Equipping yourself with the best head torch (or headlamp, as they're called in North America) is essential if you enjoy outdoor adventures throughout the year, but they are absolutely invaluable when the day has more hours of darkness than light, from autumn throughout winter and into spring. This is true whether you're going camping, heading out on a long day hikes or backpacking escapades, or simply walking the dog before or after work.
The best handheld torches and flashlights are great in some circumstances, but when you want to keep both hands free (to perform tasks such as operating a camping stove, putting up a tent, lacing-up hiking boots or rummaging through a backpack), having the best head torch beaming out from the middle of your noggin makes things so much easier.
Lightweight and well-balanced versions are also excellent for evening running, especially in autumn and winter, and they're also required kit for activities such as night fishing, caving and mountaineering.
A good head torch needn't cost you the earth. Right now it's well worth checking out our guide to the upcoming Black Friday Sales (opens in new tab) to see if you can score yourself one of the best head torches (as listed below) for a bargain price.
If you choose wisely, you'll find an affordable head torch that spits out just the right amount of light, doesn't run out of power too quickly and is lightweight and comfortable enough for extended night treks or 3am excursions to a campsite toilet block.
Read on for our pick of the best head torches around right now. This head torch review focuses on the top options for a range of different uses – including the best running torch, the brightest head torch and more.
How many lumens do I need for a head torch?
A decent beam is vital for night-time navigation, especially at speed, so a head torch that pumps out 200+ lumens is essential for any genuine night-time running and rambling.
What else to look for in the best head torch
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When making your choice, as well as lumens you'll also want to consider size and weight. Bigger isn't always better when it comes to the best head torches, especially for high-energy pursuits. A big weight on your head gets annoying fast, and carting a heavy head torch around on a summer’s day hike, just for a few minutes' use when darkness falls, is a waste of pack weight.
Inevitably, extra features increase the weight of any headlamp, so be realistic about your needs and the overall burn time you actually need. Fortunately, modern LED technology has pretty much levelled the playing field, so AAA-powered head torches usually show pretty similar performance figures.
Moving up into rechargeable batteries will give you lumens for longer, but at the cost of having to find a wall outlet once battery life starts to fade. This is a particular issue if you’re planning on running or adventuring in winter or at high-altitudes, as cold discharges batteries fast.
The best head torch 2023, ranking
Our top best head torch pick right now is the outstanding Petzl Swift RL. If it's brightness you're after, this has you covered and then some. The maximum output of 900 lumens is brighter than a sun through a telescope. Realistically, you'll never need that kind of output, but it's nice to know it's there, isn't it? Petzl hasn't gone all-in on brightness and forgotten about performance, don't worry. You'll get 2 hours of 550 lumen light on the standard setting, which is pretty solid for a head torch. There's also a 'reactive' setting, that'll automatically detect how much light you need and adjust accordingly, with the aim of not wasting battery power, although this can be annoying at times.
While you can't use standard batteries, Petzl will let you swap the included battery pack over, so you can keep a spare in your bag. Other design touches – a practical headband that wraps around the lamp section for easy storage, a switch lock that prevents the batteries from running down while in your rucksack – help this head lamp really shine. Head to our Petzl Swift RL head torch review to find out more.
If you need a head torch that'll keep going for hours on end and can deliver a dazzling beam of light on demand, the BioLite HeadLamp 750 is an absolute must. It can kick out a whopping 750 lumens when you really need it, but you're more likely to keep it set to 500, which it can maintain for seven hours of impressive illumination.
It has eight light modes that you can switch between at the tap of a well-positioned button, including a red LED for tactical operations, and it fits beautifully and comfortably whether you're wearing it straight on your head or over a beanie or helmet. We particularly like how the battery pack is situated round the back so as to distribute weight evenly.
In all the BioLite HeadLamp 750 is a solid high-end head torch that's easy to operate and good to wear for hours on end. It's rechargeable-only so you can't keep spare batteries on hand, however you can take a separate battery pack with you in case you run out of juice. It offers a good balance of power and burn time, and whatever your preferred night-time activity, this is a solid contender that won't let you down. See our BioLite HeadLamp 750 review for all the details.
The lightweight Petzl Iko Core headlamp is an excellent choice for trail runners and hikers. Not only is it one of the very brightest head torches around, but the clever design makes it ideal for high-energy activities. The elastic tension straps thread keep everything securely in place while you're on your way. Rather than having the batteries and light in one place, here the weight is distributed differently, with the heavier battery pack sitting neatly on the back of the head, while the LEDs are almost flush with the forehead. It's very comfortable to wear, and will fit most heads (but not a helmet).
The design may look a little odd, but it sure does pack a punch. Using the Li-Ion power pack, you can boost brightness up to a blinding 500 lumens. The mid-setting is 100 lumens, offering a 45 meter beam for up to around 9hrs 30mins. There's a micro-USB port to enable you to charge it, or you can swap the rechargeable battery for 3x AAAs if you prefer. Head to our Petzl Iko Core head torch review for more info.
The Black Diamond Storm 400 headlamp has a host of excellent all-rounder features, but several in particular that makes it ideal for mountaineering. Firstly, a big, glove-friendly button, and a nice broad head strap, making it easy to loop over a helmet in the dark. Brightness Memory means one touch will trigger the last brightness setting (no spooling through modes here). Low-power peripheral white lighting is ideal for close-sight work like re-racking gear. A lock button means that it won't have been accidentally switched on inside your rucksack all day, and an IPX67 means it’s a dust- and waterproof head torch. A solid 400 lumens is enough to light up the ridge ahead, and at only 120g (4.2oz) it won’t slow you down either. There's a range of colours and patterns to choose from.
