As the days get shorter it becomes essential to carry a headtorch on longer walks – you’ll either be starting in the dark for longer days, or need a torch in case you don’t make it back before dusk. They can also be a real boon in emergency situations to help rescuers locate you. In winter I tend to carry two, as I have experienced the failure of a torch out on the hill. Others are happy to rely on a fully-charged spare battery – though not all models allow battery swapping.
As headtorches have advanced so have the features. The main things to looks for are:
Battery type and capacity: Batteries may be rechargeable (NiMH) or longer lasting Lithium, either removable or with built-in charging, or standard AA/AAA batteries. Lithium batteries last for many more charging cycles then NiMH. Most of the torches in the review feature built-in charging, some micro-usb (like older phones), some usb-c (like more recent phones) and some with their own proprietary cable. For multi-day backpacks it may be worth investing in a very short cable and power pack. Battery life varies greatly depending on how bright you have the torch; it needs to be able to run at a level bright enough to follow rough terrain for many hours and at a lower level for long dark evenings if camping or bothying.
Brightness: Measured in lumens, how many you need depends on the terrain and weather – I find 100 is fine for walking on paths, whilst for rough ground or most especially for running a brighter beam becomes necessary. Some models have graded dimming, others have specific brightness settings, some allow you to adjust between a spot beam and a wider flood beam. Many torches can toggle to red light for dealing with kit, which lets your eyes keep their adjustment to the dark. I’ve often read this is good for map-reading, but it is not possible to see contour lines in red light.
Waterproofing: water resistance is measured by an IPX rating 1 to 8. IPX4 is splash proof and IPX8 completely submersible.
Weight & Wearability: Check out how heavy the model is and how the straps adjust, some models have a bulky battery pack at the rear which can take a bit of getting used to. The torch needs to be able to tilt well so you can adjust what is illuminated, allow map reading, stop you blinding companions, and prevent glare if you wear glasses. Weights given in this review include batteries.
Controls: Most have a single button that is pressed to toggle between settings, some are easier to use with gloves than others. Some models have a sensor that reacts to movement allowing you to turn it on with a wave of the hand, many have a lock to stop the torch accidentally being switched on in your pack.
We tested all the models on a series of night walks and some overnight camps, and conducted a comparison test of all the models at the same time. We’ve also tested them for night running.
As with all our reviews, we give the recommended retail price – you may find many of these torches sold at lower prices both online or in stores.
Petzl: Tikka Core
Battery: Removable 1250 mAh lithium CORE rechargeable battery (included, further batteries cost £30). Charges with micro-USB (3.5 hour charging time). The torch is also compatible with 3 standard AAA batteries, with reduced performance.
Water resistance: IPX4
Brightness: 3 levels – 7 lumens, lights 10m for 110 hours, 100 lumens, lights 45m for 7 hours, 450 lumens, lights 75m and runs for 2 hours. Battery life indicator. Red light and strobe emergency modes.
The wide headband is grippy and reflective, the torch tilts and stays in place well, and the button is easy to use to select function and light colour. We liked the phosphorescent ring that helps you to find the torch in the dark, and the storage pouch which turns it into a lantern. The 100 lumen light is great for most walking, and the 450 for running; the dimmest setting is most useful in camp.
Silva: Terra Scout H
Battery: Removeable rechargeable lithium hybrid battery included (LiPo 3.7V 1250mAh 4.6Wh), charges with USB-C (2.5 hour charge time). Also compatible with AAA batteries with reduced performance.
Water resistance: IPX5
Brightness: Three LEDs provide 4 light modes: a maximum of 350 lumen with a 3h burn time, minimum 50 lumen with a 25 h burn time. The intelligent light mode automatically combines long reach spot and close up flood light. There is also a red night vision mode and a battery power indicator setting – useful to check before you pack.
Quality battery and USB-C charging cable included but very useful that the torch also works with AAA batteries which are easy to carry as spares. Lithium-ion polymer batteries (sometimes called lithium hybrid) are generally regarded as having a longer lifespan. The battery has to be removed to be charged and a light indicates when it’s fully charged (2.5hrs charging time).
The single button is fairly easy to use with gloves, although having to press either side of it to toggle between the brightness settings would be difficult with bulky gloves. The wide strap is grippy, easily adjusted and I’ve found it comfortable and not prone to slipping. The most powerful beam is best for running, I found even the lowest 50 lumen setting is good enough for walking on hill paths.
Also worth noting is the sustainable materials, a mix of hemp and recycled plastic which Silva says has a 90% lower CO2 footprint compared to standard plastics.
Lifesystems: Intensity 280
Battery: Built-in lithium-ion battery; Lifesystems do not specify the capacity; gives 5 hours at brightest setting or 11 hours at mid setting. Charges with micro-USB cable.
Water resistance: IPX6
Brightness: 1 white and 2 red LEDs with 7 light modes: high at 280 lumens, medium (80l), low (6l) and SOS flashing. Red night vision comes in constant, flashing and SOS modes.
