Head torches are a great accessory for runners who want to head out in the dark or early morning on long runs when there is little ambient light, or when the fog is closing in during the dark winter months.
Head torches come in a variety of different shapes, sizes and styles that have their own unique benefits and uses. Depending on whether you love exploring the countryside on trail paths, scaling mountains or heading out on a quick road run, there are a number of things that you should know before buying your next head torch. In this article, we hope to give you some hints and tips that will make that choice an informed one to help find yourself the best running headlamp.
A Quick Guide to Lumens for Running Torches
The more lumens your running torch has, the brighter it will be. That’s not to say that you should just go out and buy the torch with the most lumens – there are a number of other things that you should consider. However, as a general rule, we recommend a torch with at least 200 lumens for general use, and 350+ if you intend to head out into the trails or mountains.
Lumens measure the amount of visible light for a light source, in this case your running torch. When buying a head torch and comparing different options, taking into account the number of lumens and the projected distance, or range, the light will illuminate, will give you a good indication of which torch is right for you.
When looking at the range of a running torch, torches with higher range and more lumens are more expensive. But, for runners who enjoy exploring and are prone to getting lost, that extra range can be vital on dark nights or in low visibility conditions.
Your author runs with a Black Diamond 350 Spot which has a range of 86m on full beam. This is plenty of range for a road run but the range can feel a little shallow when off road with no ambient light.
Some running torches come with an impressive 1,000 lumens or more. Whilst it might be tempting to reach for the running torch with the most lumens that you can afford, having a torch that’s too bright can have a downside as the light becomes too harsh and you have a good chance of blinding any fellow runners you share the trail with. We’d only recommend a light that packs quite so many lumens if you are an outdoor explorer and you find yourself up in the mountains on a regular basis.
Best Running lights
Below we have our top pick of some of the best headlamps that will give you the best light in low-light conditions, an essential piece of running gear to add to your daily run.
Black Diamond Spot 400R
This Black Diamond Spot 400R is an affordable mid-range choice with a rechargeable battery and a maximum output of 400 lumens which is ample for most users. Black Diamond headlights are relatively easy to operate and come with a dimmer switch meaning that you don’t drain the batteries quite as quickly when you don’t need a full beam.
It might seem trivial but the brightness settings feature is a bonus for the times when you want to pick up where you left off without having to click through the different light settings.
The head torch retails at around £50 and is available from popular outdoor retailers including Millets and GoOutdoors.
We just had to take a look at the Petzl Actik for our second recommendation. New to the market, this lightweight headlamp is a high-power torch that packs a wide beam and a powerful 450 lumens of light at the brightest setting and an impressive range of 115m on rechargeable batteries.
The battery pack gauge on this torch also means that you can plan to take batteries (3 x aaa batteries) with you when your torch is on its last bit of charge. Boasting a 120min run time on 3 batteries is good to keep an eye on. We have found this head torch online for as little as £26.50 making it a good running headlamp whilst being affordable at the time of writing.
One of the most powerful head torches on the market, the Fenix HM61R offers 1,200 lumens brightness level for maximum visibility in low light conditions. The torch comes with a headband to mount the unit comfortably and give you some added stability – the unit weighs in at 99.5 grams without a battery making it relatively light considering its power output. The torch combines an impressive number of lumens with a range of 145 metres, giving you ample visibility.
Silva Scout 3
An entry level torch that offers 220 lumens, the Silva Scout 3 is a good idea for those on a budget. The torch has a max power range of 50m, meaning that it is the shallowest of our four head torch recommendations but the range should still be plenty for running in urban areas with some additional ambient light. The torch doesn’t have quite as many features as the other recommendations we have looked at but still offers a floodlight and full beam setting. With an RRP of £24.99, the Silva Scout feels like a bargain and could be a perfect headlamp for beginners.
How Many Lumens Should My Running Torch Be?
Popular brands, including Black Diamond and Petzl, have headlights with as few as 40 lumens. However, as we said earlier, we’d take a look at 200 lumens+ for general use and 350 lumens+ for more challenging terrain.
The reason for this recommendation is that, in our experience, this is where you start to see the real benefit to wearing a running torch. Torches with fewer may fare moderately well in conditions where you have ambient light but they won’t give off enough light to help when visibility is already low, which are the exact conditions where you’d need a running torch anyway!
