CGR Buyers Guide to headtorches

This season’s CGR Buyers Guide covers headtorches – we look at all the latest ones for 2014.headtorch feature shot


Headtorches are something we probably take little notice of because we only use them infrequently. It’s rare that we plan to use one, we might use one for an approach to a winter or alpine route, we may use one to navigate off the mountain when the light has faded. Other than that our most often use of a headtorch is on camp or in a climbing hut.

There are, however, lots of occasions when I had wished I’d had one but hadn’t! My most memorable occasion was in Rjukan, when we had left our packs at the bottom of the route and off we went. We decided to ignore the track heading off rightwards and ploughed on to the top in true Brit fashion only to find we’d run out of daylight! No fear though we managed all the abs using our phones to light the way. Needless to say the event would have been far less exciting if we’d had taken a headtorch or two.

Headorches come into three categories for climbers: a dedicated torch that you know you will be using for climbing – these turn night into day. They are very powerful but can be bulky and need lots of battery power. A headtorch that can be deployed for climbing and will get you out of a tight spot but will also be useful for reading that book in the tent, nipping to the toilet or lighting your way back from the pub. They are packable, lightweight and provide sufficient light to climb with. Then there is the small, lightweight emergency type that you keep in your pack at all other times. These can give just sufficient light but there are some interesting ones that now can be used for ultralight alpine ascents as well as for lighting the way back to the car or as a backup.

So what should you be looking for in a headtorch for mountain activities:

  • Variable light settings – these should be easy to operate and should have a boost (full power ) for picking navigation attack points or showing the route, low settings for lighting the path or reading and a red light setting for reading the map (the white light reflects back off the map to reduce the effectiveness of you night vision).
  • Easy to operate buttons – these should be super easy to locate and use and especially so with gloves on. We used a standard pair of leather gloves for the tests and a pair of thicker ice climbing gauntlets just to be awkward.
  • Easy to use battery compartment – it should be easy to change the batteries in the field or even on a route.
  • Good beam dispersal – you need a system that will pick out far objects with a focussed beam and then disperse light for a wider beam when walking down rocky paths or navigating off your route.
  • Easy to adjust headstrap – this should be easy to adjust with gloves on and not be a faff. The headstrap should also work with a climbing helmet and not flop about.

There are also other considerations – waterproof, dustproof and easy to maintain. With the newer types of LED torch the days of changing the bulb are over.

We take a close look at all the latest models for 2014 from the major players in the market. We have collected a good range from the top end to a good budget one and tested them in a variety of situations to determine the pros and cons of each. We list them by size and give them a CGR star rating that rates them for their suitability for all mountain sports.


Black Diamond Ion

Black Diamond Ion

Black Diamond says…

Extremely compact and powerful, the Black Diamond Ion headlamp packs 80 lumens of power into a tiny package for just-in-case lighting and ultralight missions. The touch-control housing lets you switch from full power to dimmed, strobe or red night vision lighting at the swipe of a finger.

Swish, swash swoosh! The new Black Diamond Ion is a brilliant, throw in the bag and forget headtorch. I have definitely replaced my Petzl e-lite with this for all climbing occasions except winter and alpine climbing. The technology is brilliant, the Ion has no buttons and works with pressure swipes and presses. Although tricky to get used to, it took me half a hour of frustration before I got it to work. But once I got used to it I couldn’t leave it alone. Place your finger on the lens, swipe rightwards and the light comes on. Press your finger on the Black Diamond symbol and the light brightens and fades until you have the beam you want. Swipe right to left and the red beam activates, again you can adjust the brightness by pressing the Black Diamond logo on the front. It was, however, very easy to accidentally switch it on and it was confusing for my feeble brain to remember all the sequences needed to operate it.

The Black Diamond Ion gave enough light to light up the path.
The Black Diamond Ion gave enough light to light up the path.

What a great little headtorch however: the system works with gloves (but not bulky ones) and it’s a great all round headtorch, suitable for 3 season climbing and hiking. If you’re a super light alpine freak then it could be bright enough for that too. There was no focus and the beam dispersal was quite wide. It gave brightness to about 30m so easily enough to light the footpath on the way back to the car or to go running with. It runs on 2 AAA batteries is easy to change and feels very compact and robust. The Black Diamond Ion is superlight too weighing in at a miniscule 47g with 2 lithium batteries and has an IPX4 rating so nice and showerproof. My favourite headtorch for keeping in my pack to deploy when it gets dark on the way back to the car.

