Head Torch

Head Torch

Whatever the time of year, a head torch is something that you must carry in case you end up returning later than expected

Head Torch 

Head Torch

A head torch (or hand torch) is an essential piece of kit for all seasons of hill walking. You must carry one not because you intend at any point to walk in the darkness. You must carry one because something may happen during the day that means you are delayed, thus resulting in being out in the dark.

There are too many stories of mountain rescue teams being called out to help people down to safety as they have mis-judged the time required for a walk, been delayed en route, or just set off too late and have not had a head torch between them. Calling out a rescue team in that situation is perfectly justified on the grounds of safety, but it could also be avoided by better planning and preparation.

You should ordinarily plan that you will return back to the valley, your car, tent or whatever, well before darkness falls, and the reasons for this are straightforward.  

  • in the mountains, when it gets dark there is very little ambient light, thus it's really dark (unless you're lucky and have a good moon)
  • navigation and route finding are more difficult in the dark
  • even if you know the route, you may not see immediate dangers on the path
  • it's colder at night


Without a Head Torch

  • navigation is virtually impossible. You may have ambient light or moonlight to see some of the landscape, but you won't be able to read a map
  • even if you know the route, you may not see the 10ft drop in front of you, thus putting yourself at serious risk of a fall (a good example of this is The Band of Bowfell - with the drop being easily avoided if you can see the diversionary path)
  • if you do need to be rescued - and there's a good chance that would be the case - the mountain rescue teams may have difficulty finding you, meaning...
  • you could be out all night. Are you prepared?! (Do you have a survival bag?)


Clocks Change

A danger time is the end of October when the clock change means one hour’s less daylight and nights closing in quicker than expected.


Choice of Torch

In terms of what kind of head torch, just make sure that its beam is strong enough to light a sufficient distance ahead so that you can see the path. More expensive head torches have beams with powerful beams that can reach 50 to 100 metres ahead, and such beams are ideal to see path junctions and maintain route foresight, rather than a lesser beam giving you just the ability to see where you’re putting your feet. Putting your feet in the right place will avoid a fall, but inability to see any distance could mean that you inadvertently walk off course at a path junction that you haven’t noticed.

Everyone should carry a head torch, with a ‘big beam’ version perhaps only required by the leader. Always, always carry a spare set of batteries and be familiar with the way in which to open the battery housing. You don't want to be learning how to change batteries on the side of a mountain in poor weather! Once you’ve used the head torch for any period of time, change the batteries so that you have the confidence that you always have two fully charges sets.   A couple of quid on spare batteries could be a life saver.


Walking Alone

If you’re walking alone consider how you will change those batteries in the dark. A key ring micro light or lightweight head torch, such as the Petzl e-lite could be a useful addition to your kit. My Black Diamond head torch batteries are changed by turning a flat circular mechanism, which is hard to to do by hand, especially with cold hands. There is a grove in which a 2 pence coin will fit, so I have a 2p coin taped to the battery housing in readiness.


Some modern head torches have LED low battery indicators, but be wary of these, as they indicate voltage drop rather than how much juice is left in the batteries. Modern high power batteries, such as the Lithium L91 AA type, have lots of juice and maintain a constant power output, but do tend to lose power quickly, meaning that the battery indicator may start to flash red with little time before full battery drain. Again, always carry a spare set of batteries. If you're using traditional alkaline or rechargeable batteries, the battery indicator will be more reliable.

Back in the day when the Petzl Zoom was the head torch of choice, there was actually a spare bulb secreted away within the unit as it was not uncommon for the filament type bulbs to fail. LED bulbs are reliable, but it's always worth considering having a spare.

If you are experienced and walking an appropriate route, you may decide to extend the day and descending and returning in the dark (which is fine so long as your emergency point of contact is aware of the possibility).  In such cases, you need to have a big beam head torch.

Hand Held Torches

Taking a hand-held torch is better than no torch at all. Head torches are preferable as you can keep your hands free, thus less change of dropping and breaking a head torch.

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