When choosing what to pack for your next trip, a head torch doesn’t always spring to mind — especially in the era of smartphones.
However, your smartphone won’t produce the same beam of light as a headlamp and it’s not as efficient. Plus, you may well want to save your phone battery for navigating, reading or catching up with friends.
In this article, we’ll compare the top head torches for travel and shed some light on the reasons you should throw one in your backpack!
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Reasons to use a head torch while travelling:
- Trekking – Many treks require some element of night hiking, especially if you’re climbing a peak for sunrise! Having your hands free as you illuminate tricky terrain can be super important.
- Exploring caves – Getting deep into the earth is a fantastic experience — but only if you can see where you’re going!
- Power cuts – Blackouts and electricity issues are common across much of the world. A good head torch will allow you to carry on with your evening even if the lights go out!
- Getting to the bathroom at night – Whether you’re camping or staying in a dorm room, navigating to the bathroom at night can be a challenge. Light up your way with your head torch. It’s even better if you can get a torch with different brightness settings so you don’t bother your roommates too much!
- Reading in a dark room or bus – If you can’t sleep, being able to read is a great way to occupy your mind. If you’ve not got an e-reader, having a head torch (set to a low brightness or red light) allows you to read the night away!
- Finding your accommodation– Towns and cities are well lit but as you get more rural with your travels, you might find yourself needing a head torch to get home from the pub!
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Best Head Torches for Travel: Quick Answers!
The Best Travel Head Torches
Petzl Actik Core — Overall Best Head Torch for Travel
- Price Range – $$$
- Best Feature – Multiple beams and brightness settings.
- Feature To Improve – Not all versions come with the rechargeable battery included, ensure the one you’re looking at does!
The best overall head torch for travel is the Petzl Actik Core. At just 86 grams, you’ll barely notice you’re carrying it!
The head torch delivers four brightness levels; one low-level red light and three white light settings. At its lowest output, the two lumen red light, you can expect 60 hours of illumination.
Torch brightness is generally measured in ‘lumens’. For reference, your average household torch is usually about 50 lumens.
The six lumen white light can go for 130 hours and the 100 lumen white light burns for eight hours.
Finally, the super bright 450 lumen white light only lasts two hours but illuminates up to 90 metres! There are very few occasions where you’ll need this full setting though so realistically, the battery life is 8-130 hours.
It has different beam options too. There’s a wide beam for lighting up a wide area in front of you and a longer, thinner beam which is ideal for illuminating the path ahead.
The Petzl Actik Core generally comes with a USB rechargeable battery but is also compatible with 3xAAA batteries — it can be a good idea to carry three of these with you if you’re planning to be away from electricity for long periods.
Note: Some older models of the Actik Core don’t come with a rechargeable battery. It’s worth looking for the newer models because the rechargeable battery costs around $30USD to buy separately.
The elasticated headband is soft and adjustable. This allows you to get the perfect fit and ensures the torch doesn’t irritate your skin while being worn. The torch is also water-resistant so will survive being caught out in the odd downpour — we don’t suggest fully submerging it though!
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Foxelli LED Headlamp — Best Budget Head Torch
- Price Range – $
- Best Feature – The price!
- Feature To Improve – Not the longest battery life.
If you’re on the hunt for a good quality, budget-friendly head torch, the LED Headlamp from Foxelli has you covered.
It has both a low and high white light setting, as well as a strobe mode — perfect for signalling for help or just getting the party going! It also features a red light that protects your night vision and is less obtrusive when navigating through a dark dorm room.
The brightest setting provides 180 lumens but the battery won’t last too long in this mode. The dimmer mode is bright enough for casual use and offers close to 40 hours battery life. The torch is USB rechargeable and comes with the necessary micro USB cable.
The headband is soft and easy to adjust. It comfortably fits any size head and can even extend over cycle helmets and hard hats. The entire torch weighs just shy of 70g and is available in a range of colours. It’s also possible to get a small discount if you order more than one torch at a time — great if you’re travelling with friends and need to get everyone kitted out!
Nitecore NU25 — Best Head Torch for Hiking
- Price Range – $$$
- Best Feature – Different light settings for different scenarios.
- Feature To Improve – Nothing!
The Nitecore NU25 is an affordable lightweight head torch that excels on the trail. The total weight is just 53g but you can almost half this by replacing the headband if you wish. However, unless you’re ultralight backpacking, there’s very little need to bother!
But the low weight of this head torch is only the start, it’s packed full of great features.
