Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team
How to choose a head torch
By Hati Whiteley
26, Sep, 2018
Autumn has truly arrived, but that doesn't mean the end of long evenings outdoors. Here's our guide to buying the best head torch for your needs
The Alpkit team's guide to choosing your head torch
The moment the clocks change, your head torch becomes indispensable.
We like to stay out after dark, so LED head torches have always been an important part of our heritage and our lighting range has been developed with feedback from leading runners, climbers, mountaineers, hikers, paddlers and SAR teams. We’ve redesigned our entire head torch range to centre around reliability and functionality: stuff that does what you want it to, when you want it to…
Whether you’re running, hiking, camping or climbing, give our buyer's guide a read to help you decide what will work for you...
Buyers guide: which head torch should I buy?
When you come into our stores and ask about head torches, we’ll ask you a few questions:
‘What will you be using it for?’
‘What features are important to you/for what you’re doing?
‘What’s your budget?’
Need a hand answering those questions? Bear in mind the following considerations...
Head torch brightness is measured in lumens: handy when you want to compare a load of different head torches, but somewhat meaningless when you’re trying to get a real-world idea of bright your head torch needs to be. As a rule of thumb, we’d recommend a minimum brightness of…
10 lumens for close-up stuff (pitching tents/cooking/reading).
60 lumens for walking when you’ve not got too much navigating to do.
150 lumens for trail running when you haven’t got much nav to do (remember: the more remote you are, the darker it will be and the brighter the head torch you’ll need).
300 lumens for navigation (remember, you need to see the trail as well as the map).
400 lumens for navigation in winter conditions when there’s snow on the ground and fewer features for you to navigate by.
500 lumens for winter mountaineering: when it comes to mountaineering and alpinism, the more powerful, the better (within reason). Ideally, you’d want 500 lumens for finding your route in the morning (if you’re an early bird like Rowan – if you’re more like Buyer Dave, you’ll want those 500 lumens for finding your descent route)
Traditional batteries or rechargeable?
Rechargeable batteries are becoming increasingly common in head torches. USB charging is standard which means you can recharge them pretty much anywhere (cars, cafes, solar panel, battery pack, Lampray). This is ace for your evening run or overnight camp and better value in the long run, however it does mean that you can’t always use your head torch whilst it’s being recharged and you need access to a power source to recharged them. As a result, rechargeable head torches aren’t always the best option for mountaineering, where the reassurance of carrying spare batteries is always welcome.
Often, mountaineers and alpinists will opt for the traditional AAA battery-powered head torches as they can easily carry or pick up spares.
That said, there is now a middle-ground: many head torches (like our new Qark) can use rechargeable battery packs and AAA batteries interchangeably with no drop in performance – that way you get the benefits of both systems
It’s wet, it’s dark, it’s foggy, and you’re cold. A broken head torch can only make this situation worse.
Head torches generally have an IP (Ingress Protection) rating to indicate weatherproofing, we’d recommend a minimum of IPX4 or IP64 (can cope with splashing from any angle) for year-round use to make your head torch durable enough for UK weather.
If you’re likely to submerge your head torch at any point, we’d opt for IPX7 (submersible) as a minimum. (Like our Prism)
Back over to Rowan for a quick note on IP and IPX ratings
IP and IPX ratings. What do they mean?
You’ll often hear these ratings being used for outdoor electronics as an easy comparison tool. Whilst useful to match two torches together, unless you know what it means it can be fairly fruitless. So we’ll try to give an understanding for you.
Firstly let’s break down the code;
IP = Ingress Protection. This is simply the standard or class for the code.
First digit = Solids Protection. This is the measure of how ‘dust proof’ the device is. The scale runs from 0 to 6.
Second digit = Liquids Protection. Effectively this shows how waterproof the device is. 0 has no protection, 8 (the highest) allows continuous immersion beyond 1m without issue.
But what about IPX?
Simply put, the device has not been measured against dustproofing and so the ‘solids’ digit is replaced with an X. However, it’s not the end of the world as it’s reasonable to suggest that if the device has a ‘liquids’ rating of 4 or greater then the device should be sufficiently dustproof.
So what do our new torches get?
Muon: IP64 - Protected from total dust ingress. Protected from water spray (rain) from any direction.
Viper: IPX6 - Protected from total dust ingress. Protected from high pressure water jets from any direction.
Gamma: IPX4 - protected from limited dust ingress. Protected from water spray (rain) from any direction
Qark: IPX6 - Protected from total dust ingress. Protected from high pressure water jets from any direction.
