head torch collection

What is the best head torch for running?

What is the best head torch for running? I’ve heard the question asked lots of times.

The answer is a bit harder to determine, a bit like asking which is the best car; whilst a Ferrari might be great for some things it’s not what you’d choose for taking the family on a camping holiday.  Go on any forum where the question is asked and you will have people swearing that their torch is the best and that everyone should buy the same model that they’ve got.  Well those people are wrong!!  What they actually mean is that think they have the best head torch for the type of running that they do. Whilst it might suit them it won’t suit the requirements of everyone. The person who says that their 100 lumen torch is perfectly adequate obviously doesn’t try to run down rocky, uneven ground at speed!

head torches for running

is your head torch a Ferrari or a camper van?

There is a huge range of head torches to choose from: cheap, dazzlingly bright Chinese imports, torches that automatically react to the ambient light levels, USB rechargeables, AAs, AAAs, 18650s, batteries in the head unit, batteries worn on the back of the head, batteries carried in an external pocket or waist belt, additional white, red and green LEDs, SOS mode, adjustable zoom, combined flood and spotlight…. the list goes on.

So rather than asking what is the best head torch you need to ask yourself some further questions.

What type of running will you do?

If you only intend to run at an easy pace on fairly even ground then you don’t need a very expensive or very bright torch. However if you’re planning long nights out on remote terrain then a more powerful torch with long battery life is essential.  If you are only going to be running for a couple of hours then again long battery life isn’t vital and so a torch with fewer batteries will suffice.  If you think you might progress to longer or more remote running it might be better to buy a torch that will be suitable for that rather than buying one that suits what you are currently doing and then finding that you need to upgrade.

Alpkit head torches

inexpensive torches for less challenging runs

Is brightness everything?

Some people mistakenly think that a brighter torch with more lumens is best; ever heard someone say “I got a cheap 1000 lumen torch off Ebay!”?  In some situations having a very powerful beam is important, for example when you need to see a long way into the distance, but if you’re night running rather than on a search and rescue exercise then the extra brightness can be overkill. What’s more it can dazzle other runners and dazzle yourself too if you are reading a map! Brighter torches need more powerful batteries which means extra weight, so your mega bright torch might weigh twice as much as your mate’s head torch which does just as good a job. In misty or foggy conditions a bright beam is actually worse than a dimmer one as the reflected light makes it harder to pick out features.

More important than brightness is the beam pattern. A bright, narrow beam is good for looking into the distance but doesn’t give a good spread of light. A wider, flood beam allows you to use your peripheral vision to see things rather than needing to turn your head and so is better for running, especially on technical ground.  A torch that lets you easily switch between spot and flood is a good option.

more expensive torches give a better spread of light

more expensive torches give a better spread of light

What features do you need?

Do you really need 8 different modes and brightness that is fully adjustable from bright to dim?  Is that red night vision mode really useful or is it just another setting that you need to cycle through before you get to the setting you want?  What about a rear light; some torches have a rear facing red LED which is great for leading a group, but not for leading a race!  Some torches can be turned off by infra red, you just wave your hand in front of them to switch them on and off.  That’s a great idea – until you scratch your forehead and accidentally plunge yourself into darkness!  Sometimes a simple on / off, bright / dim is all you need.

Will it be easy to carry?

A compact torch with batteries in the head unit will easily slip into a bumbag or even jacket pocket and can be put on in seconds. This makes it ideal for a twilight run when you don’t need to wear it at first but need it later in the run as it gets dark. That super bright torch with battery pack extension won’t be as comfortable to carry and your mates will have put their torches on and gone whilst you’re still trying to route the cable down the inside of your jacket and into your bum bag!

some torches have the option of carrying the battery off the head

some torches have the option of carrying the battery in a bum bag rather than on the head

Will it be easy to operate?

That might sound a bit daft but some head torches have tiny buttons. They’re easy to operate when you’re in the nice warm shop but what about when you’re out on the cold hillside with your thick gloves on. Will you still be able to feel the button then?  Most of the time you won’t need to change the mode whilst you’re on the run but sometimes you might want to turn the torch off to look at the stars or turn it to zoom to look for a field exit.  It can be really frustrating if you have to go through a sequence of clicks and holds to to do this, and then again to get back to the setting you were on.  Torches with lots of modes are fine, but sometimes less is more and simplicity wins.  Also have a look at the battery pack and imagine trying to change the batteries with gloves on or with cold hands.  Some can be very fiddly – not what you want to discover on a wet and windy night!

