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Reviews > Lighting > Headlamps - LED > Black Diamond Spot325 Headlamp > Test Report by Kurt Papke

Black Diamond Spot 325 Headlamp

Test Series by Kurt Papke

Initial Report - September 27, 2019

Field Report January 7, 2020

Long Term Report February 18, 2020

Tester Information

Name: Kurt Papke
Age: 66
Gender: Male
Height: 6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight: 230 lbs (105 kg)
Email address: kwpapke (at) gmail (dot) com
City, State, Country: Tucson, Arizona USA

I do most of my hiking in the desert Southwest, but occasionally get up into the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and my old stomping grounds in Northern Minnesota.  I am a comfort-weight guy when it comes to most gear, trying to stay as light as possible but I don't go to extremes.  I don't hike at night, but I do run before the sun comes up and use a headlamp in camp when backpacking.

Initial Report

Product Description and Facts

The Black Diamond Spot 325 headlamp is a compact lightweight battery-powered LED light attached to an adjustable elastic headband (see photo below, middle left) that provides hands-free lighting.  The lamp in this unit is relatively bright, but can be dimmed and switched to a red LED through user controls.  I use a headlamp to light my way hiking early in the morning when backpacking, because I always use trekking poles and cannot hold a flashlight in my hands.  I also use them in-camp for cooking, gear setup, etc. where a headlamp always directs its light to the task by following my head.

32501

Product Information
Manufacturer
Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd.
Manufacturer website
http://www.blackdiamondequipment.com/
Products tested
Spot 325 headlamp
Country of manufacture
China
Warranty
"We warrant for one year from purchase date and only to the original retail buyer (Buyer) that our products (Products) are free from defects in material and workmanship. For headlamps our warranty is for three years."
List price
USD $39.95
Power source
Three AAA batteries
Alkaline batteries are supplied, but should work equally well with rechargeable or lithium
Brightness
[High] 325, [Medium] 160, [Low] 6 lumens
Battery life
[High] 4, [Medium] 8, [Low] 200 hours
Waterproof rating
IPX 8 (can be immersed to 1.1 meter (43 in) for 30 minutes without damage)


Manufacturer's spec
Measured
Weight with batteries
86 g (3.0 oz)
84 g (2.95 oz)

Salient Features

The user interface for headlamps often confuses me.  There are many features that can be accessed by tapping or pressing on various control surfaces, often with multiple taps or presses.  I struggle to remember where the switches are and what magic incantation I must perform to change brightness, etc.

On their website and on the packaging BD mentions their "PowerTap" control to switch between full and dimmed power (see photo above, bottom row left).  This sounds really handy as I typically use headlamps in a dimmed setting, but often need brightness for just a few seconds to perform a task.  This headlamp also purports to remember the brightness setting when turned off.  That sounds great to me as the need to re-dim the headlamp every time I turn it off has been a frustration for me on previous headlamps I have tested or purchased.

The headlamp has one large switch to turn the unit on/off and to control dimming. There is a second switch control for lens mode, which appears to move between a wide and narrow beam.  Both of these controls are shown in the photo above, middle row right.  A red LED is provided to preserve night vision, and apparently this can also be dimmed.  Lastly, there is a mechanism to lock the controls to avoid accidentally turning the unit on when stowed, a problem I have had from time to time.

The headband is easily adjustable (see adjustment buckles in above photo, middle row left), and the lamp slides around the band to facilitate centering on my forehead.  The lamp swivels up and down with audible lock points.

There is a battery level indicator with 3 LED's that displays the battery charge remaining for six seconds after powering the unit on.  See photo above, bottom row middle photo.

Initial Inspection

The first thing I tried out was the user instructions.  This was somewhat helpful, but in their attempt to internationalize the document and avoid a lot of text translation much of the content is in the form of diagrams, which I had some problems interpreting.  Hieroglyphics were never my strong point.

Trying it Out

Of course I had to try it out. Once out of the packaging, I used a thumbnail to open the back of the housing to expose the battery compartment, and inserted the supplied AAA batteries.  I snapped the housing shut and the device was set to go.

