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9 best head torches to light up your route on outdoor adventures

We put a range of adjustable beams under the spotlight to find out which ones were the shining stars

Zoe Griffin
Wednesday 15 February 2023 13:15 GMT
<p>We covered a variety of distances to fully assess the comfort factor of these head torches</p>

We covered a variety of distances to fully assess the comfort factor of these head torches

Our Top Picks

As the daylight hours are shorter in winter, one of the most useful running accessories you can equip yourself with is a headtorch. Not only will it help you see where you’re going and avoid tripping over obstacles, it will also keep you safe on the road, by making you more visible, even if you run in an area that has streetlamps.

They’re incredibly easy to use, too – simply make sure the battery is charged, strap on the head torch, hit the power button and look in the direction you need to illuminate.

Some head torches also come with a chest strap, so you have the option of wearing it on your head or around your body. We’ve included a couple of them in our round-up, with the advantage being you never have to think about moving your head, as it will automatically light up the direction in which you’re running.

When considering a head torch, think carefully about brightness – you don’t want to blind others you’re running with. A light’s intensity is measured in units of lumens. Lights with less than 300 lumens are more than enough for urban areas, whereas 300-plus is more suited to countryside adventures and trails. Each head torch offers a different beam distance too – some will light your path up to 100m in front of you, if you really want to floodlight your path, but this is likely to annoy other pavement users if you’re running in busy environments.

If you’re a sweaty runner (that’s most of us, surely?), the material of the band that holds the torch in place is important. A chafed red line around the top of your forehead is never a good look. A decent running torch should have a lightweight, breathable band that’s comfortable to wear.

How we tested

We laced up before sunset and after dark, trying out the running head torches in urban environments and parks. We tested the torches on lit-up pavements in the early morning before any other street users were about, and also tried them while running home from the office when it was dark but the streets were filled with commuters and people enjoying post-work drinks outside pubs.

We covered a variety of distances, to fully assess the comfort of the head torches and ensure they didn’t become a distraction or leave a mark. Several runs were carried out in the rain, to test the torches’ suitability in wet conditions, too.

Head torches come in a range of shapes and sizes

The best head torches for 2023 are:

  • Best head torch overall – Petzl iko core headtorch: £73, Millets.co.uk
  • Best head torch for beginner runners – Knog outdoor quokka run headlamp: £22.41, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best head torch for trail runs – Decathlon evadict ontrail 900 lumens trail running frontal lamp: £49,99, Decathlon.co.uk
  • Best head torch for commuters – Proviz LED360 antares headlamp: £33.99, Provizsports.com
  • Best head torch for runners who like roads and trails – Petzl swift E095BA01 headlamp RL: £79.57, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best head torch for freedom of movement – Proviz LED360 chest light: £27.62, Provizsports.com
  • Best head torch for value – Ledlenser NEO5R running head torch with chest strap: £54.95, Ledlenser.co.uk
  • Best head torch for visibility – Silva trail runner free H: £99.99, Silvasweden.uk
  • Best head torch for multiple outdoor activities – Ledlenser MH3 head torch: £39.95, Ledlenser.co.uk

Petzl Iko core headtorch

Petzl iko core.png
  • Best: Overall
  • Weight: 79g
  • Light intensity: 6 to 500 lumens

The headband on this Petzl running torch is a joy. It’s super thin, so not much is in contact with your face. It also features the brand’s unique airfit technology, allowing air to circulate above and under the band. The result is a torch that’s extremely comfortable to wear.

As the entire unit, including the battery pack, weighs just 79g, this is an ideal piece of equipment for anyone wanting to train at their peak without feeling weighed down.

With a maximum power of 500 lumens and three easy-to-adjust brightness settings, this light will see you right on the trail and pavement, as well as at night-time BBQs and campsites. The top beam offers 500 lumens at a 100m distance, while the mid-setting is a crowd-pleasing 100 lumens at a 45m distance. Finally, the dimmest setting offers just six lumens at 10m, so you can use your torch as a lantern or hand torch.

We also liked that it folds up flat and slips into a tiny pouch relatively simply, which is great for anyone having to carry it around all day when running to or from work.

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Knog outdoor quokka run headlamp

Knog quokka.png
  • Best: For beginners
  • Weight: 48g
  • Light intensity: 12 to 100 lumens

The cute and compact quokka features a silicone strap that’s remarkably lightweight, so ideal for runners who are brand-new to torch-running. Weighing just 48g, there’s a significant difference between this and head torches that weigh around 100g. To put it into context, the quokka feels similar to the weight of a pair of swimming goggles and the strap is made from a similar material.

We noticed this head torch is delightfully simple to charge, too. Simply pop out the pod, plug into a USB-A port, and you’ll have a full charge in just three and a half hours.

