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How To Choose A Headtorch

Facewest sell a huge selection of headlamps. Unless you have experience of a particular model or have been given a recommendation then it can be quite a job finding the right lamp for you. Before you look at the actual lamps you need to decide which features are important to you.

In our last version of this page we suggested that the main considerations should be power (brightness, measured in lumens), weight, battery life and cost. This is still true however, headtorches have improved quite a lot in the last few years and battery life and weight is now much better, as is power vs cost. With so much power now available at relatively little cost additional features such as reactive lighting, programmable modes and Bluetooth connectivity are important to consider.

The final consideration is whether you want a regulated or unregulated torch, or whether it doesn't matter to you. Here's what the difference is between regulated or unregulated: A regulated torch (usually running on a custom rechargeable Lithium battery) will run at the chosen power setting for the given battery length and then die (usually with a short warning and low power backup mode). Unregulated torches (usually standard AAA or AA battery power) give the stated power output when batteries are new but slowly dim until the light is unusable and the user changes the batteries.

What to Look For

Here's a table showing the rough power level suitable for a range of activities, whether a regulated or unregulated torch is preferable, plus a list of features many torches in the category come with which you may want to consider. The lumens in the table refers to the maximum output of the torch - much of the time you won't have a headtorch on max power as the battery life will be too compromised over prolonged use.

Suggested Use Lumens Regulated/Unregulated Potentially Desirable Features
Mountain Biking, cycling 1000+ Regulated Handlebar mounting, programmable
Fell running, adventure racing 750+ Regulated Programmable, reactive lighting, different beam patterns, emergency mode, lightweight, stable
Trail running, orienteering 500+ Regulated Programmable, reactive lighting, different beam patterns, stable
Mountaineering, skiing, orienteering 250+ Either Programmable, reactive lighting, mixed beam pattern, emergency mode, lock function, lightweight, stable
Climbing, hiking 200+ Either Emergency mode, lock function, mixed beam pattern, lightweight
Walking, wild camping, backpacking 150+ Unregulated Emergency mode, lock function, mixed beam pattern
Campsites, car camping, travelling 100+ Unregulated Emergency mode, lock function, small
Backup, emergency 50+ Unregulated Emergency mode, lock function, small

Features to be Aware of

IP Rating

The IP system is an internationally recognised standard for testing how electronic devices perform against various particle and water ingress. A rated device will have in the specs IP then two digits. The first refers to protection against solid objects down to the size of dust particles, the second is for water ingress protection. Where the device is only tested against water ingress it will have an IPX followed by a numerical digit.

Most headtorch manufacturers submit their headtorches to testing against water ingress before sale, so will most likely only have an IPX rating. Below is the full IPX rating breakdown. You will see most head torches marketed as 'waterproof' or 'weather resistant' to some degree. In reality most are either IPX4 or IPX8.

An IPX4 rated headtorch will continue to function in light rain. You will often find that water has made its way into the body of the torch, but it will continue to function, but should be dried thoroughly after use. An IPX4 rated headtorch cannot be submerged at all.

An IPX8 headtorch will most likely be marketed as 'waterproof' this does not mean that water cannot enter the body of the torch, as it often will. It just means that the device has been tested and will continue functioning after being submerged in up to 1 meter of water for longer than 30 minutes. Again the headtorch will need to be dried thoroughly after use.

IPX Rating Protection against Effective against Testing
0 None N/A N/A
1 Dripping water Dripping water shall have no harmful effect on the specimen when mounted in an upright position Test duration: 10 minutes
Water equivalent to 1 mm rainfall per minute
2 Dripping water when tilted at 15° Vertically dripping water shall have no harmful effect when the enclosure is tilted at an angle of 15° from its normal position. A total of four positions are tested. Test duration: 2.5 minutes for every direction of tilt
Water equivalent to 3 mm rainfall per minute
3 Spraying water Water falling as a spray at any angle up to 60° from the vertical shall have no harmful effect. Test duration: 1 minute per square meter for at least 5 minutes
Water volume: 10 liters per minute Pressure: 7.3–21.8 psi
4 Splashing of water Water splashing against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effect. Oscillating tube: Test duration: 10 minutes, or spray nozzle
Water volume: 10 liters per minute Pressure: 7.3–21.8 psi
5 Water jets Water projected by a nozzle against enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects Test duration: 1 minute per square meter for at least 3 minutes
Water volume: 12.5 litres per minute Pressure: 4.4 psi at distance of 3 meters.
6 Powerful water jets Water projected in powerful jets against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects. Test duration: 1 minute per square meter for at least 3 minutes
Water volume: 100 liters per minute Pressure: 15 psi at distance of 3 meters.
7 Immersion, up to 1 meter Ingress of water in harmful quantity shall not be possible when the enclosure is immersed in water under defined conditions of pressure and time. Test duration: 30 minutes.
Tested with the lowest point of the enclosure 1,000 mm below the surface of the water, or the highest point 150 mm below the surface, whichever is deeper.
8 Immersion, 1 meter or more depth The equipment is suitable for continuous immersion in water under conditions which shall be specified by the manufacturer. However, with certain types of equipment, it can mean that water can enter but only in such a manner that it produces no harmful effects. The test depth and duration is expected to be greater than the requirements for IPx7, and other environmental effects may be added, such as temperature cycling before immersion. Test duration: agreement with manufacturer
Depth specified by the manufacturer, generally up to 3 meters.
9K Powerful high-temperature water jets Protected against close-range high pressure, high-temperature spray downs. Test duration: Fixture: 30 sec. in each of 4 angles (2 min. total), Freehand: 1 min/m2, 3 min. minimum
Water volume: 14–16 liters per minute Pressure: 8–10 MPa at distance of 0.10–0.15 meters Water temperature: 80 °C.

Rechargeable Batteries

Most high end torches come with their own dedicated Li-Ion rechargeable battery. This keeps power vs battery life stable and offers a much more cost effective solution for frequent users than keep buying AAA batteries. It does mean that you'll need to have the ability to recharge or switch to an alternate power source if you're using the torch over longer periods. Some torches are compatible with both a dedicated battery pack and standard batteries - be aware of the performance differences with each power source.

Reactive Lighting

Only found on some Petzl headtorches reactive lighting allows the torch to adjust the output based on the light level around it. This is great if you know how to use it as it maximises efficiency of the battery and means you don't have to keep adjusting the settings during use. However, if you don't know how it works and use it incorrectly it will drain the battery very quickly.

Programmable Torches

Many torches can be programmed, ie the user can choose the output, and in some cases the beam pattern, for each setting. This is done in a variety of ways depending on the torch - either through button clicks on the torch itself, through a program on a computer via a USB connection or via Bluetooth to a smartphone/tablet/laptop. It's worth checking and selecting a torch which suits your level of techy-ness.

Battery Pack Location

Some torches have a separate battery pack whilst others contain the batteries in the lamp unit. This affects the balance of the torch, which is important for activities such as running when a torch has heavier batteries. Often the battery pack is fixed to the back of the headstrap, and an over-the-head strap is also included. On some torches the battery pack can be kept elsewhere, such as a waist belt or pack. If you have a specific place where you want the battery then check what the options are for the torch.

A Quick Note on Batteries

If your torch comes with a dedicated rechargeable battery then only this battery will give you the stated performance. If you opt for a torch which uses standard AAA or AA batteries then please note the following information:

Tests have shown that buying branded batteries gives better performance and is more cost effective than using cheaper alternatives. rechargeable batteries will not give as good a performance as standard batteries you should also be aware that power level indicators are not accurate for rechargeable batteries.