Best Head Torch for Camping, Hiking and Fishing
A head torch (or headlamp) is essentially a mini light source (usually LED-based) attached to a headband which you can wear to help extend your outdoor activities through the night or in low light conditions.
The best head torch on the market will offer a winning combination of long burn time, high brightness (lumen count) and will not feel too heavy on the forehead. Rechargeable battery technology on board also adds to the functionality, allowing easy recharging on an expedition from a power pack.
Compared with a standard hand-held torch, the head torch offers the major advantage of hands-free operation – basically wherever you turn your head, the light will shine. This allows you to set up camp effectively with both of your hands available for the inevitable fiddly tasks required.
In this article we’ve tested 7 of the best head torches on the market in order to compare price against features and performance. As with most technology, you often get what you pay for – however with LED head torches, this was shown to not always be the case. Prices range from £5 to ~£100 depending on the level of functionality you require. However it we cannot truthfully say that the most expensive head torch was 20x better than the cheapest.
Read on to see our recommendations and our buyer’s guide to choosing the best head torch.
Petzl Swift RL - Best Head Torch Overall
If you want to enjoy accurate and powerful lighting, the Petzl Swift RL Head Torch is our choice of weapon. Boasting a whopping 900 lumens in a svelte 99 gram package, it offers an excellent combination of performance vs weight at a price which won’t break the bank.
The Swift headlamp integrates two modes: ‘reactive’ and ‘standard’. Reactive mode is excellent and utilises a lighting sensor to automatically adjust the brightness and beam pattern of the head torch, depending on the amount of ambient light pointing at the wearer. A bit like reactive headlights on modern cars this will drop the light power when it is not required and then boost it up when needed. An excellent feature and worth paying extra for. Additionally, the sensor optimises battery usage whilst enhancing visual comfort.
The Swift also features an adjustable beam pattern which enhances the flexibility versus the competition. You can choose between a flood pattern or a mixed pattern for both close range and distance vision. The visibility is excellent, lighting up around 100 yards in front of you – very impressive.
Furthermore, the headlamp features single button operation whereby a single button gives you control over all head torch functions for ease of use. We like this as it is often difficult to choose the right button when there is more than one.
The battery on board is rechargeable and will last around 2.5 hours on full beam and takes around 2 hours to charge from flat. After ~1.5 hours of operation, we found that 3 of the 5 LEDs turned off in order to preserve battery power – a useful feature. If you only operate on a lower power mode from the start then you can get at least 10 hours of light out of the head torch – just be aware that the 900 lumens full beam is very power hungry, but perfect for nighttime mountain biking for example.
Overall, the Petzl Swift is an excellent head torch and our choice for a lightweight, waterproof product with top performance. Our only gripe would be a lack of strap across the top of the head, but under most conditions we never really missed it.
Regatta 10 LED - Best Value Head Torch
The Regatta Head Torch is by far the cheapest of our recommendations but offers a fully adjustable design for less than a fiver– what’s not to like?
By using a combination of a headband and an ‘over-the-top’ strap with adjustable cinches, we found that the Regatta will fit different head sizes and shapes in a secure manner. The torch part itself can also be rotated up or down to optimize the angle of lighting you require.
In terms of the beam itself, it is reasonable but not earth-shattering. The headlamp incorporates ten different LEDs with 28 lumens of light output. This is enough to guide your way when walking or when in a tent or bivvy, but it will not illuminate a vast swathe of land like some of its more expensive high-lumen competitors. For campsite use it is perfectly fine as there is generally ambient lighting provided close to the pitches.
You can choose between three light settings including low, high, and red flashing, but in all reality you will be using it constantly in high mode.
Although the Regatta requires 3 x AAA batteries to operate (i.e. it is not rechargeable), this is not always the end of the world, especially on short trips away. The battery run time is 20 hours of continuous use, and in short bursts of a few hours per day, it will last many days.
Overall, we think that the Regatta is an excellent head torch for the price. Yes it could be brighter and rechargeable, but that’s not really the point. It will enable you to read a book in your tent, and for some people that’s all they need. Why spend more if that’s the case? Recommended.