For such a small torch, there are a lot of settings to play with: four brightness settings (high, mid, low and flash), plus four modes for each setting (spot, wide, combo and red). Mid to low are more than adequate for most runs in towns and cities, even when in parks.

  1. £22 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Decathlon evadict ontrail 900 lumens trail running frontal lamp

Decathlon evadict ontrail 900 lumens running lamp.png
  • Best: For trail runs
  • Weight: 139g
  • Light intensity: 100 to 900 lumens

If you’re a serious trail runner, Decathlon might not be your first port of call for buying a trail light, but don’t underestimate the mega sports retailer, as it’s made a light that is able to blast a whopping 900 lumens of light up to 150m in front of you. When testing in the park, it felt like we were in broad daylight, even though it was several hours after sunset. As trail running can be quite treacherous underfoot, this powerful torch will keep you safe by illuminating all potential pitfalls, not just immediately in front of you but far around.

The battery is super easy to take out and charge, with zero fiddling or pulling (unlike some other torches). It’s also simple to adjust the brightness with a thumb wheel dial. When fully charged, it can last all night (nine hours) at 100 lumens, and manages three and a half hours at the most powerful setting of 900 lumens.

As a further bonus, we rated the band highly for comfort – it’s breathable, adjustable and machine-washable, too.

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Proviz LED360 antares headlamp

Proviz LED360 antares headlamp.png
  • Best: For commuters
  • Weight: 98g
  • Light intensity: 42 to 500 lumens

Antares is the brightest star in the constellation of Scorpius, which has a distinctly reddish tinge. That’s the key to this Proviz torch’s best feature – a red light setting in addition to its standard bright white light. Running home from work on busy pavements? The red light will aid your night vision and get you noticed in a discreet way so that people clear your path without being dazzled by your glare.

In fact, this multi-tasking torch has five settings with a max spot beam, a high flood beam, a low flood beam, a red beam and a flashing mode. As the max setting is a bright 500 lumens with visibility for a distance of 100m, it also holds up for running off-road in parks or hills.

Powered by AAA batteries, you can keep some spares in your pocket and never fear running out of light, but this perhaps isn’t as eco-friendly as the rechargeable lithium battery offered by other torches in the same price bracket. That said, we still think it’s a great option for anyone who likes to switch up their route and do a mix of running in urban environments and in rural settings.

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Petzl swift E095BA01 headlamp RL

Petzl swift RL.png
  • Best: For runners who like road and trails
  • Weight: 100g
  • Light intensity: 100 to 900 lumens

Meet a very clever reactive head torch in the shape of the ergonomic Petzl swift RL (reactive light). Choose from standard mode, where you adjust the brightness yourself, or reactive mode, where the light automatically adjusts to your surroundings.

Reactive mode is brilliant if your route covers both town and country (or pavement and park) and you don’t want to have to stop to adjust your brightness setting. For example, if you were running across dark fields, it would automatically use a higher-powered light. This would immediately drop if you ran into a well-lit area. This helps conserve battery and means thinking about what setting you should use can be taken off your mental check list, leaving you to focus on your running technique.

Comfort-wise, we approved of the double strap at the back, which did a great job of keeping the lamp secure and in place – it doesn’t bob up and down on your head or slide around. Delegating the brightness setting to the torch itself takes some getting used to but it didn’t let us down once.

  1. £79 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Proviz LED360 chest light

Proviz LED 360 chest light.png
  • Best: For freedom of movement
  • Weight: 161g
  • Light intensity: Up to 500 lumens

The advantages to running with a chest strap include less irritation around the head, less neck stiffness from constantly looking down, and more visibility from all angles, if you choose this particular chest light from Proviz, the night-time running expert.

The company was set up by two brothers tired of searching for gear to keep them safe on their commute to London, and they’ve certainly delivered on that with the LED360 chest light. It features reflective strips on the length of the band, so you can be immediately seen in car headlights. That’s in addition to a slow flashing red light at the rear, to keep you safe from behind.

Before we left the house, we had to check in the mirror to make sure it was on – it’s that comfortable and lightweight. Once outside, adjusting the torch so that it shone downwards did take some getting used to, and it does bounce slightly if you don’t have the perfect running gait, but we felt like we’d mastered it by our third run while using it.

After that, we had the complete freedom of wearing nothing around the head, which made a difference on wet days, as we could use the hood of our running jacket without fear it would obscure the torch.

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Ledlenser NEO5R running head torch with chest strap

Ledlenser neo5r.png
  • Best: For value
  • Weight: 104g
  • Light intensity: 20 to 600 lumens

From the German company that developed the world’s first commercial LED flashlight comes this seriously smart light that can be worn on the chest or the head. The strap is reflective, which is a cool extra safety feature, and there’s a flashing red light at the rear, so motorists can see you from all directions.

