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Compact Headtorches Group Test

© Dan Bailey

A decent headtorch is a climbing and hillwalking essential at any time of year, but doubly so in the long dark of winter. I mean that literally; since torches have generally got smaller, if perhaps no more reliable, it makes sense to bring two in case of loss, battery drain or failure.

When the sun goes down, stick a mini star on your head...  © Joby Waldman
When the sun goes down, stick a mini star on your head...
© Joby Waldman

Modern front-mounted models are neat and lightweight, yet pack enough output for most needs. Here we're looking in depth at five alternatives, all front-mounted models that carry the batteries and LEDs in the same unit: the Alpkit Qark, Black Diamond Spot 325, Exposure Verso Mk2, Nite Ize Radiant 250 Rechargeable and Petzl ACTIK CORE.

Whether it's for snowy hills, Scottish winter climbing, multi pitch rock, bivvies, backpacking or pre-dawn Alpine starts, compact headtorches like these beat a bulky model with a separate battery for packability and convenience. With no exposed wire connecting the torch to a rear-mounted battery pack, there's less to get damaged too. The downsides compared to a torch with separate battery are that they may be less powerful, burn times may not be as long, and the batteries may be more susceptible to cold than a unit that could be carried in your pocket. Despite steady progress in LED technology you still can't have it all. But I don't think we're far off now...

Night comes early in winter... how good is your headtorch?  © Kevin Woods
Night comes early in winter... how good is your headtorch?
© Kevin Woods

Burn time

Burn time is measured in ideal test conditions - and that'll typically be at room temperature in a laboratory. Real world conditions will have a big effect on the battery life, especially cold temperatures. I've tested all these torches up hills in chilly autumn and winter weather. To replicate more serious sub-zero conditions they've also undergone a home freezer test:

The freezer test

You can't expect a torch to give you its full quoted burn time in very cold conditions, and indeed some can fail altogether at sub-zero temperatures. While a night at -20 is a rather stern test for a torch battery, it seems a good way to highlight their performance at the extreme end. To get a reasonably useful comparison of their performance in the cold I left all five models, fully charged, in the freezer overnight, at a cool -20. I then turned them on at full power and set the clock going...

Small, reliable, powerful, long-burning, easy to operate... does one headtorch tick all our boxes?  © Dan Bailey
Small, reliable, powerful, long-burning, easy to operate... does one headtorch tick all our boxes?
© Dan Bailey

Regulated versus non-regulated output

While all types of battery obviously drain over time, the rate at which their output declines is different. With a standard battery the power available drops off steeply at first and then slopes out over a more gradual fade out. A battery with 'regulated' output, on the other hand, gives you longer at a pretty high output, before dropping quite suddenly. On balance a torch that stays bright for longer is probably preferable to one that steadily dims, but the downsides are that it may give you less time overall and certainly less warning of imminent battery demise.

Which is better? Well perhaps it depends what you're doing with the torch. For a short night run, for instance, or a quick walk-out at the end of a winter day, regulated output is a clear winner. But what if you're spending longer in the dark? Though you'd want to be frugal with your power output with either battery type, after a few hours of use you're clearly going to be better off with standard non-regulated batteries. To be on the safe side, and certainly if planning to be out for a couple of nights, a spare set of batteries, a power bank or best of all a second torch, are arguably a must.

You're more likely to have it close to hand if it's small enough to carry in a pocket  © Dan Bailey
You're more likely to have it close to hand if it's small enough to carry in a pocket
© Dan Bailey

How far do they shine?

Beam distance is down to a combination of output power (let's assume a full battery) and the focus of the beam. The figures for lumens and distance provided by brands vary a lot, testing standards are not a level playing field, and it's fair to take the more ambitious distances with a pinch of salt. Anything over about 100m sounds unlikely, but not impossible. Since we haven't devised a foolproof objective way to measure how far you can see with each torch, we're going with the manufacturer's figures in our Brightness & Burn Time tables, backed with anecdotal experience of using them outdoors.

I compared their range on a moonlit night with a little hazy mist in the air. The trees are roughly 70 metres away and all the torches are on full beam (and in the case of the Alpkit Qark, full focus):

Alpkit Qark  © UKC/UKH Gear
Alpkit Qark
© UKC/UKH Gear
BD Spot 325  © UKC/UKH Gear
BD Spot 325
© UKC/UKH Gear
Exposure Verso  © UKC/UKH Gear
Exposure Verso
© UKC/UKH Gear
NiteIze Radiant 250  © UKC/UKH Gear
NiteIze Radiant 250
© UKC/UKH Gear
Petzl ACTIK CORE  © UKC/UKH Gear
Petzl ACTIK CORE
© UKC/UKH Gear

Different night, different location - the woods are roughly 50m away here:

Alpkit Qark  © Dan Bailey
Alpkit Qark
© Dan Bailey
BD Spot325  © Dan Bailey
BD Spot325
© Dan Bailey
Exposure Verso  © Dan Bailey
Exposure Verso
© Dan Bailey
NiteIze Radiant 250  © Dan Bailey
NiteIze Radiant 250
© Dan Bailey
Petzl ACTIK CORE  © Dan Bailey
Petzl ACTIK CORE
© Dan Bailey

And here's how they compare at closer proximity (using flood mode where available):

Alpkit Qark  © UKC/UKH Gear
Alpkit Qark
© UKC/UKH Gear
BD Spot 325  © UKC/UKH Gear
BD Spot 325
© UKC/UKH Gear
Exposure Verso   © UKC/UKH Gear
Exposure Verso
© UKC/UKH Gear
NiteIze Radiant 250  © UKC/UKH Gear
NiteIze Radiant 250
© UKC/UKH Gear
Petzl ACTIK CORE  © UKC/UKH Gear
Petzl ACTIK CORE
© UKC/UKH Gear

