Head Torch Buying Guide

3 head torches

When it comes to buying a head torch, there are some definite things to look out for. This guide should give you a crash course in what you need to know!

LEDs, Lighting Modes and Positions

There’s a good reason LEDs have become the most popular choice of bulb with head torch manufacturers- they’re light, durable, long lasting and require a fraction of the energy compared to the standard incandescent bulb. This makes them the perfect fit for hands free lighting.

Gone are the days of head torches with one beam setting. Almost all modern torches offer multiple lighting modes, including low to high intensity white beams, strobe and red ambient light. The more advanced devices include variable beam-size and strobe frequency control.
Petzl Head torch with red light

“Why does my head torch have a red light setting?”

Red light preserves the user’s night vision, while still providing some illumination. The theory is that the protein responsible for night vision within the rods of the eye (rhodopsin), is less sensitive to the longer wavelength red light. This method gets used in laboratories, photographic development studios and pretty much wherever low light levels are needed (around your favourite campsite or huddled over a map).

The lamps of most head torches are adjustable so the angle of the beam can be chosen- this can be especially useful when walking at night, as it allows you to look up while the beam still illuminates the ground.

Brightness and Lumens

The brightness of your head torch is measured in lumens, a unit of luminous flux- the amount of visible light emitted by the bulb. Practically speaking, around 5 lumens is enough ambient light to do simple tasks- like read a map, anything around 100 will give a good level of brightness and anything over 250 will be incredibly bright. This is your most useful statistic in choosing your head torch.

Beam Distance

This is a measure of the maximum distance that a head torch can cast a useful amount of light. This can range from a few meters all the way up to 100m. What manufacturers determine to be a useful amount of light can vary, so don’t worry too much about this. Obviously, what you’ll be using your device for determines the beam distance you’ll require.

Peak Beam Intensity

PBI is a measure of the luminous intensity at the centre of your beam- it’s all about perceived brightness. This is a little complicated as doubling the intensity of light will not double the brightness, due to our non-linear perception of brightness. Stick to the lumens, as that’s the most familiar.

 WR petzlWater and Impact Resistance

Head torches vary in their water and impact resistance. Some claim to be fully waterproof, whereas others are water resistant.This can be an important distinction! There is sometimes an IP rating, which indicates how durable the device is on a scale of 0-9 (9 being greatest). All head torches are designed to be somewhat rugged, the level of which will depend on the design and your intended use.

Runtime and Battery Type

You have a choice here, depending on how much you’ll be using your device. Cheaper head torches use alkaline batteries, usually by 3 or 4 AA or AAA, and higher end torches use rechargeable Lithium-ion battery packs. You’ll have to choose which is right for you based on your intended usage, but bear in mind frequent replacement of batteries can quickly add up- a greater initial investment may be beneficial.

Runtime is an important factor that you will need to consider. The brighter the LED, the quicker the batteries will be used batteries. Furthermore, a single LED will use less energy than an array or hybrid. That being said, larger devices tend to have larger battery packs. The location of which varies between front and back of the headband, and waist mounted.

A new feature is called constant lighting. Traditionally, as the batteries runs out of power, the brightness of the bulb reduces with them, becoming dimmer and dimmer until it turns off. However, devices with constant lighting ensure a constant brightness until the batteries reach a level where the beam automatically dims to an emergency light.

Comfort and Practicality

Comfort and practicality is essential. No one wants to wear a head torch when the band is uncomfortable, un-adjustable or just keeps slipping. Furthermore, the buttons need to be easily accessible and non-fiddly.

The practicality is all down to you. Head torches are designed for different uses, so make sure you choose the right one for the job! (hopefully this website will help)


Finally, a word about price- to an extent you get what you pay for. Obviously the higher end models will be brighter and feature rich, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great budget options available.

In conclusion, there are some great head torches out there. Read the review section to help you find the right one!

Alternatively, check out the best in class section to find the top rated head torches in each category!