Do you plan on going caving? Or are you just going for a night time summer hike?
For such dim-lit places, you’re going to need the appropriate head torch. But the same head torch can’t work for both of the above situations; you need to buy the best torch light for your needs.
To help you figure out how to do that, we’ve prepared a guide of things to consider when buying one.
You may think that the brightest and therefore the best option would be halogen bulbs. True, they might give off light as if it's daylight, but they also consume your battery life the most.
Instead of halogen, consider Xenon and Krypton bulbs, which are a halogen hybrid and provide just the same amount of brightness without finishing up your battery. These bulbs are commonly found in head torches these days.
The longest battery life though comes from LED (light emitting diode) bulbs, which never blow and never need replacement.
The best LED torch also weighs less and requires little power as compared to the other bulbs, which is why they are in the majority of today's head lights. The downside of LED's is that they don’t give off as much light as the others, but they are perfect for camping or summer camping.
Lumens is the S.I. (Standard International) Unit of light intensity, in which the brightness of the light is measured. The higher the Lumen rating, the brighter the light.
For practical use, 10 lumens is suitable for close-up jobs such as for cooking by or reading a map. 60 lumens works when you are just going for a walk and don’t have much navigating to do. 100 lumens is the bare minimum you absolutely must have when going off-road for mountain running. And 500 lumens equals a very bright torch; it could just as well be broad daylight.
Brighter is not always better in some situations, a dimmer, and focused beam is more preferable, for example, while reading a map or fishing. Sometimes, having a dimming switch to control some lumens is necessary.
Head Torch Beam Patterns
The beam patterns also vary depending on the situation. If you’re fishing, you’re going to want a focused beam to spot the fish.
For close-up lighting, you want a wider beam, so the light spreads all around. When going for mountain running, you’d want a combination of the two, so you can see your footing and also the trail ahead. Most head torches have ways of varying the beam, either by using separate LEDs or with a diffuser.
Single Bulb Head Torch
Most modern head torches of this sort use either a Krypton bulb or a halogen one. These produce an excellent penetrating beam of light, but also generate heat by using up loads of energy. This is why it is recommended to carry spare batteries and even a spare bulb for longer periods of use. Not suitable for treks outside, though, due to the short battery life and fragile bulb. Best suited for use around the house during power outages etc.
Single LED Head Torch
The new modern LEDs are very bright, emitting an excellent quality of white light. These come in two variations, high powered and low powered. These also allow mutliLED head torches to provide different brightness settings. Many single LED torches provide greater light output because they have a magnifying lens placed in front of the LED. Some also come with an adjustable beam, allowing you to control the light intensity.
Many high power head torches use Cree LEDs as those are up to six times brighter than the traditional LEDs. However, head lamps with such specs also tend to cost a great deal.
Multi LED Array Head Torches
This type of LED head torch comes in many various forms. Some even having different colored LEDs, usually red or green, which prove useful in situations where you need night vision or don't want to scare the wildlife away with bright white light.
Though the multi-LED array head torch will provide a greater light intensity, it will not necessarily travel a greater distance. These torches can also be adjusted, for example, a 10 LED torch can be used in 2, 6, or 10 LED modes depending on the intensity you require. This adjustment feature also helps save energy.
Multi LED array head torches is useful in situations where you need a lot of light coverage. Ideal for camping. The colored multi-array LED torches are of great use to the military and scouts. However, these should be used with caution, as most areas such as the Lake District and Peak District will send out rescue teams if they see the red light at night because it is a distress signal.
Combined Light Array (Hybrid) Head Torches
Combined light array head torches provide a combination of some LEDs with either a Krypton or a halogen bulb. The combinations depend on the requirement of the situation.
Such torches provide a light beam of greater distance due to the standard bulbs in use, while the LEDs provide a close light source and help to conserve energy. This is why combined light array torches are ideal for mountain and night running, as they provide a distance beam along with wide coverage to light up the path ahead.
The burn time of a torch is the duration the battery and bulb work together to provide light. Just as there are variations in bulbs, there are varieties in batteries too. Many head torches use either alkaline, lithium or nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries in either AA or AAA sizes, but can also be used in CR2032 (thin disc-shaped batteries), which are smaller and lighter.
Alkaline batteries are the ones in standard use and readily available in stores. However, they are quite heavy compared to others such as lithium batteries.
Lithium batteries weigh less than alkaline batteries and last longer, thus more suitable for long trips. Though they do cost more, they also come with an added feature of being rechargeable, without losing any power. Lithium batteries have a drawback too, since they will require a power source for charging, and such a source will be difficult to find outdoors.
If the batteries are low on power in a LED torch, these will immediately stop working as LEDs don’t dim out like bulbs do. This is why new batteries should be installed after continuous use or before going on a lengthy trip. Most high-end costly head torches have a built-in indicator to warn you when the battery life is running low.
Effect of Climate
Batteries are also affected by temperatures, as the performance of alkaline batteries will drop about 20% at 0 Celsius, because the chemical reactions, causes the energy to slow down.
Though lithium batteries are affected by the cold too, they manage to perform slightly better. Keep the batteries warm so they may perform well, invest in a separate battery unit or a layer of insulation around the battery compartment, though these will cost you a hefty price.
Positioning of Battery
If the battery is positioned at the back of the head torch, the whole unit will feel more balanced, will bounce less when running and will also let you use a larger, long-lasting battery. At the same time, torches with batteries in the front also have benefits, as they will be smaller and lighter.
Rechargeable Head Torches
In a growing trend, most head torches have their rechargeable battery units, which can be recharged either by a primary power source or even by a USB cable attached to the computer. These torches can only be of use if one has a charging source.
Wind Up Head Torches
Wind up head torches tend to be less powered as compared to the ones running on battery and therefore run for a shorter period, after which they have the need to be wound up again.
The power is stored in a limited short discharge battery and is charged with creating energy by winding a handle. Though these torches provide limited power, they are perfect as a backup device when going on a lengthy trip or to places where the cold might affect your batteries.
Other Things to Consider
Since combined array head torches and high powered LEDs run at full power, they drain batteries faster, thus only surviving a short time. The single low powered LED units consume less energy and last longer.
Weight and Size:
This too varies considerably, as the ultra-compact head torches with CR2032 batteries will weigh significantly less as compared to the hybrid torches. If the hybrid torches have their batteries situated at the back, in a separate compartment with cables connecting it to the front, this will add additional weight.
Fit and Comfort:
Where the batteries are positioned and their size also significantly impacts the comfort of the head torch. A bigger head torch will require an additional strap stretching over the top of the head to hold it in place, while smaller torches will only require a strap around the head.
Beam Focusing and Angle Adjustment:
Usually, the smaller head torches don’t offer many features such as adjustability. If you do require such features, you’ll have to invest a greater amount of money for the specs.
Most head torches can’t stand rain storms, with only a little protection around the light and battery compartments, they can usually stand light showers. If you need one that offers greater protection, a waterproof head torch is something to invest in.
Choose ones that have an IP (ingress protection) of 9, on a scale of 0-9. These will prove water-resistant up to 1 metre for about half an hour.
Operation & Buttons:
There shouldn’t be too many buttons to operate; the head torch should be as simple as possible, providing you with what you need by only flicking a switch. Also, consider that you may be using the torch in both summers and winters, so operating it with gloves or a hat should be hassle free too.
To see the essential accessories needed when out Hiking or Camping click here