Head torch buying advice – I’ve run a lot of night races and with other runners from my club we’ve done a heck of a lot of night races in the last 3 years. And have also spent a lot of time reading up on the equipment for them so if you’re wondering what head torch to buy whether for a night race or just for running I’ll try and recommend a few and give some ideas about what to look for. Picture wise hopefully it’s ok to use images of products I like. None of the pictures here are mine and I’ve used them so you can see what the head torches I’m talking about are like.
The first and most obvious thing is brightness. This is normally measured in lumens. I won’t attempt to explain lumens, Wikipedia can probably do that although I did find a page with pictures here for a more friendly and practical explanation. But suffice to say I’d really recommend trying to get over 100 lumens minimum. This can be harder said than done! As some well-known brands can have some not cheap lights that aren’t that bright (sounds like pretzel – that said I’ve heard some of their expensive lights are really good). I’d recommend going for at least 150 lumens. If you see one saying 1000’s of lumens probably best not believe, some of the cheap Chinese head torches have insanely optimistic specs even if they do turn out to be very bright, I’d recommend only buying one of these if you know someone else has it and it works well. Obviously, if you get a duff one it may be hard to return. My own head torch is over 300 and not sure I’ve seen one obviously brighter.
Power source, here you have two main choices. Either a head torch that takes batteries or one which is rechargeable. For my part I like one’s with batteries. Simply this is because I can have multiple batteries so normally have a charged one to put in even if I’ve forgotten to charge the battery I’ve been using. For very long races this can also be very valuable! If however, you’re pretty organised and good at charging things a USB head torch could be the way to go. I’ve even seen some torches that are the best of both – can be recharged insitu but the battery can be easily swapped. Many battery head torches are powered by 3 AAA batteries. On this front I’d recommend getting some rechargeable batteries and getting a charger. This is so you use your head torch whenever you want, not just special occasions. For rechargeable batteries you need to look at the mAh (milli amp hour). This basically lets you know how much energy they store. I’d try and find one’s at least over 1100mAh though my own are 1300 mAh. Seriously bright head torches tend to use special high capacity batteries like the 18650 which also need specialist chargers (finding a head torch where you can charge in situ is really valuable). I know less about these batteries but it seems like the quality and capacity can be quite variable so I’ll just say these are the type I ended up ordering after lots of reading and they haven’t given me a reason to regret it. Charger wise I bought a nitecore intelligence i2 – it seems to do a better job of charging other more standard rechargeable batteries to.
Light distribution – many torches will let you change the focus of your light. This is good as you’ve got to do two things with a head torch. See obstacles near your feet so you can run and see far enough ahead you can work out where you’re going. If you’re going for a fixed light I’d make sure it has a pretty wide beam. It also helps if you can tilt the angle of your head torch to account for your own posture.
Settings, basically it’s always good to have multiple brightness settings, especially on more powerful head torches as you won’t always need all that power. I tend to put my own head torch onto a lower setting when in lit areas on night runs as a way of being seen beyond high viz and reflective elements on clothes. One tends to get lost in some street lights and reflective stuff only works if car lights are directly on you. Also I have a mid-power setting which would let me light last for about 9 hours but is still really good to see with. Finally, it’s good to be able to dim things when you’re stopped and chatting. These lights can be seriously bright and really dazzling.
Other things to consider – there is a good argument for chest lights. I’ve not used one and can’t comment on using it but the water vapour from your breath obscuring your vision when your head torch illuminates it is a problem I occasionally have. There is an argument for using hand torches, some people really like them, from research on carrying water bottles this would slow you down but if you have an awesome bike light and don’t mind carrying it or something similar why not as long as the Race Director is happy. Flying Fox is, we checked with ARC and explained about alternatives and now can specify headlights or suitable alternatives. Weight distribution, I have two lights which take the big 18650 batteries. One is in a separate bit at the back the other with the light at the front. With this the front light is quite bulky to and with the battery there I find it a tad front heavy. I’ve seen some similar where the light is smaller and these maybe be ok but my go to head light has the battery at the back. You need adjustable straps for the head torch and one’s that have a middle strap may do odd things to your hair if that’s a consideration. Some have little red lights on the back for cars behind. Not essential but useful I guess!
