Investing in a headlamp is a great way to keep running during the shorter days – but how do you choose the right one? Running coach Sophie Grant shares her tips
Over the winter months, many of us will be doing our runs in the dark. A headlamp is a great way of keeping you both active and safe as you go, but choosing one can be a challenging task. Weight, brightness, ease of use, cost, comfort and stability are all key factors when deciding which one to choose, but it’s not always easy to judge those things before you buy – and the last thing you want is to waste your money on a headlamp that doesn’t do the job.
Sophie Grant is a running coach and Petzl UK athlete. “Fortunately, headlamps have come a long way in the past few years, with Petzl continuing to be at the forefront of design and innovation,” she says. She shares her top tips for finding the perfect headlamp for you.
How long you need the battery to last will depend on what you are doing and the brightness you will need on your run. A rechargeable battery will not only help to save both the planet and the pennies, but will also be more efficient at delivering power than standard alkaline batteries, especially at low temperatures. It’s also easy to carry a spare for longer runs.
Petzl have developed their own technology, Reactive Lighting, where the headlamp senses the amount of light bouncing back and uses that to adjust its brightness. Aiming the headlamp into the distance activates full brightness and gives longer reach, but when checking a map, for example, the light output is reduced, avoiding glare and increasing burn time. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back – not having to manually change the brightness with cold or gloved hands has been a complete game changer for me!
Reactive Lighting also helps with your battery life by continually adjusting the light output, and all Petzl headlamps have a reserve function, saving a small amount of light to get you back home if you accidentally take a detour, or to another battery.
The brightness of a headlamp is measured in lumens, which is the amount of visible light that the human eye can detect. How bright you want it to be will depend on your activity. Will you be wearing it just in case you run through a dark area? Will the headlamp just help you to be seen, or to help you tie your laces? Maybe you need to light up a technical countryside trail, or hope to complete an all-night Fastest Known Time attempt.
Generally, the quicker you are moving or the more technical the trail, the more lumens you will need. For trail running, I would say that a minimum of 300 lumens is essential. However, if you are doing something more casual or running near street lights, you can manage just fine with 200 lumens or less.
Brightness is offset by power consumption – a headlamp at full power will give a shorter burn time. Headlamps typically offer different settings to allow you to extend the battery life to suit your run, and Petzl’s Reactive Lighting also helps to manage the brightness/burn time balance.
Weight and fit
A good way to see if your headlamp fits well is to shake your head – if you can do that with no movement of the headlamp, then it should be suitable for running at night. Weight can affect this – headlamps weighing much more than 200g generally feel cumbersome and uncomfortable for running, and are more likely to move around.
Thinking about how you want the weight distributed is also important. There tend to be two main designs: an all-in-one unit with the light and battery at the front, or a split design with the light on the front and the battery on the rear. There are advantages to both, including how compact the headlamp feels and its balance on the head, but ultimately much will depend on your personal preference, comfort and the size of the battery needed.
The distance that the beam of the headlamp will reach depends on the brightness of the LED, along with the focus pattern. Choosing a suitable beam pattern for your intended use is important – trail runners typically need both flood and spot lighting options for proximity and distance visibility, while for urban running or more casual use, flood lighting alone will be perfect. Headlamps such as Petzl’s NAO+ and SWIFT RL will often have a spot focused LED for long distance, with a second wide-angle LED for flood lighting. The IKO CORE has several balanced LEDs to produce a very even wide beam pattern with different brightness levels.
So, what’s the best Petzl headlamp for you?
Weighing in at just 100g while producing 900 lumens and featuring Reactive Lighting, SWIFT RL is a fantastic headlamp for trail running.
For ultras, I’d recommend the NAO+. It features a high capacity battery, positioned on the read of the head for good balance and long burn times. Reactive Lighting helps to extend that burn time further and spare batteries are also available. If you like to carry a back-up, the lightweight BINDI is perfect for popping into your backpack or pocket.
About the author
Sophie Grant (Petzl UK athlete and Running Coach) is an elite international ultra-runner who loves long and technical races. She has been on the podium in major events such as UTMB, TransGranCanaria and Lavaredo Ultra Trail. Sophie has run for Great Britain at the Trail Running World Championships and was the UK Sky Running Champion. Always after adventure, Sophie lives in a campervan in the mountains where she can run, climb and ski.