BioLite’s latest headlamp, the Biolite HeadLamp 200 is one of the best running head torches around, for a bunch of good reasons. It’s bright, light, comfortable, easily adjusted, and has a decent battery life, all without costing the earth. A broad fabric headband at the front grips heads, hats and helmets alike, while the wide elasticated strap adjusts easily by pulling two glove-friendly sliders (particularly helpful for colder/longer outings). A small reflective panel on the back provides some rear visibility for night running escapades, and the entire lamp unit pivots one-handed, letting you switch from proximity light to distance in seconds.
BioLite's 'no bounce' design does what it says on the tin, and that distance is pretty good for most applications, with a spot out to 50m lighting the way in all but whiteout conditions. An easy-toggle multi-press on the main button flips between hi/lo beam, strobe and a red light for reading maps at night. Recharging the 700 mAh Lithium Ion battery is via a standard micro-usb, so easily juiced up at work, in the car, etc. In short, if you’re in the market for a running headlamp, get this, and even if you’re not running it’s well worth a look – especially paired with the optional stuff sack that doubles as a lantern.
A bit of an outlier in this guide, the Black Diamond Flare is designed for emergencies. To that end, it's extremely lightweight yet robust, and will withstand being 30 minutes of full immersion in water to 1m, as well as being dust proof. You use the knurled aluminium ring surrounding the bulbs to switch between lighting modes, a hinged backplate gives the lens 180 degrees of movement, and the bungee can be attached to pretty much anything you want. While the main beam is fairly underpowered, this torch does offer an ‘SOS’ setting that could be invaluable in a genuine emergency. Head to our Black Diamond Flare review for more info.
Alpkit has been refining its head torches for years, but this is one of the most robust, engineered from aluminium with a host of durable features. Dust-proof, drop-proof to two metres and water-proof to one metre, the Prism's Li-ion rechargeable battery can juice up from any micro USB input, and pumps out a 400 lumen beam in boost mode. It also boasts one-button easy operation, and has a 180-degree tilt to direct the light beam where you need it most. With a burn time of between 3–14 hours between charges, there's plenty of time to take on the trails and parks and be home in time for tea and biscuits.
This durable and lightweight head torch for runners is suitable for both suburban and cross-country running, due to its three level power metre and multi-programmable beam pattern. On full beam, with a single battery, this running head torch will last an hour (more than enough time to power through some miles). Attach its support cell and you can extend that to around three hours use. The only issue with adding the support cell is the weight increases to 121g (4.2oz) – still light by head torch standards, but it’s enough for you to feel the difference. The dimmer the brightness, the longer the battery power, so suburban runners will benefit from longer time periods without charging.
One of the best head torches for runners, the Exposure Verso packs in four different light modes enabling you to tailor the light to your running requirements. You can also opt for one of two brightness modes dependent on your surroundings. For the price, this head torch certainly packs in a lot of technical features, making it a great investment for regular runners.
If you're squeezing your runs in at night or early in the morning, you may need a helping hand illuminating the path ahead. The Petzl Tikkina is popular among new and established runners alike because it’s simple to use and offers a long burn time – up to 220 hours. It's a hybrid head torch, which means it can be used with AAA batteries or with a Petzl CORE USB rechargeable unit. The headband itself can be detached for washing, and the head torch has a low profile on the forehead. It comes in a range of colours and is super-cheap, thanks to regular discounting. For beginner runners, this headlamp is ideal.
Caving is a serious business, especially when it comes to lighting. One mis-step or wrong move could cost you or your caving team mates dearly, so above all other outdoors activities, you need to pick the very best head torch you can find for caving. And that comes in the form of the Petzl Duo S. Knocking out an astonishing 1,100 lumens of power in Boost mode, this stunning rechargeable head torch is IP67 rated. You can immerse it in fresh water down to a 1m depth for up to 30 minutes. It does weigh 370g (13oz) including the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, so you will certainly know when you’re wearing this headlamp, but it has far too many killer features to let us worry about the weight.
For example, the Petzl Duo S head torch features a 'Face2Face' function, which automatically senses when another caver is approaching and dims the light. That prevents the other person from being dazzled by the immense lumen output of this headlamp for caving. The large buttons are easy to use even if you’re wearing gloves, and the headlamp automatically locks to avoid switching on accidentally in your pack. The headband is detachable for washing, and the battery switches to reserve mode when the battery is on its last legs (20 lumens for 45 minutes).
The Coleman BatteryGuard 250L headlamp has an ingenious trick up its sleeve… a sliding contact physically disconnects the batteries when not in use, so they don’t gradually discharge, then leak onto something important. Particularly useful when used as a hiking torch, the Coleman outputs a decent 250 lumens yet only weighs 105.5g. It runs on 3 x AAA batteries, so no worries about scrambling around to find a power charger when you’re camping out in the wilds for weeks on end.
If you run in suburban areas, it’s more of a case of helping you to be seen and providing light in areas where street lighting is low, which is why this LED Lenser head torch is perfect. There are four light modes too, including White blink and Red blink. It’s cheap and cheerful, yes, but the battery life is decent if you use it on one of the lowest power settings. While it isn’t super-bright, even on high mode, it’s lightweight, which is great if you’re looking to forget that you’re wearing a headlight on your head.
All of these head torches will easily do double-duty as a backpacking light, but the Petzl eLite is a worthy inclusion because it’s one of the smallest and lightest around. The bad news? A mere 50-lumen output, tricky-to-source lithium CR2032 batteries and tiny controls. The good news? It doubles as an emergency light with strobe effect to help rescue parties find you in the dark. The Petzl e+LITE weighs a miniscule 26g, but packs in white, red and strobe lighting modes, IPX7 waterproofing, button lock, and even an emergency whistle. A decent and very lightweight option for the minimalist backpacker.