Prism: IPX7 - Protected from total dust ingress. Protected from immersion between 15 centimetres and 1 meter in depth.
Manta: IP64 - Protected from total dust ingress. Protected from water spray (rain) from any direction.
The more technology advances, the more technology we stick on things.
The primary purpose of your head torch is to light things up, so you want to make sure you’re happy with how that part works before you think about all the special extras. Operation can range from hands-free (where you wave your hand in front of your torch) to the tried-and-tested button operation.
We prefer button-operated head torches for most scenarios, the less buttons the better, as there’s less to go wrong. Remember, not all head torch buttons are made equal: we recommend checking that you can use the buttons with a gloved hand, quickly boost power when looking ahead, and easily switch to a dimmer setting when you’re looking at your map.
Battery pack front or rear?
There are pros and cons either way. The argument for a rear batteries on your head torch stands at:
You get a more balanced, secure and less ‘bouncy’ fit which you’ll appreciate when using your head torch for running.
Your battery unit can be bigger, often giving you more battery power.
However, these head torches tend to be heavier than single unit head torches, and may not sit right with your climbing helmet. Single unit head torches are often lighter and more compact.
The lighter your head torch, the better. Remember you’ll be carrying it around on your head!
Now for the fun part...
Many head torches have additional, smaller LEDs to let you vary the beam. Some also have coloured LEDs that give you the best light for different situations. For example:
Red light helps you to maintain your night vision and taking photos
Green light is ideal for map reading
White light preserves battery life
So if you want to do some night navigation or take some photos in the dark, it would be worth investing in a head torch with coloured LEDs.
Focus beam adjustor
A focus beam adjustor allows you to change the beam pattern of your head torch. For close-up tasks, a wide ‘flood’ beam gives you a good spread of light so you don’t dazzle yoursel. When you scan ahead for a landmark, you can use the adjustor to focus all the power of your head torch into one spot. This is especially useful for navigation when when you’re trail running, hiking, or finding your route (or descent).
Light sensor mode
Light reactive sensors react to your environment and adjust the brightness of your torch accordingly. So when you’re looking at your map it will become dimmer, then when you look ahead the torch becomes brighter. This saves you from constantly clicking through the settings and keeps your head torch running at maximum efficiency, conserving the battery life.
There’s nothing worse than having to crane your neck for your whole run to shine light where you need it. A tilting head unit is something we see as essential for a head torch, fortunately all our head torches have tilting head units (the Prism even has a 180˚ tilt).
Head torch guru Rowan talks redesigning our head torch range. Read more...
Alpkit Head Torches
Removable overhead straps for a more balanced, stable and comfortable - ideal for when you’re wearing your head torch for running and dynamic activities.
A range designed for specific activities. Think the best head torch for the job, not just any old head torch.
Centred around being usable and durable: functional designs with minimal scope for things to go wrong so you’re not left in the lurch in the field.
Rechargeable, battery, or both: more choice in how you power your head torch
For short sweet adventures: brightness over burn time.
Battery powered, rainproof. £15.
For all-round use: balances brightness with burn time.
Battery powered, rainproof. £19.
For navigation and trail running: red, green and white LEDs, a rear safety light and rear battery pack.
Battery powered, rainproof. £22.
For non-stop adventure: dual power source compatibility and rechargeable when in use. With focus beam adjustor.
For all-nighters and multiday trips, with the longest burn time and a focus beam adjustor.
USB rechargeable, rainproof. £35.
For being gnarly: submersible, drop proof and dustproof with a 10 second boost.
USB rechargeable, waterproof. £39.
MuonLight and compact 450 lumen head torch with 2 hours burn time for done-in-an-evening adventures, early mornings at camp and crag escapes£15.00
Viper240 lumen rainproof head torch with reactive lighting mode that strikes the balance between brightness and burn time. Compact, light, and handy for all-manner of adventures£19.00
Gamma IIIRunning head torch with 180 lumen white, red and green LEDs, a rear battery pack, and a rear red caution light.£22.00
Qark580 lumen rechargeable head torch. Compatible with AAA batteries for when you’re recharging your battery pack, it’s perfect for climbing, trekking, mountaineering, and multi-day adventures£29.00
PrismUSB rechargeable waterproof and drop proof head torch with 400 lumen boost mode that can cope with whatever you throw at it, ideal for adverse conditions and remote places£39.00
MantaUSB rechargeable 300 lumen head torch with 11 hour burn time on max power and rear safety light, ideal for mountain marathons, endurance races, and all night adventuring£35.00