TRAIL RUNNING HEADLAMPS: HOW TO CHOOSE IT. Reliability, Power, Autonomy and Comfort are the four key pillars to get the right one in each case. Now that we arrive to the shortest days of the year, it is perhaps the best time to review how to get out safer on the mountain or trails closer to home, according to our goals and experience.

Today we have a good variety of lights to choose for our mountain races. The key numbers to look at? According to our priorities, they will be the type of power (battery vs batteries), the autonomy and ease of recharge, the weight, the depth of the light beam and, why not, the price. Let’s go with a step-by-step review of how to choose with Mayayo.


When choosing a headlight we have to combine several factors, such as reliability, autonomy, power and comfort of use. But they must NEVER weigh equally. A headlight is our key tool for progressing without natural light. Without it, we’ll get lost… or worse, we will be forced to move forward by taking risks that can end badly.

Thus, and very important a headlamp must be reliable, never break and never shut down unexpected. The rest, autonomy, power, comfort or price, will always be secondary factors against the risk of staying dark in the middle of the mountain.

The light source today on headlamps can only be an LED. Used for the first time for headlamps by Petzl in the year 2,000, its generalization since then has been immediate, as everything is advantages in its favour. Its performance relative to the energy consumed and its minimum size is well above the other alternative means, such as halogens or incandescendant bulbs (see chart below).

Is there a universal measure that evaluates the quality of the front end? Unfortunately, no. A few years ago the US administration carried out a joint project with more than ten of the best manufacturers and created an ANSI FL1. bill

Unfortunately, the manufacturers themselves in the project decided that the final result was not adequate and they have returned to their own measures that they consider more representative. In any case, in several brands you can find the ANSI data in parallel to their own, as we can see in this diagram that accompanies Petzl headlamps.

Autonomy info data Petz (above) vs ANSI FL1 (below)

Having seen these this, it is therefore clear that, difference from what happens with the waterproof jackets and breathable panths, when choosing front for mountain races we can not yet rely on a game of universally accepted measurements. More reason to look carefully in each case. We are now with the four criteria we propose to select our favorite torch.


The first headlight created for large-scale mountain activities was made by Petzl in 1973. A few years later, back in 1988 I bought my first ftorch of the house, it was a Zoom. It’s been 30 years and it still works perfectly. Since then and until today, I have climbed many mountains, from the Pyrenees to the Andes, run ultra trails in the Alps or the Rockies and crossed a few caves, dry or wet.

In so many years around the mountain with a headlight, I have used models of all types from Petzl, Ledlenser, Mammut, Marmot, Black Diamond, etc… I must confess that in the case of the French brand, after using more than ten different torchs, they were always reliable, etc..

It has not been so with other brands. Unfortunately: Thus, a LedLenser H7 had a damaged cable, left me lying on the dark during the Leadville 100 Miles 2010 just as I crossed a closed forest and with more than 130km already in the legs. Then I could go on, only thanks to the fortune headlight, the Petzl e-lite. Curiously, despite my weak 25-lumens emergency light, that night I ended up guiding a group of comrades through the forest in one of those “little braids” that are so often formed in the ultras. Paradoxes … 🙂


The ACTUAL operating hours that give us each light in race with each battery pack or full battery charge. With the modern trail lights we can apply different modes of use, so the final duration also depends on us.

We must always seek minimum autonomy of 6-7 hours, in order to be able go ahead for at least one summer night without recharging. We will also consider that pulling the maximum power on climbs is completely unnecessary, better to reserve it well for technical sections, well for descents where our rhythm requires to see more.

Head torch olight h27W 1500 lumens. Photo: Mayayo

In this sense, there is a function present in some headlights that has a special value. It is the “survival mode” under which, the torch itself detects being in a very low load situation and automatically switches to a minimum light but allows us to move forward a little further.

Example: In Petzl are usually 20-25 lumens for 1 extra hour. In Olight is an acoustic warning. In any case, it’s important that you check at your torch for that “lifeguard” function that those who have suffered the sudden outage during running by empty batteries will appreciate.

For me, battery no doubt. For three reasons: The first because in the long run is more ecological to spend a battery during its 200-400 loading and unloading cycles until it dies, than to throw the same ammount of used batteries at that time. The second, for the considerable savings of buying 1 battery vs 200 batteries packs. The third, because also the battery pull with more power and duration in general than the batteries we can use to replace them. That said … maybe it’s a fake debate, and the smartstest thing to do always would be to buy a battery headlight and a second battery to use as a spare during racing.


The intensity of light, measured in lumens, (here details of the lumens scale) that emits a torch at a given moment. Once we have a reliable and secured torch to complete the night, we can worry about the power it emits, according to our taste or needs. It will also be important how the light cone distributes, because according to the situation we want a light as advanced as possible or we will prefer a wide cone where we can see well on the sides.

As the diagram above shows, although the power is measured in lumens, here we must consider both the shape of the light cone and the permanence of that power in time. It is essential to remember that there are different ways in which energy delivery can be distributed, which basically we can summarize in standard delivery (from more to less) and constant (constant energy until almost the end. The headlights that use the constant energy model require an internal electronic regulator. It is an added cost, of course, but also a higher quality.


Last pillar, which is especially important in the case of ultra trail, where we are often forced to run with a main headlight, battery/replacement, batteries set or with a second light. In addition, it is of course to have red light pointing out our position from behind.

The usability therefore must be taken into account first as we will feel the lamp on the head during many hours of a race: wide tipe, soft, bulb adapts well to the forehead, batteries/battery do not disturb, total weight is not noticed in excess …

Also, although this is less intuitive, it will be key to the convenience of using a headlamp to check how easy it is to handle it. We seek in each casehow to get the light we want, from the way we want. The sequence of buttons to press on some lights to choose the light that we want may not be easy to remember in the store by testing it. Imagine trying to do it in the middle of a fall in the middle of a storm with the gloves set or with more than 30 hours of race on you.Nightmare ….

In this sense, there is an advance created by Petzl in 2013 that we hope will incorporate to the majority of lights in the future, baptized as “reactive light “. This reactive light uses a sensor as the third eye of the headlight that measures, as in the photo cameras, the distance we focus on every moment our light beam. It then readjusts it immediately to adapt the power and light cone required by a pre-set program. ¿does it work? Yes. You can see much and well, for my experience after more than a year running with Petzl Nao that was the first product to incorporate it.


Posted by Héctor Rubio @hekruca for Trailrunningspain