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Reviews > Lighting > Headlamps - LED > Black Diamond Icon Headlamp > Test Report by Thomas Vickers

Black Diamond Icon Head Lamp

Initial Report - January 5, 2008
Field Test Report - February 28, 2008
Long Term Report - May 6, 2008

Thomas Vickers

40 years old
5 ft 11 in tall (1.8 m)
175 lb (79 kg)
Southeast Texas, Houston Area

Tester Background:
I grew up in the piney woods of southeast Texas. Camping was a quick trip into the mosquito-infested woods behind the house. My style has evolved and changed over the last 4 or 5 years, I have begun to take a lighter weight approach to hiking gear (I still use sleeping bags and tents, just lighter versions). While I have flirted with lightweight hiking, I feel that I am more of a mid-weight hiker now. My philosophy is one of comfort, while carrying the lightest load possible.

Initial Report
January 5, 2008

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Manufacturer Information:

Manufacturer:Black Diamond Equipment LTD.


Sizes available: One size fits all

Weight (empty): 4.1 oz (116 g)
Weight (with batteries): 6.6 oz (188 g)

Year Manufactured: 2007

MSRP: $ 59.95 US

Information From Tester:
(all measurements approximate)

Weight :
Without top strap or batteries: 3.95 oz (112 g)
Top strap: 0.40 oz (11 g)
With batteries, but no top strap: 6.45 oz (183 g)

Initial tester expectations:
I have used LED headlamps for years and after visiting the Black Diamond website I felt that I knew what I was getting.  Most LED lights that I have used have great burn times, but tend to be too dim to hike with. They are great around camp and I figured that this offering from Black Diamond was going to be no different. What I fully expected was a light weight, long burning LED head lamp that was going to be pretty durable.

Description from the manufacturer:
"The Icon, with its blowtorch-like three-watt LED, is our favorite light for the earliest of early starts up high. Paired with the rechargeable NRG Battery Kit (sold separately), the Icon lowers the impact on your wallet and the environment. And when you’re lucky enough to be nowhere near an outlet, you can use alkalines and the economy setting for up to 200 hours of burn time. The four auxiliary SuperBright LEDs have their own multiple brightness settings and are plenty powerful enough to light up the trail or for brew prep at base camp. The Icon’s battery-power meter is dual-purpose: displaying via a green, yellow or red LED either the amount of battery power left or the charging status of the NRG rechargeable battery."

Tester's Description:
The Icon consists of four main parts; a battery pack, a lamp unit, an around the head strap, and an over the head strap.  The battery pack measures 2 x 2.5 x 1 in (5 x 6 x 2.5 cm) and holds three AA batteries.  It is secured shut by a plastic screw and has a grippy rubber design on the inner side of the exterior.  I think this 'rubber' area is to keep the battery pack from sliding off of heads and helmets.    There is an illuminated/colored battery meter that is located on the interior surface of one corner of the battery pack's exterior. According to the instructions, the color of the indicator light tells me how much battery life is left.  The lamp unit houses four superbright LEDs and one Hyperbright LED.  The Hyperbright LED is located in the center of the unit with two superbright LEDs on either side of it. On the underside of the lamp unit is a push button switch for turning the lights on and off as well as adjusting the brightness level of which ever set of LEDs I am using.  I usually remove the top strap on the headlamps that I use and I was happy to see that the top strap on the Icon came unattached. The strap itself is 1 in (2.5 cm) wide and 16 in (41 cm) long.

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First impressions:
The only thing I can say right now is that despite my expectations, the Black Diamond Icon is not your mamma's LED headlamp.  It is big, it is bright, and I am pretty sure I can cook food with it. Okay, I probably can't cook food with it, but I am impressed. The fact that it has five LEDs and six usage modes (plus a strobe feature) adds to the fact that this headlamp is a monster.  From just casual use around the house, the four superbright LEDs are great for up close work and the Hyperbright LED is for signaling alien civilizations on other planets or for serious hiking in the dark. Both sets of LEDs have three brightness settings and this is just gravy on this tasty dish. I can turn it on and then turn the brightness up or down based on my needs or desired battery usage.    Black Diamond claims that I can expect anywhere from 70 to 160 hours of battery life depending on which LED and brightness setting I use.  If this is anywhere near true then I am going to be one happy headlamp user.