Will it fit your head?

Again, it may sound obvious but we’ve got different shaped heads! It might be that the torch your mate loves has a battery pack on the back that just doesn’t suit the shape of your head or that your pony tail gets in the way.

will the torch be comfortable on your head?

will the torch be comfortable on your head?

Do you believe the hype?

If you read the manufacturer’s technical details you might think that your 200 lumen torch has a life of 20 hours on maximum setting. It might last for 20 hours but the chances are that 16 of them will be too dim to allow you to run. Some cheap imports claim to put out a huge amount of lumens, but how do you know that’s accurate?

Dare you trust a cheap import?

It’s true that you can pick up a very bright Cree LED torch for less than £20 on Ebay and many people have bought them and are happy with them.  But there are others who have had them pack up and even catch fire or explode whilst charging!  Are those UltraFire batteries that came with it really the genuine article or are are they fakes?  If it does stop working you’ll be out of pocket as you won’t be able to send it back but that might not be your only concern.  If the lights go out on a country lane close to home it’s not the end of the world, if you’re up a mountain in the middle of the night it’s more serious.  So depending on what you’re using it for you might want to think about paying a bit more for a torch from a reputable company.

Can you justify buying two?

Anyone from a cycling background will know that it’s perfectly acceptable to have more than one bike, even if they cost thousands of pounds each!  Likewise you might justify that you can own more than one head torch; a powerful one with long battery life for serious outings and a lighter one for less challenging runs and as your “back up” torch.

head torch collection

it’s ok to own more than one torch!

Personal Experience

I’ve tried lots of different head torches in different situations, from long night outings such as the High Peak Marathon, the Paddy Buckley round and the Charlie Ramsay Round to short fast training sessions in the dark.  I use a head torch whilst coaching on winter evenings and whilst leading off road night runs.  I’ve also tested different torches for various magazines and the thing I’ve found is that there isn’t a “best torch”.  There are torches that are really good for the type of running that I was doing at the time and torches that weren’t suited to that type of running.  Even the most expensive torches lack some features that could be useful.

night running on technical terrain

night running on technical terrain

The first torch I bought was too bulky, the second had poor battery life and let me down on a night race. Only now on my third purchase have I found what works best for me for the majority of the running that I do – but this won’t suit everybody – and even still I use other torches for other runs.

So there’s no such thing as the best head torch for running, just an ideal torch for the run that you are currently doing, but tomorrow’s run might be different!

fell running guide

Trail Running at Night

Trail running at night – don’t be afraid!

I’m alert, senses heightened to the sounds and smells around me: an owl hoots away to my left, I notice the musky scent of fox and the damp, earthy smell of the newly fallen, autumn leaves.  Emerging from the trees my eyes are drawn to the faint afterglow of sunset just visible on the western horizon whilst away to the east the moon, big and bright is rising from behind the hill into a small, thin patch of wispy cloud.  This is night running!

the remains of the day on the western horizon

the remains of the day on the western horizon

A small group of us are making the most of the darker evenings, just because it’s dark doesn’t mean you can’t run off road!  Before the moon has chance to rise we turn our head torches off and look up.  Almost all of the day’s cloud has dispersed and as we adjust to the darkness stars come out before our eyes.  We take a few moments to share our knowledge of the various constellations before turning the torches back on and continuing on our nocturnal adventure.

Back into the woods and several pairs of bright, pinpoints of light appear before us – we are being watched!  But we have bravery in numbers and as we get closer the sheep look at us with curiosity as if to wonder what we are doing out after dark.

head torch running

headtorch running

Dropping down to the stream we notice the temperature change, our breath steams and a thin mist is just beginning to form in the colder air.  Our ears deceive us, the stream sounds like a torrent when in fact it is barely shin deep.   We don’t talk, the sounds of nature are enough: the stream, the snap of a twig underfoot, our breathing and our footfalls on the soft earth.

Climbing back up to the moor we snake our way along the ancient hollow-way, cut out hundreds of years ago when men toiled to make a living from this land.  As we emerge we turn around and see the moon again, risen now and casting its silvery light on the landscape.trail running in moonlight

We head back to the road, to our cars, to our homes, but we will return to the wonderful landscape and to the magic of trail running at night.

Fancy a night time trail run? Check out the dates of my next guided runs: http://fellrunningguide.co.uk/courses

LED Lenser SEO5 Review

So the clocks have changed and our trail and fell running is limited to daytime – we can’t possibly run off road in the dark can we?

