Hi. My name's Christian and I'm a headtorch addict (these are all mine)
My trip packing list starts like this: Passport, credit card, toothbrush, headtorches - how anyone can travel without (at least) one is a mystery. Granted, they’re dull and geeky, But I’ve been in more Asian toilets which don’t have lightbulbs than do and your hands are, well, “occupied” in such situations, so humour me.
In Nepal a couple of years ago, I took three (stop laughing) including a complete daddy for summit day. Bright? Well, think the opening of the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Indiana Jones. Leaving high camp at 3am on summit day, its beam formed a perfect cartoon-torch-in-Scooby-Doo cone of light hundreds of metres up the rocky channel to the glacier above us which in hindsight was less than ideal - I would have been happier NOT knowing the scale of the task ahead...
And, remember that you will use your headtorch in ways you don’t expect - in India in 2007, broken down at the side of the road a couple of hundred miles North of Delhi, traveller headtorches helped the crew attempt (in vain) to get our air-conditioning and headlamps working (who needs headlamps on mountain roads anyway?).
So, you're sold and will be taking one with you on your travels. But, which one?
Well, after a bit too much experimentation over the years (boys and their toys), for general purpose travelling, you’re going to have to work hard to do better than a combination of the Zipka Plus 2 and the e-lite from French headlamp honchos Petzl.
Petzl Zipka Plus 2
The Zipka’s design is nigh-on perfect - unless you’re hanging out in the far Northern latitudes in December, a headtorch is going to be stuffed in a rucksack corner for 95% of the trip, so this one sports a clever auto-retracting wire rather than the bulky (but more comfortable) fabric headband other models run with. Not cool with strapping a torch to your head unless you have to? Good, nor am I - the retractable wire means it's just as easy to attach to your wrist – perfect for navigating back from the bar to your beachfront bungalow – Asian pavements and paths have a habit of giving way to nothingness with alarming regularity, so my headtorch habit has probably saved me a few sprained ankles over the years.
As well as the usual variable-strength white light beams, the Zipka Plus has a natty red bulb which I assumed would be near-useless (and a bit too military-chic), but proved super-useful for reading on a night buses, or in a hostel, or for tiptoeing around a dark deck cabin filled with sleeping travellers. It weighs in at 71g, including batteries. Lithiums are best, obviously - super-expensive, but worth waiting for a special offer and bulk-buying. If you’re outside the developed world, be good though and bring the dead ones home with you for proper disposal.
The backup - Petzl e+lite
One is never enough. (honourable exception: STDs, I imagine). My backup is a 28g Petzl e+lite - that’s not much, so it lives tucked in the bottom of my on-the-go first aid kit and is with me 24/7 (if travelling, not IRL, obvs) – when you need it, it’s there, not back in the hostel with your rucksack. Waterproof to a couple of metres, the e-lite was perfect for a kayak navigation of the pitch-black dog-leg into Ko Mook’s Emerald Cave.
Insanely powerful for its size, a couple of watch batteries keep you from walking off a cliff edge for a whole night, even on the brightest setting. Mine was a free gift with a magazine subscription, but if you see one on sale somewhere, pick it up, stick it in the bottom of your bag, and forget it, until the world goes black and someone says “has anyone got a torch...”