One thing that I am not that impressed with is the weight and the battery casing. The Icon seems a bit heavy when loaded with batteries, but if the battery life is close to what is promised, I am going to live with the weight. The battery case on the other hand bothers me. It is made of hard plastic and I am worried about dropping it.  I also had a difficult time getting the three AA batteries into the battery case. I almost felt like I was forcing them into position, but I was following the diagram on the inside of the battery case. Once in place, the batteries were snug and stayed put, but it was a bit more work than I expected to get them in. Durability of the battery case is something that I am really going to pay attention to during this test.

One last item that has be a bit unhappy is the location of the battery meter. It is in a rather hard to see place on the battery case. I had to look the Icon over several times before I actually located it. I figured that a feature that was played up so much by Black Diamond might be a little bit more obvious.

Other than these initial impressions, I am ready to go. I want to get the Icon out on the trail and into real conditions as soon as is possible. I want to see just how happy I am going to be with this head lamp when I am tired and trying to cook or hang my hammock in the dark.

Test Strategy:
Here are some questions that will guide my testing of the Black Diamond Icon Headlamp.

1. How easy is it to adjust lamp to my head? Can the top strap (over the head) be removed? Can I adjust it while being worn?

2. Is the battery pack uncomfortable on the back of my head? Is it padded in any way?

3. How small does this headlamp pack down?

4. Is it comfortable to wear for long periods (1+ hours)?

1. How do I turn the Icon on? Is it easy to do with gloves on? Is it a switch or push button?

2. How long does the main LED burn with alkaline batteries?

3. How long will the four auxiliary LEDs burn with alkaline batteries?

4. How easy is it to switch between the main LED and the Four auxiliary LEDs? Can it be done with the lamp on my head?

5. How easy is it to change the batteries?

6. What size/type of batteries does it use?

7. How well can I see with this light? On the trail? In camp? What is the range of this light for practical vision/use?

8. Is it light enough to hang from the ridge line of my hammock?

9. Will I be able to direct its beam while it hangs so that it can be used while not being worn?

1. How well is the Icon going to hold up in my pack? (a headlamp spends a lot of time in a pack)

2. How durable is the battery case?

Field Test Report - February 28, 2008

Field Test Locations:
Sam Houston National Forest
Southeast Texas

Dry to heavy mist
35 F to 60 F (2  C to 16 C)

Day (dark) hiking
Reading in bed

Using the Icon:
So far my usage of the Black Diamond Icon has been less than I anticipated. I have only been able to get out in the dark for hikes on four occasions so far. Part of this is due to some imperfections in my hiking schedule and the other part of this is due to the Icon itself.

I have started out all four of my day hikes before dawn and luckily I had the Icon to hike with. The super bright LEDs are great for close up work. It is nice to be able to make sure my daypack is loaded and situated just right before I ever hit the trail.  On two occasions I made it a short distance in the dark before I decided to stop and make a nice hot cup of tea and I can not even begin to explain my joy at digging through a dark pack with the Icon as my light source.  The super bright LEDs light thing up like no other light I have every used. They are bright, their beam is large enough to cover a nice area and I am not trying to figure things out because the headlamp is too dim.  The best way that I can describe it is that there aren't shadows on everything and I can see the color of items in the pack no matter how dark it is outside. 

The hyper bright LED is just a monstrous thing. I have never been able to hike with confidence in total darkness before, but with a simple click  of the switch the Icon brings light to the hiking trail. Not just dim, stumble in over the nearest tree root light, but blazing white eyeball searing light. I really  like the amount of light the Icon hyperbright LED puts out and how far it throws this light. I roughly measured that I could see about 60 feet (18 meters) ahead on the trail with the hyper bright LED on its brightest setting.

So far I am impressed with the Icon. Both sets of LEDs work great for different jobs.    I really enjoy the adjustable light levels for both sets of LEDs.  I know that reading in bed is not the best use of a hiking headlamp, but it is nice to be able to turn on the super bright LEDs and turn them to the lowest setting for reading.   I am not blinded, the room is not lit up like a furnace, and I can still read a book in total darkness.  I also enjoy the battery meter on the Icon.  When the first set of batteries started to go (the LED output was noticeably dimmer) I looked at the battery meter and saw that it was red.  Without hesitation I knew it was time to replace the batteries. I didn't feel like I should push the issue and stretch the batteries out some more because the red light told me the end was definitely near.

