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Francois Gaudas  •  Running Gear •  25.11.2021 •  6 min read

Choose the best running head torch for you

Honey, have you seen my Petzl?” It’s that time of the year again. Days are shorter, darker and you are desperately looking for that faithful night companion of yours: your running head torch


Whether you are a Petzl or a Knog user, Run4It has got you covered to make sure you can see and be seen on the road/trails during your night runs. 

How to choose a running head torch?

But before we jump into the different models, it is important to know what you are looking for when buying a new running head torch.

Autonomy (or operating hours)

The first criteria will be autonomy or operating hours. Usually, the longer it is, the heavier the head torch will be as batteries with bigger capacities will be larger. In most cases, you will barely notice any difference (we are talking a few dozen grams here) but it is important to be aware of that. No one likes any additional weight [an annoying bounce] on their head right!

You can usually choose from two different types:

  1. battery(ies) inserted directly into the lamp on your forehead
  2. a system with a strap to place it at the back of your head while the torch itself rests on your forehead like the Petzl Iko Core 500 and NAO.

The choice will depend on your use: for short runs the first option will be enough, but if you are aiming at long trails and ultra-marathons you will definitely need to opt for the second option.

What kind of battery?

The second criteria will be based on rechargeable versus single-use batteries. Rechargeable ones are more eco-friendly and convenient but if you are not a massive runner you will most likely be happy with a single-use battery throughout the winter season. It is easy to stock up on AA or AAA batteries but make sure you recycle them once they are dead. All of the rechargeable batteries are micro-USB compatible and therefore really easy to charge on the go.

man with beard smiling wearing a Petzl head torch

What kind of lights and output?

The type of lights is the final criteria you will be looking at. Some lamps will use a single beam, some a system of adjustable and reactive spotlight combined with a flood, giving more options depending on the level of darkness. It is always an amazing option when you are looking to see far ahead of you whether you are on a trail/hill (Pentlands, Arthur’s seat, etc.) or roads. This will also help you see on the sides at the same time.

Finally, in the lighting jargon you’ll come across the word lumen. It is used to describe the light output of the head torch: simply put, it is how bright the torch is. So, the higher the lumens, the brighter your head torch will be. At Run4It, we have options ranging from 100 to 900 lumens, catering to different runners’ needs. Choosing the right option for you will then be based on where you run. For example, if you run on roads with most streets well lit, a running head torch with less lumens will work well. However, if you run in pitch black areas, away from any city/street lights (like forests or hills), we’d recommend using a head torch with a minimum of 400 lumens.   

Now that we’ve covered the nitty-gritty of running head torches, let’s have a look at some of the best options out there. 

Which running head torch is the best for me?

Best for semi-lit urban runs

1. Knog Bandicoot

  • Lumens: 100 
  • Range: up to 40 meters (brightest setting)
  • 60g - Rechargeable (up to 80h in low brightness)

The Bandicoot is a very simple yet interesting product. When on, two red LEDs are visible through the silicone headband making you visible from different directions. One of the modes allows you to make those LEDs blink and several others are available depending on the amount of light you need: low to high, flash or a combo of the two. Available in different colours, it’s a great budget option if you are looking for something basic and functional.

It’s also worth noting that it is USB rechargeable and that one Bandicoot battery is equivalent to 650 AAA batteries! 

2. Petzl Tikkina

  • Lumens: 250 
  • Range: up to 60 meters (max power mode) 
  • 81g - Rechargeable or 3 AAA included (2h on high, up to 120h on low brightness)

The Tikkina has long been Petzl’s entry level head torch for a reason: it does the job. Compact, lightweight and very easy to use with its single button on the top, you can choose from three white lighting levels and that is pretty much it. 

Put it on and go!

