Evenings are already getting darker, and it will soon be dark as soon as most of us leave work. Here are our tips on choosing a head torch for these dark evening walks and runs.
Technology type In the past, the only choice was your common or garden incandescent bulb – which gave off as much illumination as a light bulb and was highly inefficient. You then had other, similar torches such as those with halogen bulbs that would perform much better while being even hungrier on batteries.
These days, you’ll be more likely to go for one of the LED torches in their many guises as they can produce a lot of light along with a decent battery life. Of course, within that there’s a lot of variation with some of the newer LED technologies (Cree LEDs for instance) that are head and shoulders above others.
Price You may get what you pay for, but you can get a serviceable headlamp for peanuts these days. The ultra powerful Magicshine lights are now available for well under £20, but the LED Lenser lights we’ve found to cost a bit more, for improved quality, comfort and features. Though the Magicshine lights are still going strong after three years. There are bargains to be had, just read any reviews carefully and make your choice.
Reliability You may have a torch for £5, but once you open it up, find the cheap springs, you’ll realise you get nothing for nowt. Would you really want to risk coming off a mountain if you’ve got to get the batteries in just right in order for the light to work? Or if it only works when you give the wire a wiggle? Reputable brands may replace your head torch if it fails, and when my LED Lenser H7 failed the company replaced it without any quibble. However, a walking partner bought a cloned version and he was forever twiddling his wires, without getting too personal about it. I’ve head torches by the like of Black Diamond and Petzl that may be old, but still going strong after six or seven years.
Weight You don’t want to be lugging something about that weighs a lot, especially on your head. Some of the more powerful torches can begin to weigh you down,
Fit – is it comfortable to use for prolonged periods? This is probably related to the weight, but a decent head torch will distribute the weight.
You can also have remote battery packs that you can clip on your belt or put in your pack. This makes the head torch both lighter and more comfortable to wear.
Battery life Most LED torches these days have a decent battery life – in the tens of hours at full power, before fading off after that. At least you get a warning, and the LEDs may continue to glow sufficiently for you to get to where you need before they die completely on you!
You also need to be aware that a rechargeable head torch is all well and good, but provides no backup whatsoever in an emergency unless they’re replaceable. It’s much better to go for one that takes standard batteries, and then whack in something like the 7 Day Shop ‘good to go’ batteries with a set in reserve. This means that your torch will still be useful even if you’ve not used it since the spring (provided, obviously, that it has some charge in it!).
Colours – Can you change the light’s colour, especially to red in order to maintain night vision? I’ve never used a red light during walks, so this is of limited use to me , but would be useful during a full moon and any time you don’t want to ruin your night vision.
Is the beam adjustable? Can you focus the light more tightly into a spotlight as this can be useful if you’re tying to find a location in the dark but you’ll need it on a flood setting for more general actions. Most torches will also allow you adjust the brightness which can be useful to prolong battery life, or for doing close work where a particularly bright head torch will blind you. Many also have a flashing and strobe setting, which may or may not be useful for you.
Brightness – This is one of the most important factors for me, so long as all the previous ones are reasonable. You’ve got to see where you’re going, and the more you can see then the easier it is. For walking off a mountain in the dark – being able to accurately judge each step is vital for safety, and for this I’ve an ultra powerful Cree powered Magicshine light. It loses marks on comfort as it hurts my had after an hour, and battery life is poor, but makes up for it in sheer illumination.
What head torch you choose totally depends on your application. I like the maximum light when I’m running at night, more so if I’m on trails, off road or on a bike. However, for camping I don’t need anything as powerful and it just has to be powerful enough to get me to safety in an emergency, good battery life, light and not so bright that it blinds when I read. Night photography is yet another extreme where the red LEDs would be useful, but I just use a weak caplight.