Lighting your way

Looked for a headtorch lately? Go into any reasonably stocked outdoor shop and you may be surprised at just how many models there are to choose from. Most people need a light source at some point and for more and more people – not just outdoors sports types but motorists, boaties and others too – a headtorch is what they want where just a few years ago they would have gone for a regular handheld model.

The obvious reason for that is the need to have light exactly where you want it while still keeping your hands free. This is invaluable, whether you are stirring the dinner in the pot at the campsite or bent over an engine attempting a repair. But how then to sort through the sometimes bewilering selection of headtorches on offer, all of which seem like they would be up for the job?

Same same but different

The rise of the LED has fuelled a big surge in the headtorch market. With its low power use, bright light and ultra-long life, the LED also has that fashionable whiff of greenery about it that adds to their appeal for ourdoor types.

In fact, if you take care of your light, chances are you can buy today and use the same torch for many years – the elastic in the headstrap is likely to be the first thing to go.

With LEDs having conquered the battlefield, the next stage of the arms race is to add more, and more powerful, LEDs. There are models with as many as seven LEDs, and others that mix LEDs with more conventional bulbs.

To add to the confusion, when comparing the specs you’ll notice that some cite the wattage of their LEDs while others mention lumens. Sadly there’s no simple conversion. That’s because while watts measure power pure and simple, lumens measure perceived brightness. Whatever the watts, the colour of the light and how concentrated the beam is will affect how bright our eyes tell us it is.

Generally though, something of at least 1W should cover you for most applications. 3W or more is probably overkill for most people.

The colour of light is also important as LEDs typically produce a very white light which doesn’t perform well in foggy conditions. Climbers and mountain runners especially should look for a headtorch with a conventional bulb for yellower light, or possibly a hybrid with LEDs for use at other times.

Strapping one on

Most straps are elasticated and adjustable so will be reasonably comfortable. But will you want to run with your headtorch? If so, will the strap keep the light stable? A wider strap will help and also check the way the light is attached.

Traditional headtorches such as those that cavers use often have a strap that crosses over the top of the head. Losing a little on comfort to gain on the stability is a worthwhile trade so consider fashioning an extra strap if your model doesn’t have one.

That said, when running on trails at night, you may find yourself taking your torch off and holding it. Apart from the extra control you gain over the beam there’s another important advantage. Hold the light lower and it will throw more pronounced shadows where there are steps or rocks in the way. This should give you the confidence to up your speed to something closer to daytime pace.

Of course, if you are always going to hold the thing, then you may as well just buy a small handheld torch. That’s your choice: it depends what other applications you have in mind for your headtorch.

For campsite use only, almost any model will do – you need only to be able to see your dinner and stop from stumbling around too much. If you want to illuminate a wider area around your tent, you’d be better off packing a lantern instead.

A wider field-of-view on a headtorch can help though when on the move and having to scout for the trail up ahead. In this case don’t get fixated on lights that advertise being able to throw beams for tens of metres ahead – it’s mostly what’s closer to your feet you want to see.

As for when your torch is not in use, it is always better to remove the batteries – or perhaps more practically, to reverse one battery so that the light isn’t accidentally switched on while in storage or in your bag.

Having outlined a few basics, here’s a quick rundown of the major brands to be found on shop shelves in Asia and how their ranges differ.

Black Diamond

Many outlets in Asia may still have 2007 stock but the latest 2008 models of the Cosmo, Icon, Ion and Moxie have souped-up LEDs for a longer beam. All four are at the compact end of the range. The cases can have a flimsy look about them so check the build quality on your favoured model.

Edelrid

Reasonably priced and worth a look. Trio Xenon is a good compromise model with LEDs and a conventional bulb.

Kovea

A Korean brand that is usually a fair bit cheaper than the European or North American marquees. The Super Duo-1 is a dependable caving model using conventional bulbs. www.kovea.com

LiteRay

A smaller brandname, this company make no frills, ultralight models fine for low-intensity activities and around the campsite. If the brand is not available where you are, chances are there are suitable substitutes for it.

Mammut

The X-Zoom is the Rolls Royce of headtorches with a range of 120m, an adjustable field-of-view, a switch-lock to prevent accidental draining of the batteries and other features. www.mammutsportsgroup.com

Petzl

A wide range includes the ultralight e+lite which uses watch batteries to keep the weight down to a measly 27g. Mid-range models feature the Tikka name. A bit pricey for what you get – possibly down to the famous brandname. www.petzl.com

Princeton Tech

Cases are a touch plastic-y and the screw used on the battery cover on some models can work loose. Aurora and Quad models are the mid-range ones to look for. www.princetontec.com

Silva

Quality casings inspire confidence and should be more weatherproof than some other brands. The L4 or M4 models will work for most people; the LX is top of the range. www.silva.se

Thanks go to RC Outfitters, tel: (852) 2390 0020, email: info@alink.com.hk, for their help with this feature.