The Best Headtorches for Running and Climbing in 2019

We look at some of the latest and best headlamps for your 2019 winter season

A good headtorch should be versatile and powerful.

It’s been 2 years since we last looked at headlamps (or headtorches as we call them in the UK). Since then there have been some great updates from brands as well as some newer entries into the market.

In our 2017 guide we looked closely at what you might be looking for in a headlamp for winter climbing use. These remain the same (winter doesn’t change – it still stays dark!) although we’ve only included lightweight head torches that you could use for climbing, hiking and trail running:

  • 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) and retaining 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. A locking mechanism of sorts to keep the head torch in the off position when in your pack is also good as there’s nothing worse than getting your head torch out to find it dead.
  • Easy to use battery compartment – it should be easy to change the batteries in the field or even on a route. Many of the newer headlamps have rechargeable batteries which we have found to work quite well (as long as you remember to have the battery fully charged before your adventure). If the head torch can be interchanged between the rechargeable unit and standard batteries all the better.
  • 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 rock paths and reading the map.
  • 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. If you are running with your headtorch being able to wash it is a bonus.
  • There are also other considerations – water resistance, dustproof and easy to maintain so an IPX rating is desirable for running in rainy conditions.

We’ve sourced some of the best headlamps available today that are suitable for climbing and trail running to suit a whole range of budgets and features.

Petzl SWIFT RL

  • 900 Lumens max beam
  • Rechargeable 2350 mAh battery
  • Button Lock
  • IPX 4 Water Resistant 
  • Weight 105g

The latest development in Petzl Reactive Lighting series of headtorches that burst onto the scene with the NAO. The Petzl SWIFT RL is a fully featured head torch that can be used for all climbing and outdoor activity including alpine climbing and skiing. It’s a more beefed up version of the popular BINDI and it’s a whopping 900 Lumens, even better! The RL (reactive lighting) technology is activated with a sensor, this means the head torch will react and adjust to a variety of lighting conditions without the need to keep pressing buttons. If you find this annoying (which it can be at times when you just want a constant beam) it can be switched off with a long press of the button. Petzl have now decided to ditch the interchangeability of the batteries so there is sealed 2350mAh battery. There is a five bar indicator to let you know how much charge is left and the battery is charged by a micro USB port which charges in 6 hours from a standard charger. The SWIFT RL comes with an included micro USB lead.

The reactive lighting tech on the Swift RL auto adjusts to different conditions.

There are three beam settings: low, standard and max beam – which is a whopping 900 lumens and will brighten up any trail or mountain terrain. These are activated by pressing the large, glove friendly button. The single button does lock and the unit is weather -resistant to IPX4 standard so fine for running when the weather closes in. The patented, easy to adjust, headband is very stable on the head with a helmet or around a beanie and it has some printed reflective detail so your race mates can see how far ahead of them you are (I wish!) And the whole unit is lightweight with a weight of 100g and the head swivel both up and down for when you may want to wear the headtorch around your neck. Strangely it doesn’t have a red beam – but then you don’t need one with the reactive lighting which, in theory, should dim as you look up at your partner!

A great head torch that would be perfect for longer night running or that looooong descent off Ben Nevis in a January storm.

The Petzl SWIFT RL retails at £96.50 and is available from specialist retailers. It comes with a 5 year warranty.

Black Diamond Spot 325

  • 325 Lumens max beam
  • 3 x AAA standard batteries
  • IPX8 Waterproof
  • Weight 86g

We featured the Black Diamond Spot in our 2017 Headtorch update and we liked the simplicity and power tap feature. The new 2019 version sees the Spot 325 more powerful, lighter and slightly smaller. It still works off 3 x AAA batteries (these are included with the head torch) and does not have a rechargeable unit but at 86g it’s super light. It has a compact and a fully weatherproof head unit thanks to the IPX8 rating – making it fully waterproof. A great feature of the Spot is the Brightness Memory which remembers the last setting the light was on when you switch it off. This means when you switch it back on you will get the last beam setting it was on without having to switch through the settings and the PowerTap on the side allows for instant transition between low and full power with a single tap – which does work with gloves on.