Summary table

Black Diamond Spot 325

Price: £40

Max: 325 lumens 4 hrs

Pros: Sensible balance of power and burn time; compact; good value

Cons: Not the brightest; possible poor performance in extreme cold; fiddly


Nite Ize Radiant 250 Rechargeable

Price: £49.99

Max: 250 lumens 4 hrs

Pros: Simple, rugged, generous burn times

Cons: Bulky; not the brightest; no locking function; pricey for what you get

Radiant 250 prod shot


Petzl ACTIK CORE

Price: £58 (inc CORE battery) £39 (torch alone)

Max: 450 lumens 2 hrs

Pros: Compact, easy to use and very bright; good performance in the cold; variety of power sources

Cons: No sensible output/burn time middle ground - it's all or nothing


Alpkit Qark

Price: £32.99

Max: 580 lumens 2.5 hrs

Pros: Very bright; good balance of brightness and burn time; excellent manual focus; variety of power sources; great value

Cons: Real world output doesn't match the on-paper claim; battery pack performs poorly when cold


Exposure Verso Mk 2

Price: £125

Max: 250 lumens 1 hr

Pros: Bright for its tiny size; beautifully made

Cons: Expensive; rear battery pack must be purchased separately to get a reasonable burn time (3hrs at max)


Black Diamond Spot 325 - £40

The Spot 325 scores high in some of our key requirements for a compact torch, being light, small and robust. A revised version of the popular Spot, it's not the brightest on review, but its 325 lumen maximum output is still plenty for most uses, whether that's navigating after dark, climbing or night running. This should be a user-friendly model in the sense that there are only three main output modes to choose from (three's plenty); however we find switching between modes quite unintuitive. Crucially, though, the burn times are generous, with 4 hours at max output - a decent cushion if you're out on complex ground after sunset. It's got the best headband, too. Overall we really rate it.

A compact head and a light, ventilated strap  © Dan Bailey
A compact head and a light, ventilated strap
© Dan Bailey

Brightness and burn time

For a small torch - vying with the Exposure Verso as the most compact unit on test - the Spot 325 seems pretty powerful. But on paper it clearly doesn't match the max output of some more powerful rivals, and in use we'd definitely say it's not got quite as much brightness or range. Nevertheless its maximum 325 lumen mode gives you a respectable 80m (or thereabouts) of visibility, which in most instances is plenty for navigating after dark and would certainly help get you out of trouble if you were benighted on a route. It may not have the sheer brightness or broad spread of some rivals, but it does seem to have decent distance-penetration. Medium mode is pretty usable too, and adequate on easier terrain though it might feel a bit lacklustre if you're used to full-on modern torches; low mode, meanwhile, is just for the tent. By the standards of modern torches I'd say the Spot 325's output is OK rather than stellar.

It's bright for its size  © Kevin Woods
It's bright for its size
© Kevin Woods

For less consequential use (camping, summer walking) I've found it more than enough, and being small it'd be a good option to keep in your pocket as a just-in-case torch on a multi-pitch route, or in your pack as a backup unit to your main lighting. The Spot 325 would also be a decent choice as a primary torch for winter climbing or hillwalking. There may occasionally be times when you find yourself wanting a bit more range than this little torch can provide, but probably not that often. On the other hand that balance of beam length and battery life on max output looks to me like a very sensible compromise for mountain use. The output is regulated, so you get a longer period of decent brightness than with an unregulated light, which would steadily dwindle.

Overall the burn time seems impressive for such a compact unit, and a battery life indicator on the side is a useful feature for keeping track of things as you go. Knowing you've got a generous 8 hours at medium output would give you peace if mind if there was a possibility of being out all night. However, that burn time is seriously compromised in extreme cold (see below).

Mode Brightness Beam Distance Burn Time
High 325 lm 80m 4h
Medium 160 lm 60m 8h
Low 6 lm 8m 200h

Black Diamond is launching a new battery life testing protocol. Here's what they told us about that:

"In 2002 we collaborated with other manufacturers to create a testing method to define 'beam distance' and 'battery runtime'. We collectively called this the "Moonlight Standard" which was based on the amount of light from a full moon on a clear night. A new testing protocol was approved by ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and BD participated in the creation of this standard.

"This new FL-1 Standard has been adopted by BD and other outdoor-industry manufacturers and includes battery life testing down to 10% of the original output. From the time the product reaches 10% of original light output, we continue to run the battery until it reaches a threshold of 0.25 lux at 4 meters. This is the amount of usable light for low-intensity activities.

"This 'Reserve Time' has been represented on packaging and other marketing materials. Testing 'beam distance' to the FL-1 protocol is the same as our original Moonlight Standard, again using 0.25 lux as the cutoff mark."

With the Spot 325 You get 36 hours 'reserve' at max, and 27 hours in medium mode. It's pretty dim though, so don't expect to be using it to escape a route.

2am on the Cuillin Ridge  © Dan Bailey
2am on the Cuillin Ridge
© Dan Bailey

The freezer test

The Spot 325 emerged from the freezer performing fine, however the battery life indicator had gone down from full to somewhere between 1/2 to 2/3. Within 50 minutes on full output it had begun to visibly dim, and by 1:15 it was decidedly lacklustre. By 2:15 it was basically all over for anything more than reading in a tent. This is clearly something to bear in mind if you're out on a cold night. I used a set of bog standard Energiser NiMH AAAs (500mAh) - it's conceivable you'd get different cold performance out of another battery. I should point out, too, that I have yet to suffer similar problems in less extreme real-world outdoor use.

Batteries and charging

Since simplicity is the name of the game the Spot 325 is compatible only with AAA batteries (it takes three). This arguably makes it more flexible than a torch with an inbuilt battery such as the Nite Ize Radiant 250 Rechargeable or the Exposure Verso, since you're not dependent on a USB charger and can use either rechargeable or disposable shop bought batteries; however it doesn't give you the best of both worlds like Petzl's ACTIK CORE or the Alpkit Qark.

