With the best head torches, the dark days of winter and nighttime adventures are no excuse to stay indoors. You can still get out on dog walks, night hikes and cold-weather camping trips if you’ve got a bright head torch to light your way.
Here we’ll look at how to compare the power of different head torches, and explain all the key features you need to look out for when shopping around. We’ve also selected our pick of the best head torches for a wide range of different outdoor pursuits, from evening plods around the block to nighttime hikes and cycle rides.
Best head torches: At a glance
How to choose the best head torch for you
How much do I need to spend?
There’s a head torch for every budget. If you just want one for nighttime dog walks, a reasonably cheap and straightforward model will suit you fine.
However, if you need a head torch for an activity where a reliable source of light could be a lifesaver, such as night running or hiking, we’d recommend picking one as expensive as you can afford – and ideally one that lets you buy spare, high-quality rechargeable batteries so you always have a backup close to hand, or that you can charge via USB.
Are they comfortable to wear?
They certainly should be. Try a new head torch out before you take it on any longer trips, and make sure the head torch sits snugly on your head with no discomfort. You don’t want it to come off if you lean your head forward, and it should stay put even if you shake your head around. It shouldn’t dig in anywhere (which is especially key if there’s the weight of a separate battery pack to think about).
A top strap makes a head torch more stable for running and climbing, and it’s worth checking to see if the straps will reach comfortably around a beanie hat for winter use. Some straps are reflective, which is ideal for making sure you’re visible at night.
What kind of brightness do I need?
The brightness of a head torch is measured in lumens, and this can stretch from as low as 50 to a blinding 1,000 lumens and beyond. The more lumens a head torch packs in, the more illuminated the path in front of you – the downside is that the more powerful the beam, the shorter the battery life. Most torches have multiple modes offering different lumens, so you can easily switch between them and only use the brightest beam when necessary. Around 300 lumens is recommended if you’re heading somewhere pitch dark and rural, while less than 300 lumens will be adequate in semi-lit areas.
Head torches usually use single or multiple LED lights, a krypton or halogen bulb, or a hybrid of two types. Multiple LED lights are the most effective, and generally provide the best balance of brightness to battery life. Note that different models focus their lumens in different ways (a “beam pattern”) – a long, narrow beam is useful for runners and cyclists as it illuminates the way ahead, whilst a wider beam is great for camping and working outdoors at night.
What other features do I need?
Many head torches list a total burn time (the amount of useful light you’ll get from a full battery), but it’s hard to compare them properly as so many factors affect battery life. Still, a head torch that boasts a long burn time is a sensible idea if you’re roaming away from home. But remember that cold weather can eat away fast at a full battery as they don’t perform as well at low temperatures.
Many head torches use regular alkaline batteries. Lithium-ion (li-ion) or lithium-polymer (li-po) batteries are a handy feature that saves both money and the environment, and some lights are rechargeable via a USB cable, which means you can recharge them from a portable battery or at home. These are less useful if you’re off on a multi-day hike or wild camp away from home – in that case, you’re better off picking a torch that takes AA or AAA batteries, and packing lots of spares. Whether those are single-use or fully charged rechargeables is up to you.
Head torches either come with batteries built into the central light or in a separate battery pack – if you buy the latter, check the pack sits well on your head and isn’t irritating to wear. Most head torches are adjustable, allowing you to aim the beam up and down as needed. A red light setting is useful for better night vision if you’re watching wildlife, and water resistance is a must if you’re planning to go exploring inclement weather. We also like a softer light mode for reading or doing chores inside a tent. Make sure you pick a design with buttons that you find easy to use with gloved fingers, too.
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The best head torches to buy
1. Petzl Tikkina: The best all-round budget head torch
Price: £16 | Buy now from Ellis Brigham
If you’re seeking a reliable, high-quality head torch for a good price, look no further than the long-standing and much-loved Petzl Tikkina. The Tikkina is both comfortable to wear and weather-resistant, and provides long-lasting battery life – Petzl claims 60 hours in the two standard modes (preset at 100 and 150 lumens), and 220 hours in the dimmest setting which produces five lumens.
The LED and three AA batteries are all housed in a single, lightweight unit, and you can also use one of Petzl’s Core rechargeable batteries if you don’t mind spending the extra. The single button is easy to use even with gloved hands, and clicks through three beam modes, offering a wide beam pattern.
The Tikkina makes a good choice for camping and travelling – 150 lumens is enough for most activities, even if we’d pick something stronger for proper forays into the wilderness. One of the comfiest head torches we’ve reviewed.
Key specs – Weight: 85g; Modes: 3; Maximum brightness: 150 lumens; Power source: 3 x AAA/LR03 batteries (included) or Core rechargeable battery
£17.00 Buy now
2. Exposure Verso Mk2: The best head torch for running (and cycling)
Price: £105 | Buy now from Wiggle