Two hikers walking in the dark with head torches onTwo hikers walking in the dark with head torches on

Head Torch Buying Guide

Head torches are one of the most versatile pieces of kit you can own. They provide a hands-free lighting solution for outdoor sports and everyday tasks, whether you're out in the mountains, reading inside your tent, or running in the city. But do you know how many lumens to look for and what other factors to consider when choosing the head torch that best suits your needs? This buying guide will help you navigate the options.

a selection of head torchesa selection of head torches


Manufacturers usually state the brightness of their head torches in lumens. A lumen is a unit, which measures the amount of visible light produced per unit of time. That means that the higher the number, the brighter the torch. Close-up activities such as reading and cooking require less light, whereas navigation in the dark requires more. Many head torches also have a red light setting, which is ideal for preserving night vision.


When choosing which head torch to buy, it's helpful to consider the intended use. The below chart represents outdoor activities and offers a rough guide on the range of lumens you might expect to need for each activity. These reflect the number of lumens available in the selection of head torches that we stock.

Emergency use

10 to 50 lumens

Everyday, urban & campsite use

100 to 250 lumens

Outdoor sport use & navigation

300 to 600 lumens

Mountaineering, trail running & skiing

500 to 900 lumens

Maximum Distance & Beam Shape

Brightness is not the only measure that can help you decide which head torch to buy. The maximum distance and beam shape can vary from model to model. A wider beam allows for a spread of light but doesn’t stretch as far as a focused beam. Therefore, wide beams are useful for close-up tasks, whereas focused beams are better for navigation. Certain sports, such as running, can benefit from both. Some head torches have the option to switch between different beams, but that isn't extremely common.

Settings & Reactive Light

Most head torches have multiple settings to preserve battery life and optimise brightness for different activities. These are usually accessible via small buttons and various commands that are sometimes difficult to control with thicker gloves. It's helpful to familiarise yourself with the functions of your torch before actually needing them.

Reactive light technology reduces the need to fiddle with buttons. Head torches that utilise this technology can detect how far objects in your field of vision are and adjust the light automatically.

Burn Time

Manufacturers calculate an average burn time to represent the battery life you can expect from your head torch. The brighter the head torch, the more power is required to keep it going. The various dimming and strobing settings that most head torches have will help preserve battery life when maximum brightness isn’t necessary.

Traditional vs Rechargeable Head Torch

Most standard head torches are compatible with AA or AAA alkaline batteries. However, thanks to the ever-developing technology, there are multiple models available now with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages.

Rechargeable head torches usually rely on standard USB charging, meaning that they are compatible with common on-the-go charging solutions, such as power banks and solar panels. They tend to be more expensive initially but offer better value in the long run.

Traditional battery-powered head torches can provide reassurance on longer trips. Even if you run out of power mid-activity, it’s quick and easy to replace dead batteries. However, for regular head torch users, alkaline batteries are not the most cost-effective or sustainable solution.

Alternatively, brands, such as Petzl, produce hybrid models, which can use either alkaline or rechargeable batteries interchangeably.

Petzl hybrid systemPetzl hybrid system

Unregulated vs Regulated Output

It’s worth considering whether the output of a head torch makes a difference to you. A regulated torch will run at the same intensity until the battery is nearly dead, then it will enter a short low-power backup mode until it’s out of charge. An unregulated torch will work on full power when the batteries are new, but it will continuously dim at a slow pace until it’s completely dead.



One of the main factors affecting the comfort of a head torch is its weight. The lamp and straps are relatively light on their own; it's the batteries that tend to make up most of the bulk. Brighter head torches usually require more battery power, making them heavier than dimmer options.

To improve the balance of a head torch for sports such as running, sometimes you can find the battery pack placed on the back of the torch instead of including it in the front unit.


Head torch straps are adjustable and stretchy to make sure they are comfortable, even when worn over beanies, hoods, and helmets. Running head torches often have extra straps over the head or around the back for maximum support.

extra straps on Petzl Swift RL head torchextra straps on Petzl Swift RL head torch

Additional Features

Head torches often have various practical bonus features that improve user-friendliness.


Most head torches undergo IP testing, which determines their level of protection against dust and water. Our head torches vary from IPX4 (splashproof from any angle) to IPX8 (protected against water immersion).

Brightness Memory

Head torches with brightness memory let you turn the light on and off at chosen brightness without reverting to full power.


The tilt feature reduces neck strain by allowing you to adjust the angle of the light. It also ensures the light isn't shining into anyone's face when you talk to them.

Storage Lock Function

Having the option to activate a lock function ensures that the torch doesn’t turn on in storage or transit and drain the battery.

Detachable Headband

Being able to detach the band from the head torch allows it to be cleaned or switched easily.

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