Compact, powerful and reliable... essential attributes for a winter torch  © Dan Bailey
Compact, powerful and reliable... essential attributes for a winter torch
© Dan Bailey

Modes and operation

The modes comprise full strength in proximity and distance settings, dimming, strobe, and red night-vision (something I never use since my night vision is ironically too poor). With two white LEDs plus a red one, two small buttons on top, and the addition of a tap feature, I did at first struggle to know where I was and had to resort to random presses and taps. A bit of use soon got me familiar with the logic; hold the main button in and the main LED dims or brightens to your desired level; then for quick switching between dim and bright you can simply tap the side of the torch. This tap feature doesn't engage if you're wearing normal gloves, but does work with touch screen-compatible gloves. While the small main button is operable wearing gloves, the tiny extra button really isn't, so if you're doing any complicated mode switching you can expect to get cold hands in winter. On the plus side there's a locking function to prevent accidental discharge, and it's probably the best of those on review since it would be very hard to disengage it by mistake.

Size, weight and robustness

At 85g, including batteries, the Spot 325 is one of the lightweights in this review. Its compact size and neat cuboid shape also make it among the more packable torches we've looked at here, one that you really wouldn't mind sticking in a pocket when climbing, or wearing around your neck in preparation for sunset. The plastic body feels tough, and it's said to be waterproof to 1.1m for 30 minutes (IPX8), which should even be enough for use on a rainy Welsh night.

Though small, the main button is easy to operate with cold hands or in gloves  © Dan Bailey
Though small, the main button is easy to operate with cold hands or in gloves
© Dan Bailey

Straps and head tilt

The ratcheting head tilt does not extend quite as far downwards as other torches on test, with the exception of the Petzl ACTIK, which is more or less identical. When walking downhill and looking directly at your feet a few more degrees of downward range might sometimes be welcome, though it's a minor thing.

Its single elastic strap is easily adjusted, and holds the Spot 325 comfortably and securely enough for running. Since it's perforated, it's by far the coolest and least sweaty strap in this review. Top marks there.

Black Diamond say:

Our award-winning, full-featured waterproof headlamp is now lighter, brighter, and smaller. The new Spot 325 features a more compact design, updated user interface, and improved multi-faceted optical lens design that not only saves battery life but also provides a powerful 325 lumens of light, making it the perfect light for pre-work dawn patrols, after-dark trail runs and climbing days that don't always fit into 9 to 5.

Spot 325 prod shot

  • Lumens : High 325; Medium 160; Low 6
  • Weight with batteries: 85g (our weight)
  • IPX Rating : IPX 8
  • Batteries : 3 AAA (included)
  • "PowerTap™ Technology allows instant transitioning between full and dimmed power
  • Compact, low-profile design uses three AAA batteries, included
  • Brightness Memory allows you to turn the light on and off at a chosen brightness without reverting back to full or mid-power
  • Settings include full strength in proximity and distance modes, dimming, strobe, red night-vision and lock mode
  • Multifaceted optical lens design
  • IPX8: Waterproof-Tested to operate at least 1.1 meters underwater for 30 minutes. If submerged, water may enter the battery compartment and it will still operate; it should be completely dried out after use in wet conditions.

For more info see eu.blackdiamondequipment.com


Nite Ize Radiant 250 Rechargeable - £49.99

This is a rugged torch with a decent enough output for most uses, and perhaps more notably a generous burn time. It has a sturdy feel, and we like the no-frills simplicity. Unfortunately, however, the USB-rechargeable model we were sent has no locking function, and since it will almost inevitably get nudged on in your pack we really can't recommend it for walking or climbing. Getting your torch out at the top of a winter route at sunset to find it accidentally drained would be worse than useless. Save this torch for the home, for the car, or for night runs. Luckily the Radiant 250, available in the UK from January and basically the same model in an AAA-compatible version, does list a locking function in its spec; clearly that's the one for walkers and climbers.

It's simple and rugged, but quite bulky too  © Dan Bailey
It's simple and rugged, but quite bulky too
© Dan Bailey

Brightness and burn time

Nite Ize claim 92m max distance for the 250 lumen output, while Black Diamond's 325 lumen torch only promises 80m. I don't believe there's much in it, but on balance I think the Spot 325 has a longer effective range - which goes to show that quoted beam distance isn't an exact science. Still, the Radiant 250 does seem bright enough in high output mode for most outdoor uses, and you could certainly navigate your way home or get yourself out of trouble on a crag benightment. The beam pattern is fairly broad even in 'spot' mode, so you get a good wide field of vision. The crisp, clear quality of the light is nice too.

Battery life is excellent, at least in warmer temperatures, and that four hours at max power is a generous time cushion if you're out on the hills after dark. In terms of burn times this is one of the better performing torches in the review. Output is regulated, too, so you get a high output for much of the stated burn time.

Mode Brightness Beam Distance Burn Time
Spot High 250 lm 92m 4h
Spot Low 47 lm 37m 12h
Flood High 40 lm 9m 9h
Flood Low 8 lm 4m 43h
Red 12 lm 8m 12h

Plenty of power for more straightforward hill terrain, but the lack of a lock is a big drawback  © Dan Bailey
Plenty of power for more straightforward hill terrain, but the lack of a lock is a big drawback
© Dan Bailey

The freezer test

Freezing this torch all night didn't at first seem to do it much harm, and it continued operating as normal. However the battery charge was badly affected, and I got about 1:30 at full output instead of the standard 4 hours. After that the torch automatically defaulted to low beam setting. At 1:45 it turned itself off. Extreme cold performance is clearly not its forte, so if you're planning on using it in winter this is something to bear in mind.