The switches on the top were clearly marked (see photo above middle right).  I pressed the main button and presto, there was light!  I very quickly learned how to dim the light (hold the main button down), and switch between the spotlight, floodlight and red LED by pressing the button on the left with the segmented circle.  I was able to dim each of the bulbs and verified that tapping the right side of the housing with the sunshine logo toggled between the dimmed setting and full power.  I also verified that turning the headlamp off and back on again did not change the dimmer setting.

I tried the lock function.  Yep, holding both buttons down simultaneously locks and unlocks the on/off switch.  The buttons are clearly labeled for how to do this (see above photo, middle right).

I'm impressed - BD did a great job improving the ergonomics of the controls, and I think I may actually be able to remember how to do all these functions.

This headlamp is very bright at full output.  I'll have to be careful not to blind my fellow campers.

Summary

Good stuff:

  1. Easy to remember how to use the features
  2. It is really bright
  3. Dimmer memory

Worries:

  1. I've been using a headlamp with one switch on it for several years, it could stretch my mental capacity to remember there are two switches plus PowerTap on this unit.
  2. The batteries weigh almost as much as the headlamp, making the unit a little heavy.

Field Report

Field Conditions

Date
Location
Trail
Distance Hiked
Altitude
Weather
October 17-18, 2019
Santa Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson, Arizona
Romero Canyon
12 miles
(19 km)
2700-5100 ft
(820-1550 m)
Sunny, warm, windy at night, 60-85 F
(16-29 C)
December 6-8, 2019 Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Hermit 18 miles
(29 km)
6630-2400 ft
(2020-730 m)
Partly cloudy, one night of rain, 38-65 F
(3-18 C)

32502

Romero Canyon

Just a quick overnight to try out some new gear.  I had intended on hiking a bit further, but we are in a drought and it was incredibly dry up there.  The spot where I like to camp had no water flow at all, the first time I've seen that in 10 years of hiking here in Tucson.

I used the headlamp in the evening after the sun went down to read for a while, then get ready for sleeping.  I used the red LED for the most part, as I wasn't doing anything that needed fine detail.  The next morning I used the headlamp again (see above photo set at upper left), first as a tent floodlight so I could see what I was doing while getting dressed and organizing my gear, then during breakfast prep while it was still pitch dark.  Morning use was with the two white LED's.

I found I rarely needed the highest brightness settings, but they were useful when fetching water early in the morning as I had to descend a bit through some brush into a stream bed to access the feeble flow.

Overall the headlamp worked flawlessly.  My only concern is it is a bit heavier than what I am used to, but that is the price to be paid for the bright illumination.

Hermit Trail to Rapids

I led a group of four (we started with five...) hikers from the Tucson Backpacking Meetup group on what I advertised as "Beach Camping in the Grand Canyon".  On day one we hiked down from the Hermit trailhead to Hermit Rapids and set up camp on the beach.  Day two was pretty relaxed, we didn't get going until after lunch and only had a short hike up to the Hermit Creek campsite.  Day three we got up early after a night of rain and hiked out.

Before leaving on the trip I did a quick equipment check and noticed that the LED power indicator on the headlamp was down to one LED, so I changed out the batteries.  I was a little surprised they were depleted so quickly.

It gets dark pretty early and the sun comes up quite late this time of year, especially in the Grand Canyon where the canyon walls block a lot of light.  See the photo above at upper right for my view while having my morning coffee.  I used the headlamp to get around in camp after dinner, when getting up to water the trees in the middle of the night, and in the morning to make coffee.  We left early on Sunday morning, and it was still dark when I got up so I used the headlamp for light while breaking camp.

I actually used the Lock function on this trip to make sure I didn't kill the batteries by accidentally turning on the headlamp after it was packed.  I found this easy and intuitive to use.

Usability Testing

I took the headlamp with me to Portland Oregon for the holidays, in case I walked or ran in the early mornings before the sun came up.  I got in some good walking miles with the headlamp with good results.

I was wrestling with something to provide my 3-year-old grandson with entertainment, and I always had fun playing with flashlights as a child, so I thought he might as well (see above photo collage at lower left).  What amazed me is how quickly he figured out the buttons.  In no time he was turning the light on and off, then switching between red and white modes, etc.  He has grown up with toys that have on/off and mode buttons, but regardless I think it speaks well for the product that a toddler can learn to operate it in minutes!