Plenty of lighting modes with full 325 lumens being more than bright enough to light up the darkest, woodland trail. 160 lumen medium power for hiking out of your climb after you’ve topped out in the dark (assuming you’ve remembered to take it which has happened to me more times than I’d care to admit!) And a nice 6 lumen low power for reading and camp chores. The beam is also dimmable, has a strobe setting and a red light for maintaining your night vision. On max setting it has a 65hr hour burn time and on low a whopping 300 hrs. On top of that the the unit has a lock capacity so it should stay off in your pack and an adjustable, single head strap that is helmet compatible.

The Black Diamond Spot 325 has all the features you would need for intense trail running at night as well as multi pitch rock climbing and alpine adventures.

The Spot 325 retails at a reasonable £40.00 and is available direct from specialist retailers. It comes with a 3 year warranty.

Ledlenser MH5

  • 400 lumens max beam
  • Dual Power – rechargeable + AAA batteries
  • IP54 Dust & Water Resistant
  • Weight 92g

We’ve featured head torches from this excellent German brand for all our features with one of our favourites being the SEO 7R which was one of the first hybrid head torches to come on the market. That trend continues with the truly flexible Ledlenser MH5 which has so many configurations it will do many of the tasks needed for a full on adventure holiday. The amazing versatility is backed up with some powerful lighting features such as a 400 lumen max beam and 20 lumen low power with red mode  as well as red and white flashing. All active with the large, single button which is glove friendly and easy to locate. It has a fully hybrid power source working from a AA sized rechargeable battery so you can replace it with another rechargeable battery quite cheap or just pop in a standard AA battery if you find yourself out of power in a Moroccan Atlas village. 

The LEDlenser MH5 is very versatile as well as powerful

The other feature we like on the Ledlenser head torches is the ability to focus the beam from flood to focused spot without having to press the button several times. Another great feature of the MH5 is that the unit is detachable from the head band so you can easily use it as a hand held torch or it even has a pen clip for attaching to a shirt pocket or t shirt neck so there are plenty of ways to use it. It’s weather and rustproof to IP54 which should keep most gunk out.

As the headtorch is detachable it does make the front feel a little bulky and the addition of a charging unit to charge the battery means that there’s something else you need to remember to pack but the Ledlenser MH5 is a great value performance head torch. Perfect for trail running and hiking throughout the darkest of winter days.

The Ledlenser MH5 retails at £49.95 and is available from the Ledlenser-store. It comes with a whopping 7-year with registration warranty

Fenix HL18R

  • 400 Lumens max beam
  • Dual Power – rechargeable + AAA batteries
  • IP66  Dust & Waterproof
  • Weight 80g

We haven’t featured a Fenix head torch before in our CGR Headtorch series so it’s great to have them finally on board. Fenix are very big in the States and they sponsor world class events such as the gruelling Western States 100 Ultra. The Fenix HL 18R Headlamp (a nod to our US friends) is a really neat, compact and good quality head torch that although packaged as a trail running head torch would be more than happy cragging or on an early morning approach to an ice climb. The 400 lumen max power is more than capable of lighting up the darkest bit of forest or light up the rockiest of descents with ease and the floodlight setting is perfect for your local trail runs and evening camp chores. 

The Fenix HL18R is bright, compact and lightweight

The HL 18R has four spotlight and two floodlight settings so you should find plenty of options for your adventures, including an SOS flashing option. It has a good IP66 rating so is more than weather proof for damp and cold conditions. The two buttons are fine to use with running gloves but anything thicker can be a problem but it isn’t a game changer really. The single, easily adjustable, reflective, headband keeps the the very light (80g) main unit firmly in place and the unit had a neat and confident ratchet swivel which pulled down far enough to get at the battery unit.