Batteries and charging

The Radiant 250 Rechargeable comes with an inbuilt Lithium Polymer battery. This is charged via a USB, and takes a couple of hours to get to full power. It's worth noting that the rubber flap covering the input socket is easily knocked open, which would leave it vulnerable to water ingress. Unlike some of the other torches on test you don't get the option to use AAA batteries in this particular unit, which makes this torch less versatile if you're travelling or out in the mountains for a few days. If you prefer separate batteries (and you can always use rechargeable ones - the end result is the same) then the standard Radiant 250 is the AAA-compatible alternative.

There's something lurking under the bridge...  © Pegs Bailey
There's something lurking under the bridge...
© Pegs Bailey

Modes and operation

Five modes are available, a spot on high and low, a floodlight setting both high and low, and a red mode. You can run the torch on both spot and flood at the same time, and while this definitely has a negative impact on battery life it's good to have the option of both long range and peripheral lighting simultaneously. The modes are operated via two buttons. These are easy to use with gloves, and feel robust and weathertight. But - and it's a big but - the Radiant 250 nudges on with little pressure, so with no locking function you're almost bound to run your batteries down in transit. When I took it on a hill day I opened my pack to find the torch already on. And because the battery is built-in, you can't get around the lack of a lock by reversing it inside the compartment.

The buttons are easily operated - rather too easily if it's in your pack  © Dan Bailey
The buttons are easily operated - rather too easily if it's in your pack
© Dan Bailey

Size, weight and robustness

At 91g the Radiant 250 Rechargeable is only a few grams heavier than the very lightest models on review. The body is a fair bit larger than the rest though. While this extra bulk is noticeable in your pocket, and when mounted on the front of a helmet, it's not going to make a lot of difference in a rucksack. It does feel robust and well-made, and promises to be drop-proof to 2m (not something we've tested), as well as weather-resistant (though note that caveat, mentioned above, about the socket cover).

Straps and head tilt

The single broad elastic strap is comfortable, easily adjusted, and holds the unit firmly in place despite its relative weight - even when running. It's not as breathable as Black Diamond's perforated strap, but neither are any of the others. I like the full 90 degree head tilt, which is more downward-pointing range than you get with some rivals. However I do think the inside edge of the mounting could have been more curved, to more closely match the shape of the head; the most comfortable of these torches, from Petzl and Black Diamond, have a more pronounced curve.

Nite Ize say:

The Radiant 250 Rechargeable Headlamp offers a high quality, hands-free lighting solution with the added benefit of being rechargeable. Powered by a Lithium Polymer battery, it also features dual color, red and white LEDs, and multiple modes. In high spot mode it maxes out at 250 Lumens, or can be set to low white spot mode, high or low white flood mode, or to red flood mode to preserve night vision with the simple touch of a button. With a 90 degree tilt angle, this headlamp can be properly adjusted to direct light where needed. It can be worn comfortably and fitted properly with the high quality, adjustable elastic strap. With a run time up to 43 hours in low mode, the Radiant 250 Rechargeable Headlamp will power onward as long as you do. This headlamp comes with an included micro USB cord for quick recharging in just two hours.

Radiant 250 prod shot

  • 250 Lumens
  • Rechargeable
  • Dual switch for five modes: - White LED switch: high/low spot, and high/low flood - Red LED switch: flood mode
  • Weather resistant
  • Impact resistant (drop proof to 2m)
  • 90 degree tilt angle
  • Comfortable, high quality strap
  • Includes Micro USB charging cable
  • Recharges in approximately 2hrs
  • Battery indicator light turns red when battery life has 10 minutes remaining on high
  • Press and hold flood button for red mode
  • Dimensions: 2.68" x 1.57" x 1.57" | 68mm x 40mm x 40mm
  • Weight: 90g

For more info see niteize.com


Petzl ACTIK CORE - £58 (inc CORE battery)

The latest and most powerful model in Petzl's Active range, the updated ACTIK CORE (Petzl shout all their model names) is designed to be used either with AAA batteries or with the brand's own CORE rechargeable battery, swapping between the two without need of an additional adapter. The CORE offers a different sort of performance to a standard battery, with regulated output. Simple, user-friendly, robust, bright for its size and with a reasonable battery life, this is an excellent compact headtorch.

Compact head and a simple one-piece strap  © Dan Bailey
Compact head and a simple one-piece strap
© Dan Bailey

Since reviewing it in 2017 I've used the older and ostensibly very similar ACTIK as my mainstay year-round, and have found it reliable and user friendly. The ACTIK CORE feels like more of the same, only a wee bit brighter:

  • Prices: The ACTIK CORE including a CORE battery is £58; the torch alone costs £39 while the CORE alone is £24. At the package price I think the battery pack is worth having.
  • Worth noting: If you're looking for the state of the art in power/burn time in a compact torch, the new Petzl SWIFT RL would be worth considering - though it comes at a hefty price. Our review will be out soon.

Batteries and charging

The fact that it uses either three AAAs or Petzl's own CORE battery gives you options when charging, travelling and even on the hill. The CORE battery, sold separately at £24, is compatible with all torches in the HYBRID range: TIKKINA, TIKKA, ZIPKA, ACTIK, ACTIK CORE, TACTIKKA etc.

With either battery option you get the same lumens and beam distance. However standard AAAs have a lower self discharge rate than the CORE - ie. hold a charge for longer in storage. There are several advantages to the 1250mAh Li-ion CORE, though, versus traditional AAAs:

The CORE can be recharged from any USB compatible device. It is arguably more economical than standard batteries, since one CORE, charged over and over, has about the same lifespan as 900 disposable AAAs (we will have to take Petzl's figure for this at face value since it's beyond the scope of a review to establish. And I have no comparison for rechargeable AAAs). The CORE (23g) is both smaller and lighter than 3 AAAs (the three I weighed were 37g - though that must depend on the particular battery). It is also said to perform well in low temperatures - and my use through a couple of winter seasons would absolutely bear this out.

