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The best torches – throwing a spotlight on some top choices

A quality torch, especially one with mounts for a gun, is an essential accessory once the clocks change, says Barry Stoffell

Best torches on test

Torches on review, L-R; Streamlight Wedge, Fenix TK20R, Wulf Shadowlux, Night Master NM1 SL

As the nights draw in and the evenings lengthen, many of us will find ourselves operating under cover of darkness. Whether you’re chasing Charlie, checking up on livestock or bagging a brace of bunnies for the pot, a good light is a vital piece of kit as we head into winter, so I was delighted to get a chance to put a handful of the best torches for the jobs described through their paces this month. (Read our guide to the best base layers and thermals for stalking.)

The Streamlight Wedge is compact with a wide beam

1. Streamlight Wedge RRP: £125

Score: 7/10

This is a neat little unit from a well-known manufacturer that makes some of the best lights around. Extremely compact and weighing in at just 90g, the Wedge fits easily and unobtrusively into a pocket. The flattened, slimline design is tactile and sits nicely in the hand, operating via a forward switch that you toggle with your thumb — apart from simply ‘on’ and ‘off’, if you push the switch further forwards you get a brighter beam, although the switch doesn’t lock in this position, which is a bit annoying.

The beam is wide, giving good, even illumination out to about 60m, which is perfect for finding your way around. It’s a tough little cookie, too — the matt-black casing is anodised aluminium, and it is rated to IPX7, meaning that it can be safely dropped into water.

Streamlight Wedge

Streamlight Wedge; clips handily on to a belt

The internal battery provides around three hours of light at the regular setting of 300 lumens, and is topped up via a USB-C charger. The charging port at the back is open but fully waterproofed, although this won’t prevent it filling up with crud from your pocket or glovebox, and a charge port cover might have been a good idea.

Although I liked this torch, I felt it lacked a bit of purpose for the price tag. Undoubtedly it would be handy as a back-up light in the glovebox or tucked into your pocket for the walk home from the pub. But there are plenty of lights that will perform that role just as capably for half the price that these go for.

Overall: a nifty unit but pricey if used as a back-up torch only

Fenix TK20R

Fenix TK20R

2. Fenix TK20R V2.0 RRP: £139.95

Score 9.5/10

Having heard good things, I was keen to try the Fenix. Initial impressions were excellent — I lit her up in daylight, at maximum brightness, and almost gave myself a suntan. There are five brightness settings (ranging from ‘Eco’ to the aptly named ‘Turbo’), all accessed via a selector on the rear of the unit. It’s powered by an impressive 5,000mAh 21700-series battery that carries significantly more charge than the 18650s that have become standard for high-output torches.

The TK20R is a compact unit weighing in at just over 200g, with a rugged metal casing that feels bombproof. This is borne out by the specs — a rating of IP68 makes it the most waterproof of the units tested.

Rather than a standard charger, the Fenix connects via a USB-C port at the front end, meaning one less piece of electronics to lose and making charging from a standard USB port in a vehicle simple.

Optics technology is always advancing, but I was taken aback by how bright this was. On the ‘Turbo’ setting it puts out a whopping 3,000 lumens, producing a beam that reaches nearly 500m.

Although not produced specifically as a hunting light, a tail switch and mounting system are available and, given how impressed I was by the lamp, I was curious how it would be on the gun. Heading out for a few evening bunnies with the .17 HMR, I popped the Fenix and a simple scope clamp in my back pocket and once darkness caught up with me, I gave it a go. Although the unit is not focusable, it produces a two-part beam with a good tight cone in the centre and I had no trouble using it lamping to 100m before slipping the whole array back in my pocket and heading home.

In conclusion, there was little not to like about this one and I shall be sorry to send it back.

Overall: very impressive performance from a bulletproof, compact unit

Wulf Shadowlux one of best torches

Wulf Shadowlux IR Illuminator

3.  Wülf Shadowlux IR Illuminator RRP: £149.95

Score: 7.5/10

I was mightily impressed with the Shadowlux from Wülf. This versatile unit comes in a hard case that contains everything you need to get hunting right away — a basic Picatinny mount and a dimmable tail-mounted switch are included, as is a single rechargeable 18650 (3,400 mAh) battery and charger.

Solidly constructed in matt black anodised aluminium, the Shadowlux is rated to IP6 for the wet stuff, which covers you for everything short of dropping it in a ditch. This unit offers not only ‘traditional’ white light but both 850nm and 940nm IR, all via the twist of a switch. At the front end, the 53mm flat polycarbonate lens is focused with a twist, while at the rear, a thumb-dial rheostat controls the brightness. A green operating light lets you know when the lamp is active and stops you leaving the IR on by accident.

First impressions are good — the torch feels quite solid and isn’t too heavy. There was a slight rocking on the forward focus, but nonetheless it moved smoothly. The beam selector also has some play in the ring switch that rotates the internal LED pills, but did its job just fine, albeit with a fairly pronounced click as it arrived at each setting.

Twinned with a PARD NV unit, the torch performed excellently, easily showing quarry to 250m and, at shootable ranges, provided good illumination for a crisp image. Overall, I liked it. I’ve never needed to use ‘covert’ 940nm IR, but I know chaps with spooky foxes who swear by it, and the Shadowlux offers a complete night-hunting solution at a competitive price. The build quality doesn’t rival higher-end units, but for most of us this will do everything you need.

Overall: a capable, versatile unit at a good price

Night Master NM1 SL best torches

Night Master NM1 SL

4. Night Master NM1 SL RRP: £159.95 

Next up was the NM1 SL light from Night Master, the middle child of the three lights in the NM series (CL, SL and XL) that all operate from the same modular ‘chassis’.

Out of the box it’s obvious that this is high-end kit. The all-metal, chequered casing is tough and there’s a real solidity to the unit, which weighs in at just over 250g. The design of the NM series differs from many hunting lamps in that everything operates from the back; the brightness switch is housed at the rear, and it is the back rather than the front of the lamp that twists to focus the beam. Once you start twisting, the quality of the unit asserts itself again — it’s noticeably more precisely engineered than the Wülf, with a smooth, positive action and no rocking or play. As with the Wülf, the power is provided by a removable 18650 battery that gives just under three hours of continuous use at maximum power.

Scope mounted torch

The Night Master NM1 SL torch scope-mounted using the QMD system on the Sako .17 HMR

Tightly focused

In this case, I scope-mounted the lamp via the Night Master QMD (Quick, Multi-Directional) system (rail mounts are also available). Critically, this allows for easy zeroing of a tightly focused beam, essential for longer-range work.

As you’d expect from a high-end hunting lamp, various LED pills are available, including red, green, amber and both IR wavelengths, and the lamp is covered by Night Master’s (limited) lifetime warranty.

Hunting with torch at night

Even at more than 500m away, the NM1 SL picks up eye-shine on night-time rabbits and foxes

I took the NM1 SL out a couple of times, once for bunnies and once in search of Charlie, and it’s hard to find fault with it. The beam easily picks up eye-shine beyond 500m and the unit is flawless in use.

Although the Night Master has the highest price tag of the units here, in this case I can confirm that you really do get what you pay for. Alongside that, the neat modular system of the Night Master range gives you the chance to modify or expand your set-up without investing in a whole new lamp.

Overall: the professional’s choice for anyone serious about night shooting