One thing to bare in mind is that the advertised brightness of a torch is measured with full batteries. It is worth noting that your running torch will likely become dimmer the more that you use it. This effectively reduces the number of lumens that your torch will emit. This is one argument for getting a running torch that is brighter than the light you think you will need. If your light is too bright, you can always use the dimmer switch to reduce its output.
As well as your standard run, you should also consider how well your light would serve you if you needed to use it to signal for help or to find your way in total darkness if you became lost. Having a light that clearly illuminates your surroundings in these situations isn’t just important, it can be the difference between life and death.
Petzl have introduced reactive lighting whereby the brightness of your torch automatically adapts to its surroundings. This means that you don’t have to cycle through the different settings on your head-torch manually.
With all that said, we’d recommend a running torch with 350 lumens or more to ensure that you have a torch bright enough for when the unexpected happens.
How Far Will My Running Torch Shine?
Whilst lumens determine how brightly your torch will shine, range determines how far that light will reach. As with the brightness of your torch, you will likely need a torch which has a bigger range if you are running on tricky terrain or where there is little to no ambient light.
Many torches have a number of different settings, giving you the option of a long range spot light or a close range ‘floodlight’ setting.
Top-end head-torches have ranges up to 150m and beyond. Whilst this may seem excessive, it is useful for runners who need to spot the trail ahead or who are out in low visibility conditions. Generally, torches with over 50m range are sufficient in urban conditions.
Is Running With a Head Torch or Chest Torch Best?
Broadly speaking, there are three main types of torch: Hand, head and chest (some of these can be clip-on lights)
An old fashioned hand torch will, in general, give you more lumens for your money. You can, therefore, generally see further and pivot the hand torch to illuminate anything you see out of the corner of your eye. However, running with a hand torch means that you don’t have the same level of freedom as a head or chest torch as you will always have one hand on the torch. If you plan to constantly light the way ahead, that will also impact on your running form too as well as your ability to break your fall if you trip up.
Head torches are the most popular style as they are hands-free. A well fitting head-torch requires no thought once you have fixed it in place and turned it on. It really is as simple as that. The other benefit to a head torch is that the light is always shining in the direction that you are facing. Head torches usually come built on a pivot meaning that you can angle the light up or down to suit. Depending on how bright your head-torch is will determine quite how far you can see but a good head-torch will have enough light for you to see a comfortable distance ahead, lighting up any obstacles in plenty of time.
Another good reason to run with a head or chest light is that you are less likely to lose it, whereas a hand-held light is easily dropped or forgotten if you stop part way through your run. Whilst this can be mitigated by using a strap around your wrist, a head or chest torch is fixed in place meaning that you never have to worry about leaving it behind.
If you are not a fan of having a torch strapped to your head, or a handheld one, then the third option is the chest torch. Chest torches strap around your midriff, generally with an X-shaped strap. This makes them a secure fit if you choose the right size. Downsides to chest straps are that the light is less adaptable and can’t be angled as easily as a head-mounted torch. The fact that the torch is mounted to your chest also means that the light will not necessarily follow your gaze if you do spot something up ahead.
Much like with a running belt, you need to ensure that your torch fits snugly, either on your temple or across your chest. A torch that bounces provides inconsistent lighting and one that needs constant readjustment is a distraction rather than an aide to your running. If in doubt, give a few torches a try before you buy. It will save you money and a lot of frustration in the long run.
Can You Get a Running Head Torch With a Rear Light?
Running head torches are great for lighting the way and helping you see the way ahead but what about being seen? You can invest in a double mounted head-torch with a rear facing light if you often run on roads where being seen from behind should be your priority.
Much like the rear lights on a car, many rear-facing running lights have a red filter to help visibility. Whilst rear facing lights have become popular, they are not universal and we’d recommend checking your preferred option before you buy to make sure that a rear light is included.
Whilst rear lights have their uses, they do come as an added weight and you should factor this in when you are making your selection.
Head Torch FAQs
Why are head torches red?
Head torches come with different types of lights, a red light setting as well as white light to help you see in the dark on a night run. Using a red light is a good thing if you don’tt disturb others if you are using the light on a campsite in the middle of the night.
What is the blue light on a head torch for?
If your running torch has more light modes, it might have a blue light function, which is specifically designed to help you see in low visibility conditions including fog and mist. The blue light helps cut through fog to give you a clear view of the route ahead.
How to open a head torch
One of the things you should familiarise yourself with before taking your running torch out on a run with you is how to open it and replace the batteries. Generally, head torches have a clip on the side or rear of the torch where you can unclip it and access the battery compartment.