More and more people are taking up trail running and equally, a lot of people are running in the dark, whether it be in the morning, at night, on quiet roads or out on the trails.
I have learnt the hard way that it isn’t just about buying a torch and you’re ready to go. Depending on the light levels in the environment you run, depends on how strong your headtorch needs to be to ensure you are as safe as possible.
The strength of a headlamp, or bulb, is measured in lumens. The higher the number the brighter the light.
When I was preparing for an ultramarathon that had a night time section, I was interested to know what the best lumen rating would be for my headtorch for running off road in the worst light levels. I did so investigation and this is what I found.
A head torch with a rating of 40 to 50 lumens is adequate for running in low light areas such as streets, whereas 100 to 300 lumens would be required for off-road trails depending on the terrain and levels of moonlight. It would also be wise to take a spare set of batteries with you on your run.
However, the number of lumens isn’t the only answer when it comes to running trails at night. Quite often we need to consider other items such as battery life, waterproof properties, weight, and cost, etc.
Lets take a look in more detail in order to understand the best headtorch to use.
Are 100 Lumens Enough For Trails
A few years ago I ran an ultramarathon that had an overnight section, a lot of which was on trails in the middle of nowhere.
For that race I used a Petzl Actik head torch which has a setting of 100 to 350 lumens. For most of that race I used the torch on the 100 lumen setting due to the fact it only lasts around 2.5 hours on the 350 lumen setting.
During the race I ran through woodland with roots on the ground, grassy tracks, and hard packed trails and the 100 lumen setting seemed to work fairly well – I didn’t fall over or get lost anyway.
So for the use I had for it on that night, 100 lumens was ok for the race. However, it was a fairly clear night.
If I was to be completely honest, I would look for something in the 200 to 300 lumen range to cover all scenarios. The beauty of the Petzl Actik is that there is the option of the 350 lumen setting in really dark areas – just take some spare batteries along to be sure of it not running out on you.
Head Torch Buying Guide
As important as the number of lumens required in a good head torch, there are also some key factors you should consider before you make your purchase.
Quite often we will go for the best deal, or the most powerful, but this can often be a mistake on the part of the buyer. There is so much more to consider when you are going to be wearing a light strapped to your forehead.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the important factors to consider before purchasing a head torch for running.
Surely this is obvious right? You will be surprised. Dependent on the torch and what it does will have a big impact on battery life. It’s similar to your phone in many ways, where the more going on in the background will drain the battery.
Remember what I said earlier with torches with multiple settings? Some may only last a couple of hours on the highest setting which could lead to a stint in darkness if you aren’t prepared fully.
There are some head torches that rechargeable and last well over 10 hours on a full charge.
There is also the option to take a spare set of batteries so you can change on the move if required.
Believe it or not, even a couple of ounce difference in weight can make the difference when you’re wearing a head torch.
Excess weight can be uncomfortable, it may cause the light to move about and you find yourself having to adjust whilst on the run. All of these things you can do without when you’re out running.
For that reason, although there are a variety of weights with the head torches I am recommending, I have also ensured there is enough stability on the torch so it will be comfortable for you whatever the situation.
As you will no doubt know, there will be a difference in cost for head torches. Some due to the brand, some the specification.
But like with anything you purchase nowadays, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better in my opinion.
The higher the cost may mean different features on the torch that you are looking for. So the main word here is value and I hope that the torches I recommend offer that to you.
Ease Of Use
Yes, you read that right. Ease of use is very important indeed. You might be out on a cold night and wearing gloves. Do you really want to have to remove them to operate a head torch?
I certainly wouldn’t which is why larger buttons in the right position are helpful. Not only that, what if you need to change the batteries? That needs to be an easy option too.
I had a cheap torch for a while made by Coleman and changing the batteries was an experience. The battery cover was so stiff I could never release it with my fingers. I had to use something metal to lever it open – not ideal out on the trails for sure.
The last thing you want is a flimsy, cheap torch that’s going to break the minute you drop it and believe me, they do exist.
You need a torch that’s going to cope with a bit of rough handling without any issues. I often drop my kit or am maybe a little rough with it – normally when I’m starting to tire and I’m being clumsy.
A good strong torch is advisable and the ones I recommend fall into that category.
I think waterproofness is a word. Anyhow, like with a lot of your gear when you are a runner, it pays to have something that is waterproof.
Your head torch has nowhere to go when it’s raining because it’s strapped to your head showing you the way. So it’s important to buy something that will be protected from the elements.