BioLite Headlamp 330
The BioLite Headlamp 330 mixes things up a bit by moving the rechargeable battery (included!) to the rear of the head, providing improved balance and a more streamlined front profile. We found that this design makes long adventures in the dark much easier due to less slippage at the front.
The brightness to weight ratio is one of the best in class at 330 lumens in a 69 gram package – outstanding. This is only possible due to the innovative design and engineering processes which Biolite have brought to the table.
The Biolite wiring is integrated into an ultra-thin and strong headband material which we found extremely comfortable to wear, owing mainly due to the decent width on offer as well as the moisture-wicking fabric used.
In terms of features, there are most options incorporated including a spotlight lens, wide flood angle beam and a red light mode to preserve night vision. All modes are dimmable when required and can provide up to 40 hours continuous operation on ‘low’. For full 330 lumen power, expect around 3.5 hours.
Overall, the Biolite 330 is a great option if you’re looking for some design innovation and a very decent performer under all conditions. One point to note is that the casing is waterproof at IPX4 which means it’s protected against heavy splashing. Under the most driving rain then there may be some leakage, but we did not encounter any difficulties.
Petzl Actik Head Torch
The Petzl Actik Head Torch comes in two version. A regular model which has a decent 350 lumens, or a ‘Core’ model having 450 lumens but around £15 more expensive. We think the standard Actik is the one to get as it has the same features and enough light for less money.
The Actik features versatile lighting options thanks to its dual-beam pattern and multiple brightness levels. The dual-beam pattern gives you the option of a flood or mixed beam throw of light. The headlamp easily copes with rapid head movements due to its stable design using a single band around the head.
The brightness levels allow you to use the headlight in different light conditions, but this is a manual control with no automatic adjustment. Additionally, both the Actik and Actik Core have a useful red lighting option which allows you to preserve your night vision as well as not glaring other campers in pitch black conditions.
Battery power is flexible as it will take 3 x AAA batteries (included) or a CORE rechargeable battery which sadly has to be bought separately. Personally we would prefer to pay more and get it included, but that’s just us. A run time of around 3 hours on full beam is pretty good for a weight of only 86g. The Actik never feels heavy in use.
Black Diamond Icon 700 Lumen Head Torch
Emitting up to 700 lumens, the Black Diamond Head Torch is perfect for extremely dark settings. The torch integrates multiple light settings. These include full strength, dimming, strobe, and RGB night vision. The full-strength option works in both proximity and distance modes. The RGB night vision option covers the spectrum of night vision needs.
Its patented PowerTap technology offers instant transitioning between full and dimmed power. Built with an IP67 rating, the torch is waterproof and dustproof. The rating allows it to continue functioning even when submerged up to a meter deep in water for up to 30 minutes. The polar mode allows you to use the head torch even in brisk temperature.
LED Lenser MH10 LED Headlamp
A patented Advanced Focus System gives the LED Lenser Headlamp dual beaming light options. The headlamp offers a choice of flood beam operation, spot beam, or anywhere in-between. As part of the advanced focus system, the headlight features a speed focus. The speed focus offers a speedy single-handed focusing function. Its smart light technology offers a choice of two modes with varying settings.
As you continue to use the headlamps, a low battery warning system reminds you when it’s time to recharge. Due to the rechargeable battery, you can recharge the torch using a power bank, solar charge, or other USB sources. Charging only takes 3 hours to reach 80% capacity and 6 hours to reach 100% capacity.
Silva Trail Runner Head Torch
If comfort is your priority, the Silva Trail Head Torch is an excellent investment. The light head tool features a soft textile extension cord for smooth adjustments. The extension cord also ensures the headlamp stays in place. Thanks to the soft textile cord design, you don’t have to worry about tangles. The cord features an interior silicone string. The silicone string prevents it from fitting too tightly around the head.