There are three different types of light produced by the NU25:
- Main white light – The main beam has four brightness options. 360 lumens, 190 lumens, 38 lumens and 1 lumen. Depending on the option you choose, this main beam can be used for between 30 minutes – 160 hours!
- Auxiliary light – This light is for reading or close up activities. The light produced is known for its high colour rendering index rating — which essentially means it reduces eye strain and illuminates colours well in the dark. This light can be used for just over 6 hours on a single charge.
- Red light – Perfect for protecting your night vision and not blinding those around you, the NU25’s red light has two brightness modes; 13 lumens and 0.9 lumens. The burn time for the red light is between 8 – 86 hours depending on which setting you use.
The main beam features a different on/off button to the red light. This allows you to quickly find the right colour and brightness setting.
The head torch can be recharged using the included micro USB cable. It takes only 2.5 hours to fully charge. It’s also water-resistant, so you don’t need to panic if you get caught in a storm!
The headband is breathable and fully adjustable. It features a line of silicone on the inside to ensure the torch stays in place, even when your skin is wet or sweaty.
Finally, it’s possible to lock the power buttons which prevent you from accidentally turning the torch on in your bag. This ensures you won’t get stuck without charge when you need it!
Black Diamond Sprint 225 — Best Lightweight Rechargeable Head Torch
- Price Range – $$$
- Best Feature – Battery meter and overall weight
- Feature To Improve – Very short burn time on high setting and only produces white light.
Comfortable to wear and durable enough to survive the rigours of travel, Black Diamond’s Sprint 225 is a great lightweight rechargeable head torch. At only 51g, it’s almost impossible to find a lighter rechargeable torch on the market. Don’t be fooled by companies telling you their head torches are sub 30g — often these weights are taken without including batteries or the headband!
It has three brightness settings, 225 lumens, 120 lumens and 6 lumens. The maximum run time is 20 hours on the lowest setting but only 1.5 hours on the highest which means you’ll need to charge it often. The charge time is 3 hours.
Unlike most lightweight head torches, the Black Diamond Sprint includes a battery meter so you can see how much charge you have left at all times. Considering the short battery life, this feature is super useful.
Black Diamond’s PowerTap technology makes it really easy to switch the brightness between medium and high by just tapping the side of the head torch. It’s handy for when you need a quick burst of increased light. You can tap to swap between the two modes as many times as you need.
The dimming feature allows you to set the brightness somewhere between the different set levels if you wish. This allows more control depending on where you’re using the torch.
It’s also fully stormproof. While it won’t survive full submersion for too long, it can easily get through a heavy downpour without any negative consequences.
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Silva Trail Runner Free H — Best Head Torch for Running
- Price Range – $$$$$$
- Best Feature – Comfortable and well balanced for running.
- Feature To Improve – Overall, this is an expensive headlamp and the battery life is not ideal.
The Trail Runner Free by Silva is made specifically for runners. This makes it ideal for those wanting to get your exercise in while on the road!
The battery pack is worn on the back of your head while the light itself is on the front. This means the torch is well balanced and doesn’t move around as you run, hike or jog. If you don’t want to wear the battery pack on the headband, the included extension cable means you can keep the battery in your pocket, hooked onto your belt or even in a backpack!
The torch weighs close to 100g with the batteries inserted and the ‘H’ model comes with a rechargeable battery pack. The basic model only comes with AAA batteries while the ‘Ultra’ model comes with a much larger battery pack.
The maximum illumination offered is 400 lumens with 200 and 50-lumen settings available too. The biggest downside of this head torch is the battery life. At the brightest setting, you’ll only get about 2.5 hours of light from the battery. And at the dimmest, only 12 hours. For the price, this is less than we’d hope.
The adjustable strap is soft to the touch and features a silicone strip on the inside. This prevents it from sliding down your head as you move and keeps it securely in place. The large on/off button is easy to find and use, even while wearing gloves and there’s a red safety light on the back to ensure you’re visible from behind at all times — although this can be turned off if you don’t want to use it.
To be honest, this torch wouldn’t have made our list of best travel torches if it wasn’t for the fact we often get asked about the best torches for running while travelling. It’s not particularly suitable for use in a hostel and the short battery life means you need to constantly ensure it’s topped up. However, it’s super comfortable to wear, is ultra-durable and features some great technology that make it a solid choice for runners, hikers and climbers.
Those are our favourite head torches for travel but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other perfectly good options out there. If none of our picks take your fancy, head on over to Amazon and search through the thousands of options on offer.
At the end of the day, as long as your head torch produces light and isn’t going to fall apart the first time you use it, it will do the job! Just ensure the head torch you’re looking at is well rated and has good customer feedback!