When it comes to water, a head torch has what they call an IP rating. The IP stands for Ingress Protection. Here is a table of the ratings for water protection.
|IPX0||No special protection from water|
|IPX1||Protected against falling water (rain). Equivalent to 3-5mm of rainfall per minute for a duration of 10 minutes|
|IPX2||Protected against rain when tilted 15° any direction from a normal operating position|
|IPX3||Protected against spraying water from the top. With headlamp is worn on the head, water spraying from 0 to 60° to the side at 10 litres per minute at high pressure for at least 5 minutes|
|IPX4||Protected against splashing or sprayed water from any angle for some time.|
|IPX5||Protected against pressurized water jets – Water projected at all angles through a 6.3mm nozzle at a flow rate of 12.5 litres/min at high pressure for 180 seconds at a distance of 3 meters.|
|IPX6||Protection against water sprayed at any angle – high volumes of water for at least 180 seconds from a distance of 3 meters.|
|IPX7||Fully waterproof and submersible in water up to 1m|
|IPX8||Fully waterproof and submersible in water greater than 1m|
My recommendation, and what I use, is a head torch with an IP Rating of IPX4 which I have found to work perfectly well in all conditions I have experienced.
This is not a mistake. When you’re choosing your head torch you need to consider the use or environment your going to be running in. If you’re a trail runner, are you going to be out in areas with no light at all?
If so, you need to consider the brightness of the lamp (lumens), the depth of the beam and the width of the beam. You basically need as much of a lighting range as you can.
You might be running in an area when there is a small amount of light, in which case you won’t need the same lamp as you would on the trails. Unless of course, you plan to do both.
There are three beam patterns to look out for which are wide, mixed beam (flood and focused), and focused beam.
Wide beam is ideal for close range or stationary activities such as map reading etc.
Focused beam is for longer range and precision vision, which is ideal for trail running.
Mixed beam combines both wide and focused beams which is ultimately the best option for a runner.
My Recommended Head Torches
There are many head torches on the market today but many of them aren’t worth the money or your time.
When it comes to choosing your head torch there are very few manufacturers that I would recommend or even purchase myself. But there are torches that I would recommend, most of which I have used or still use to this day.
Below is my top recommendations when considering your next purchase.
|Torch||Lumens||Battery Life||Beam Pattern||Weight||IP Rating|
|Petzl Tikka||100 Std|
|9 hr Std|
2 Hr Max
|Petzl Nao+||320 Std|
|15 hr Std|
6.5 Hr Max
|Petzl Actik Core||100 Std|
|8 hr Std|
2 Hr Max
|Black Diamond Storm||350||42 hr Std|
5 hr Max
|LedLenser MH10||10 Min|
|120 hr min|
10 hr Max
Currently retailing at a low price the Petzl Tikka is a great little head torch that is great value for money. At 200 lumens it’s not the brightest on review but it’s great if you are running in partially lit areas or out on a hike.
There is one button on/off switch which also controls the various light settings on the torch. There are 3 light settings, the brightest being the 200 lumens and a red light setting also.
These settings aren’t adjustable like more expensive models but still get the job done when used in the right environment. The lamp also glows in the dark, so if you dropped it you won’t have an issue finding it quickly – which is a nice touch.
It’s important to note that the lamp is water-resistant and not waterproof. This is still adequate when using in light rain or showers, but I wouldn’t want to be out in it all night.
The battery life is excellent being quoted at 60 hours on the lowest setting. If you are running on the highest setting of 200 lumens then it’s around 3 hours. Chances are, you won’t be on the highest setting in a low light area so there is plenty of life in the torch.
In summary, the Petzl Tikka is a great torch for low use or low light environments. It’s lightweight and is also great value for the money.
However, if you plan to purchase a head torch for anything more than this then you need to consider something better from the list. This torch definitely has many benefits, but for hardcore users, it won’t quite do it for you.
- Very Light at 3oz
- 200 Lumens of Brightness
- Easy to Use
- Good Value for Money
- Only Water Resistant
- Not for Dark Trails
The Petzl Nao+ is your perfect partner on those dark technical trails. With up to 750 lumens brightness it’s like a car headlamp!!! You certainly won’t be worrying about any potholes or trip hazards with this on your head guiding you.
It also has a battery life of 8 to 15 hours depending on the settings, so this is plenty of life to get you through a whole night if required. It also has a beam distance of up to 140 meters which is fantastic.
The torch weighs in at 185g, so although it’s one of the heavier torches on review, it’s not a weight that’s going to be that noticeable as the torch sits very comfortably on your head.
As with the Petzl Reactik+, the torch can be set via the mobile app to react to your settings and change the light levels dependant on battery usage required.
It will also change depending on what you are doing – for instance, if looking ahead into the dark you will have a bright setting, but if you looked down at your watch, for instance, the light will dim.
The torch is also has a battery pack that can be recharged via USB. There is also a mini power pack that can be purchased separately, which allows you to charge on the go if required.
