How to choose a head lamp

buying a head torch

When you’re broken down by the side of the road, or setting up camp, hands-free lighting is essential. Here’s how to choose a head lamp.

Torches are great when you don’t need to use your hands. For car owners and adventurers, hands-free lighting is a must…here’s how to choose a head lamp.

Head lamps are one of the staples of our camping kits and more often than not they’re the first tool we reach for when we’re out driving at night and things go wrong. It’s Murphy’s Law that something will always go wrong at the most inconvenient time. We’ve put together our guide on the features and specifications that will serve you best when you’re looking to buy your next head torch.


Believe it or not, having the brightest head torch capable of spotting a possum 1500 metres away may not be the most critical feature you’re going to be looking for. At the end of the day (night?) you will mostly be using it pointing down into the engine bay, or when you’re setting up camp, or stuck changing a wheel.

Having a wide beam and the ability to dial it down to, say, 10 per cent is what you’ll be looking for here. Why? It lets you keep your night-vision, not blind anyone within 1500 metres and allows you to see more of the ground around you, rather than having to bend your neck around like a contortionist.

Durability and Quality

Chances are, if you’re using your head torch when you’re out camping or fixing something that’s gone skew-whiff it’s going to get knocked around. An absolutely bottom of the barrel eBay jobbie probably won’t hold together anywhere near as well as a middle of the range setup will. So, wherever you can, have a look at a head torch out of the box, have a feel of the material it’s made from, and how it will hold up.

Sometimes, you’ll see manufacturer claims of impact resistance… if you read a review on MotoFomo and the manufacturer has made such a claim then you can rest assured we’ll have chucked the thing around to prove ’em right or wrong. Moving on.

The next you want to have a look at when trying to choose a head lamp, is the IP rating. I stands for Ingress and P for Protection. We reckons you’re best off looking for the highest rating your budget will allow. Click HERE to read more about Dust and Water (IP) ratings. So, looking at your head torch there’s likely to be a couple of numbers after the IP, if there’s only one and an X then walk away. Because, depending on where that X is will mean that the product is unrated in that regard. So, let’s say your head torch carries an IP67 rating, as many do. The 6 refers to the product’s ability to resist crap getting in it, indeed, a rating of 6 means the thing is fully sealed against dust. So you could drop it onto the ground or onto sand and know nothing will get into it. Cool. The second number refers to the product’s ability to withstand water, so, a rating of 7 means you can sit your product (head torch) in a puddle for 30 minutes at depths between 15 cm and one metre (deep puddle, right).

Worth mentioning too, stick with LED. It’s not even worth considering looking at halogen due to power requirements, heat, and how fragile halogen globes are.

Battery Life

Battery life is not absolutely critical, however the ability to charge it in your vehicle is. That way, the head torch can have its own spot in your rig, and stay connected to a USB charging port until you need it. Rummaging through the depths of your drawers or the kids’ toys looking for AAA batteries isn’t something you’re going to want to be doing when trying to set up camp. Most rechargeable head torches will run for at least 3-4 hours off a full charge, with many running much longer than that, and even more so on low power. Of course, with time and use you’ll get less and less run time from your head torch.

Beam Pattern

Next up on how to choose a head lamp, make sure you’ve got a controllable beam pattern. You’ll want to be able to change it from super wide, to spot, which will make the head torch multi-purpose. From being able to see the entire campsite or engine bay at once on wide, to being able to go spotlighting with the kids and seeing possums and ‘roos a few hundred metres away, dialable beams are great.

There are quite a few on the market that have a combination of dial-able beam patterns and a different array of LED’s on the front of it. Single LED models will throw light farther, especially when the beam can be focused, whereas multiple, smaller LED models will light up more area, but not as brightly.


This is the big one as it wraps up all of the cool options, features and functions the head torch has. At the end of the day, you’ll really just need the ability to focus the beam, to wide and spot, and be able to keep it charged.

That said, it might be worth looking at options that have ‘gesture-control’. This allows you to wave a hand in front of the head torch a certain way, and have it turn on, or off, or activate the red-light only (using red light won’t ruin your night vision). This is especially handy when you’ve got a kid under one arm, camp-chair under the other, and you’re trying to balance a new CV between your knees. Beyond that, an overhead strap helps with spreading the weight of the head torch over a greater area, USB charging port is an essential and a replaceable battery and spares will help save your back pocket once it’s getting a bit on.

Finally, there are some that have a ‘get-me-home’ feature, which essentially lets you know when the battery level reaches about 10-15%, and goes in to low-output mode. This will often last you around an hour, but give you enough light to finish setting up camp, or to get you home or back to your rig if you’ve wandered off.

Final Thoughts

You’ll need to weigh up how much you plan on using your head torch, and how much easier it can make life for you. I always used to have an under-bonnet LED strip, or lights set up under the awning and canopy, and was never really one for head torches. It wasn’t until I needed to use it somewhere the LED strips weren’t shining well, and still have my hands free did I become a convert. Hopefully, this guide will help you choose the right head lamp for you, before you actually need it and don’t have another option.

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Hailing from the depths of four-wheel driving cosplay goodness, and being the camera-shy, dark-shaded hero we need (maybe not want, but certainly need), Pete has been four-wheel driving his whole life. Offering up how he got it wrong, so you can get it right seems to be his superpower, while also having an innate ability to break things while testing them, ensures the products he tests (and breaks) will hold up to being used by you.