On to the issues:
One reason that I have not used the Icon as much as I wanted too was because after I replaced the first set of batteries I could not get the Icon to work again. I tried three different brands of batteries and no matter what I put in it, the Icon would not come back on.  This was horribly frustrating and I tried over and over to make sure that the batteries were seated well in the battery pack (I had problems with this when I initially put batteries in it), but it still wouldn't come on. Finally I gave up and checked on the warranty information at the Black Diamond website. The website told me to send the Icon back to them and they would either repair or replace it.  I decided to go ahead and call warranty services to make sure that I didn't need some sort of authorization number and they verified that I just needed to pack up the Icon and send it and a description of the problem to them.   So yesterday (February 27, 2008) I mailed the Icon off for warranty service.

They did not give me a time frame for service so I am hoping that it arrives back in a timely manner so I can get it out on some overnight trips and really test this headlamp.   

Final thoughts:
I like the Black Diamond Icon headlamp. Despite not being able to use it as much as I wanted to, my limited exposure to it has proven it to be a great piece of gear. It puts out an enormous amount of light and is adjustable enough to be used in a variety of situations. I am a bit disappointed that my unit stopped working so quickly without hardly any use, but I am hoping that the warranty service is quick and gets it back into my greedy little hands as soon as is possible. I am also a bit unhappy about the amount of effort that it took (and still takes) to get the batteries correctly seated in the battery case. This has been an issue with every set of batteries that I have tried to put in the Icon. I am also not completely satisfied with the weight of this headlamp, but if I had to choose the weight over less light output I am probably going to go with the weight every time. I would rather have a heavy lamp that lights up the night than a light weight light that lets me twist an ankle on the root I never saw in the shadows.

2. Battery meter
3. Adjustability of head straps

1. Batteries do not fit well in battery case
2. Heavy
3. It broke

Long Term Report
May 6, 2008

Test location: W.G. Jones State Park, Sam Houston National Forest
Testing Activities: Dayhiking (morning) and overnight (1 night/2 day) hiking trips
Days used: 10 morning (dark) hikes and 2 nights (overnight) hiking trips
Temperatures: 40 - 84 F (4 - 29 C)

Return to sender:
Two weeks after I sent the Icon into Black Diamond with a short description of my problem, a box arrived back at my doorstep. Inside was a brand new Icon headlamp (in its packaging) and a shipping inventory sheet. There was no indication of what was wrong with the old Icon, which confused and irritated me a bit, but they sent me a brand spanking new one to play with, which was okay.

Straight out of the packaging the new Icon matched up to the original with its weights.    I put the supplied batteries in and off I went.

Back on the trail
Most of my use of this lamp was on my dark mornings when I went for short hikes or trail runs.  I love the range of the center Hyperbright LED and no matter how fast I moved I never over ran the coverage of the light.  I just can't stop ranting about this because it really impresses me that the center LED provides enough light for me to clearly see out to at least 60 feet without any strange shadows or dark spots. It works well and I like it.

The side LEDs (superbright) are good for close up work, but even on really dark night I found the light was a bit diffuse. It was more like using a other LED headlamps that I have owned, but with a much wider field of light. This is my favorite part of using the superbright LEDs because it illuminates a much wider area when I am doing close up work (like digging in a pack  or tying off a hammock) in the dark.  While the light is nowhere near as bright as the Hyperbright center LED, it was good enough for the situations when I needed to use it.

Putting this one to bed:
One thing that I did notice that is definitely a negative for this headlamp is the battery pack. Lying on the ground or in my hammock, it was a huge lump on the back of my head. If I wanted to lie down and read with it, I had to lay on my side, which is not my preferred reading position.  One good thing that I did like about the battery pack was that it is durable. After several drops it appeared to have no serious damage or dings and never stopped working. So while big is annoying at the end of the day, it is durable when I am feeling clumsy.

I did enjoy the fact that the LED light unit is easily removed from the elastic headband. This made it easy for me to take the headband off the LED unit and thread the ridge line of my hammock through the LED unit. This allowed me to use the Icon as it hung over me. I do need to issue one warning though. Accidentally turning on the Hyperbright LED after I hung the ICON in my hammock and then staring into it is a mistake that only needs to be made once.

One last use that I found for the Icon also involved taking the LED unit completely off the headband. Once I got the LED unit disconnected from the headband, I would use a couple of rocks or pieces of wood to face it straight up and turn on the Superbright LEDs. This gave me a small area of hands free illumination around camp at night when I just wanted to sit and not have something strapped to my head. It wasn't as bright as a fire, but made things easier to get done once I doused the fire for the night.