In summary, the torch is a little on the expensive side as it currently retails at around $150. However, with the quality, robustness and all-round lighting options, it might just be the last head torch you need to purchase.
- Amazing 750 Lumen Brightness
- Great for Technical Trails
- Long Battery Life
- Slightly Heavier than other Models
Black Diamond Storm
The Black Diamond Storm is an excellent head torch at a very reasonable price and is one that should be on your list of considerations. It has a bright wide beam at 350 lumens, making it an excellent all-rounder for low lighting and trails alike. The maximum beam distance is logged at 90 meters which is excellent for out on the dark trails.
It is fully waterproof and dustproof so you can be assured that this torch is going to last you a long time due to its great robustness.
It doesn’t come with all the fancy gimmicks of some of the more expensive torches, it just does it’s a job very well. The torch is powered by 4 AAA batteries which add to the weight slightly at 4oz, but this isn’t really noticeable at all.
What it does do is give the torch some excellent battery life where it will run up to 5 hours on full light setting – this is better than any of the torches in its category. On the lower setting, the torch will run for approximately 40 hours which is excellent too.
Overall, if you are looking for a great all-around torch that’s a very good value for money, with good battery life then look no further than the Black Diamond Storm. It might just be the best decision you can make.
- Excellent on Trails
- Long Battery Life
- May Feel Bulky Due to 4AAA Batteries
Petzl Actik Core
The Petzl Actik Core is a great value head torch for both dim lighting and trails. At max lighting of 350 lumens, it is more than adequate for those very dark nights. It also comes with two lighting patterns which are wide and mixed.
All Actik Core torches are supplied with a CORE rechargeable battery which can be charged via a Micro USB Port. Alternatively, it also takes 3 x AAA Batteries – these can be useful when the charge is running low and you need to replace on the go.
At a weight of 3.6 oz, it’s very lightweight and fits the head comfortably with its single band that can be adjusted easily. During usage, I found that there was little movement whilst running and it felt very comfortable on my head.
The 350-lumen beam will last around 2.5 hours, so your not going to be running all night with this. However, there is a setting of 100 lumens that you could just about get away with on the trails but is probably more suited to low-level lighting areas – or a full moon.
The light beam can also be focused so you can set it to look ahead or closer to your feet. This is a nice option depending on what type of trail you are running on.
In conclusion, the Actik Core is a very reasonably priced torch at $65 currently, with a good brightness setting for the price.
Although the 350 lumen setting only lasts for around 2.5 hours with the rechargeable battery pack, it’s very easy to swap out for 3AAA Batteries whilst out on the run.
The torch is very lightweight and comfortable to wear and is generally a very good all-rounder for your night time running – just make sure you have spare batteries.
- Very Light
- Wide or Narrow Beam Option
- Good Value for the Money
- Battery Life not Great on Full Power
Ledlenser MH10 Rechargeable
The LedLenser MH10 came out of nowhere for me as a head torch option, but man was I surprised. It has ended up being my new favorite torch and will take a lot to beat in my opinion. At a cost of under $100 currently, it may seem like a lot, but believe me, this is an incredible value for money and here’s why.
A full charge will take around 6 hours but this will allow the torch to last at least 7 hours on the full 600-lumen setting – that is outstanding. The 250-lumen setting will last way beyond 10 hours so you don’t need to worry at all through the night. There is also a red light on the back so you can be seen by anyone from the rear.
The light setting is very simple too, so the focus is achieved by simply twisting the front of the torch. It’s literally that easy. In turn, this allows the beam to shine anywhere from 20 to 150 meters so you have a great line of vision wherever you are.
The light is also very comfortable to wear and is adjusted very easily on the head. At 5.5 oz it’s not the lightest torch on review, but due to how well it sits on your head you really don’t notice it at all.
The light itself can also be tilted back and forth which is great when the terrain under-foot is changing giving you that feeling you are always safe.
The LedLenser MH10 as stated above has become my favorite go-to torch and is of great value for money. The ease of use is great because the last thing you want 10 hours into a race is to have to fiddle about trying to operate a light. The is definitely worth considering if you plan to do night time activities regularly.
- Great Battery Life
- Very Easy to Operate
- Good Value for the Money
- Easy to Adjust
- Rechargeable Only
We now know that the number of lumens that a head torch can supply is important for running in the dark. 200 – 300 lumens is the range you should consider as the minimum on unlit trails.
As well as the brightness of the torch, we should also consider factors such as weight, robustness, how waterproof it is, and cost to name a few.
The best head torch I used on an overnight run was the Petzl Actik where I had no issues at all. However, all of the torches recommended here are capable of doing the job for you without a doubt.
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