. The burn times provided by manufacturers are not always based on the same criteria, and they will vary with temperature and function settings, so they cannot always be trusted. Packing a spare headtorch or batteries is therefore always wise, and longer burn times are often a worthwhile benefit.

Operation

Buttons or dials are used to operate light output. The two important points to consider are: can the torch be operated with cold, wet and gloved hands in the dark; and could it turn on by itself in a rucksack pocket, leading to flat batteries?

Colour of light

Most headtorches are provided with standard white LEDs, and generally these are adequate for most purposes. However red LEDs are handy when you want to preserve your own night vision.

Headstraps

The headtorch is attached to a headband that needs to be adjustable to ensure a secure yet comfortable fit.

man with head torch lighting up tent at sunset in the mountains

LFTO's top head torches:

Petzl Swift RL

Best hiking headtorch
Petzl Swift RL 900

View offer

Verdict: u201cA superb, premium-standard, all-rounder headtorch that ticks all the boxes for hiking. Not the cheapest, but money well spent.u201d

Trail magazine Gear of the Year awards

Princeton Tec Snap Solo LED 300

Best Value Pick
Princeton Tec Snap Solo LED 300
Amazon

View offer

Verdict: u201cA simple, no-nonsense headtorch at a great price u2013 but itu2019s a bit basic.u201d

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