Whether you’re heading out for your first run in the dark, or an old hand looking to upgrade, choosing the right headtorch for you can be a real headache. There are so many models out there, so many options. Here are 5 things to think about that will help you make the right choice.
1. Do you want to see or be seen? If your main reason for buying a torch is to make sure that others can see where you are, for example if you run along quiet country roads, then pretty much any headtorch (or even a chest-torch*) will do the job. If you want to be seen from front and back, look for a torch that has a red flashing light at the rear of the head-strap.
2. How long are you likely to be running for? For occasional runs of an hour or less, a headtorch that takes regular disposable batteries will be fine. If you are likely to be running for longer, a torch that takes rechargeable batteries (or both) may well work better for you. Look for a headtorch that has battery-saving features such as a dimmer switch, and be aware that using the torch on the brightest setting will drain the battery quickest.
3. Where will you be running? In a nutshell, the more technical/difficult the terrain you will be running on, the brighter the light you’ll need. The light strength of a torch is measured in lumens. For running on smooth, flat trails a basic torch with between 30-100 lumens of light would suffice. On a technical mountain path, a much stronger light would be needed – at least 300 lumens (top of the range headtorches are now in the region of 750 lumens). Whilst thinking about how bright you need the light to be, consider how far ahead and how wide you need your path ahead to be lit up. Some of the brightest lights have one LED, giving a very bright but narrow beam of light ahead.
A headtorch with 2 or 3 LEDs may not be quite as bright but will give a wider beam of light, which can be more useful on technical terrain. The best of both worlds can be found by choosing a torch that has an adjustable beam, so you can have bright and narrow when you need it, and a slightly dimmer but wider beam when you don’t.
4. When will you be using it? If you are going to be using your headtorch during cold weather, look at the features it has with that in mind. Will it fit comfortably over your hat? Are the buttons easy to use with gloves on? And if it rains, will the torch and battery pack fit under your hood if needed? For warm-weather use, consider if the strap is secure enough to stay on your head without some kind of headwear underneath, or will sweat cause it to slip?
5. What is your budget? The price range for headtorches is vast. At the cheapest end of the range (often around the £5 mark) they may not have been designed specifically for running so may not be suited to being used on the move. At the top end, with prices of £150 plus, the number of features may be quite overwhelming, and, for many runners, unnecessary. Good quality brands to look for include Alpkit, Silva, Petzl, LEDLenser and Black Diamond – you really can’t go wrong with one of these.
*whilst a chest-torch is great for being seen on the roads, it's really not suitable for running off-road. The light points straight ahead rather than down, so the ground ahead is not lit up enough. You need a torch on your head!