Walking off Cha-no with the ACTIK  © Dan Bailey
Walking off Cha-no with the ACTIK
© Dan Bailey

Brightness and burn time

But the really big difference between the CORE and standard batteries is that the CORE offers a more constant regulated output. Here's a handy graph:

The power available with standard AAAs drops off steeply at first and then slopes out over a long, gradual decline. A battery with regulated output, on the other hand, remains initially higher, before dropping quite suddenly. In maximum power mode, for instance, the CORE gives you a much more constant high output for the first 2.20 hours (or so), but then its output falls off a cliff. By contrast, standard batteries are down on 20% power after just two hours, but then eke out to 40 hours - albeit gradually dimming all the while.

At its maximum output of 450 lumens, the ACTIK CORE is the brightest model on review. It's got the distance - Petzl's quoted 90m range sounds fair - but it also throws out loads of light to the sides, giving you fantastic all-round visibility. The beam is clean and bright, and in terms of sheer power the performance is comfortably ahead of any other model here. If you're negotiating complex ground or abbing off a route in the dark, the range is going to be very welcome, and I can't think of many mountain scenarios where you'd really need a lot more.

Max power is seriously bright  © Dan Bailey
Max power is seriously bright
© Dan Bailey

If I've one criticism, it's that a two-hour burn time on full output doesn't allow a massive amount of headroom, and if you're out for longer then you'll be needing to get by on medium power. At only 100 lumens this is far less impressive than high mode, sufficient for walking on easy terrain but under-powered if things are complex or hazardous. To save power I've tended to operate in Medium where possible, switching to High only when a boost is needed. Why didn't Petzl allow for an increment between High/450lm/2hrs and Med/100lm/8hrs? Something in the region of 200/300lm might have hit a brightness/burn time sweet spot for hillwalkers and climbers, potentially making the ACTIK CORE the torch to get.

Mode Brightness Beam Distance Burn Time
High 450 lm 90m 2h (reserve 3h)
Medium 100 lm 45m 8h (reserve 2h)
Low 6 lm 8m 130h
Red 2 lm 5m 60h

Like Black Diamond, Petzl also now quote a 'reserve time', which describes the dim dribble of light when the battery is down below 10% capacity. You'll see above that you don't get long in reserve with the ACTIK CORE.

The freezer test

The ACTIK CORE's operation was untroubled by its night at -20, and continued to function as expected. Initially the CORE battery's burn time didn't seem to be seriously affected by the freezer, keeping up its full power output for the first two or so hours, before dropping to medium. By 3:30 the light was visibly fading - still enough to get you out of trouble on the hill, at a pinch, but well short of its usual brightness. Overall I think this torch is the best in the review for winter use, being less compromised by cold than the rest.

Modes and operation

The ACTIK CORE works with a single top-mounted button. This can be operated wearing gloves, though it's a bit fiddly to feel what you're doing. Hold the button in for a bit and you enter locking mode; hold it in again on a long press and the lock is deactivated. It's definitely worth having a lock, but I'm not sure this is the best solution, since it's conceivable that the button gets depressed and held in while the torch is in your pack; a double click might actually be harder to replicated by accident.

It's possible to switch between two different beam patterns, flood or spot. This is handy if you sometimes want to light up a broad area around yourself, while at other times needing a more focused and penetrating beam. I do sometimes struggle to recognise which mode I'm in, especially out on the hill in all weathers, and a manual focusing ring as on the Alpkit Qark would be more sure-fire. Keep it simple! That said, you still get decent width even in spot, while you can see a long way even in flood mode, so you can see my problem (in practical terms it's not a problem at all!).

Proximity mode works well around camp  © Dan Bailey
Proximity mode works well around camp
© Dan Bailey

Medium output is plenty for striding out on easy terrain  © Dan Bailey
Medium output is plenty for striding out on easy terrain
© Dan Bailey

Weight and robustness

Weighing just 79g including the CORE battery (Petzl say 75g), the ACTIK CORE is the second lightest model on test... though there's not much in it. For its modest weight, it is surprisingly bright. While I've never yet had a durability issue with Petzl torches - and I've used many over the years - the body of the ACTK CORE does feel more plasticy than that of the BD Spot 325, especially the flap to open the battery compartment. It does have an IPX4 rating for water-tightness though.

Straps and head tilt

The ratcheting head tilt does not extend quite as far downwards as the other torches on test, with the exception of the BD Spot 325, which is more or less identical. When walking downhill and looking directly at your feet a few more degrees of downward range might sometimes be welcome, though it's a minor thing.

Petzl say:

The rechargeable ACTIK CORE headlamp offers 450 lumens of power, which, along with its multi-beam design, makes it ideal for dynamic outdoor activities like mountaineering, running, hiking and backpacking. Red lighting preserves night vision and prevents members of a group from blinding each other. The reflective headband provides night visibility. ACTIK CORE comes with the CORE rechargeable battery and is also compatible with three AAA/LR03 batteries (not included), thanks to the HYBRID CONCEPT design. Mounting accessories allow the lamp to be attached to any kind of helmet, or to a bicycle.

ACTIK CORE prod shot

  • Brightness: 450 lumens (ANSI/PLATO FL 1)
  • Weight: 75g
  • Beam pattern: flood or mixed
  • Energy: 1250 mAh CORE rechargeable battery (included)
  • Charging time: 3h
  • Battery compatibility: alkaline, lithium or Ni-MH rechargeable
  • Watertightness: IPX4 (weather-resistant)
  • Lock function to avoid accidentally turning it on during transit or storage
  • Compatible with mounting accessories that allow the lamp to be attached to any kind of helmet, or to a bicycle

For more info see petzl.com


Alpkit Qark - £32.99

Relatively powerful for its weight and price, and with an excellent manual focus feature, the Qark represents really good value for money. However it lacks the finesse of higher priced rivals, and the battery pack that comes with it is unreliable in the cold (solved by swapping to AAAs). We first reviewed the Qark earlier this year, but have looked at it afresh here in direct comparison to the other torches on review.