Featuring a patented Silva Intelligent Light technology, the headlight incorporates a unique combination of long reach spotlight and close floodlights. This design results in a dual-beam operation for close and distance lighting. The double light beam technology makes the headlight ideal for running in low light and dark conditions too.
Buying Guide – How to Choose the Best Head Torch
When choosing the best head torch, you must look at the key features to ensure you find the right model. In the buying guide below, we’ve broken down key features to look at.
Headlights come in different designs and types. But, in the market, you will find three main types:
LED Head Torches
LED head torches are the most popular in the current market. These head lighting tools use light-emitting diodes to illuminate light and are favoured for their lightweight build. Additionally, LED head torches have a shatterproof design and very little power consumption.
Single LED torches are bright and come in a choice of high or low powered options. Most of these types of torches integrate a magnifying lens at the front to enhance light output. So, even a small single LED light will emit good quality light for quite some time.
Multi LED array headlamps don’t necessarily increase beam distance. But, they come in handy when you want to adjust the light intensity. For example, if you have a 12 LED lamp, you can adjust to use 3, 6, or 12 light modes.
These types of lamps are perfect for outdoor activities such as camping. Multi LED array lights are perfect for utility use such as hunting. This is because these types of LED lights have several colour spectrums. Alternatively, you can opt for CREE head torches. Compared to traditional LEDs, CREE LEDS are about six times brighter.
As mentioned above, some LED headlamps come with red and green light modes. These include red and green lights. Red light helps to preserve night vision during activities such as star gazing. This also means that you can take photos where the light is focusing without ruining the photo quality.
Greenlight keeps you safe as it helps to lower your visibility to wildlife. It also aids with close up tasks. This makes the green light ideal for activities such as map reading in the dark.
Single Bulb Head Torches
Single bulb headlights use halogen or krypton bulbs. These bulbs offer excellent light penetration. But, due to their high energy, they have a higher heat emission. Unlike LEDs, they consume more power.
So, if you plan to use single bulb lights outdoors for long periods, you want to carry extra batteries or a backup torch. This makes them a better choice for general household use or in the case of power outages.
Hybrid Head Torches
Hybrid head torches are another viable type. These lights are known as combined light array lamps and use both single bulbs and LEDs. This design allows them to meet the needs of different conditions.
Headlamps come in a choice of three power sources. You can opt for rechargeable, battery-powered, or wind up headlamps. Rechargeable batteries are fitted with permanent battery units that come with a USB cable. Using the USB cable, you can charge it on a wall outlet, solar charger, devices such as a laptop, and a power bank.
Rechargeable batteries tend to be cost-effective and reliable as you don’t have to replace them from time and can recharge them from anywhere. Battery-powered headlights use disposable batteries. Typically, these batteries incorporate materials such as lithium, alkaline, or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) in AA or AAA sizes.
You want to be extra careful with battery-powered lights. This is because low temperatures may also affect battery performance. So, if you intend on using them in cold climates, opt for weatherproof options.
Wind up headlights are a less common option. These types of lights have a winding handle that stores energy for short-term use. Typically, these lights work for about 20 to 30 minutes. Thus, they work great as backup torches.
The weight depends on the design and capacity of the torch. Different headlamp models have varying weights. Typically, the weight of a head torch ranges from 70 to 200 grams. The brighter the lamp is and the more powerful its batteries, the heavier it will be. In addition to the batteries, you want to consider the material.
For example, headlamps such as the Silva Trail Runner Head Torch integrate the electronics into a textile whilst the strap is made from silicone. This design helps to significantly reduce its weight. If you plan on using the headlight outdoors, you want to opt for a lightweight option. However, you don’t want it to be too light so that it loses its performance quality.
You want your headlamp strap to fit snugly around your head. You don’t want it to fit too tightly or too loose. Many torches are designed with adjustable straps to fit different head shapes and sizes. Bigger head torches even come with a stopper to prevent the straps from being too loose and the headlamp from sliding down.
Brightness & Lumens
The brightness of your headlamp is extremely important to note. This determines whether or not it is ideal for your needs. The brightness levels can simply be measured through the lumens. Lumens are a unit that simply tells you how much visible light a bulb can produce per unit of time.