The Fenix HL18R is a hybrid unit capable of running from the rechargeable 1300mAh battery or 3 x AAA batteries. These are a great design feature as it’s easier [to source 3 X AAA batteries at the last minute for your drop bag or support crew if you’re worried about getting through the night with enough juice] carry 3 x AAA batteries or find them when you arrive at the aid station at 4.00am and your head torch has died. The HL 18R has a whole variety of burn times with 8.5hrs on Turbo, 12 hours on high and 145hrs on floodlight low. There is a 4 bar indicator to help keep tabs on the power levels. It includes a micro usb charging lead and comes with a 5 year free repair warranty.

The Fenix HL 18R is a great, lightweight and super compact head torch that is great to run with. Yes the dual buttons can be confusing at times but the range of light settings is great and the hybrid battery fitting is a real bonus feature.

The Fenix HL 18R retails at £59.95 and is available direct from My Fenix

Ultimate Performance Headtorch

  • 87 lumen max beam
  • 3 x AAA standard batteries
  • IP rating – N/A
  • Weight 85g

We like to put a low budget headlamp in our features as not everyone reading will want or need a super high spec head torch with all singing and dancing features. If you just want a headorch that will light up your local trails perfectly well, for mooching around the campfire opening beers or reading in your tent then the Ultimate Performance Ultimate Headtorch will be perfectly fine.

Ultimate Performance belong to the same family as the better known 1000 Mile sock brand and have a large range of sporting accessories. The Ultimate Headtorch is a simple yet well featured head-tech with four light settings an 87 Lumen max power, 30 lumen low power, two red LED’s for map work and a flashing red SOS setting. You do have to go through a one press for max, two presses for low, three for red and four for SOS which can be a pain but at the price isn’t a game changer. It has an 8 hour burn time on max power and 30 on low so should see you through most adventures and the large button is glove friendly. Although, the swivel articulation on the head is fiddly with gloves on.

It works via 3 x AAA batteries which are easy to replace and the single head band works well and keeps the head torch firmly in place. The Ultimate Performance Ultimate Headtorch is a great value head torch and at the price there’s no real excuse to not have it in you pack all the time.

The Ultimate Headtorch retails at £14.99 and is available direct from ultimate-performance.co.uk

BioLite HeadLamp 330

  • 330 max beam
  • 900 mAh rechargeable battery
  • IPX4 weatherproof rating
  • 69g

For those of you who like a little social responsibility with your night running the BioLite HeadLamp 330 will fit the bill nicely. BioLite are famous for their innovative Camp Stove that charges your phone whilst cooking dinner. They have a great social mission to bring energy everywhere with a full range of energy solutions that can bring safe, affordable to energy poverty families across Africa and India – so a cause worthy of supporting. That said the HeadLamp 330 is a fully featured head torch with more than enough power to see you through those dark winter runs.

It’s super light at 69g and is a fully rechargeable 900mAh unit capable of delivering 330 Lumens on full power for 3.5 hours and 5 Lumens on low power for 40 hours. It has plenty of modes including Red, flood and spot as well as strobe and being dimmable. The pre shaped head unit is super compact and fully integrated into the comfortable, non slip headband. The battery unit located at the back to distribute the weight evenly and has a 4 bar indicator to let you know how much charge is left. The fit is very good for running and the headband very comfortable next to skin and has some neat reflective decals. 

40 hours of low power will give you more than enough light for beers around the campfire.

Suitable for trail running throughout the winter, all your campfire adventures and it comes with impeccable social responsibility credentials. It come in a wide array of colour options for all tastes.

The BioLite HeadLamp 330 retails at £55 and is available from specialist retailers. It comes with a no quibble 30 day money back and a standard one year guarantee.

Disclaimer – CGR reviewers and writers are never paid to provide a review and the website does not take advertising or link to affiliate sales. We are a bunch of keen climbers and travellers that accept sample products and offer an honest and independent review of the item. The reviewer will often keep the sample after reviewing it for both hygiene and safety reasons and more often it’s in no fit state to return!

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