Facewest’s ‘How To’ – Choose a Headtorch

Facewest sell a huge selection of headlamps. Unless you have experience of a particular model or have been given a recommendation then it can be quite a job finding the right lamp for you. Before you look at the actual lamps you need to decide which features are important to you.

In our last version of this page we suggested that the main considerations should be power (brightness, measured in lumens), weight, battery life and cost. This is still true however, headtorches have improved quite a lot in the last few years and battery life and weight is now much better, as is power vs cost. With so much power now available at relatively little cost additional features such as reactive lighting, programmable modes and Bluetooth connectivity are important to consider.

The final consideration is whether you want a regulated or unregulated torch, or whether it doesn’t matter to you. Here’s what the difference is between regulated or unregulated: A regulated torch (usually running on a custom rechargeable Lithium battery) will run at the chosen power setting for the given battery length and then die (usually with a short warning and low power backup mode). Unregulated torches (usually standard AAA or AA battery power) give the stated power output when batteries are new but slowly dim until the light is unusable and the user changes the batteries.

Where to Look

We split our headtorches into 3 categories: Low Power, Medium Power and High Power. Below is a quick explanation of what you’re likely to find in each category. If you’re looking for more detail in helping to narrow your choice then scroll down to the rest of this article.

Category Characteristics Use
Low Power Torches – Up to 199 Lumens Compact and lightweight head torches with basic functionality that take standard alkaline batteries. These lamps offer excellent burn times and enough light for walking in the dark on a track, looking at things in close proximity and general campsite use. Also ideal as a backup.
Medium Power Torches – 200 to 499 Lumens Compact and lightweight torches with various battery options and functions. Ideal for most outdoor activities these torches offer good burn times vs power with a number of settings. A good choice for climbers, mountaineers and those looking for a bit more power than in the low power category.
High Power Torches – 500+ Lumens Larger head torches with a separate dedicated Li-Ion battery pack and a seriously powerful beam. These are more specialist lamps and are mostly suited to specific activities requiring a high level of light. More stable head mounting along with additional mounting options makes them best for adventure racing, fell runners, mountain bikers and cyclists.

What to Look For

Here’s a table showing the rough power level suitable for a range of activities, whether a regulated or unregulated torch is preferable, plus a list of features many torches in the category come with which you may want to consider. The lumens in the table refers to the maximum output of the torch – much of the time you won’t have a headtorch on max power as the battery life will be too compromised over prolonged use.

Suggested Use Lumens Regulated/Unregulated Potentially Desirable Features
Mountain Biking, cycling 1000+ Regulated Handlebar mounting, programmable
Fell running, adventure racing 750+ Regulated Programmable, reactive lighting, different beam patterns, emergency mode, lightweight, stable
Trail running, orienteering 500+ Regulated Programmable, reactive lighting, different beam patterns, stable
Mountaineering, skiing, orienteering 250+ Either Programmable, reactive lighting, mixed beam pattern, emergency mode, lock function, lightweight, stable
Climbing, hiking 200+ Either Emergency mode, lock function, mixed beam pattern, lightweight
Walking, wild camping, backpacking 150+ Unregulated Emergency mode, lock function, mixed beam pattern
Campsites, car camping, travelling 100+ Unregulated Emergency mode, lock function, small
Backup, emergency 50+ Unregulated Emergency mode, lock function, small

Features to be Aware of

Rechargeable Batteries

Most high end torches come with their own dedicated Li-Ion rechargeable battery. This keeps power vs battery life stable and offers a much more cost effective solution for frequent users than keep buying AAA batteries. It does mean that you’ll need to have the ability to recharge or switch to an alternate power source if you’re using the torch over longer periods. Some torches are compatible with both a dedicated battery pack and standard batteries – be aware of the performance differences with each power source.

Reactive Lighting

Only found on some Petzl headtorches reactive lighting allows the torch to adjust the output based on the light level around it. This is great if you know how to use it as it maximises efficiency of the battery and means you don’t have to keep adjusting the settings during use. However, if you don’t know how it works and use it incorrectly it will drain the battery very quickly.

Programmable Torches

Many torches can be programmed, ie the user can choose the output, and in some cases the beam pattern, for each setting. This is done in a variety of ways depending on the torch – either through button clicks on the torch itself, through a program on a computer via a USB connection or via Bluetooth to a smartphone/tablet/laptop. It’s worth checking and selecting a torch which suits your level of techy-ness.

Battery Pack Location

Some torches have a separate battery pack whilst others contain the batteries in the lamp unit. This affects the balance of the torch, which is important for activities such as running when a torch has heavier batteries. Often the battery pack is fixed to the back of the headstrap, and an over-the-head strap is also included. On some torches the battery pack can be kept elsewhere, such as a waist belt or pack. If you have a specific place where you want the battery then check what the options are for the torch.

To directly compare all our torches have a look at the Heatorches Comparison Chart.

A Quick Note on Batteries

If your torch comes with a dedicated rechargeable battery then only this battery will give you the stated performance. If you opt for a torch which uses standard AAA or AA batteries then please note the following information:

Tests have shown that buying branded batteries gives better performance and is more cost effective than using cheaper alternatives. Rechargeable batteries will not give as good a performance as standard batteries, you should also be aware that power level indicators are not accurate for rechargeable batteries.

See also: Petzl Hybrid Lamps Information.

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