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Best head torch in 2021: head lamps to see in the dark and keep hands free

Included in this guide:

best head torch
(Image credit: N-Photo)

Looking for the best head torch? Our guide will help you choose the best one, and find the one with the right features for you at the best price.

Although not specifically aimed at photographers, a head torch – also commonly referred to as a ‘head light’ or ‘head lamp’ – is one of the handiest bits of kit you can stash in your gadget bag. Useful for any type of nighttime photography and indeed painting with light, it’s also an ideal tool for helping navigate your way home through the countryside after a golden hour landscape shoot. A head torch can also be a great help for looking  the innards of your DSLR or mirrorless camera, if you’re confident enough to attempt to clean its sensor yourself. The beauty is that strapping it to your head enables you to remain usefully ‘hands free’ for whatever you’re doing.

On top of the above, some head torches are also useful for astronomers, thanks to their specialist red light setting. So there are many more uses for that humble head torch than simply finding your way back to your tent at night, exploring cave systems, or even digging through boxes in the attic.

So what to look for? Well, inevitable budget consideration aside, you’ll be wanting something that is lightweight, ideally waterproof and that maintains its beam power for as long as possible, even in the cold. Fortunately LED technology has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and most manufacturers will have already considered – and hopefully surmounted – such issue

So without further ado, let’s illuminate what we consider the best head torches for all-round use…

Best head torch in 2021

(Image credit: Energizer)

1. Energizer Vision Ultra Headlight

Best budget head torch

LED color: Six modes, including red and green
Beam type: Adjustable, including spot, wide or spot and wide combined
Brightness (Lumens: 400
Dimmable light modes: Yes
Battery type: 3 x AAA
Waterproof rating: IPX4 water resistant only
Runtime: Approx 10 hours on brightest setting
Weight: 120g
Reasons to buy
+Sensibly priced+Red mode for star gazing
Reasons to avoid
-Not rechargeable 

A very familiar name in the world of domestic batteries, Energizer offers up this very affordable and simple strap-on-and-go LED equipped headband type option, with a trio of AAA alkaline batteries very much included. A pivoting lamp head allows the light to be directed where you want it, leaving you hands free, while the lens is said to be water resistant and shatterproof, resisting damage from drops of up to a metre. So you don’t get left in the dark without warning, a red low battery indicator lamp starts flashing when power is failing. Six modes, including a red and green option, allow users to cleverly preserve night vision, while there is also a dimming option to control light intensity. In conclusion, this is an inexpensive and fuss free entry-level headlamp option.

(Image credit: Petzl)

2. Petzl Actik Core 450

Great head torch from the best known name in the game

LED color: Red or white
Beam type: Flood, Mixed
Brightness (Lumens: 450
Dimmable light modes: Yes, via three adjustable brightness levels (Proximity, Movement & Distance)
Battery type: Rechargeable cell or optional 3 x AAA batteries
Waterproof rating: IPX4 water resistant only
Runtime: Up to 140 hours
Weight: 75g
Reasons to buy
+Compact design+Good maximum power output+Rechargeable or single-use batteries
Reasons to avoid
-Not the cheapest option

With a usefully detachable and washable headband that has reflective elements for night time visibility and safety, this very lightweight one-size-fits-all option at just 75g features a rechargeable battery that is fully charged in three hours. Alternatively it can be used in conjunction with three optional AAA batteries for those embarking on longer trips. Operated via a handily placed single button, with various adjustments being able to made to both the beam of light and its intensity and color – including a red light mode for night vision – use is said to be intuitive, while further peace of mind comes via a five year user guarantee. In a nutshell, in being detachable, washable and rechargeable, this is a simple yet comprehensive all in one solution.

(Image credit: Black Diamond)

3. Black Diamond Cosmo 300

Best headtorch for astrophotography and astronomy

LED color: White, plus red
Beam type: Flood, spot
Brightness (Lumens): 300
Dimmable light modes: Yes
Battery type: 3x AAA
Waterproof rating: IPX8
Runtime: Up to 200 hours on lowest setting or 4.25 hours on highest
Weight: 83g
Reasons to buy
+Fully waterproof+Red light can be dimmed+You can access red light without having to turn on white light
Reasons to avoid
-Batteries are not rechargeable

Getting your eyesight accustomed to the dark takes time - and therefore stargazers and astrophotographers use red light to avoid losing this hard-earned visual sensitivity. The trouble is that lots of headtorches force you to toggle through the white light to get to the red light - negating the advantage of this nigh vision mode. Note so the Black Diamond Cosmo, which has a great reputation amongst astronomers for being to not only switch the red light on and off with no danger of turning on the white light - but also as it has a fully dimmable red illumination, so you only need to dial up as much light as you actually need to adjust your telescope and camera equipment. 