The torch is larger than the rest, and includes an over-head strap  © Dan Bailey
The torch is larger than the rest, and includes an over-head strap
© Dan Bailey

Brightness and burn time

With an official maximum output of 580 lumens the Qark is a very powerful torch for its price. However, while we've found it easily enough for negotiating rough and complex terrain after dark, we don't think it's as bright as, for instance, the Petzl ACTIK CORE at 450 lumens. Perhaps there's something of a lumens arms race with torches, which much like the camera megapixel fad doesn't tell you quite as much as you might think. As well as the raw power of the LED the quality of the lens and the focus/width of the beam must both have a bearing on beam distance and the general visibility on offer.

After dark, out comes the Qark  © Joby Waldman
After dark, out comes the Qark
© Joby Waldman

Compared to some rivals the Qark's 580 lumen claim seems a bit dubious - as does its quoted 150m max range. Still, this is the only torch on review with a manual focus ring, which dials smoothly from a flood to a spot depending whether you want peripheral/close-up vision or if you want a tight focus on a distant object. The ability to vary the beam is useful, and you can certainly see a very long way in spot mode. I don't think most walkers or climbers will really need a longer range than the Qark offers at max power/focus. On the downside, though, the width of the beam even in flood is not massive, so you don't get the full peripheral vision offered by rivals like the Petzl ACTIK or the NiteIze Radiant.

Mode Brightness Beam Distance Burn Time
Main High 580 lm 150m 2.5h
Main Medium 270 lm 100m 5.5h
Main Low 30 lm 35m 18h
Red 10 lm 5m 15h
Red Flashing N/A N/A 30h

Battery life is a reasonable 2.5 hours at full power, or a more forgiving 5.5 hours in medium output - and medium mode is generally more than sufficient for navigating after dark. For me, the medium output mode's 5.5 hours of 270 lumen output is one of the Qark's key selling points, giving you a really sensible balance of brightness and burn time for real world use on the hill.

The Qark has a regulated output. It is worth noting that when fully charged the initial brightness is higher than normal but will decrease to its regulated output after a few seconds. Here's what Alpkit told us:

"We measure the lumens count and burn time at the point where the regulated and constant output begins and ends. So it measured 580 lumens for 2.5hrs in lab conditions but actual 'on' time is closer to 3hrs as the battery fully discharges after the regulated output is all 'used up'."

This sounds similar to BD and Petzl's quoted 'reserve time', which is a last dribble of output as the battery fades off at the end. After the quoted time you won't be getting much light out of it, basically.

Downward head tilt is a plus; button you can't use wearing gloves is a minus   © A9
Downward head tilt is a plus; button you can't use wearing gloves is a minus
© A9

Batteries and charging

As supplied, this torch has a problem with the cold, something our review from eariler this year also picked up on. On a night of low single digit temperatures and a stiff breeze (so not even especially cold), I turned it off so I could see the stars. When I tried to turn it on again it refused to work properly, just flashing on for a second every time I pressed the button before dying. Luckily I'd brought another torch with me. Back in the warm later it worked fine again. A similar thing happened on an around-zero night more recently.

The performance of all batteries drops in the cold, but we gather the Lithium-Polymer battery pack that comes supplied with the Qark is particularly weak in this regard. Luckily the Qark can also be used with three standard AAAs, giving you the option to replace the battery pack with an alternative that may be better suited to lower temperatures.

The spot focus throws light a long way, at the expense of peripheral vision  © Dan Bailey
The spot focus throws light a long way, at the expense of peripheral vision
© Dan Bailey

The freezer test

To confound our expectations, with the lithium-polymer battery pack the Qark actually came out of the freezer performing normally. At first all seemed well, and the torch operated as it ought to (a contrast to how intermittent I've found it in cold weather outdoors); but at full beam it was visibly dimmer within one hour, and lasted a mere 1.5 hours before dying with no warning. This really isn't a setup for winter mountains. I also tested it with a set of Energiser NiMH AAAs (500mAh), and with these the battery life was similarly compromised as with the BD Spot 325 (which also takes AAAs).

Modes and operation

The single top-mounted button is very small, and hard both to find and operate if you're wearing gloves or have cold hands - a big mark against the Qark for winter mountaineers. It's nicely simple to use though, scrolling through the various output modes in series - unlike some of the more faffy interfaces you don't have to learn how to do it. You get three output levels from the main white LED, plus red and red strobe - and that's it. I prefer maximum simplicity in a torch, rather than a plethora of options that make things fiddly when you're out on a cold night just trying to get home.

A disadvantage of the Qark though is that it doesn't have a lock-out function. While the button is not obtrusive and easily pressed by mistake, the possibility is definitely there if you stuff it in a pack or a pocket. At least you can reverse the batteries inside the compartment to prevent an accidental drain, unlike a torch with an inbuilt battery.

Qark in spot mode  © John McKenna
Qark in spot mode
© John McKenna

...and in flood mode  © John McKenna
...and in flood mode
© John McKenna

Size, weight and robustness

Weighing 105g including the battery pack (Alpkit say 95g), the Qark is noticeably heavier than the alternatives, but still - we'd say - within the parameters of a compact, lightweight torch. It is bigger than most, with its protruding lens, so not such a good option for stuffing in a pocket just in case of benightment on a route.

