A Quick Look At Head Torches

Head torches are an essential item for hiking. Either because of an overnight camp or just as a safety item, a decent head torch should be taken on most outings (I keep one in a first aid kit). However, not all torches are created equal and choosing one suitable for your needs is important. If it’s only for emergencies then weight and reliability are probably more important but for night hiking and camping, dim or uncomfortable torches are useless.

A Bulb By Any Other Name

Torches have come a long way in the last 15 years. Lights using incandescent bulbs have always been a royal pain in the ass being fragile, inefficient and generally hard on batteries but the advent of quality, bright LED bulbs in the early 90s has revolutionized the whole industry. LED units are lighter, more robust and much longer lasting while giving a similar light to old school incandescent. It’s a nerdy and complicated topic which you can read more about here. From this point onward I’m assuming everyone has given up on incandescent bulbs in favor of LED.


Torches don’t generally come with a plethora of options but there are a few things worth considering:

  1. Battery life : How long will the lamp stay lit before the batteries are flat.
  2. Brightness : Torches are measured in lumens, the higher the number the brighter the torch, but as a general rule, more lumens = shorter battery life. For reference a 40watt incandescent light bulb produces 450 lumens.
  3. Multiple settings : Many torches have variable brightness settings to conserve battery life when dim light will do.
  4. Red light : Many torches have a red light setting. Red light does not ruin your night vision in the same way that white light does so for working at night red (or green) light makes it easier to switch between operating with a torch on and off.
  5. Head strap : Head torches need a way to attach to your head. This is usually with a 1 or 2 strap arrangement with one strap circling the head and potentially a 2nd strap across the top of the head. Comfort is very important, as is the ability to wear the torch over a hat / hood / helmet.
  6. Battery pack : Some of the more powerful torches use 3 AA batteries and usually have the battery pack at the rear of the head attached with wires to the torch at the front. Lower power ones have the battery pack built into the torch unit. Rear battery packs can be heavier and the attaching wire can get snagged.
  7. Rechargeable : Some torches are rechargeable. On one hand this is very useful but on the other, if the batteries fail and you don’t have access to a charging source then it can be difficult.
  8. Rear light : Some torches have a rear light directed behind for people following. This can be useful or not depending on the circumstances.
A 3 strap head torch and unit with rear battery pack.

On the left a 3 strap head torch. On the right a head torch with a rear battery pack.

A Few Thoughts

choosing_a_head_torchOn a personal note, I have a few things I either hate or always look for in a head torch. Firstly, there is an incredible number of torches that have a dopey on/off switch that can easily be activated rolling around a rucksack. I genuinely don’t know how this is overlooked by manufacturers but it’s very important – there has been a few times that I’ve gone to look for a light only to find it’s been on in the bag and is already flat. I’ve taken to carrying torches with the batteries removed or with gaffer tape over the switch just in case. Which brings me to a second very important point – how easy it is to replace the batteries in low light. Some torches are very fiddly to use, some even need a knife or similar to open the battery pack. Most also don’t have a nice obvious indication as to which way around the batteries should be and if you don’t have a second torch to inspect  it can be painful to change the batteries in difficult conditions. A 3rd and more obvious thought is brightness. I find a dim torch frustrating to use unless it’s for a bit of background light in the tent. I’d happily sacrifice a few hours use for a brighter beam even if it means carrying a spare set of batteries.

What I’m Using At The Moment

Petzl Tikka 2 (buy here)petzl_tikka_2

This is a good torch which served me well but ultimately it was too dim and suffered from the accidental switch on issue. It’s still my goto backup unit. 40 lumens.

Alpkit Gamma (buy here)alpkit_gamma

This is a very popular and reasonably priced torch. It suffers from the accidental switch on issue and isn’t quite bright enough for me these days. 88 lumens.

Energiser (buy here)energiser_3_led_headlight

I bought this torch out of a service station on a whim for £10. It has a seriously ropey switch but represents good value. 41 lumens.

SuperLED Cree (buy here)superled_cree

This is my current torch of choice and my reason for this article. I’ll review it elsewhere but needless to say, it’s very bright, has a long enough battery life for overnight camps and while it doesn’t have a great switch, it hasn’t accidentally turned on to date. It does feel a bit flimsy but for £12 I’m not complaining. 160 lumens.


Obviously the model I’m using is 160 lumens comparing to around 40-80 for the others listed. There are all sorts of torches filling the middle ground, I just found the SuperLED Cree to be great value and bright enough to keep me happy. It’s also worth noting that the SuperLED model has a Cree type bulb which is respected for providing a brighter light for power consumed.

Torches are generally pretty straightforward but ultimately you can spend a few quid finding one that is just right. I have a drawer full of them but the truth is, I tend to use them all, even if it’s just to share around the assisting chefs at a winter BBQ!

Feel free to comment if you have any thoughts or recommendations.

This entry was posted in Outdoors Advice.

One Response to A Quick Look At Head Torches

  1. declan says:

    I can vouch for the ALpkit Gamma, I have had one for a number of months and use it for cycling and running. Great value for money, bright enough for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *