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Reviews > Lighting > Headlamps - LED > Black Diamond Icon Headlamp > Test Report by Tim Tessier

BLACK DIAMOND ICON HEADLAMP
TEST SERIES BY TIM TESSIER
INITIAL REPORT
January 02, 2008

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Tim Tessier
EMAIL: timothy_tessier@yahoo.com
AGE: 51
LOCATION: Greensboro North Carolina
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 2" (1.88 m)
WEIGHT: 200 lb (90.70 kg)

Backpacking Background: I hiked as a child with my father and started hiking with my now 16 year old son 8 years ago. We now routinely take 20 mile (32 km) weekend hikes (2 nights) approximately once a month year round. Additionally, we take one, 5 - 7 day extended trip each summer. Most of our hiking is done in North Carolina, southern Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. We go regardless of weather so we have experience in all types of conditions. We do not tend to travel very light, my typical pack weight is 25 lb (11.3 kg) exclusive of food.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Field Report added - March 8, 2008
Long Term Report added - May 5, 2008

Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.blackdiamondequipment.com
MSRP: US$59.95
Battery Life:
Three-Watt LED - 70 h (Hi), 88 h (Med), 104 h (Lo)
Super Bright LED - 90 h (Hi), 108 h (Med), 166 h (Lo)
Illumination Distance (per spec sheet, at start-up, assuming new batteries):
Three-Watt LED - 260' (80 m) (Hi), 187' (57 m) (Med), 135' (41 m) (Lo)
Super-Bright LED - 75' (23 m) (Hi), 56' (17 m), 39' (12 m) (Lo)
Listed Weight: 6.6 oz (187 g) including batteries
Measured Weight: 6.8 oz (193 g) including batteries
Other details:

The Icon is an LED headlamp for use in situations where the user needs to put light on a spot, while keeping his hands free. Typically, backpackers use this type of light for most applications as it has virtually replaced the traditional flashlight.
IMAGE 1
The Icon features two types of light source. In the center is a three-watt LED which is flanked on either side with a pair of "Super-Bright" LEDs. The three-watt bulb throws a brighter light, but is tougher on batteries, yielding approximately 30% less battery life.

The Icon features two straps, one that wraps around the head and one that goes over the head. The elastic straps are approximately 1" wide. The three AA batteries are contained in a small compartment that rides on the back of the head. The battery compartment is roughly rectangular in shape, approximately 4.75" X 4.5"X 1" (12 X 11.4 X 2.5 cm). The battery compartment is a clamshell design with a notched thumbscrew that you tighten by hand, and then use a screwdriver to snug tightly. The light is designed to be stormproof, but not submersible. On the battery compartment is an LED that glows green when the battery status is greater than 20%, yellow between 20 - 5%, and Red when there is less than 5% battery life.

IMAGE 2

There is a power cord running to the light itself with a coiled section to allow it to articulate freely. The light element is approximately 2" X 1.25" (5.1 X 3.2 cm). The light element is mounted onto the strap via a plastic buckle. The light element articulates a full 90 degrees from straight out level to straight down. The light modes are adjusted by a single rubber covered push button mounted under the light element.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The Icon came packed in hard clear plastic packaging. I generally despise this type of packaging as it is very inconvenient to get open. However, Black Diamond cleverly fixed this problem by putting a thumb notch and two perforated lines down the back of the package. I was able to simply insert my thumb and give a good yank and the back of the package opened right up.

I found the headlamp, the directions, and a set of batteries inside the packaging. The light was attached to one strap and there was an additional strap in the package which is designed to fit over the top of the head.

As I pulled it out I noticed that the light weighs less than other lights of this type that I have seen. At first I was puzzled by the second strap, then I figured out that it was designed to go over the head. It took me about 5 minutes to adjust the straps. I then went outside and turned it on. I was amazed at the amount of light thrown by this little unit. I could clearly see to the top of my backyard with it on high in Super LED mode, approximately 100 ft (30 m).

I am anxious to get this product into the field to really test it in real-world conditions.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

The directions are inside the package printed in several different languages on a single sheet of paper. They are printed in tiny type in black ink on glossy white paper. They are legible, but not easy on the eyes. The directions are product specific and not generic directions designed to cover several Black Diamond products. The directions offer information regarding battery life and brightness as well as safety notices, and product limitation notices (Do not Submerge).

Additionally, the directions offer instruction on how to select the various modes that the light produces. The directions referred to the rechargeable battery kit that Black Diamond sells for this product.