CGR rating ****

SRP: £24.99


LED Lenser Neo

NEO Composite_Blue med

LED Lenser says: Introducing NEO – the ultra-compact, wider-view head lamp from LED Lenser

LED Lenser’s elegant new NEO Head Lamp is a hands-free light with everything an outdoor enthusiast could ask for. Sleek and aerodynamic it incorporates an extra wide-angle 16:9 reflector lens plus built-in Smart Light Technology with three different light settings covering everything from immediate bright light to night reading without glare. For safety there’s a rear red light so that others can see you. Comfortable to wear it weighs only 88 grams (with batteries) and rolls up into a compact bundle for easy portability. A choice of five bright neon colours should satisfy the most style-conscious wearer.

The LED Lenser Neo is more of an active style headtorch rather than a dedicated climbing headtorch. It was nice and sleek and gave a great wide angle beam that easily lit up the footpath when night running or hiking. It was compact to stow in a pack and very easy in use. A button located at the front of the unit operated with three presses – full power, low power and flashing. Two presses activated a red flashing LED at the back of the headtorch on the battery unit.

The LED Lenser Neo gave a great wide angled light. Good enough for running and hiking.
The LED Lenser Neo gave a great wide angled light. Good enough for running and hiking.

The LED Lenser Neo was a very stylish headtorch, the range comes in five bright colours, all very neon. We found the headtorch great for hut/camping use, running and summer hiking. It wasn’t functional enough to be a climbing headtorch as the beam just wasn’t powerful enough to light up distant features. It was more than enough to get you off the crag and back to the car though so a nice all round headtorch. It was light too weighing just 76g with three AAA Lithium batteries (it comes supplied with Alkaline AAA batteries) and its IPX4 rated which is splash/shower proof.

CGR Rating ***

SRP £24.95


Varta 1W Indestructible Headtorch

Indestructible_Headlight Pro-v2

Varta says:

Extremely robust (9m drop test), water resistant (IPX4) head light with shock-absorbing rubberized casing.

We scoured the shops and manufacturers for a budget headtorch that would be suitable for mountain activities and settled on the Varta 1W Indestructible headtorch for this feature. Our reasons were that it was easy to use with 2 power settings, full beam and low power. Lightweight (we took the supplied AAA batteries out and weighed it with Lithium batteries) weighing in at 90g, which is refreshing for a budget headtorch, cheaper usually means heavier but not in this case it was easily as light as the more expensive headtorches. The button was nice and big and very easy to use with gloves on and the tilt mechanism was very solid. The batteries were easy to change, you have to remember to tilt the head off the ratchet to access the back properly.

The Varta Indestructable gave a great light - enough to pick out distant features. A great budget headtorch.
The Varta Indestructable gave a great light – enough to pick out distant features. A great budget headtorch.

The 1W LED gave plenty of light to light up features more than 75m away in good visibility and the batteries lasted well over a week of constant use. The Varta 1W headtorch was indeed pretty indestructible – we tested it by dropping off the top of Almscliffe, dropping a climbing pack onto it off a boulder and we dunked it in several puddles. It survived all those tests and we had some fun too.

The headtorch doesn’t win any prizes for style and it was the only torch on test to have a three part headband which made it difficult to adjust on the move. It did, however, stay on a climbing helmet quite well and the rubberized casing did set it apart from the pack and for £15.00 – 16.00 it is very well priced for those on a budget and more than enough you get you operating in darkness.

CGR Rating **** – Best Budget Choice

Price £ £16.00 (ish).

Stockists: Tesco and Amazon

Petzl Tikka XP

Petzl TikkaXP 2014 corail_loPetzl says:

The Tikka XP is a true all-rounder, combining light weight and a compact design with significant power. Rated at 120 lumens, there are three beam options: flood for close-in lighting, combined with a focused beam for movement, and pure focused beam for distance. It also has a Boost mode, offering temporary access to 160-lumen maximum power, and red lighting and strobe mode. Constant Lighting technology means that power output remains constant, not decreasing gradually as the batteries are drained. There’s also a phosphorescent reflector in the lens that allows location in the dark when switched off.

I’ve been using a Petzl Tikka XP2 for several years. It’s been my headtorch of choice for mountain activities and I’ve climbed some great routes with it. The updated Petzl Tikka XP is a great improvement and definitely takes it up a notch. Gone is the single LED with the flip down diffuser, which has been replaced by two LEDs, a diffused lens for general lighting and both for high power.