Of course we can – fell running in the dark is great!  All we need is a decent head torch and a bit of common sense.  I’ve got a selection of head torches, the latest being LED Lenser’s new SEO5

So what do I look for in a running head torch?  Well: bright, light and comfortable would sum it up.  Years ago when I first tried fell running at night it was difficult to get a head torch that was bright enough without it being huge and cumbersome with a battery the size of a malt loaf!  With today’s technology bright and light is possible at the same time.

My first impression of the SEO5 was that it was only slightly bigger than my old Petzl Tikka – I just hoped it would be brighter.  On the scales it weighed in at 104g (nice to see that’s below the claimed 105g on the packaging)

LED Lenser SEO5

LED Lenser SEO5 on the scales

It is powered by 3x AAA batteries housed in the light unit itself so no separate battery pack on the back of the head.  The on / off / mode switch is a small button on the top of the torch.  The torch came pre assembled with headband (removable for washing) and batteries plus a spare set of batteries – all Duracell too rather than some cheap rubbish which was a nice touch.

After spending 5 minutes trying to decipher the not very well translated manual I gave up and resorted to pressing the button numerous times for different durations and figured out that you had the choice of:

Bright (180 lumens) Dim (20 lumens) or Flashing.  It is also possible to select a brightness anywhere between bright and dim.  There is also a separate red Led that gives steady or flashing option.  In steady white mode a turn of the housing around the lens allows you to alter the beam from a wide circle to a focussed point.

The headband is easily adjustable to allow for use over a hat and is just one single strap around the head (nothing over the top).   This gave a good snug fit and despite vigorous head shaking the torch stayed firmly in place, a reassuring sign as the prospect of it coming off and tumbling down the hill in pitch dark isn’t a good one!

SEO5 gives a snug fit

No separate battery pack means a comfortable fit

The light can be swivelled down on a ratchet through 8 positions if you need to look at things closer to hand; for example whilst map reading, and the ratchet is quite firm and it seems unlikely that the light will droop whilst on the run – a problem with some torches.

On test whilst night time fell running in the Peak District the torch performed really well giving ample brightness for the type of moorland and woodland terrain I was on.  I prefer to run on floodlight mode giving a wider pool of light but sometimes a focussed beam is needed to pick out distant objects such gates or walls.  The SEO5 on full power coped with this need, a simple twist allowing me to go from flood to spot and back again.

SEO5 is bright

Bright and light

If I was to be picky and find fault with the SEO5 it would be that the on off switch and focussing beam are tricky to operate with gloved hands (however this is the case with several torches) and it takes a while to remember the sequence of presses and holds required to switch between the modes (again no real difference to other torches and not really an issue once you get used to it)

I haven’t tested the claimed 7 hr battery life on full power (25 hrs on low) but unless the claim is very inaccurate the torch will have enough juice to last all but the longest night run. If I’m unsure how much life there is left in my standard batteries I prefer to use rechargeables and set off all charged up to avoid being caught out.

Tip: If you are taking spare batteries with the intention of changing them “in the field” make sure you take a secondary light such as a key fob light.  It will be almost impossible to find your spares, take the back off your torch, remove the old batteries, put the new ones in the right way round… all whilst in the wind and rain, with cold hands in the dark!

So whilst it might not be your chosen torch for an extended overnight winter outing such as the High Peak Marathon the LED Lenser SEO5 is perfectly suited to shorter night time fell and trail runs.  Bright, light and comfortable it is.

LED Lenser SEO

LED Lenser SEO

 If you would like to experience an off road night run contact me to arrange – I might even lend you the SEO5!

info@fellrunningguide.co.uk

Summer’s End

The sun sets early now on my Peak District running adventures.

The long evenings and long shadows a fading memory, the warm evenings replaced by a noticeable chill in the air.

sunset run

sunset run

All is not lost; an evening run over Stanage Edge is rewarded by the Grouse’s cackling conversation, the calls and replies carrying far in the still air.  There is no breeze, the puddles between the gritstone boulders mirror the fading light, subtle pink hues and shades of stainless grey in a high sky.

evening run

dusk reflections

The light fades quickly and I slow the pace, cautiously picking my way along the uneven path.  It will soon be time for head torch running and although I am carrying one I resist using it, straining to pick out the path in the gloom, reluctant to accept that the summer is over.

If you would like to book a guided run in the Peak District, visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk