Can you rely on a cheap headlamp for running?

head torch running
What features and price should you consider in a headlamp for running? (Image credit: Getty Images)

Most keen runners will want to have a head torch, especially if they want to keep on running through the winter. A headlamp is essential for seeing your way on early morning or night runs. If you are looking for a new headlamp you might be wondering how much you need spend and whether it's possible to rely on a budget head torch, or if you should spend more?

In our best buy guide to headlamps for runners, the cheapest head torches are around £40, including Alpkit’s Qark and the Proviz LED 360 Antares, while the more expensive BioLite Headlamp 750 costs over £100. Prices are higher still for some other headlamps, such as certain models made by Petzl and Silva.

In this guide, we consider the differences across the price range of head torches for runners. 

What makes a headlamp more expensive?

It’s usually the components in a headlamp that push up the price due to the need for research, development and innovation, as well as the cost of manufacture. The beam brightness, especially if the lamp unit is still relatively small, can be more expensive to develop and make. 

A good example is Silva’s new range of Free headlamps, including the Silva Free 1200 XS, which offer high lumen output, from 1,200 to 3,000, and with batteries that are just about small enough to attach to the headband. The prices of this collection of head torches for runners ranges from around £135 to £325.

Other factors include overall size and weight of the headlamp, battery size and weight, battery life, usability and comfort. In addition, it’s a good idea to consider how waterproof the headlamp is if you know you will be using it in bad weather.

two runners with a head torch

There a different features when considering if you can rely on a budget headlamp for running (Image credit: Getty Images)

Do I need a more expensive headlamp?

The answer to the question: 'Do I need a more expensive headlamp' depends on what you will be using it for, where you will be running, the duration of your run and also perhaps, your eyesight. 

It is usually the beam brightness – measured in lumens – that accounts for higher prices with many headlamps. If you do not see well in the dark, maybe due to being short-sighted or because your night vision is relatively poor (this can happen as we age!), then it could be worth paying for a headlamp with a higher output of lumens. 

Then there are headlamps with a range of beams outputs. A headlamp that can be switched from dimmer to brighter to suit the conditions will most likely prove useful. 

Some headlamps also have the capacity to be switched between a wider or longer beam output and more focused spotlight. This can be useful when running in different places, such as trails, hills and road where you want the focus of light to be closer to your feet or further ahead.

With every extra asset, the price is likely to go up, yet these factors might be important to you. For example, a headlamp with a red safety alert beam could be a good idea if you are heading into more remote locations where you may need a red torch beam in an emergency.

Think about the battery life very carefully, too. It is often the case that batteries, especially rechargeable battery packs, that have a longer life for each charge will be  be pricier than batteries that offer a shorter duration of light. The technology of batteries has advanced a great deal in recent years but it does mean you tend to have to pay more for a good quality battery that is longer lasting but also small enough to wear on the headband or carry in a pocket or rucksack. 

If you hope to use the headlamp for long-distance runs or challenges, it may be worth buying a more expensive one with a good quality battery. Some headlamps can be used with a rechargeable battery or AAA batteries and this extra feature might make the headlamp pricier. It may be a good idea to buy an extra rechargeable battery pack if you know you will be using the headlamp for many hours during a race. 

A headlamp with casing that is robust and fully waterproof  could well be more expensive than a device that is less durable and only water resistant.

In conclusion, the more you run in the dark, the more you might want to pay for a headlamp because the more you will be using it. However, there are some budget headlamps that are worth thinking about.

Alpkit Qark

The Alpkit Qark could be a good headlamp to consider in the budget price bracket  (Image credit: Alpkit)

Which brands can you recommend for budget headlamps?

When looking for a budget headlamp for running you should consider beam brightness. Some runners will be happy with a beam of 400 lumens, or even less, but many will prefer a higher lumens output. 

For brighter beams at a more budget-friendly price, Alpkit’s Qark, which boasts an output of 580 lumens, and the Proviz LED 360 Antares, with a 500 lumen beam, are worth considering.

The Alpkit Qark gained 4.5 stars from our reviewer and has a number of good points, such as being lightweight and comfortable; a rechargeable battery or three AAA batteries; a battery life indicator;  and both floodlight or spotlight beams. The Qark loses points for looking bulky and plasticky and not having a  rear red light or silicone grippers on the headband.

Proviz LED 360 Antares running headlamp scored three stars and while battery run time looks excellent with a claimed 73 hours on low beam and 20 hours on higher 500lm beam, in fact, the batteries (3  x AAAs rather than a rechargeable pack) cause the light brightness to diminish before the  20 hours. The headlamp is also splashproof not waterproof and has no rear red light.

Therefore it might be worth looking a a mid-price head torch for running, or keep an eye on sales and discounted last season models of pricier head-torches for a better budget buy. 

A four-star review of the Fenix HL60R with a price of around £80 might make you consider this headlamp, so long as you don't need to use the beam at its highest setting of 950 lumen (this only lasts 48 minutes according to our reviewer!).

The pros of the Fenix include its high levels of waterproofing and durability, a rechargeable battery, plus the ability to take two lithium batteries and a comfortable headband. You need to decide if the negatives, including weight and bulkiness, as well as having no rear red light, matter to you. 

The BioLite Headlamp 750, priced as low as £41.55 from some retailers although it can also cost up to £84.99,  also scores a four-star review and has a 500 lumen output that lasts about two hours. This can be boosted to 750 lumens for 30 seconds if you need it. 

The headlamp has the advantage of a rechargeable battery, a rear red light and a comfortable headband. If eco-credentials matter to you, BioLite funds renewable energy. You should consider the negatives, however, such as the weight of the headlamp, the complicated series of settings and the fact you can’t swap in AAA batteries.

Olight is another brand in the mid-price bracket. The Olight Array 2S, for example, has a maximum lumen output of 1000, with 10 different beam settings, including a red light and a flashing SOS beam. It is lightweight and water resistant and has a rechargeable battery attached to the headband. The RRP is round £80. 

A negative is build quality with a light switch button that is vulnerable to wear and the main unit is water resistant, rather than waterproof. 

Some brands offer a range of budgets across models. For example, Petzl has headlamps for runners with a lumen output of at least 400 and priced from around £43. 

While one of the most expensive headlamps is the Petzl Swift RL is around a RRP of £115 it is often sold at a discounted price of around £85. It has good lumen output, with a rechargeable battery pack and/or AAA batterie, plus a great comfort rating for lightness and fit. The RL (reactive light) feature is loved by some and loathed by others though.  

Likewise, Silva is another big name in headlamps and sells a range of models at different budgets. Shop around for headlamps with 300 lumen output for as little as £30. 

More tips for buying a running headlamp

The sales and last season’s models could provide a good source of more budget-friendly prices for headlamps for runners. 

Try a few head torches – borrow from friends – and see what lumen output suits you. Then try to find a headlamp that has this output as its maximum, rather than minimum setting.

If battery life is big consideration, choose one where you can use the rechargeable battery or AAA batteries, or you can buy a separate rechargeable battery and take that with you.

Think about whether you really need a headlamp that has extra features, such as a rear red light, a flashing SOS light, a strap that fits over the crown over your head. It could be that if you ditch some of the features, you'll find a simpler headlamp that is more budget friendly.

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.