Summary

Overall, I have been very pleased with the headlamp so far.  I've had no serious issues with it.

Good Stuff

  • High light output that has allowed me to navigate in the dark in trying conditions.
  • Easy to remember how to use the various buttons.
  • Comfortable and lightweight on my head while in motion.
  • Batteries are easy to change out.

Concerns

  • I'm going to keep an eye on battery consumption.  I've tried to operate it at the lowest allowable brightness levels while still being able to see my way around in the dark, so I don't believe I have been draining the batteries carelessly.

Long Term Report

Field Conditions

Date
Location
Trail
Distance Hiked
Altitude
Weather
January 13-15, 2020
Gila Canyons west of Kearny, Arizona
Arizona National Scenic Trail
27 miles
(43 km)
1600-2100 ft
(490-640 m)
Sunny, variable winds,
40-70 F (4-21 C)
February 8-9, 2020
Gila Canyons west of Kearny, Arizona AZT to trestle bridge
8 miles
(13 km)
1800-2100 ft
(550-640 m)
Sunny, light to variable winds, 35-72 F (2-22F)

Gila Canyons

It is becoming an annual winter tradition for me to drive up to this beautiful section of the Arizona Trail.  It's the perfect spot for winter backpacking: low elevation keeps the temperatures warm, great scenery, and good water access from the Gila River.

This was a solo hike, and when I solo I typically get up very early in the morning.  This means the headlamp gets used for morning chores as well as the usual evening stuff.

No issues whatsoever with the headlamp on this trip, it worked perfectly.

AZT to Trestle Bridge

Same trail as my prior outing, just a lot shorter hike.  My prior trip was a scouting mission for a future trip I planned to lead with the Tucson Backpacking Meetup group, and this trip was that Meetup organized hike.  I billed it as "beginner-friendly", which indeed it was: short hike with gradual elevation change and a scenic campsite with water and fire ring.

Before setting out on this trip I put the headlamp in the "locked" mode so it would not inadvertently switch on in my pack.  I regretted doing so in the evening as I struggled for about 5 minutes to unlock it.  I knew I had to press both buttons simultaneously, but it took quite a bit of experimenting to rediscover how long I had to hold the buttons before it unlocked.  In my experience, the downfall of these seldom-used functions on devices with very few control buttons is it's easy to forget the magic incantation required to access the function once I throw away the user manual.  For me, the same is true of the PowerTap feature - I forget it is there or how to activate it.

Summary

A bright headlamp with modest battery life.  Comfort on my head is good - it is light enough that I often forget I am wearing it.  Reliability has been excellent during the test period: no illumination failures, and no mechanical damage despite the fact that I do not protect a headlamp in any way in my pack.  Not even any cosmetic damage during the four months.

I used the high/low/red settings constantly, but rarely used the PowerTap.  I made good use of the multiple LED's during the test period.  I normally used the wide beam, but occasionally shifted to the narrow beam if I had something where I needed detail.  I used the red LED quite often when I got up during the night to not disturb other campers, and to preserve my night vision.  If I was intending to use the headlamp for an extended period, I dimmed the brightness to a lower level.  I had no difficulty using the controls to change these settings.

This is the first headlamp I've used in a while that is not rechargeable.  On one hand, I like the longer battery life that alkaline battery power provides.  On the flip side, it annoys me to replace a perfectly good battery that is half-depleted before leaving on a trip because I don't want to run out of battery power on the trip.  Yes, I could have used rechargeable AAA batteries with the headlamp, but those are not easily topped off in the backcountry.

I suspect the main future use I will put this headlamp to is early morning runs or walks from my house.  I really need the extra illumination of a headlamp this size when I am plodding through the neighborhood due to the "dark sky" policy that the Tucson area follows, which means very few street lights.  When using the headlamp from home, the non-rechargeable batteries are not an issue.


Many thanks to Black Diamond and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.


Read more reviews of Black Diamond gear
Read more gear reviews by Kurt Papke

Reviews > Lighting > Headlamps - LED > Black Diamond Spot325 Headlamp > Test Report by Kurt Papke



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