Negotiating complex ground in the dark can be tricky at the best of times, and you certainly won't get far safely if you can't even see. A headtorch is a key essential on the hills, a small but vital bit of kit that's equally necessary for hillwalkers and climbers.
Always carry at least one torch - something compact and reasonably powerful - ensuring it's fully charged before leaving. Changing batteries blind is no fun, so if you're carrying a backup - never a bad call - then a second torch is the way to go. In summer this could be a smaller emergency light, while in winter it pays to double up with a full-sized torch since it's darker for longer and you may end up swapping as the charge in your main light fades. If your day out takes longer than expected, and becomes more of a night out by mistake, then at least you should have lighting covered.
"If I find myself coming off the hill in the dark and using my headtorch, maybe this is an indication that I haven't timed my day well or I've underestimated how short the daylight can actually be in the winter months" says Ben Gibson, Mountain Safety Advisor for Mountaineering Scotland.
"A headtorch is one of those pieces of kit you may not plan on using, but will be glad to know you've got, fully charged and ready. Nowadays I always carry two when out on any mountain adventure. I learned this the hard way.
"On a November mountain bike ride circumnavigating the Beinn a' Ghlo massif a number of years ago I was still 10km from the carpark when the worst thing happened - my bike light completely packed in just as it was getting dark. I had no spare and didn't think to take my helmet light as I had planned to be back at the car before sunset. I had underestimated the terrain, the distance and my bike fitness.
"Fumbling around in almost darkness trying to cross a river with bike on shoulder and mobile phone in hand, trying to light the way to pick up my return track (and easier biking) was no joke. I eventually made it back to the car feeling quite stupid and realising how serious it all could have been not having a good light setup and a spare, if I'd needed to be seen by Mountain Rescue."
Ben's top tips:
- A spare torch is easier to have in winter than spare batteries, as swapping out batteries with gloves on and feeling cold is really faffy and snow will probably get in the battery pack and wet the contacts, rendering it useless.
- In winter, keeping your headtorch protected and warm is also crucial as the cold will affect the performance. Wrapping it up in an old (and clean!) sock works: a wee trick I picked up from another Instructor (thanks Kev).
- Consider a buddy check with your climbing or walking partner, to ensure you are both carrying the essentials - torch high on the list. This is another lesson I learned the hard way, after myself and a friend had to share a single light for a long slow run-out on rough terrain in Glen Tromie.