All in all, the directions are adequate and accurate, if not generous. While I understand the limitations of packaging, I would be happier if they were printed in a larger font.

TRYING IT OUT

I took the light with me on an overnight trip into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. It was a cool night with clear skies and the light performed admirably around camp. I had it on Super LED, Med setting while doing camp chores. We had it on in the tent in it's most efficient Super LED, Lo mode while laying in our sleeping bags talking. This was certainly no test of the light's capabilities.

I did find that when I reached up to adjust where it was resting on my head I tended to hit the button on the bottom of the light which would change the mode settings from Hi to Med to Lo to Strobe. This was annoying but will, I'm sure become less of a problem as I get used to wearing this particular light.

I look forward to putting it through a much more thorough test in the near future.

TESTING STRATEGY

As my son does not get home from school until nearly 4:00 pm I find that many times in the fall and winter we are arriving at trailheads after dark with a hike into a campsite and then camp to set up that evening. This night-hiking will provide an excellent opportunity to test this light thoroughly on the trail.

We will be camping and hiking in all types of weather on multiple nights throughout the winter and early spring. The light will be used in a wide variety of temperatures and in rain, snow, and fog, as well as clear starry nights.

SUMMARY

This appears to be an extremely well made, well engineered unit and one which I look forward to fully testing.

Please check this space in early March for my Field Report.

Field Report - March 8, 2008

I have had the opportunity to use the Icon on four nights in three trips since I received it. As I have become more and more used to its operation I have become more and more impressed by it. I have found that generally around camp the "Super Bright" (more energy efficient) mode is perfectly adequate. The 3-watt LED mode offers greatly enhanced light when looking at or for something at a distance. The 3-watt beam is narrower and more focused, but shines out much farther.

I have found all three brightness settings on the super-bright LED mode to be useful at different times. I have also used the 3-watt LED on its brightest setting but have found no purpose whatever for the two lower power 3-watt settings. If I don't need the brightest possible light the super-bright LED is adequate and the 3-watt is unnecessary.

I took it on an overnight trip to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Virginia. The evening was clear and breezy. Since this was an overnight hike only I was in camp and set up before the light was needed. However, I found that I was able to comfortably move around camp, cook dinner, and generally function after dark with the light on its low, most battery efficient mode. This would obviously be a very important factor on a multi-day trip as it would significantly reduce the likelihood of needing spare batteries. While reading in my tent that night I found it easiest to read (with my 50 year old eyes) with the super-bright LED set to its brightest setting.

I carried the light with me on a two day trip to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park in Kentucky. The first night our group all met at a campground. As I arrived right at dark, and I was responsible for cooking dinner I used the light for several hours that night. I found that while setting up my tent, and cooking dinner for the group, it was easier with the light set in super-bright LED mode on its medium setting.

The second night we were in a backcountry campsite, again with no fog or rain to concern us. Again, I found that performing after dark chores such as cooking dinner I used some combination of the low and medium settings in super-bright LED mode. At Cumberland Gap there are steel cable hangers for use as bear hangers. These are approximately 20 - 25 feet in the air. When I went to hang my food bag the cable hanger I wanted to use was hooked on the pulley at the top. At first I had trouble seeing what the issue was. I reached a gloved hand up and switched easily to 3-watt LED mode and then could easily see the issue and could work with the cable to free up the tangle.

Finally, I used the light on a recent trip to the Shining Rock Wilderness Area in North Carolina. It was very cold so I had to wear the light over my knit cap. It was easy to loosen the strap slightly so that it was comfortable while being worn over the cap. It was approximately 20 F (-7 C) so we turned in early. I lay in bed and read for a couple of hours. Again, the light on high setting in super-bright LED mode was very adequate for this task.

To switch between the different brightness settings you gently press the single button on the bottom of the light element. In super-bright LED mode you press it gently and it rotates through hi, med, and low, and flashing modes. If it is in 3-watt LED mode it rotates through hi, med, and low only. If you press the switch all the way in until it clicks it switches between off, super-bright, off and 3-watt modes. If you turn it off and come back in a few minutes (or the next day) it remembers the mode it was last in and turns on in that mode. The only gripe I had at all is that you sometimes switch the light off, then have to go through the modes, when you intend to merely change the intensity of the beam.

