Alex Roddie tests 10 of the best head torches for mountain use, detailing the best options to suit your hiking adventures.
A good head torch is an essential piece of kit to carry when out hiking, up there with a waterproof jacket or walking boots.
Planning a night out in a tent? You’ll need a light for use around camp, in the bothy or to find your way to the stream after it gets dark. Just heading out for a day walk and expect to be back before nightfall? A head torch is your insurance policy in case your route takes longer than expected – or an accident, navigation error or other mishap leads to a forced benightment.
What To Look For When Buying a Head Torch
In the darker months, I like a dependable light with good battery life, a bright long-range beam that can be used for following vague trails, and controls that are easy to use with gloves. Although a head torch is most important from autumn through to spring, I’ll usually carry one in summer as well.
In summer I’m less likely to need it for actually hiking – and nights tend to be less dark. Extended battery life at full burn and trail-finding performance are less important in summer. I probably won’t need to use it with hiking gloves on, and it may sit in my pack unused for long periods.
I look for a lightweight, compact package and decent battery life on the low power setting; at this time of year a torch is most likely to be used for short periods at close range in camp.
Some walkers will end up with two torches: a beefier winter model and a slimmed-down one for summer use. However, advances in tech mean that many lightweight, compact models now pack in a lot of performance and battery life. In this review I have selected torches across this good middle-ground spectrum, ideal for the needs of average walkers and backpackers.
For other things to consider when choosing a head torch for outdoor use, including a guide to brightness/lumens, it’s worth taking a look at our full head torch buyer’s guide.
The best head torches for hiking reviewed 2023
In this article, you’ll find all of the head torches that performed over the course of our tests. We’ve selected a range of different options to cater for different individual needs, from head torches for winter mountaineering to lightweight options to suit those who into long-distance backpacking. We’ve also taken into consideration different budget requirements.
- Black Diamond Storm 500-R – Best in Test Head Torch
- Petzl Tikkina – Best Value Head Torch
- Princeton Tec Byte 200 Lumen – Best Lightweight Head torch
- Black Diamond Astro 300-R
- GP Batteries XPLOR PHR17
- Silva Terra Scout XT
- Petzl Actik Core
- Biolite Headlamp 425
- Ledlenser MH5
- Coast FL20R Head-Torch 430 Lumens
How we tested them
Alex tested these head torches on a variety of short backpacking trips in the Peak District, Scottish Highlands and Lake District. He also spent most of his summer trekking and running across the Alps with two of the lamps tested. Weights stated include batteries, weighed on Alex’s digital scale. Battery life is quoted for dimmest, medium and brightest settings where available.
Best in test: Black Diamond Storm 500-R
- Pros: Brightness, battery life, waterproof, intuitive controls, comfortable strap
- Cons: Non-swappable battery, not USB-C
- Price: £65
- Weight: 100g
Power: internal rechargeable battery (2400mAh, micro USB) | Battery life: 350/19/7 hours | Brightness: 6/250/500 lumens | Features: two buttons plus touch sensor, brightness memory, precise dimming, flood and spot, red green and blue modes, strobe, control lock, IP67 waterproof
Black Diamond has launched a new range of head lamps for 2022 with better specs and new features. Battery life is stellar, easily the best tested. I found it hard to kill even on medium setting, despite offering 250 lumens here (a great sweet spot). The IP67 rating makes it completely waterproof. Although the joint heaviest lamp tested, it’s still relatively lightweight – fine for keeping in your pack over the summer.
Read more in our Black Diamond Storm 500-R review
Black Diamond Astro 300-R
- Pros: Good value, easy to use, battery life, comfortable strap
- Cons: No red mode, non-swappable battery, not USB-C
- Price: £35
- Weight: 75g
Power: internal rechargeable battery (1500mAh, micro USB) | Battery life: 140/12/6 hours | Brightness: 6/150/300 lumens | Features: one button, brightness memory, dimming, flood, strobe, control lock, IPX4 water-resistant
The Astro 300-R is Black Diamond’s entry-level head torch for three-season backpacking. It looks like a slimmed-down version of the Storm 500-R, and shares much of the same design. However, for just over half the price you only get a single LED and a smaller battery. It is, however, noticeably lighter; and the simpler controls make it easier to use. If you can live without red mode and a super-bright boost, this is an excellent, well-made, competitively priced option for three-season backpacking.