Compared to higher priced rivals the plasticy body feels a little less quality, and we're not convinced that parts such as the hinges will prove as robust long-term. However it does still feel reasonably sturdy for the money, and the focus dial and metal lens tube - the moving parts - seem suitably durable. The Qark is guaranteed for 3 years and comes with a IPX6 rating - and after using it in the hills in wind, snow and rain, we're happy with this claim.

Straps and head tilt

The broad elastic straps are comfy on the head, and easy to adjust. However I've found they need more periodic re-adjustment than some. Unlike the other torches on review, a second over-the-top strap is provided, but this doesn't stop a tiny bit of wobble if you're running (not deal-breaking amounts). The top strap almost seems redundant, and there'd probably be no harm in cutting it off. The Qark fits a helmet, though the underside of the strap is quite slidey, and this can be a bit precarious depending on the model of helmet and how many clips it has.

Since the head tilts a long way down you can always get a clear view of your feet without getting a crick in the neck, even when descending steep slopes.

Alpkit say:

580 lumen rechargeable head torch. Compatible with AAA batteries for when you're recharging your battery pack, it's perfect for climbing, trekking, mountaineering, and multi-day adventures. With a brightness range of 30 – 580 lumens and a red front light, Qark delivers the right lighting whether you need to see every pebble and stick on the trail or are just reading in your tent.

  • Weight: 105g (Alpkit say 95g)
  • Max output: 580 lm
  • Bulb: 1 x XP-C Cree white LED; 1 x O.SW Nichia Red LED
  • Battery: 1 x 3.7 800 mAh proprietary Li-polymer rechargeable battery pack (Charge time: 2.5 hrs) or 3 x AAA alkaline batteries
  • IP rating: IPX6 (Protected from total dust ingress. Protected from high pressure water jets from any direction.)

For more info see alpkit.com


Exposure Verso Mk2 - £125

This superb little torch is the most compact model on review, and also the most robust-feeling, with an all-metal body. The Verso Mk2 is powerful for its tiny size, but almost inevitably thanks to this the battery life on high output mode is limited. To mitigate this the torch can be set to various output programs. It can also be bought (for more money) with the option of an additional detachable support cell, giving you the ability to use the Verso either as a small front-mounted torch or a longer-burning rear-battery torch. For winter mountain use we'd say go for the latter. Whether or not you buy the extra cell it's not cheap, but it feels well built - and it's made in the UK too.

It's the most compact, but also the most solid, of the models on test  © Dan Bailey
It's the most compact, but also the most solid, of the models on test
© Dan Bailey

Brightness and burn time

This is Exposure's least powerful headtorch - if you want more oomph and a longer battery life look at the rear-battery HT500 or HT1000, or the new HT Go. We reviewed the 500 and 1000 last winter, and we're hoping to give the HT Go the full stand-alone review treatment in the next few months, since it looks like it has a lot of potential as a compact front-mounted unit with both a lot of output and a decent battery life. Watch this space...

Despite being Exposure's least powerful headtorch, and one of the less bright in this review, the Verso Mk2 still has a lot going for it. The Verso's USP is that it's genuinely pocket sized, making it a perfect torch to carry about your person on multi-pitch routes, or as an emergency backup to your primary lighting out on the hills. This is the smallest torch on review, after all, with a body that's noticeably tiny compared to its rivals here (despite the protruding lens); as such, you'd expect to make some compromises in terms of both output and battery life.

It may not be as powerful as some, but it's still bright enough for most situations  © Dan Bailey
It may not be as powerful as some, but it's still bright enough for most situations
© Dan Bailey

But it's not just for just-in-case. The Verso Mk2's 250 lumen maximum brightness is more than adequate for most after-dark hillwalking or late crag walk-offs, and since the output is regulated you get that full 250 lumens (or so) for the majority of the burn time. While Exposure's quoted beam distance of 125m seems wildly optimistic - especially since manifestly more powerful rivals don't even claim that sort of distance - I've found that you can still see far enough navigate your way around happily. On more complicated or consequential ground - abbing off a route or a scrambling descent for instance - the distance on offer would be enough to safely operate, though more powerful rivals would be better still. The beam is neither a tight focus nor a broad spread, but somewhere in between. It's good for giving you a reasonably wide field of vision, but lacks a distance-penetrating spot.

Mode Brightness Beam Distance Burn Time
Max 250 lm 125m 1h
Min 15 lm 7m 18h

All that said, it is worth emphasising that you really don't get a lot of battery life at max power; a measly one hour quoted time isn't going to get you far - although my experience suggests this is a conservative figure. That is the penalty you pay for the tiny size. Adding the Support Cell trebles burn time (to 3 hours in full beam mode, and up to 54 hours at minimum output).

It's a wee star...  © Dan Bailey
It's a wee star...
© Dan Bailey

The freezer test

The Verso Mk2 seemed unaffected by the extreme cold of my freezer, and emerged fully functioning. In fact, it was still putting out a full power beam at 1:50, despite the battery indicator showing 25% charge. This is a lot better than Exposure actually claim - a rare case of under-promising in the outdoor industry. Perhaps it defies physics and actually improves in the cold?! By 3 hours it was showing 5% battery and the output was down to its minimum.

When reviewing Exposure's HT 1000 last winter I had big problems with its reliability in the cold. Exposure subsequently pointed out that mine was a prototype fault, and that their extensive freezer testing of the full production version revealed no cold issues. Well no such worries so far with the Verso Mk 2. I've also had this out on a couple of windy sub-zero nights, and it has continued performing as expected. I'm not even sure the burn time has been noticeably reduced in real-world cold weather use.

Small but bright... if only the burn time was longer  © Dan Bailey
Small but bright... if only the burn time was longer
© Dan Bailey

Batteries and charging

The inbuilt 3100 mAh Lithium Ion battery of the standard torch unit charges via a USB, taking one hour from a 500mA source. A little rubber cap protects the charging input, and to be sure of keeping out moisture in wet and windy conditions you have to be careful to re-close the cap properly after charging, and not to accidentally nudge it open when getting the torch out of your bag.