You can find out the brightness your lamp offers by referring to its features or specs. But, keep in mind, a higher lumen value consumes more power in a shorter period. Due to the increased power consumption, high lumen torches have shorter battery life.
As a general rule, lower lumens of around 10 to 60 lumens best serve close-up tasks. The lumen range is ideal for activities such as pitching your tent and reading. Mid-range brightness levels of about 100 to 150 lumens best serve moderate activities such as local trail runs.
Moreover, higher light lumens such as 300 to 500 lumens serve best for more intense activities. These include activities such as navigation and mountaineering especially in intense conditions such as during winter. In addition to the brightness a lamp offers, you also want to look at the modes.
Most lamps have a standard low, mid, and high mode. The low mode is used for regular tasks such as in-camp chores or walking in familiar trails. The mid-mode works for moderate activities whilst high mode works for more demanding activities such as alpine hiking. The high mode also comes in handy when you need maximum light output.
The high mode illuminates the highest lumens your lamp can have. For example, if you have a 700-lumen lamp, the maximum mode will illuminate 700 lumens of light. However, you can also find some headlamps with additional modes such as strobe and zoom.
The strobe mode is also known as flash. It functions as an emergency blinker. Some lamps even offer a slow and fast flash rate. Also known as the boost mode, the zoom mode offers an extra intense beam of light focused on a particular area for a short period – about 10 to 30 seconds.
Like in normal circumstances, it simply helps to illuminate a focus object. For example, if you see an unknown object in front of your trail, you can choose the beam mode to figure out if it’s a stone or a small animal.
In addition to the brightness level and modes, you want to learn about different beam types. Unfortunately, not all headlamps offer this option. However, most lamps that have this option offer a choice of three beam types. These include the flood, spot, or flood/spot beam.
Also known as the wide beam, the flood beam type covers a wide area instead of a long range. This mode is ideal for close up tasks. The spot beam covers long-range viewing. The spot beam is sometimes referred to as the focused or narrow beam type.
This type of beam is ideal for long-range viewing in situations such as navigating the trails in the dark. Some headlights come with a mix of flood and spot beams and allow you to adjust as you go.
No doubt all headlamps come with an on and off switch. However, lamps that offer other features must include the feature button(s). When choosing a lamp, you want to first focus on finding an ergonomic button or switch. Remember, most of the time you use the lighting tool will be outdoors in the dark.
Therefore, you want a switch or button you can comfortably operate on the move. Some of the best head torches are even designed with a single switch operation. This means that all functions will be operated on a single switch. Some switches even come with locks to prevent unnecessary and accidental battery drain.
Most headlamps tilt downwards by up to 45 to 90 degrees. Nevertheless, you can find a few models that tilt upwards up to 90 degrees. The tilting feature brings an advantage as it allows you to beam your lamp exactly where you want. The titling feature is helpful in activities such as cooking, reading, or pitching your tent.
1. Are All Head Lights Waterproof?
Not really. It depends on the body rating. Some headlights are water-resistant whilst others are waterproof. Water-resistant lights withstand light rain and splashes. Waterproof lights offer full watertight protection. Some models can even withstand submersion to a meter deep of water for up to 30 minutes.
2. Do I Need a Waterproof Head Torch?
It depends on how you intend to use the torch. For general household use, a waterproof torch isn’t necessary. For outdoor use, however, you definitely need a waterproof or water-resistant torch. In the outdoors, you are most likely to come across foggy and wet conditions. Typically, opt for a head torch with an IPX4 to IP64 rating.
3. How Far Does a Head Torch Illuminate?
Different models and designs illuminate over different ranges. On average, a head torch covers a distance of anywhere between 50 to 130 meters.
With the best head torch, you can continue to enjoy your outdoor adventures without any worry. Thanks to their versatile design, headlights allow you to perform different types of activities whether it’s reading or navigating tricky alpine terrains. All you have to do is find the model that works for you. With the list above, you are guaranteed to find a head torch that works for your needs.