With autumn well upon us and the clocks going back this weekend, outdoor activities such as camping, day hikes that stretch into the evening, even walking the dog after work means that it is very likely that you will arrive back in the dark.

I read that every autumn people without head-torches are rescued in the hills because they have been caught out in the dark and can't find their way down from the hills. A good head torch this time of year, right through until spring establishes itself as an essential bit of kit.  What features are there and how do head-torches compare?

Head-torch Beam Type

Wide or Flood - Good for general tasks, such as close up work and reading in your tent, or cooking at camp.

Spot or Narrow

The narrow beam gives long distance lighting while walking in the dark, some torches will give a beam unto 150-200 metres, these are very powerful, but in most instances, such as walking at night you will not need this and a torch which will throw a beam up to a 75-100 metres will be more than adequate.

Beam distance

Beam distance is generally stated for most torches and will give you an idea of the suitability of the torch to illuminate the target.

Battery run time

This will give the likely time that the head-torch will last from fully charged, whether that is a fully charged re-chargeable battery or a set of say 3 x AAA batteries .  The run time of  head torches are measured from 30 seconds after the torch is switched on until the light drops to 10 % of the initial power.  The figures tend to be quoted in warm temperatures, so bear in mind this  if you are camping overnight in cold conditions. The use of the Valley and Peak Insulated Pouch will keep batteries and power banks warmer than leaving them in the cold of the tent and will preserve the battery output.

A head torch is ideal for hand free tasks around camp

Head Torch Brightness

This gives the user the total output,measured in lumens that a head torch can achieve. The higher the lumens, the brighter the light source will appear.


Low - the standard mode used for many tasks around camp, such as cooking, reading and walking on non technical paths.

High (Max) good for technical trails or where you just need more light. Obviously burn time will be reduced when using this mode.

Red light

Many head-torches come with a red light mode. Red light stops the pupils from shrinking, 'preserving your night vision'.

Strobe mode

This mode gives a flashing light, useful to attract attention in the case of an emergency.

How many lumens do I need?

This depends on what tasks or activities you are likely to be doing. Weight and size of the head-torch can also be an important factor.  For example during the summer, when you may only need a torch to do some late night reading at camp, or to answer the call of nature in the middle of the night, you probably only need a small very lightweight one, with say 200 lumens, such as the Petzl Bindi.

If you are out for a number of hours during a winter’s night or camping during this period or running or walking over technical paths, then a head torch with lumens 350 - 500 lumens  may be more appropriate, such as the Petzl Actik or IKO Core.

Water resistance

Many qualitiy head torches are built to IPX-4, which should offer water resistance in sustained rainfall.  Those achieving IPX - 4  prove that a torch functions straight after the test and then upto 30 minutes after the test. Water drops are allowed in the lamp after the test, provided there is no short-circuit or electrical fault.

Torches built to IPX - 7 or 8 prove that a torch functions straight after the test and then upto 30 minutes after the test. No water is allowed in the lamp after the test and it will remain waterproof to 1 metre depth. Generally for walking and camping, its debatable whether you need this level.

Battery types

For cold weather, lithium batteries are a good choice as they will be better than alkaline ones. A number of headlamps have the facility to take a battery that can be recharged from a power bank and also fit standard  AAA’s, such as the Hybrid Concept from Petzl.  Remember to always carry a spare set of batteries perhaps even better to carry a spare head torch which you can just switch on rather trying to change or charge a set of batteries in the dark.

Types of Head torch

Lightweight, mimimal

These torches are great for the summer time, (where you may need a torch only for a short time) or as a handy emergency back up should your main head torch run out of batteries or is lost or broken.  We think it is a great idea to have one  in addition to you main head torch in your pack, especially outside of summer.  The Petzl Bindi is a good example of this or with more lumens the Petzl Zipka.

The good value with features that are needed.

For years we have used the Petzl Tikka and Tikanna. They give 250-300 lumens are a low cost, weigh around 80 g and are simple to use and reliable.  They can take 3 AAA's or will take a rechargeable battey as well.  If you want a similar head torch with more lumens look at the Petzl Actif

Top end, powerful, with many features

These top end head torches are lightweight and powerful with 500 lumens or more featuring multiple LEDs providing  homogeneous light distribution with different beam types and many white brightness levels.  A good example is the Petzl IKO Core

IKO Core