Watching the sunset from the summit is a wonderful thing – romantic, dreamlike and sometimes breath-taking.
But as the daylight slowly fades, you face a problem: without additional lighting, the descent can be difficult and even dangerous.
And because you might need to use your hands for other things than holding a torch, a head torch often makes the most sense.
Here’s some tips on what you should consider when buying one:
What kinds of head torch are there?
All head torches have one thing in common: they all use light-emitting diodes, or LEDs for short, to provide light. The main advantage of these is that they are very energy-saving and shine very brightly. They are also very robust and withstand shocks well. This means that modern head torches have a very long service life.
Some models feature a headband and have an integrated battery compartment in the lamp head. These have the advantage that you don’t have to carry so much weight. They also take up less space in your rucksack. And this doesn’t have any impact on the light output. Even in this segment, there are very high-quality lights, because what matters is what is in the lamp itself.
Other head torches feature two bands that run around and over the head. This means that they fit better, which is particularly useful in very active pursuits.
More powerful lights also need more power, which is usually reflected in the number or size of batteries. This is made possible on many models by having the battery compartment on the back of your head (which is more comfortable than it looks) or even on your belt. These battery packs are usually rechargeable and can be quickly replaced with another battery if necessary.
An external battery compartment also the advantage that it can be worn under the jacket in very low temperatures (skiing or snowshoeing tours). Batteries and rechargeable batteries are still sensitive to low temperatures and lose a lot of capacity when they get too cold. If you keep the battery compartment warm, you will be able to use your torch for longer.
The quality of a head torch depends on the choice of LEDs, the torch body, the thermal output, the housing… etc. High-quality head torches maintain a continuous output over a longer period of time and do not diminish because of thermal output.
What about light output?
In general, there are two values given for head torches: range and lumen. Broadly speaking, lumen refers to the brightness of the head torch and the range is the distance a torch can illuminate. The number of lumens does not depend exclusively on the number of LEDs in the lamp head. The type and quality and the design of the diode and the lamp are decisive. The range isdependson the reflectors and the LEDs used. Depending on the model, different lighting modes can be set and the lamps dimmed.
Some models such as the Petzl Nao have an integrated sensor that captures the reflected light and the lamp automatically dims. This is particularly useful if you don’t have a lot of time to change the brightness manually every time or if you need to look at a map a lot.
Many models come with a red light which, like the blink mode, serves as an emergency light enabling you to be found.
The red light also has the advantage that human pupils don’t contract in red light. This is helpful, for example, if you need to look your companions in the face a lot or need to use a map for directions. In white light, you have to stand in the dark for a few seconds until your pupils have adjusted, but not with red light.
Who needs which head torch?
The requirements for the right head torch vary from sport to sport. Head torches like the Silva Runner with a range of 90 m and 550 lumen are great for trail runners for example, who travel at high speed on technical trails. This also features for example the Silva Intelligent Light. This emits the light as evenly and widely as possible, which gives the cone of light in front of the runner a sense of calm. A small pointy cone would jump in front of you all the time while running, which can be very annoying.
For hikers descending from the summit on easy paths, less powerful head torches such as the Black Diamond Spot, with a range of 75 m and a luminosity of 130 m are sufficient.
If you need a lamp that shines all night, make sure to choose an extremely energy-efficient model or carry a second battery pack. Fortunately, most head torches today shine for much longer than one night – although you should not necessarily choose the strongest light mode.
If you’re expecting rain, make sure that your head torch is waterproof. The IP value should be consulted here: 1 means “protection against dripping water” and a value of 8 means that a head torch can be permanently used under water. For normal to heavy rainfall, IP 4 is sufficient.
For glasses wearers, it’s recommended to check how well the light is shielded at the bottom. A brightly lit bridge of the nose is not so bad, but if it shines into the glasses from above, it can quickly become very annoying. If you end up with non-reflective lenses, it can be very tiring. However, a small piece of tape can help.
Small torches for emergencies and handy accessories
For high-intensity lamps with large batteries, manufacturers sometimes offer extra belt holders or rucksacks so that you don’t have to carry too much weight on your head and the weight is better distributed. Mammut also offers the Ambient Light attachment and the Ambient Light Dry Bag, two practical accessories which ensure that the light is better diffused and therefore softer. This is especially useful in tents or at the campsite and creates a nice atmosphere.
For those who only want to be equipped for emergencies and don’t want to spend a lot of money, there are small, handy head torches such as the Black Diamond Ion, which can be placed really anywhere and provide at least a minimum of light when needed.
However you want to light up your night, you should think carefully about what the head torch of your choice should be able to do and then decide.