The headtorch fitted securely onto a climbing helmet and the headband was easy to adjust. I found the tilt ratchet a little flimsy and would like to see future models beef this area up.

The Petzl Tikka XP was comfortable to wear and gave good light settings

The Petzl Tikka XP is button operated with a large rubber button situated on the top of the casing and gives the headtorch 5 settings: one long press for general tent/hut reading, press two for higher power (going down the pub), press three and the high power LED comes on as well, press 4 for full power (good for 50 to 60m) and this easily lights up the way ahead whether it’s hiking or climbing. Press five is for flashing and if you keep the button pressed it activities the red LED for helping to keep you night vision. There are just two setting on red, main beam and flashing.

It’s very compact, light and runs on three AAA and weighs in at 76g with three AAA Lithium batteries. The Petzl Tikka XP is excellent for a 3 season headtorch and is suitable for hiking, rock climbing and superlight alpine adventures as well as night running. A very versatile headtorch and well worth the money, my favourite headtorch for trekking trips.

CGR rating ****

SRP: £50.00


LED Lenser SEO 7R


LED Lenser says: Stand out from the crowd

The pioneering SEO headlamp range from LED Lenser effortlessly combines serious lighting performance with award-winning design and world-class light optics. High on comfort, low on weight, SEO will especially appeal to active users seeking immediate control of their lighting environment.  That’s why each lamp in the series has an integrated white LED for instant bright illumination plus a red safety light to protect night vision.

If you can get past the very scary faces on the packaging the German company LED Lenser makes some great headtorches. The LED Lenser SEO 7R is a top of the range mountain headtorch with reactive lighting sensors and a rechargeable battery unit. The SEO 7R was definitely the most versatile headtorch on test. It was extremely powerful on full power delivering 220 Lumens,  it has a rotating lens that focusses the beam from very wide to picking out features 80-100m away. There was no diffused beam, just one LED with 4 settings from full power to tent reading on three presses with flashing for the fourth. A long press deployed a red LED with two settings, fully on and flashing.

Seo 7R
The LED Lenser SEO 7R – a great all round headtorch.

The head unit was very compact and the tilt was very good and easy to operate. My only issue with the headtorch was the small size of the rubber button and the fact it was situated at the back of the head unit, but this didn’t really impede it’s use and it worked perfectly every time with or without gloves on. Still if it was larger and further forward it would have been easier to use when on a climbing helmet.

At the back of the SEO 7R was the battery unit. This opened easily to reveal a compact rechargeable battery. The 3.7v 880mAh battery charged via a micro usb slot so no need to take an extra charger (unless you’re an iPhone user), but no worries if it runs out (I’ve been using it recreationally for well over a month and it hasn’t ran out of charge yet) just pop in 3 AAA batteries and let there be light! This was a great, no faff, feature so you could fully charge the battery at the beginning of the day and use it on full power safe in the knowledge that the battery was easy to change in the field.

The headband was easy to adjust but the white soon discoloured, it fitted neatly onto a climbing helmet and didn’t move too much once it was in place. The tilt adjust was also very firm and felt solid when clicked. The LED Lenser SEO 7R was nice and light too weighing at 93g with the supplied rechargeable unit and 94g with three AAA Lithium batteries.

The SEO 7R has Optisense technology which adjusts to the light level, this technology is becoming more popular and we should start to see more of it in 2015. The technology is good and means the headtorch adjusts to a lower power when reading a map and then powers into full beam when focussed to the distance. In use it worked reasonably well, but felt a little slow to react in use and not as noticeable as the Petzl Nao.

In our opinion the LED Lenser SEO 7R was the most versatile headtorch in the test and wins Editors Choice. The beam focussing was nice, the build solid, the rechargeable battery was great and it easy to change in the field. . It easily suitable for all mountain activities from a night run, a benighted last pitch, ice climbing to navigating your way off the mountain in the dark. A great headtorch and my favourite for climbing and teaching night navigation.

