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How to choose the best head torch for running

Written by Fiona

October 12 2023

It’s the time of year when runners need a headtorch if they plan to go running in the evening. Shortly, the clocks will turn back an hour in the UK and this means the sun will set even earlier. Therefore, a good quality headtorch will be an important item for many runners over the next five months.

There are a few must-haves that I believe runners need to consider when looking for a new head torch or head lamp. The balance is lumens (brightness), battery pack (which is a both a weight and fit consideration), battery duration and price.

One of the best head torches I’ve owned was very expensive, although it has proved long lasting. The Silva head torch in question has a separate battery pack, which I was happy to use for years but these days I prefer a battery pack that fits on the headband, rather than one attached by wire and requiring a pocket or backpack.

The brands I recommend include Silva, Petzl, Olight. Also Alpkit and Decathlon for those on a budget.

Consider battery size, weight and duration.

What to look for when buying a headtorch

Brightness

There are people who can run with a torch that has 350 lumens, or less. Personally, I prefer 500lm or more. As I age, my eyesight has become poorer, especially at night, and I find I need a brighter light.

It does depend where I am running but when heading along trails with lots of natural obstacles, I need to be able to see well.

My ideal is at least 600 or 750 lumens and if I can find a headtorch that is also lightweight with 1000lm then I am even happier.

It’s not just brightness but also how the light shines the way ahead. I like a spotlight beam that shines light on my immediate trail ahead, both at my feet and some metres further on as well.

I don’t need a lot of width of light, although I’ll take it if it is there. It’s the metres ahead of my feet that need to be well lit.

Weight

I look for headtorch that is lightweight and comfortable to wear. A wide and adjustable headband is important. I prefer a battery pack to fit on the headband, or for the battery to be inside the headlamp itself.

There is a compromise to be had here, though. While battery technology has come on a great deal in recent years, so you do get good quality batteries that are also fairly small, there are also some sacrifices to be made. 

A smaller battery will be unlikely to last as long as a larger battery.

Some battery packs fitted on to headbands can feel heavy and unwieldy. It’s worth trying on a headtorch or asking to borrow a friend’s headtorch to make sure it is a comfortable fit. 

I wear my headtorch on top of a head buff for greater comfort. 

It is useful if the battery pack has both rechargeable and ordinary AA or AAA batteries as options. That way, if the rechargeable battery runs out, you can pop in AA batteries.

Price

While no one wants to spend a lot of money on running kit, I’ve found that some better quality items do cost more money. For example, waterproof jackets are usually worth spending a bit more on, as are head torches.

I’ve tested many head torches and the cheaper ones tend to fall apart quite quickly, or the battery pack fades too soon.

I have also had cheaper head torches that have not survived heavy rain. 

However, I am keen to try a cheaper headtorch that I have heard good things about, the Alpkit Qark.

A head torch beam in the dark night.

Other things to consider

One of my favourite head torches is the Petzl Swift RL. RL stands for “reactive light”. Petzl sell other RL head torches, too.

While I like the weight, size and beams of the Swift, I do not get on well with RL. What this means is that if the torch detects other light sources nearby it dims the beam. This might seem like a great idea for battery conservation, but it also means that if you are running with other people who are also wearing head torches, your beam will dim.

I have queried this annoyance with Petzl and they say the beam sorts itself out and brightens again when the other lights are removed, but I don’t find this to be the case. It’s sad because apart for the RL, the Swift is a great headtorch and with an excellent beam.

There is a Petzl NAO RL that I see plenty of runners using. It looks lightweight but it does have the RL function, too.

I quite like the look of the Petzl DUO S (no RL I can see with this one) but I’ve not tested it. 

Then there is Silva. As I have said, I have an amazingly bright Silva Trail Speed Elite Running Headlamp. But I find the separate battery pack a faff. 

I also have the Silva Trail Runner Free headtorch. It is very lightweight and comfortable. The small battery pack fits on the rear of the head strap and if it runs out you can swap in AAA batteries. This makes it handy for ultra distant events. 

However, I find that the maximum lumen output of 400 is not bright enough in some situations. I run a lot in dark woodland trails and I am finding my eyesight is becoming weaker as I age and especially at night. For this reason, I’ve concluded I need at least a 600lm output for the right brightness. However, I do know many people who manage just fine with 400lm or less.

There is a Silva Trail Runner Free 2 Ultra with 550lm (£110) that could be worth looking at. I am also tempted by the Silva Free 1200 or Free 2000. However, it’s worth noting that these have a battery pack to attach to the headband. The Silvas have different sizes batteries for longevity but the longer they last the bigger they get. I would go for a XS or S battery pack.  They are also pricey at more than £200.

At the other end of the price scale is Alpkit. The Alpkit Qark has 580lm and costs just £39.99. It’s not the smallest or prettiest of head torches but I know plenty of people who have one of these. It’s a great light output for the money and there  is an option to use AAA batteries if the rechargeable battery runs out. I am going thinking about testing one of these.

Decathlon also sell a head torch the Evadict Ontrail 900 Lumens Trail Running Frontal Lamp, with claimed lumen output of 900. I have not tested this but it’s good value at £49.99. You can buy a spare battery, too.

Another brand to check out is Olight. Not so expensive and with great lumens output of a maximum 1000lm, the Olight Array 2S. It has a beam option that is “flood + spot” and that is great for running on dark trails.

The battery will last up to four hours, but there is no option to swap in other batteries. There are other Olight head torches to check out.

There are other brands and also other types of light for runners, such as a chest lights.

It would be great to hear about your favourite and brightest head torches. 

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