(Image credit: Biolite)

4. BioLite HeadLamp 200

Lightweight head torch for prolonged use

LED color: Red or white
Beam type: Spot, strobe
Brightness (Lumens): 200
Dimmable light modes: Yes, White + Dim or Red + Dim
Battery type: Rechargeable cell
Waterproof rating: IPX4 water resistant only
Runtime: Up to 40 hours on ‘Lo’ setting or three hours on High
Weight: 50g
Reasons to buy
+Sci-fi design+Very lightweight+Red light option
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

Looking like something that would adorn the bonce of a sci-fi movie villain, part of the pitch for this BioLite contraption is that it is so lightweight at just 50g its user will forget they’re wearing it. Convenience further comes in the shape of micro USB charging of its rechargeable battery, and the fact that its front panel can be tilted downward to train on whatever bit of camera kit it is you’re adjusting. Its light modes are versatile, in that a classic white spot beam can be swapped for a dimmable red for night time activity. Furthermore an optional accessory in the light diffusing ‘Stuffsack’ lets the headlamp also work as hanging ambient light for your tent, should you be camping in the great outdoors, whereupon the fact that it is water resistant (but not waterproof) will come in handy.

(Image credit: Black Diamond)

5. Black Diamond Storm 400

As the model name suggests this one provides both lamp power and dust proofing and waterproofing with it

LED color: White, plus red, green or blue night vision
Beam type: Proximity or Distance modes
Brightness (Lumens): 400
Dimmable light modes: Yes
Battery type: 4x AAA
Waterproof rating: IP67 waterproof rated
Runtime: Up to 200 hours on lowest setting or five hours on highest
Weight: 120g
Reasons to buy
+Fully waterproof+Red light option+Bright 400 lumen output
Reasons to avoid
-Heavier than some-Not rechargeable

Usefully dust proof and waterproof - for up to 30 minutes at a one-metre depth – as well as relatively powerful in terms of its LED lights, this clever 400 lumen strength device has a memory brightness function, so that it will revert back to the previous power setting after it’s been turned off and on again. Requiring four included AAA batteries enables it to last for up to a whopping 200 hours on its lowest setting. OK, so it’s not rechargeable out of the box, but there’s nothing to stop us from using our own rechargeable batteries in it. Further features include the ability to dim or strobe the light, with various color settings including not only red night vision but also green or blue, with a secondary switch provided for fine tuning

(Image credit: Vont)

6. Vont Spark LED Headlamp

Twin pack means this is head torch is exceptionally good value

LED color: White
Beam type: Not given
Brightness (Lumens: 200
Dimmable light modes: Yes
Battery type: 3x AAA
Waterproof rating: IPX5 waterproof rated
Runtime: Up to 90 hours
Weight: 85g
Reasons to buy
+Sold in twin packs
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

Waterproof, drop resistant and of course portable, this cheap as (micro) chips budget 200 lumen brightness option typically sees you getting two head lamps bundled in the packet and batteries included. Users have the option of using no fewer than seven different light modes that the user can flick between with a single switch and dependent on viewing requirements, ranging from low to high power for both the main light and its side lights. The light itself is tilted at a 45° angle for, its manufacturer claims, easier viewing and the avoidance of neck ache. Powered by three regular AAA batteries to deliver a set up said to be lighter than an egg, the Vont Spark comes with a lifetime warranty to help you sleep soundly at night.

(Image credit: Silva)

7. Silva Trail Speed 4XT

Best head torch for maximum brightness

LED color: White
Beam type: ‘Intelligent Light System’ creates beams adapted to how eyes see in the dark
Brightness (Lumens: 1200
Dimmable light modes: Yes
Battery type: Rechargeable
Waterproof rating: IPX5 waterproof rating
Runtime: Up to 5 hours at max brightness or 20 hours at minimum
Weight: 600g
Reasons to buy
+Astonishing 1200 lumen maximum beam output+Great for light painting
Reasons to avoid
-High power comes at a high cost

Super powerful head worn aluminum build lamp for when you really do need plenty of punch to illuminate your surrounds, this one can throw out light to a distance of 160 metres, while it will last up to five hours at full power, or up to 20 hours if dimming light intensity down to 80 lumens. 

Recharging time for its integral battery is four hours, with the Swedish designed lamp capable of being detached from its head strap should you want to mount it to the handlebars of a bicycle or a helmet. Tilt the lamp downwards for a wider beam, or upwards for a longer reach. The downside here is that it’s the highest priced solution in our round up, while it’s not the lightest available either. However, when you need a lot of light thrown on your subject this example from Silva could well prove itself a ‘Trail’ blazer.

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Gavin Stoker

Gavin has over 30 year experience of writing about photography and television. He is currently the editor of British Photographic Industry News, and previously served as editor of Which Digital Camera and deputy editor of Total Digital Photography

He has also written for a wide range of publications including T3, BBC Focus, Empire, NME, Radio Times, MacWorld, Computer Active, What Digital Camera and Rough Guide books.

With his wealth of knowledge he is well placed to recognise great camera deals and recommend the best products in Digital Camera World’s buying guides. He also writes on a number of specialist subjects including binoculars and monoculars, spotting scopes, microscopes, trail cameras, action cameras, body cameras, filters, cameras straps and more.