GCR Rating ***** – Editors Choice

SRP: £79.99


Petzl Nao 2014

Petzl Nao 2014
Petzl Nao 2014

Petzl says:

The NAO uses Petzl’s Reactive Lighting technology, providing light that automatically adapts to your environment. A sensor monitors reflected light from your direction of vision and adapts light output accordingly, so there’s no need to manually adjust brightness when looking between close or distant objects. Another benefit is that it only provides the power you need so the battery can last at least three times longer than it would do under constant full power.
The NAO features twin LEDS and a sensor, linked to the rear-mounted battery by the Zephyr cord-lock headband.
You can choose between Reactive Lighting or Static modes, with high/low output options in each. In Reactive Lighting mode the headset uses a high-output LED in a wide-angled beam, plus a second LED giving a focused beam where distance output is required. In Static non-reactive mode the headset uses both LEDs on constant. Maximum power output is 575 lumens, maximum beam 135m and max battery life 12.5 hours.
The battery is a 2300 mAh lithium-ion unit, rechargeable via an integrated USB plug. The battery pack also accepts 2 x conventional AAA batteries. Performance profiles can be customised via Petzl’s OS 2.0 on your computer. The Petzl NAO gives you the right light when you need it – automatically.

The latest version of the Petzl Nao was by far the most powerful headtorch on test. If you want to climb any route in complete darkness then this is the headtorch for you. It’s a fully featured ‘turns night into day’ expedition headtorch. We had the latest version on test with an improved battery – a whopping 2600mAh Lithium-ion and the ability to run it off 2 AAA batteries when the rechargeable runs out. There was a battery indicator to let you know the battery was fully charged as well as how much charge was left.

The battery compartment showing the massive battery and 2 emergency AAA batteries.
The battery compartment showing the massive battery and 2 emergency AAA batteries.

The battery pack is rear mounted and charged via a normal usb pin. The whole unit came off via a small clip underneath and you just plug the whole unit into a usb plug. You then clip it back in and plug the wire in. This all felt very complicated and not easy to do in the field. It was important to get everything right at the beginning of the day as changing the batteries in the field was tricky, especially with no light.

The headband set up looked quite complicated but worked really well. The front of the Petzl Nao was elasticated band as normal, but the rear was static cord that cinched up with a cord lock. It fitted a climbing helmet brilliantly and was extremely stable with no movement at all. Of all the headtorches on test, the Nao was the best on a helmet. The tilt adjust was excellent, super solid clicks kept the headtorch in the position required with no movement or flopping- period!


A solid fit on a climbing helmet.
A solid fit on a climbing helmet.

The front unit was triangular in shape with the bottom two LEDs for providing light and the top being the Reactive Lighting sensor. The left hand LED had a diffused lens for providing general light and the right hand one for full power. On the right hand side was the large switch which you just gently twist forward – once for general light, hold it down a little longer for full, blinding power. The switch was the easiest to use on test with any gloves on. The Petzl Nao was also showerproof with an IPX4 rating.

The Petzl Nao - like having the Sun on your head!
The Petzl Nao – like having the Sun on your head!

On full power the Petzl Nao delivered an awesome 575 Lumens, a real light everything up beam. It easily lit up the way ahead clearly and was a great leader torch. The leader has the most powerful torch to light the way ahead whilst other team members have lower power headtorches to just follow. But whatever you do, do not turn around to look at team members – you will temporarily blind them!

The Reactive Technology worked really well. The Nao is designed to be hands free, look into the distance the light level adjusts to more power, but get the map out and turn the torch dims – it’s really amazing to witness just how good this is and Petzl are beginning to integrate it into some of the headtorch models such as the Tikka RXP. The lighting is also programmable using the Petzl OS software that can be downloaded from the Petzl website.

The Petzl Nao is best if you do a lot of Alpine climbing and spend a considerable amount of time moving in the dark. This is what it is designed for and this is the environment it works best in. It is also very useful for Polar work but needing access to electricity would limit its use on a full expedition. The battery however has lasted a long time and I have had the Nao on test for several months and haven’t needed to recharge it yet. You can buy a spare too so if you want to have one on expedition you can.

The updated 2014 model is a great improvement: the battery life has been improved and you can now run the headtorch off 2 AAA batteries which negates the need for the AAA adapter which was needed for the older model. This area though needs further improvement, I can however understand that the headtorch needs a big, powerful battery for the full power mode, it would have got 5 stars but for field change issue. The Petzl Nao never fails to impress students when I get it out on Night navigation courses, it’s almost cheating they cry – a worthwhile investment if you are heading for your Mountain Leader assessment – this will take the stress out of your Night Nav.  Do say as it gets dark – ‘my lead!’

CGR rating ****

SRP: £145.00



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