Read more in our Black Diamond Astro 300-R review
GP Batteries PHR17
- Pros: Good value, good red mode, USB-C
- Cons: Controls, strap not the best, not every USB-C cable fits, non-swappable battery
- Price: £33
- Weight: 77g
Power: internal rechargeable battery (1600mAh, USB-C) | Battery life: 100/9/4/3 hours | Brightness: 5/60/200/500 lumens | Features: two buttons, red mode, flood and spot, strobe, control lock, IPX6 water-resistant, 1m shock-resistant
The GP Batteries PHR17 is marketed as a trail running light, but is also good for hiking and backpacking. Good battery life and good brightness, although real-world run times are a little worse than claimed. It charges via USB-C, but the port is recessed and some of my cables wouldn’t fit. The strap is stiff and not the most comfortable, and it easily tangles, but these drawbacks are easy to forgive at this price. However, these drawbacks are easy to forgive at this price
Read our full review GP Batteries XPLOR PHR17 review
Best budget head torch: Petzl Tikkina
- Pros: Price, easy to use
- Cons: Hinge design, no red mode, no battery indicator
- Price: £20
- Weight: 92g
Power: 3xAAA or optional Core rechargeable battery (1250mAh, micro USB) | Battery life: 100/10/2 hours (AAA) or 120/7/3 hours (Core) | Brightness: 7/100/300 lumens (AAA or Core) | Features: one button, flood, IPX4 water-resistant
Petzl’s classic Tikka and Tikkina lamps have been around for many years. In 2022 the design has a wider, more contemporary design and a new hinge. Brightness is much better than the old model, and battery life is about the same. This is a torch for backup summer use or close-range lighting around camp.
Read more in our full review of the Petzl Tikkina review
Silva Terra Scout XT
- Pros: Sustainable materials, controls
- Cons: Battery latch, battery life
- Price: £40
- Weight: 100g
Power: 3xAAA batteries or optional Hybrid rechargeable battery (1250mAh, USB-C) | Battery life: 5/32 hours (in practice 30/70 hours) | Brightness: 50/350 lumens | Features: one button, precise dimming, red mode, flood and spot, strobe, control lock, IPX5 water-resistant
Silva’s Terra Scout XT is based on their existing Scout 3XTH head torch. It is made from hemp and recycled plastics, said to have up to a 90% lower carbon footprint than standard plastics. There are only two brightness modes: low and high. Low is brighter than most other torches, which means that battery life is not as good. Real-world battery life is fine for general hillwalking, but this would not be my first choice for extended use.
Read our full review of the Silva Terra Scout XT review
Best lightweight head torch: Princeton Tec Byte 200 Lumen
- Princeton Tec Pros: Price, lightweight and compact, great if you like red mode
- Cons: Battery life, no easy recharging from power bank
- Price: £25
- Weight: 61g
Power: 2xAAA batteries | Battery life: 140/66/12/3.4 hours | Brightness: 1/4/50/200 lumens | Features: one button, red mode, spot, control lock, IPX4 water-resistant
The Byte 200 has been around for a while but has been revamped with a brighter white LED. This is the smallest, lightest torch tested, and one of the most compact available that has enough oomph for general use as well as emergency backup duties. It’s not ideally suited to night walking although it will do for short periods (carry spare batteries).
Red our full review on the Princeton Tec Byte 200 Lumen review
Petzl Actik Core
- Pros: Brightness, controls, weight
- Cons: Price, battery life, hinge design, not completely waterproof
- Price: £65
- Weight: 84g
Power: included Core rechargeable battery (1250mAh, micro USB) or 3xAAA batteries | Battery life: 100/7/2 hours (Core) or 100/10/2 hours (3xAAA) | Brightness: 7/100/600 lumens (Core) or 7/100/450 lumens (3xAAA) | Features: two buttons, red mode, flood and spot, strobe, control lock, IPX4 water-resistant
The Actik Core is a three-season torch that can do lightweight duty in winter thanks to a good boost mode. Battery life is fine but unspectacular, especially in high brightness, which drains the battery very quickly. The battery compartment is better sealed than the old model, like the Tikkina, but it’s still only IPX4 rated for water resistance. It’s priced quite highly for what’s on offer.
