Petzl Swift RL head torch review: a bewilderingly bright head lamp with a sprinkle of extra smarts

The Petzl Swift RL head torch does what is says on the tin, with some extra clever tricks too. Here's our review

T3 Platinum Award
Petzl Swift RL headtorch
(Image credit: Mark Mayne)
T3 Verdict

The Petzl Swift RL is a premium head torch that really delivers. It's blindingly bright, with good burn times, light weight and intuitive controls. Truly the gold standard in compact headlamps.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Brighter than the sun through a telescope

  • +

    Good battery life

  • +

    Quality build

  • +

    Good detailing

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Reactive not ideal for all situations

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The Petzl Swift RL is a compact head torch that sits at the top of Petzl’s compact range, and it's the one of the very best head lamps on the market right now. In fact, it's only outshone and out-powered by larger and more complex 'professional' headtorch models. The Petzl Swift RL head torch is available now, with a UK RRP of £96.99. 

Petzl Swift RL head torch review: design and build

At first glance the Petzl Swift RL headtorch is immediately familiar, a compact style head torch consisting of a head strap, positionable body containing LEDs and battery pack, and a single control switch. As you might expect, there’s plenty more going on here than just the basics though, as a quick look at the specs reveals.

A mid-weight 100 gram weight can be blamed on the substantial 2350 mAh Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery, a 6 hour charge of which gives between 2 hours and 100 hours burn time, depending on your chosen brightness levels and whether you’re running Reactive lighting or Standard. The former uses a sensor to detect how much light you 'need', varying between 100, 300 and 900 lumens, and giving a burntime of 2-50 hours, the latter gives you three levels: 10 lumens, 200 and 550, giving burn times of 100 hours, 5 hours and 2 hours respectively. Both settings have a 2 hour reserve of 10 lumens, which is a nice safety margin to have. 

The battery is charged via a micro USB in the underside, and is removable so a second battery can be charged separately and swapped in, if more capacity is needed. A slot through the centre of the headtorch initially looks like an SD card slot, but is in fact an air cooling tunnel to allow the back of the LED array and the battery to stay separate and minimise overheating. In spite of the exposed USB and cooling gap, the Petzl Swift RL has an IPX4 (weather-resistant) rating. 

Close up of Petzl Swift RL headtorch

(Image credit: Mark Mayne)

 Just above the reactive sensor, a sweep of five green LEDs indicate the charge remaining in 20% increments, and mounted to the top right is the single control button. A single tap gives you on, a cycle through the three brightness levels, then off. A long press toggles between Reactive lighting or Standard. The switch itself ingeniously slides from side-to side to lock the torch on or off, vastly handy for transport as well as locking in a specific mode for a long continuous period, such as a night hike or summit attempt. 

The removable fabric head strap strap is padded at the front, with a broad elastic strap at the rear with reflective tape sewn into the bands - a neat added extra. The elastic tapes each terminate in the buckle opposite them, creating a simple but effective cup that locks around the back of the head or helmet. There’s plenty of adjustment to suit all head sizes too, fitting children, adults and helmets alike - or at least, the ones we had to hand.   

Petzl Swift RL headlamp press image on white background

(Image credit: Petzl)

Petzl Swift RL head torch review: comfort and performance

The Petzl Swift RL headtorch has one particular outdoor trick that will astonish you – it’s really, really, really bright. That might sound like hyperbole, but actually it’s justified in this case. This little headtorch knocks out a genuinely bewildering 900 lumens when set to full beam, which brings with it an industrial LED risk rating of 2 out of a possible 4 – looking directly at the full beam is very much not recommended. If vampires existed, this would be the tool for banishing them. 

The usually fairly simple brightness/battery life decision is made more complicated by the reactive lighting setting, which means the torch itself will start making decisions about how much light you need, optimising battery life where possible. The downside of this ingenuity is that the lamp will switch off if the sensors detect enough ambient light to see by, which as the instructions point out, wouldn’t be ideal for activities such as skiing or MTB, or a host of similar high-speed situations. 

Petzl Swift RL headtorch

(Image credit: Mark Mayne)

Petzl has solved this by creating a second set of ‘standard’ settings too, which cut out the sensor and 'just' give you low/med/high beam as you’ve selected, like a normal, dumb headtorch. The hitch with the standard settings is that this drops full beam to a mere 550 lumens, presumably as the full 900 lumens will melt through steel like a superman eye laser - and the battery - if left constantly on for the entire 2 hour burn time.

However, this is all detail – the fact is, the Petzl Swift RL headtorch delivers impressive performance in lighting stuff up when you want it lit up, which is the job at hand. We liked the reactive setting, which does indeed conserve battery power, but it's easy to see how it could be annoying for some applications. 

Petzl Swift RL head torch review: verdict

 Whether you like the reactive settings or not, the Petzl Swift RL headtorch is a premium item of lighting hardware, and – importantly – deceptively simple to use. Performance is off the charts: even at the slightly-gimped standard settings, 550 lumens, 100g, 2 hours is a pretty solid set of numbers, and a 900 lumen max output from a compact headtorch is just silly. 

Overall, we like almost everything about this headtorch, including the practical but simple headband that wraps neatly around the body for easy storage, the switch lock that stops the batteries running down in your rucksack, and the 100g weight that’s minimal for the performance on offer. 

The only remaining challenge is going entirely rechargeable, with no opportunity to switch to standard Duracells, but after a few weeks with the Petzl Swift RL headtorch we are convinced. Sign us up.

Mark Mayne

Mark Mayne has been covering tech, gadgets and outdoor innovation for longer than he can remember. A keen climber, mountaineer and scuba diver, he is also a dedicated weather enthusiast and flapjack consumption expert.