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Travel Head Torch Buyers Guide: What to look for in a head torch for travel
Having a headlamp that only lasts an hour is a pointless waste of time and money. You want your torch to be reliable for long periods. This is especially true if you’re hiking, camping or spending a lot of time away from civilization.
A good quality head torch should provide at least 2-5 hours of light on its highest setting. Realistically, you’ll rarely need to use your torch that bright so look out for torches that last 15-100 hours on their medium-low brightness levels.
Here at South East Asia Backpacker, we recommend USB rechargeable head torches for travelling. These save you having to buy and carry around extra batteries which benefit both your bank balance and the planet!
Most head torches today are relatively lightweight so this isn’t too much of an issue anymore. In the early days of headlamps, you’d have to carry a large battery pack as well as the torch itself. This is still true for monstrously bright or expedition head torches with a super long battery life. However, you’ll rarely need a torch like this for general backpacking.
If you’re going for an ultra-light approach, or are just close to your baggage allowance, there are some great super lightweight torches available.
LEDs, or ‘Light Emitting Diodes’, are pretty much the go-to option for torches today. They produce a ton of light for much less electricity than a standard bulb. They last for thousands of hours and are much more durable than classic bulbs, easily handling extreme temperatures and the rigours of travel.
A head torch that offers different brightness levels gives you much more control of your illumination. If you’re walking along a familiar road and just want a small amount of light to guide you, it’s a good idea to use a low setting to extend the battery life.
But if you’re trekking up a steep mountain trail, having a powerful beam that illuminates the path ahead is much safer.
If you can get a torch that offers a red light too, even better. Red light is much less intrusive and won’t affect your night vision in the same way as white light. This makes it a great choice for camping, hiking or just manoeuvring through a packed out dorm room!
Adjustable headbands and stretchy fabrics will go a long way to making your head torch wearing experience a pleasant one. Make sure there’s enough padding where the torch meets your head too. Having to wear an uncomfortable head torch for long periods is not fun and you’ll soon find yourself giving up with it altogether.
As with all things travel-related, there’s a trade-off between price and quality. You don’t want to spend a ton of money on a premium head torch if you’re only going to use it a few times during your trip. Likewise, you don’t want to buy a cheap torch that craps out on you after a few uses.
Find a well-reviewed torch that won’t cost too much money!
A water-resistant head torch will be more reliable than a non-waterproof version. You can never be sure when you’ll get caught in a downpour so it’s best to be prepared with water-resistant gear whenever possible!
When travelling you’ll spend a lot of time throwing your bag onto buses and into lockers. Make sure your travel head torch can handle being knocked about in your bag. If it breaks, it just becomes a pointless waste of plastic, so find a torch that can take a beating!
What our readers had to say about head torches for travel
“Even though we have flashlights on phones, we still carry headlamps.” Marianna
“I always carry a torch/flashlight with me, as well as a headlamp. I don’t believe in running down my phone’s battery unnecessarily.” Todd
“A head torch is so handy. I use it in streets but also when I leave dorms early in the morning to avoid disturbing everyone else.” Rebecca
Head Torch FAQs
Can I use my phone instead of a head torch?
Using the torch on your phone is a great option to get you out of a pinch but you shouldn’t rely on it. For one, you can’t easily stick your phone to your head — like a head torch, not just for the challenge — so you’ll always be one hand down. Your phone torch also won’t be as bright, nor will it offer a range of different settings* like a good quality head torch.
*Some phones do allow you to change the brightness of the torch but even then you don’t get the variation of settings.
Finally, you may need your phone battery for something other than illuminating the space around you.
How do I make a head torch?
While not everyone will want to invest the time and effort into making their own head torch, I’ve met enough tinkerers to know that a few of you will be interested in trying.
If that’s like, head over to instructables to see how to make your own rechargeable head torch!
What are the best head torch brands?
When searching for a good quality head torch, you’ll need to look deeper than which brands are best. Some great brands have released questionable products in the past.
However, the most popular head torch brands are Nitecore, Petzl, Black Diamond, Biolite, Silva and Alpkit.
Final Thoughts on Head Torches for Travel
Choosing a head torch for travel doesn’t need to be a chore. As long as your torch is reliable, has a good battery life and produces enough light, it will do the job.
If you want a torch that you can rely on for trip after trip, we suggest opting for one of the slightly more expensive brands such as Petzl, Black Diamond or Nitecore.
Have we missed your favourite head torch from our list? Let us know in the comments below!