Read our full review of the Petzl Actik Core
BioLite Headlamp 425
- Pros: Weight, brightness, strap comfort, USB-C, waterproof
- Cons: Battery life, glare for glasses wearers, non-swappable battery
- Price: £50
- Weight: 81g
Power: internal rechargeable battery (1000mAh, USB-C) | Battery life: 60/3.5 hours | Brightness: up to 425 lumens | Features: two buttons, red mode, flood and spot, strobe, rear indicator, IP67 waterproof
BioLite’s head lamps look unique thanks to straps that are moulded into the front lighting unit. This is the only torch tested with a rear-mounted battery pack; it’s pretty small and doesn’t affect comfort. I was unable to achieve the claimed 60 hours on low setting (unspecified lumens), and got more like 48. On high mode it drains very quickly, within about 2 hours.
Read our full review on the BioLite HeadLamp 425
- Pros: Converts into hand torch, excellent spot mode
- Cons: Proprietary charging cable, poor flood mode, battery life
- Price: £65
- Weight: 95g
Power: rechargeable battery (750mAh, magnetic charging cable) or 1xAA | Battery life: 35/4 hours | Brightness: 20/400 lumens | Features: one button, red mode with memory, adjustable spot, detachable strap, pocket clip, IP54 water-resistant
It’s designed for one purpose: to throw a bright spotlight beam a long way. The 400lm high spot can be focused using a lens, and this tight beam will reach almost 200m. But it lacks a good flood mode; even at its widest setting, the beam is hard-edged and not ideal for close-range tasks. Battery life is the gotcha here: I never achieved the claimed 35 hours in low mode, and on high it was more like 2 than 4. If you want a long-distance tight beam, then this is worth considering.
Read our full review on the Ledlenser – MH5
- Pros: Easy to use, good strap
- Cons: Price, battery life, construction
- Price: £48
- Weight: 78g
Power: internal rechargeable battery (1000mAh, micro USB) or 3xAAA | Battery life: up to 19 hours | Brightness: up to 430 lumens | Features: one button, red mode, flood, IP54 water-resistant
This is a basic design with large white LED and small red LEDs. Inside the gasket-sealed battery compartment is a micro USB-rechargeable battery pack, which can be swapped out for AAA batteries. The beam is advertised as ‘flood’, it’s hard-edged and not as broad as others. Spare rechargeable batteries are only £7.95. Construction is basic and the plastic feels a little cheap compared to others. It’s proven durable so far, though.
Read our full review on the Coast FL20R Head-Torch 430 Lumens
What to look for when buying a head torch
Here’s what the best head torches have when it comes to features and functions…
Battery life: For winter use, I look for at least 100 hours on low burn, and at least 10 hours on a setting bright enough to follow a bearing after dark in poor visibility. For summer, around 100 hours on low burn and 2-3 hours on a higher setting is sufficient for me.
Power source: Recharging via USB from a power bank is great for multi-day use. Most still have micro USB sockets; if your phone takes a USB-C cable, a USB-C-compatible torch is better. Some can take either a removable rechargeable battery or AA/AAA cells. This is great for winter as AA/AAA lithium cells last longer below zero. It also makes it easier to swap out batteries on the go. If your torch has a sealed battery, then it must be recharged from a power bank or mains charger when depleted.
Brightness: Brightness is measured in lumens. Low setting (often 5-10 lumens) is fine for use at close range in a tent.
I look for about 200 lumens for night hiking on trails, and up to 400-500 for winter mountaineering. Some torches have brightness memory – they’ll remember the last setting used and switch back on to the same brightness next time.
Features: Most torches offer both white light and a red setting, good for preserving night vision. A strobe mode can be useful in emergency situations. Many torches offer a spot beam for trail finding as well as a flood beam.
Weather resistance: Every torch tested is water-resistant; IPX4 is the minimum (resistant to rain, but not submersible). IPX6 is better, but only IPX7 and IP67 are tested
for immersion in water. For winter use, I look for at least IPX6.
Size and weight: Every torch tested weighs 100g or less. Although some heavier models with large rear-mounted battery packs do offer better battery life, these are cumbersome and only needed for extended use in the most extreme conditions.
Controls: Most torches have a single button; some have two or even three. Look for simple, intuitive controls that are easy to use when wearing gloves. A control lock stops the torch from coming on accidentally in your pack.
Comfort: A comfortable and easily adjustable strap is essential. Also important is the hinge, which should offer a good range of movement and hold its position when adjusted. The LEDs should not spill any light down onto your face (this can cause glare for glasses wearers).