I’m Looking for: a Head Torch

OER provides a seller’s guide to lighting in the hills

Our weather may be unpredictable. But one thing you can always rely upon, is that every day it will get dark. In the summer, this is usually late enough not to be a problem. But in the winter that changes, and whether early starts and late finishes are planned, or otherwise, the one piece of kit all hill-goers need is a torch.

But there’s so much choice these days. Which should your customer buy?

First thing to remember is why a head torch over a hand torch? The answer may be in the name – you wear it on your head so that it frees up your hands – but this small but obvious detail can sometimes be missed.

What do you want to use it for?
What will your customer use it for? Walking the dog or off-road running. Is it that they will hopefully never have to use it and it’s a just ‘in case’ product? Or is it going to be their  main way of getting through the night? All these factors help determine just what they need.

How bright?
The perennial question: how bright should it be? It’s worth pointing out that brightest isn’t always best and that in general terms the brighter the torch the more battery it uses. Other reasons for not going for too much light is that it can blind people when map reading or looking at others. Torch output is measured in lumens which gives a feel for the overall brightness of the torch, but you should encourage them to consider other factors and not just lumens divided by cost.

A red light feature is useful for night visibility – it won’t ruin their night vision like a white light will, and it’s less likely to disturb others.  And a rear red light can be useful if they’ll be running on roads.

Beam pattern
Really important but often dismissed. A poor beam pattern makes walking or running harder. A torch with a good beam pattern will enable them to see what’s in front of them without moving their head too much. It also won’t have any dark or shady areas. The beam is particularly important for runners – they need wide good peripheral vision. Walkers or climbers may prefer a beam that looks far into the distance for navigating. If they need both of these things, they should go for a good all-rounder.

Standard plug in alkaline or lithium rechargeable alkaline batteries are cheap and easy to fit but struggle in the cold and aren’t great for the environment. Rechargeables made from lithium, similar to those in a smart phone, are more expensive but cope with the cold better and can be reused many times, saving both money and the environment.

Not the be all and end all, but definitely worth considering. There’s no point having a big heavy lump on your head if you don’t need it. And certainly no point in having a heavy light if it’s going to be carried purely for emergencies.

How does it fit? The beam needs to point where they want it to point, no matter what they’re doing. Make sure the elastic is strong enough to feel robust and secure in whatever activity they’re buying it for.

Does it need to be waterproof? Maybe, but if it is, it will have seals that need looking after. They need to ask themselves just how wet it will get. Most models have stainless steel contacts that don’t rust easily and are designed to work in the wet. Just remind them that they need to dry them out again after use (like all kit really).

Quality and reliability
In some circumstances, cheap will be fine – it’s not a great problem if the torch starts to fail when walking the dog. But on a narrow ridge, after the sun’s gone down, they need to know that it will work. Their life could depend upon it.

New technologies
New technologies have made a real difference and top end torches are more versatile than ever. If they will be navigating, a reactive torch that dims when looking at maps and brightens when staring into a black void, will be incredibly useful. Battery life will also benefit.

Some even use Bluetooth to connect with a mobile app to check battery life and adjust the settings. In the right circumstances, this could be incredibly helpful, but most of the time, most people won’t need that careful control.

Other top tips
You’re there to advise as well as sell, so offer them the benefit of your experience before they leave. They should always make sure their torch is charged and take spare batteries just in case. They also need to think about how and where they will store it when not in use. Remind them to ensure that it won’t switch on accidentally and suggest they remove the batteries if it’s being left for a long time.

When travelling, they’ll need charging cables and perhaps even a spare battery pack – possible other sale? Sometimes it’s better to rely on over the counter batteries in this situation.

One last thing
If they’ll be relying on their torch, they need to check it works, that it’s charged and that they have all necessary backups. They also need to make sure they pack it! Can they set up a prompt/reminder?

Who’s writing?
Martin Bergerud is the Country Manager for Petzl UK. He’s an active runner, biker, skier and now occasional climber.

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