While the Verso Mk2 can be bought on its own (£125) I think it makes sense to spend a bit extra on the Verso Mk2 Pack (£145). This gives you the additional 1700mAh Support Cell, a separate battery pack that can be rear-mounted on the headband to extend battery life by 3x. If you're out overnight, or even just delayed getting off the hill after sunset, then that extra battery margin (at an additional 60g) would be invaluable. I like that in the same model you can choose to have either a compact front-mounted unit or a bulkier but longer-burning two-part torch; in terms of flexibility of choice, that is a unique advantage in this review. Given our compact front-mounted review remit, I won't spend a lot of time discussing the Support Cell here, though I do think it's an essential addition if this is going to be your primary lighting on serious ground. What I will say is that the connecting cable is perhaps a fraction short for big-heads like me, and it's quite easy to uncouple it without noticing.

The Verso with the Support Cell fitted - still a pretty small torch  © Dan Bailey
The Verso with the Support Cell fitted - still a pretty small torch
© Dan Bailey

Modes and operation

The single side-mounted button is small, but still easy to use wearing gloves. While there's no locking function as such, the fact that it has to be double-pressed to turn the torch on should protect against accidentally draining your battery in transit.

Using just the on-off button, this torch can be pre-set to four different output programs. Program one gives you the full 250 lumen output for one hour, with a three hour burn time on medium and nine hours on low. Program two offers half the output for twice the burn time, while modes three and four merely do away with a medium output option. I find all this faffy in the comfort of my house, and certainly not the sort of thing I'd want to bother with out on the hill (despite having a summary table of the above printed on the torch). Other users may appreciate the versatility offered by the programs. Personally, I've been sticking with mode one, since the full 250 lumen output is really handy for distance vision, while setting it to medium still gives you a usable amount of light on the move on easier ground (roughly 83 lumens by my calculation) with the leeway of a three hour burn time. Given the choice I'd have preferred no programming function.

The Verso is easily operated with gloves  © Dan Bailey
The Verso is easily operated with gloves
© Dan Bailey

Weight and robustness

The standard Verso Mk2 weighs just 73g, and being so tiny too it definitely qualifies as the most compact, packable and pocket-friendly of the torches on review. The Support Cell adds a further 60g, but that 133g total still seems pretty light for a rear-battery headtorch. Despite being the lightest model here, the Verso Mk2 also has the feel of being the most robust and best-made, with an anodised 6063 aluminium body and a satisfyingly engineered feel.

Strap and head tilt

A single wide elastic headband is supplied, and it fits closely enough that an over-head strap is unnecessary since there's no danger of wobble when you're running anyway. This is nicely soft, and it adjusts with a simple velcro patch - an arrangement I prefer to the standard sliding buckles. Strap length isn't massive, but you do get enough play to fit it on a helmet. While all these headtorches will work with a helmet the Verso is the best in this regard, with a grippy silicone strip on the inside that makes it less slidey and precarious when you're fitting it. Given that Black Diamond and Petzl both make helmets themselves, then it's double top marks to Exposure for being the ones to think of adding silicone (they actually say it's for channelling sweat out of your eyes, but for me the grip on a helmet is what it's all about).

Considering the high price, I do think the mountings both for the torch and the rear battery could have been a bit more contoured to better match the curve of your skull; this is not the most comfortable of the torches on a bare head.

Instead of the usual plastic ratchet, the cylindrical body of the Verso Mk2 smoothly pivots in its plastic mount. I sometimes worry that the hinges of a standard head torch could be prone to damage, but there's no such issue with the pivot here, which is both simpler and clearly more robust than a hinge. The torch unit can in fact be popped out of its mount. I'm not sure why you might want to do that, and my only vague concern is that if you really clonked it while climbing then there's an outside chance of your torch unit detaching from its mount and disappearing off down the cliff. That does seem, however, a remote possibility. Overall the Verso has the best head tilt in this review, and the best strap fastening/adjustment method too. Keeping things simple and reliable are two mantras that should apply to all torch design.

Exposure say:

The Verso is an ultra-compact, lightweight head torch with an aluminium body making it tough enough for any adventure. The Verso is the latest adaption of Exposures' lighting expertise. The Verso uses internal Li Ion batteries for minimum package size, with the option of adding a 1700mAh Support Cell to extend burntimes by x3. This powerful and versatile light is mounted simply on the comfortable elasticated headband with adjustable Velcro fastening in the secure bracket with angle adjustment, or used on its own as the perfect night time companion.

Verso prod shot

  • Weight: 73g (our weight)
  • Max output: 250 lm
  • LED Configuration: 1 x White XPG
  • Battery: 3100 mAh Lithium Ion

For more info see exposurelights.com

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1 Jan

Zebralight's range might also be worth a review at some point, something like their H600W.

Mainly because it takes rechargeable 18650 batteries, is weather proof and they'll repair them for £12 + pp (even after 7 years of abuse). I'm in no way connected to their company but they've got good customer service and a solid product.

2 Jan

My headtorch was £15 from Decathlon. It's really bright and shines for around 20 hours.

It's also rechargeable.

2 Jan

You should include something from Fenix in the test really

On second thoughts don't, me and my mates want to keep buying them while they're still little known and way better value than the mainstream options. What do cavers know about torches anyway :)

2 Jan

That very thought occurred to me when I was last thinking about buying one.

But then I was in REI and picked up a Petzl Actik for a good price. Very pleased with it.

2 Jan

My thoughts exactly! Fenix has the caving market sewn up: I have four of their torches for underground and a couple for hill use..

Cavers are experts when it comes to torches and climbing up ropes , amongst other things :)

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