Ever had a USB charging cable get stuck in a device? This won’t happen with the NEO5R, as it features a magnetic charging cable. The light itself has two separate spot and flood LEDs, which combine to provide both close and long-distance lighting, which is the perfect beam pattern for fast-moving activities.

We really liked the weight distribution of this torch. It weighs a little over 100g but, as this is distributed evenly between the torch and the battery pack, we never felt front heavy. For extra comfort, it comes with a silicone pad that can be fitted to the rear of the strap, but we never used this, as we found it was comfortable and secure enough without it.

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Silva trail runner free H

Silva trail runner free H.png
  • Best: For visibility
  • Weight: 108g
  • Light intensity: 50 to 400 lumens

Outdoor activities are a way of life in Sweden, which is where Silva originates from. Every effort has been made to design a torch that’s incredibly easy for runners to use, so they feel free to carry on doing what they love in all weathers, without being weighed down with kit or in any way inconvenienced.

“H” stands for hybrid, meaning you can use the Silva rechargeable battery pack or three AAA batteries, so if you carry AAAs, you’ve always got a backup. “Free” means the free technology power cord is integrated into the headband, so no distracting cords or tangled wires. And there’s definitely no tangling in your hair either, as the band has a soft silicone gripper on the inside to keep it in place. We liked how secure it felt on the head during our test, which meant there wasn’t any bounce or discomfort.

We also liked the range of visibility, thanks to what’s called Silva intelligent light, which is a combination of long-reach spotlight and close-in flood light. Being able to see the immediate path in detail, as well as have an idea of what’s ahead, made us feel confident about running faster in the dark.

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Ledlenser MH3 head torch

Ledlenser MH3 head torch.png
  • Best: For multiple outdoor activities
  • Weight: 92g
  • Light intensity: 20 to 200 lumens

At first glance, it didn’t seem like there was anything particularly special about this one-beam head torch. You don’t get a mix of spotlight and floodlight at the same time, and it only goes up to 200 lumens. If you’re running in urban environments and you just want to go out and see what’s ahead of you, this is more than capable of doing the job, but we couldn’t see anything that made it stand out, and it’s fairly heavy at 92g.

But then we noticed the torch can be easily detached from the headband, and this discovery was a game changer. It means it can be operated as a hand torch if you want to slow down and investigate something, or it can be clipped onto the torso like a chest torch but without a band to weigh you down.

Being able to wear it on the chest also increases the range of activities you can do with it. For example, there’s no need to stretch the torch over a cycling helmet, as you can simply wear it on the torso instead. And the more use you get out of it, the better value the £39.95 price tag becomes.

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Head torch FAQs

What brightness is best?

A torch’s brightness is measured in lumens, and the power you need will differ depending on your activity. For general outdoor activities when the light starts to fade, 200 to 300 lumens will suffice, providing a good balance between battery life and weight. For more intrepid expeditions (Scafell Pike at night, anyone?), opt for 400-plus lumens.

The higher the lumens rating, the greater the torch’s beam distance and width. But weight and price will increase too, so think carefully about whether you really need the extra power. The max lumens quoted by manufacturers can sometimes be misleading too, so if there’s a boost or burst mode, consider the fact that the brightness will only last for a few seconds. Instead, it’s better to judge a head torch on its highest output that will last for at least an hour or two.

What else should I consider before buying?

A versatile torch will have several modes, enabling you to toggle between different power settings, and adjust the width and focus of the beam. Some torches also feature reactive lighting (automatic beam adjustment to your surroundings) and a red light mode (for preserving your night vision). Switching between these modes should be intuitive and hassle-free. Most modern head torches are very easy to use, with just one or two buttons.

You’re likely to fiddle with the headlamp, which should have a tilt function for flexible beam focus; and the headband, which can be tightened or loosened for a comfy fit.

Battery life (also known as burn time) is another key consideration. Brands usually state how long a head torch will last in each mode. Most will keep going for up to 100 hours on their lowest setting, but only two to three hours on the highest output. Take manufacturers’ stats with a pinch of salt too – they can be a tad overly optimistic.

Are head torches rechargeable?

Traditional-style head torches take AA or AAA batteries, but newer options feature USB-rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

Are they waterproof?

For most adventures, an IPX4 (splash-proof) rating should suffice, but for very wet expeditions, opt for IPX6 (water-resistant) or IPX8 (waterproof).

The verdict: Head torches

The Petzl Iko core ticks all our boxes, as it’s reasonably lightweight, highly breathable and offers multiple brightness settings – we also loved the storage pouch. For anyone new to head-torch running, the Knog quokka is even lighter and excellent value for money, while the Ledlenser NEO5R gives you the option of wearing it on the chest or head, so you can experiment to find out what works best for you.

You’ve got the head torch, now you need the footwear – check out our round-ups of the best hiking shoes for women and the best walking boots for men

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