Head torches are incredibly useful for so many things, favoured by mechanics, tattoo artists, dog walkers, electricians, cavers, hikers and runners alike. The reason for this is because they work so very well; they are convenient, versatile and functional. They keep your hands free and guarantee that the light will point in the direction you are.
There are hundreds of head torch models on the market at a range of prices. It is best not to just guess or buy the cheapest one you can find. Thus, we’ve got a buyer’s guide for you right here, guiding you through the dark and on to the best solution for your situation.
In addition to our recommended torches, we've explained lumens below.
The best headtorches in detail:
Life Systems Intensity 155 Lumen Headtorch
Best budget headtorch
This is a lightweight, and value-packed headtorch that is versatile. The 155 lumens power setting is good for spotting a path and the weaker mode lumens is good for camping. Using it is very easy, as there is just one button on the top, which is simple to use when switching through the small range of power settings.
As it is so lightweight and compact, this is very comfortable on the head and also easily stashes into a pocket. It is powered by one AA battery and is water-resistant to the IPX6 standard, which is slightly better than other low-priced torches, as it means it can withstand water jets rather than just water splashes. The price, of course, is very attractive too.
On the downside, the burn times are low, so while the weight and compact design are great for stashing in a pack for emergency use, you may wish you had a longer burn time in an actual emergency. For more money, you can get more power, longer burn times and a wider range of outputs as well as even better water resistance ratings – but that means more cash and more weight.
|• Light||• Limited run time and output|
Petzl Tikka 200 Lumen Headtorch
This is exceptionally lightweight, making it ideal for backpacking or emergency use. The 200 lumens power setting illuminates paths clearly and 60 lumens is good for camping. Like the Life Systems headtorch above, there is just one button on the top, which is easy to use when switching through the range of power settings.
The red light is a nice touch, allowing you to look at other members of your group without blinding them. As it is so lightweight and compact, it's very comfortable on the head and also easily stashes into a pocket. It's powered by three AAA batteries which are great for emergency use and refreshing the power on the go, and you can also insert a Petzl rechargeable Core battery pack. The burn time is huge, too. For the price, this is a very attractive torch.
There really isn't much to say in the way of negatives. It would be nice to get a lumen range between 100 and 6, just for reading and general campsite purposes, but the red light covers this to a certain degree. Over a long period of time, this may suffer from not having an overhead strap to maintain position, but this is a very small niggle.
|• Light and compact||• Could do with a medium brightness option|
|• Good run time|
Petzl Actik Core 450 Lumen Headtorch
Good runtime and brightness
The burn times for the power output are remarkable and set this headtorch apart from other brands u2013 this is down to the LED and electronics used. The power is great for camping and for hillwalking. It is also exceptionally compact and a good weight, so you can store this in a rucksack with ease and it remains very comfortable on the head thanks to its light weight.
Operation is very easy, with just one button needed to operate the functions. It is supplied with three AAA batteries, but you can insert a Petzl rechargeable Core battery pack. Ideal for most hillwalking situations, it's hard to beat at this price point.
It would be better with a 50 lumens power output for camping, as 100 lumens is quite high and 5 lumens is not really enough. It's made from plastic, so if you are rough with your kit, you may feel you need something more durable. The button on the top, used to switch between functions, is quite sensitive and it can be more easily turned on accidentally in a rucksack compared to models which have locking mechanisms or less sensitive buttons. It is only water-resistant to IPX4, which is splash resistant, but some others are resistant to being submerged in water.
|• Value||• Slightly sensitive buttons|
|• Great run time and brightness|
Black Diamond Storm 400 Lumen Headtorch
Best waterproof headlamp
This is waterproof to the IP67 standard, so it can be submerged up to a depth of one metre, which is better than most at this price. Also, you get a good power range that includes a useful 40 lumens for camping, as well as 400 lumens for spotting tracks on the hill. It is powered by four AAA batteries that are held in the front housing with a rather elaborate locking mechanism.
Operation is via a button on top as well as tapping the side of the housing, and it includes the usual white and red lamps, but also a blue and green lamp for night vision.
On the downside, the buttons on the headlamps above are easier to use than this.
|• Waterproof||• Fiddly setup|
|• Great features|
Fenix HL26R 450 Lumen Headtorch
This is promoted as a trail running headtorch, but the weight and head comfort are also great for taking on the hill, or backpacking. It has an excellent range of power settings, so you can easily choose just the right light for a range of activities, from camping to walking, as well as running.
Power is from a USB-rechargeable built-in battery and functions are selected with two buttons. A clever piece of design means the housing extends partly over the buttons when the head is not tilted, to prevent accidental button operation, and this works well. You also get IP66 water resistance, so it can withstand sprayed water.
Higher priced headtorches have benefits that include even better water resistance. Also, this only operates with its built-in rechargeable battery, so you cannot slip in a couple of AAA batteries or even a spare rechargeable battery, which means you would need to carry a recharging unit to maintain power in remote areas. Heavier torches include metal housings for optimum durability and some torches have even more light output control.
|• Versatile||• Recharge only, a possible niggle|
|• Proper IP66 water resistance|
Fenix HL60R 950 Lumen Headtorch
This has a huge power of 950 lumens, but also a more useful 400 lumens for three hours, 150 lumens for 10 hours and a useful 50 lumens for 29 hours, which is great for camping. A huge lithium-ion battery that can be charged via a USB cable powers it and there is a big single button for operation, which is very simple to use. The head tilt mechanism allows the beam to be rotated through 180u00b0 with a secure ratchet.
In terms of performance, there is not a lot wrong here and as the housing is made of metal, you can treat this quite roughly. It has an IPX8 classification, meaning it can be submerged to at least one metre in water.
This is heavier and bigger than others, so if you don't need its massive light output, then this is more weight than you need – and that does make it less comfortable on the head. The single button is easy to use and has a positive click but some others have a dual button locking system to prevent accidentally being turned on in a rucksack.
|• Quality||• Heavier than competitors|
|• Brilliant brightness range|
What are lumens?
The power of a head torch is measured in lumens, as with all torches and lights, with more lumens equalling more light. Something to consider, however, is that high lumens aren’t always best – in fact, too many lumens can be detrimental to your field of vision in certain circumstances.
For example, 300-lumens can show you a lot on a clear day, but when the fog rolls in or you’re in a confined area like a tent, you’re going to be blinded with reflection. A low lumen output, around 10 to 40 lumens, is an ideal mode for reading or close work, whereas 150-lumens will give you a good long field of vision.
Luckily, head torches and LED technologies have been developed to allow modes to be switched and memorised. This means that you're not stuck with one brightness for every situation. You can scroll through options of ascending brightness until you find what is right for you.
It’s all about being realistic regarding your needs – the modes available on a device are as important, if not more important than lumen output.
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