While laying in bed reading I found it necessary to lay with my head cocked to one side or the other, as the battery compartment at the back of my head was uncomfortable with my head straight back on it. I'm not sure how you would shrink this compartment any as it is barely large enough to contain 3 AAA batteries. One thing I have noticed about the construction of the battery compartment is that it is slightly concave so it molds to the back of your head.

Although I have several hours total time on the headlight I have not used it nearly enough to begin to deplete the batteries. The battery indicator on the battery compartment still shows green, as it should. All in all, I have been very pleased with this product.

Summary

This Black Diamond Icon has been a nice addition to my gear kit. If the larger, more powerful headlight with the separate battery compartment in the back is preferred, which it is in my case, then this product deserves careful consideration. The super-bright LED mode is extremely battery friendly, while the 3-watt LED is there whenever it's needed. There are smaller, lighter LED headlights available but they typically don't offer the 3-watt mode. Personally, for the price of a few extra ounces I like knowing that I can throw some light if needed.

I have not yet had an opportunity to test this light at night in the rain, or fog, on the trail. I expect I will during the balance of the test period.

Things I like about this product:
1) The flexibility of having several brightness modes.
2) The ability to easily select the mode and brightness I want while wearing gloves.
3) The LED battery indicator on the battery compartment.

Things I don't like about this product:
1) It's a little too easy to turn the light off or change the brightness inadvertently.
2) Having the battery compartment behind your head is not ideal for reading in bed.
3) The battery compartment seems kind of bulky to me.

Please check back in May for my Long-Term Report.

Long Term Report - May 5, 2008

I have continued to use the Black Diamond Icon through the balance of the winter and into the spring. Since the Field Report I have used the Icon 3 additional nights. I used it on a rainy, foggy, 2 night trip to Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. Additionally, I used it on an overnight hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I took both opportunities to take 2 - 3 mile hikes at night to test the lights use on the trail.

We arrived at Mt. Rogers in the late afternoon on a blustery cloudy afternoon. Soon after we arrived the rain came. Soon thereafter the clouds came down and swirling wind, rain, and fog made miserable hiking conditions. Naturally, I took that opportunity to test a headlight in the worst possible conditions. I found that in the super-bright LED mode the wide beam of the light bounced off the rain and fog, virtually blinding me. I was staying in an Appalachian Trail shelter so my night hiking was on the AT. The white blazes were picked out by the LED but rocks, roots, stumps, and other obstructions in the trail were virtually invisible.

I switched the light to 3-watt mode. This mode throws a much narrower more focused beam. This mode was greatly preferred in these conditions. The narrower beam was not nearly so prone to reflect back into my eyes as I hiked. With the light in this mode I was not only able to see the white trail blazes, but also able to see the trail itself making hiking much more comfortable, easier, and most importantly, safer.

While in the Smokies I again stayed in a shelter. The weather was clear and there was a half moon. I donned the light and went for a night time stroll in the forest. While hiking on this lovely night I was easily able to follow the trail through a mature hardwood forest. Initially, I set the light on the lowest setting in its super-bright LED mode, the most efficient way it will run. However, after a short time I found that I was stumbling on some hidden obstructions so I switched to the medium setting. This setting was fine for my purposes while hiking.

While hiking I heard an unidentified movement in the woods to my left. Switching to the 3-watt mode I saw movement and found a wild pig running off into the forest. I was able to follow him with my light for approximately 30 - 40 yards into the woods.

I have used the light now for four months, and approximately seven nights. I have used the light for a total of about 20 hours, in a combination of modes. The batteries are still clearly in the green zone on the LED indicator and I have detected no lessening of the light output.

In every respect the light has functioned as I would have expected.

Final Summary

The Black Diamond Icon is a terrific product. All in all, I find it to be an excellent value for a headlight for general backpacking and active outdoor use.

The light is comfortable to wear. The operation is seamless, particularly now that I have grown accustomed to the switch. The Icon offers an excellent combination of blazing white light from a product that is small and relatively lightweight.

The 3-watt mode is very useful when you need a bright, narrow, focused beam for seeing something at a distance in some detail. The super-bright LED mode is generally used around camp, and for such activities as reading. This mode is more efficient on batteries and the wider beam is actually more useful for such chores as cooking, setting a tent, and reading at night.

I have dropped the light a couple of times with no ill effects. There is not a mark on it after weeks of bumping along in my pack, being dropped and generally abused.

I strongly recommend this excellent product.

I wish to thank Black Diamond and Backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to test this fine product.

This concludes my review of the Black Diamond Icon headlight.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.

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