3. Knog Quokka

  • Lumens: 100
  • Range: up to 40 meters (on brightest setting) 
  • 49g - Rechargeable (2.5h runtime on high, up to 10h on low brightness) 

Compared with the Bandicoot, the Knog Quokka a more streamlined option that is small and super lightweight (by 11g). When the headlamp is in operation, a red halo light effect is created thanks to the transparent silicone, which helps increase visibility to other road users. The 4 modes and 4 brightness settings for each mode make it a great option for running in an urban environment.  

woman and man running in the dark wearing head torches

Best for mixed-terrain run or low light areas

1. Petzl Actik Core

  • Lumens: 450 
  • Range: up to 90 meters (max power mode) 
  • 75g - Rechargeable or 3 AAA (2h on high, up to 130h on low brightness)

Solid and versatile option here. The Petzl Actik Core allows you to either use the included rechargeable battery or your own single-use AAA-type ones. Extremely simple to use, select one of the three modes using a floodlight and spot beam and a red lamp and you are ready to explore! The headband is washable and there is even a whistle built into one of the adjustment buckles. 

Be careful with the brightest settings as they will drain your battery really fast but most people won’t need to go as high as 450 lumens (100 allow you to see 40m ahead and 300 up to 65m ahead).

2. Petzl Tikka

  • Lumens: 300 
  • Range: up to 65 meters (max power mode)
  • 86g - Rechargeable or 3 AAA included (2h on high, up to 120h on low brightness)

The Petzl Tikka is not the most powerful in the range but very adequate for most environments in the UK. The beam length of 60m will be sufficient for most runners and it has some really nice features for a basic head torch: can be adapted into Petzl’s Noctilight system to turn into a lantern if you are camping, a phosphorescent reflector, emergency beacon and a built-in whistle. Very functional model.

No need to say that the strap adjusts nicely around your head, a guarantee with Petzl head torches.

Best for runs in dark conditions and on technical terrain

1. Petzl Swift RL

  • Lumens: 900 
  • Range: up to 150 meters (max power mode)
  • 100g - Rechargeable (2h runtime on high, up to 50h on low brightness)

Here comes a solid contender for the title of best head torch of the season! The best features of the Petzl Swift RL is its reactive lighting technology: it will automatically adapt the level of brightness judged on how dark it is around you but not only as the beam will also adjust to how much you need to see. This allows for an optimal use of the battery life so you can keep on running with a clear mind. Please note that it is possible to turn off the reactive function.

Regarding how it fits, like every other Petzl model out there the elastic band is easily adjustable, doesn’t bounce on your forehead, even on technical terrain. It’s the perfect model for trail runners.

woman and man smiling standing side by side in the dark looking down wearing head torches

2. Knog Bilby

  • Lumens: 400
  • Range: up to 100 meters (on brightest setting) 
  • 90g - Rechargeable (5h runtime on high, up to 105h on low brightness) 

The Knog Bilby is another solid option for your dark winter runs! The Bilby produces a serious output of 400-lumens and offers an impressive 5-hour runtime on full power - impressive for this much power. 

The 5 LEDs on the Bilby are optimally placed for their individual purposes – a high beam to see by, 2 elliptical beams for mid and wide beam angles, a red light for night light purposes and downlights for reading. It’s the perfect model for outdoors enthusiasts who need a highly versatile head torch. 

3. Petzl Iko Core 500

  • Lumens: 500 
  • Range: up to 100 meters (max power mode)
  • 79g - Rechargeable battery or 3 AAA (2.5h on high, up to 100h on low brightness)

From the massive packaging to the design itself, the Petzl Iko Core 500 intrigues from the first second you set your eyes on it. Instead of the usual flexible and adjustable straps, you wrap it around your head through a plastic halo and a bungee strap holds it tight to the back of your head. It is a lot lighter than you think and can be set on several modes.

You can opt for either three or all seven of the white LEDs at the front for maximum brightness. Please note that this is not the brightest out there but it is interesting when it comes to orientating yourself when the light around is poor. It also makes you very visible from afar. Interesting feature: it can be easily used as a sort of lantern when camping thanks to the included pouch.

SHOP ALL HEAD TORCHES

if you run in pitch black areas, away from any city/street lights (like forests or hills), we’d recommend using a head torch with a minimum of 400 lumens.

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