Reasonable Cost yet a Quality Product
I think for a branded quality torch without spending too much money the LED Lenser SE05 I highly recommend. I don’t own one but recommended it to 4 friends and all seem very happy with it. I’ve seen them for about £35 on amazon (can’t remember if this was an offer and obviously imported things seem to be getting ever pricier at the moment. It’s 180 lumens, should last 25 hours and the light should go up to 120 metres. LED Lenser have a good reputation so doubt you could go wrong with any of the better torches in their range. https://www.ledlenser.com/uk/products/head-torches/seo-series/seo5/ – though don’t buy direct I expect you can get it much cheaper elsewhere.
One of the colour pathways does have a few more bad reviews than I’ve previously noticed. Reading them I can’t tell if they’re reasonable criticism, a defective unit or unjustified. The take home message is to probably buy from somewhere that has good customer service (as with everything really). One of the critisims was that with daily use it wore out and broke. It’s probably not going to last years in such circumstances and you’d probably need to look for a more sturdy and durable light. You can get one’s with aluminium cases.
My pride and joy is the Fenix HP 12. Ignore what the website says about 900 lumens as that’s on a burst mode which lasts about 20 seconds so from a running point of view is not so useful. However, it’s brightest continuous mode is 400 lumens (ooh brighter than I thought) and its second mode 150 (slightly dimmer, win some lose some I guess). The middle strap is removable and you can change the angle of the light easily. It takes the 18650 batteries and is easy to swap as long as you put the nobbly end bit in the right way. It needs the charger and buying a battery separately but I found Fenix at least when I bought it they seemed quite undervalued yet very sturdy brand as don’t think they are seen predominately as leisure torches. I have to say for my Dad who doesn’t run we bought the HP25, it came with a battery and allows charging in situ yet you can swap batteries easily. It’s slightly brighter and has a light for a wide spread and a different one for a more focused further reaching beam. I just haven’t run with it so can’t really comment on how good it is.
Bit of a bargain for a very bright one
A mini bargain very bright light is the ThruNight TH10. It’s very similar to my Fenix but at least £20 cheaper and I have seen them on lightning deals on amazon. The downside is I just find it a little front heavy. But it’s a very good back up.
A real bargain
The ultra bargain, I do own is a Head Torch Lamp, Meyoung LED Headlamp Spotlight 4 Modes Waterproof Headlight which I got for £5 on a lightning deal. Now they say it’s 150 lumen which seems about right. It’s summer at the moment and so not completed a run with it but it seems legit. There is a bit on the product description that says * IPX5 Waterproofing Grade Headlamp * Very suiteable for outdoor sports and activities, even the swith and battery pack also with waterproof rubber circle, don’t worry the batteries will be damaged on rainy days any more. – Now I’ve not worn it running. Except around the house at night after it came in the post…. and it was dry so is it trust worthy? I assume those are just typos since it is a Chinese product and it has good reviews which to me at least seem legit. You can see it here.
This brand seemed good enough when I was researching and this a seriously bright head torch that uses 4 AAA so doesn’t have the hassle of the bright torches. Only downside is battery time is 2/3 of the Fenix one’s mentioned previously. At the time of writing it comes bundled with a quality hand torch on this site https://www.torchdirect.co.uk/coast-professional-led-torches/coast-hp7-plus-led-torch.html.
Others of note – Alpkit have a reputation for very affordable yet quality torches. You need to order from them directly I believe as think that’s one of the ways they keep the retail cost down.
Silva I think was another old school big beast of the running head torch world. I’ve seem some of their products on sale which sounded great but don’t have any experience direct or indirect of them.
As well as sites already linked to these specialist shops can be good places to look. I can’t remember which one I bought my fenix from though! They seem to of had an update!