The single button is fairly easy to use with gloves, press and hold to change between the white and red leds and then toggle to select the light mode – like all the models this takes a little while to get used to the different settings and is worth practising before using it for the first time in the dark and cold. The single strap is okay – easy to adjust but slightly slippery. The hinge settings are good and stay in place.
This is an excellent value torch, bright enough for running at full power, with a good enough battery life for walking at the mid setting. It’s worth noting you can’t remove the battery to swap with a spare.
Battery: Built-in Lithium battery, 500mAh capacity, charges with micro-USB cable.
Water resistance: IPX4
Brightness: high power 100 lumens, regular and eco.
The lithium rechargeable battery uses a micro USB cable which is included and has a battery level indicator on the side of the torch; it is fixed so you cannot take a spare. Having a lithium battery at this price point seems impressive, but the capacity is much less than other torches on test – Highlander say it should provide between 2 and 5 hours of light dependent on brightness – the shortest on test. The Deneb has a motion sensor mode that, when activated by a double click, lets the beam be turned on or off by a wave of the hand in front of your head.
This is by far lightest and smallest torch in the test as well as the cheapest, so potentially a good choice as a backup to a more fully-featured / longer-lasting torch, or for those on a tight budget who don’t actually expect to be doing walking in the dark. The light is good enough for comfortable walking (less so for running). One quibble is that I’ve found the control button to be unresponsive at times – sometimes taking a few tries before managing to turn the torch on and off.
Battery: 3 AAA alkaline batteries, non rechargable. 10 hours at full power or 26 at lower setting.
Brightness: 100 lumen at maximum setting, 40 lumens at lower setting.
Water resistance: IPX4
The battery pack is at the back on this model meaning the actual torch at the front is very small. Some people find this set up less comfortable, but I actually find it more natural to have the heavier part at the back rather than the front; it does however lead to the possibility that a connection will come loose in the cables that connect the battery pack to the torch.
The torch is bright enough for path walking even at 40 lumens, whilst the battery life is respectable. This is, however, the only torch in the review that is not rechargeable as supplied; using rechargeable AAA batteries would lead to a shorter battery life (and less cycles compared to lithium). However, it does mean you can carry a spare set of batteries. It’s great value at the price.
Ledlenser: HF6R Core
Battery: Fixed Lithium-ion Rechargeable Battery 3.7v, 2000mAh. Magnetic cable included, connects to USB-C charger. Chargers in 3 hours 45 mins.
Water resistance: IP68 giving high dust resistance as well as full waterproofness
Brightness: 3 levels – low power 20 lumens for 60 hours, mid power 250 lumens for 6 hours, standard power 500 lumens for 3 hours. Also boost mode, 800 lumens for short bursts as needed and red light mode.
The HF6R Core has a very comfortable and stable headband, and a good tilting mechanism, as well as a lock to prevent it turning on in your pack. The battery is internal, and is charged using a special magnetic cable which connects it to a USB-C charger, so you can’t just use the cable from your phone.
It’s extremely bright at the highest setting, ideal for running on rougher ground, and I find even the lowest power setting adequate for walking on paths – and at this level the battery duration is excellent. The torch also features a Digital Advanced Focus System – a wheel on the base of the torch adjusts the focus of the beam – I found this easy to understand and use. This is a premium torch and a good choice for those who want something that is ideal for runs after dark, as well as for hillwalking.
Petzl Swift RL
Battery: Lithium-ion 2350 mAh battery, rechargeable via USB-C port, 6 hour charge time, battery charge indicator with 5 levels, spare battery available (£40).
Water resistance: IPX4
Brightness: Max 1100 lumens, lights 155m for 2 – 30 hours; lowest 10lm for 10 – 50 hours; red light and red emergency strobe modes.
At full power, this is by far the brightest torch in the test, but its special feature is its reactive lighting mode. The torch has two bulbs – one for distance and one for wider illumination – and automatically adjusts both brightness and beam pattern to save battery. The idea is to always give the correct level of lighting, dimming as you look at close objects (such as a map or the ground) and increasing power as you look into the further distance, reducing the need to faff with pressing buttons to change modes. The new 2.0 version we tested changes the delay in switching power so that it drops the light less if doing a fast activity such as running. This all works well; however it does make it a little harder to be confident how long the light will last (e.g. 2 – 30 hours at full power is quite a spread). However, the much lower 100lm power is still great for walking, and a 10-50 hr spread is going to be enough for most, especially if you aren’t spending all the time looking off into the far distance! It also has a ‘reserve’ when power is low, that runs for 2 hours at 10 lumen before the battery gives out. The torch also has a remaining battery indicator with 5 levels.
The headband has a split design at the back which I find means it is easier to adjust while wearing and stays comfy when wearing for long periods. It doesn’t slip and has reflective stitching at the back. Like the Tikka Core, this comes with a storage pouch that transforms the torch into a lantern, a nice touch for tent or bothy nights. Lock mechanism prevents it being switched on in your pack or can be used to lock the current settings while being used. The single button is easy to use and the construction feels robust.