Questions answered:

1. How easy is it to adjust lamp to my head? Can the top strap (over the head) be removed? Can I adjust it while being worn?
The first thing I think I did was not install the top strap. The Icon came in the package without it installed which saved me the effort of trying to take it off.  Adjusting the headband while the Icon was in my hands was rather easy, but I never could master tightening it while I was wearing it.

2. Is the battery pack uncomfortable on the back of my head? Is it padded in any way?
For normal wear the battery pack has some raised 'pad' spots on it.  It was rather comfortable to wear on my head as long as I was standing or sitting, but when lying down the battery pack was a rather uncomfortable lump on the back of my head.

3. How small does this headlamp pack down?
Smallish. The power cable attaching the battery pack to the LED unit made it rather difficult to mash down to a tiny package, but it was small enough to make me happy.

4. Is it comfortable to wear for long periods (1+ hours)?
Yes and this is coming from someone who gets headaches from wearing hats, sunglasses, and headlamps for prolonged periods. I kept the headband loose enough to barely hold the Icon on my head and I had no comfort problems.    The battery pack is also pretty comfortable as long as I wasn't trying to rest the back of my head against anything.

1. How do I turn the Icon on? Is it easy to do with gloves on? Is it a switch or push button?
The Icon turns on by a push button on the bottom of the LED unit. It is easy to push with a bare finger or with gloves on.

2. How long does the main LED burn with alkaline batteries?
I never got  chance to burn out batteries to find out, but I probably used the Hyperbright LED 95% of the time and I only went through two sets of batteries during my testing.

3. How long will the four auxiliary LEDs burn with alkaline batteries?
Once again I am not sure, but I didn't use them much.

4. How easy is it to switch between the main LED and the Four auxiliary LEDs? Can it be done with the lamp on my head?
It is a matter of pushing the on/off button more than once and I never had to take the Icon off to change lighting modes.

5. How easy is it to change the batteries?
The first lamp I had it was easy. I could unscrew the battery compartment with a finger nail and get the batteries in and out. The second lamp I received required a tool of some sort to remove the screw on the battery compartment. On the original lamp I also had a rather difficult time getting the batteries to fit properly in the battery case. The new lamp didn't have this problem at all.

6. What size/type of batteries does it use?
Three AA batteries.

7. How well can I see with this light? On the trail? In camp? What is the range of this light for practical vision/use?
Using the Hyperbright LED I could easily and very clearly see for at least 60 feet in front of me in a nice cone.  The Superbright LEDs seemed to diffuse the light past about 10 or 15 feet. In this mode the light was    not as crisp and defining for me, but was fine for up close work.

8. Is it light enough to hang from the ridge line of my hammock?
Yes it is. I just took the LED unit off the headband and attached the LED unit to the ridge line. The battery pack hung down, but that wasn't an issue of any sort.

9. Will I be able to direct its beam while it hangs so that it can be used while not being worn?
I learned quickly to use the Superbright LEDs in my shelter and to make sure the LED unit was facing down or completely away from my face.

1. How well is the Icon going to hold up in my pack? (a headlamp spends a lot of time in a pack)
It held up pretty darn well considering that I carried it in a side mesh pocket of my pack when it wasn't on my head. I also put it on the ground for a light on several occasions and it held up pretty well to all I had to offer.

2. How durable is the battery case?
After a couple of drops I can honestly say that it is durable. The hard plastic scared me at first, but it held up to my abuse and wear without any issues.

Final thoughts:
I really enjoyed using the Black Diamond Icon Headlamp. It was easy to use and durable as well. I was very pleased that it could be used in different modes without having to take gloves off, which would make it more difficult to use in cold weather.  I didn't use the battery meter too much, but when I noticed that the LED output was dimming at one point I took a look at the battery meter and it wasn't green anymore which told me it was time to get new batteries.

Despite the fact that I had issues with my first testing unit, I was more than please with its replacement. The Icon was easy to use, the batteries seemed to last for a great amount of time, and best of all, I could actually see extremely well while using it. For me its weight was an issue until I realized how well the light worked. At that point it was well worth every ounce of its weight in my pack. I also enjoyed the fact that the Icon now allows me to carry one size of battery for all my electronic gadgets (Headlamp, GPS, Digital Camera). This is definitely another plus in my book for this light.

2. Easy to use
3. Decent battery life

1. Weight
2. Can't seem to adjust headband with lamp on my head
3. Battery meter is in a hard to see spot

Read more reviews of Black Diamond gear
Read more gear reviews by Thomas Vickers

Reviews > Lighting > Headlamps - LED > Black Diamond Icon Headlamp > Test Report by Thomas Vickers

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