Monday, May 08, 2017

Black Diamond Icon Headlamp Review

Article by Jeff Valliere

Black Diamond Icon
500 Lumens
8.1 oz. (230 grams)

The Icon is Black Diamond's flagship headlamp and packs a punch with 500 max lumens.  The Icon is durable, waterproof to 1m, reliable, easy to operate, has good battery life and has multiple light modes and settings.

Comparison chart of each of the BD headlamp ranges, with the Icon being the most at 125m.

There are a variety of strap/usage configurations, below it is shown without the over the head strap.  I found the additional over the head strap to be unnecessary, but some may find handy if using with a helmet.

One of my favorite features of the Icon is that the battery pack is removable and comes with an extension cable so that the battery pack can be stowed in a pack or pocket, making for an unnoticeably light head unit.

The longer cord is especially handy, as the Icon runs on 4 AA batteries, which makes for a particularly heavy battery pack.  When wearing on the head, I found it to be noticeably cumbersome, just a lump of weight that I was always aware of.  This is also not ideal for running as it bounces some when running fast, especially on downhills.

Changing out the batteries is easy.  Locate the knob on top and twist 90 degrees.

And the batteries slide right out quite easily.

Removing the battery pack from the adjustable headband is easy, you simply slide the straps out of the slots pictured below.  Reattaching the straps to one another however requires patience, the instructions in hand and a controlled environment.  It is like a brain teaser puzzle.  Even with some practice, I would soon forget how to do it if some time passed (it just took a week for me to forget) and would have to start from square 1 with the instructions, so I would suggest picking whether or not you want the battery on your head or in your pack/pocket and stick with it.

My first inclination was that the actual battery pack would somehow detach from the strap anchor plate and you could simply leave the straps anchored in the slots.  Even after looking at the instructions though, I just could not wrap my head around why this was not the case and why the process had to be so complicated.  The thought of making this conversion out in the field, especially in the dark is a bit unlikely.  Like I said above, choose a configuration you like and stick with it.

I decided to stop by a local outdoor shop and pick up the below strap slider, which I cut into with my snippers and was then able to more easily connect the straps while completely bypassing the intended way shown in the directions (still not all that quick or easy, but much easier).  I plan to eventually find a better connector than this though.

Once I got the battery pack detached and the whole strap attachment issues figured out, I was impressed at how liberating it felt to have the battery pack off of the head.  I could run at any speed, on any terrain and experience absolutely no bounce.  You really can't even feel the light on your head, it feels comparatively weightless.

Operation of the Icon is fairly simple with a singular button on the top that adjusts brightness and toggles between various modes and settings.  I'll not even try to explain the nuances of this, as it takes some hands on use and practice, but involves double taps or various length presses of the button. The lamp is hinged and tilts for optimal projection angle, which I find to be quite useful depending on the terrain I am running on and speed.

Aside from the main button on top, there is also a light touch side button that you can tap if you quickly want to toggle to maximum brightness.  Press the button again and it brings you back to whichever light setting you were previously on.  I found this to be quite handy when on the move.

The Icon, instead of two or three brightness setting, works more like a dimmer, providing a wider range of brightness between the lowest output and the highest.  The photo below is projecting at the lowest setting.

Somewhere in the middle.

Full brightness.  The light is warm and rich, making for a pleasant and somewhat natural feel, as opposed to some lights that are very white and harsh.  The Icon casts a beam however that does not project particularly far, but more mid range and somewhat wide, without a diffuser option, or long range mode.

In addition to the normal light mode, the Icon offers red, green and blue lighting modes to move around at night and not really compromise night vision as much, or bothering others (tip toeing around camp or not bothering tent mates).

Overall, I found the Icon to be a great headlamp for running, hiking, walking the dog and general use around the house.  With the batteries mounted on the head, this feels like a particularly heavy headlamp and combined with a headband that is difficult to adjust and difficult to center properly between the pack and the light unit, I converted to utilize the included extension cable and just always stow the battery pack in a pocket or pack.  It is not quite as easy or tidy, but is infinitely better to have such little weight on the head for absolutely no bounce.

The light beam is great for running, as I dial it back to a lower setting for slower paces and uphills where the terrain is more in your face, then crank it up all the way for fast downhills.  I appreciate the warm and natural glow, as I feel as though I am better able to make out details in the trail, where I sometimes have trouble with whiter more harsh lights.

Battery life so far seems to be very good.  I have been testing this light for a few months, have used it on several multi hour night runs at varied brightness settings, along with numerous night time dog walks and is still shining bright.

My primary complaint is the difficulty in converting between having the battery on the head vs. in the pocket.  This could be so easily fixed and this Icon is several generations in, so I am surprised that this has not come up.  Additionally, the head strap adjustments are futzy and difficult.  It is easy to expand of the headlamp if too tight, but if you want to snug it up, you have to remove it from your head and adjust each side in sync to keep the lamp and battery pack centered.  This is problematic when dark and especially problematic when dark and on the move. 

I can't really confirm these advertised burn times, but would be quite impressed if they are indeed accurate.

These instructions take a bit of work to figure out.

Jeff's Score:  9.1/10

-.3 for weight (the battery pack specifically)
-.3 for difficulty converting the battery pack from head mount to pocket storing
-.1 difficult to adjust/center headband
-.2 for lack of beam adjustability as it pertains to spotlight vs. diffusing at closer range


Black Diamond Icon vs. Ultraspire Lumen 600 (our RTR review here) - Slightly different in purpose, as one is a waist lamp and one is a head lamp, but essentially do the same thing.  The Lumen 600 puts out a brighter light and also has impressive batter life.  I like that the Lumen is rechargeable, but it takes a really long time to charge.  With the waist band, the Lumen is about the same weight, but is hardly noticeable around the waist band also doubles as storage.  The Icon relies on AA batteries, which may be preferable for multi day trips.

Black Diamond Icon vs. Petzl Nao (1st gen) - an unfair comparison, as I have not tried the newer versions of the Nao.  The 1st gen Nao is impressively light weight, the straps are very easy to adjust on the go, light settings are configurable through the Petzl app and the reactive lighting is tough to match.  Brightness is impressive, either on spot or proximate diffusing.  Battery life with the original Nao is average and the rechargeable battery pack takes a long time to charge.  You can substitute with AAA batteries, but this seems more like an emergency fix than a viable regular option.

See our mini review of the Black Diamond Sprinter road running focused headlamp in our 2017 run accessories roundup here

Jeff Valliere's Run Bio
Jeff is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he has recently worked in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 6 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

The Icon was provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere and Black Diamond
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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Jeff Valliere said...


rms said...

I have the Polar Icon, which I got specifically to get the battery off of the head and onto a belt-loop, and as you say, doing this dramatically improves the lamp for running (lithiums also help reduce weight). Whether BD will update the PI to match the new Icon headunit or just discontinue it will be interesting.

I don't have great love for the newstyle headunit, having seen it in the 2016 Storm. The PolarI has two low-power lamps which work well as a widebeam when moving slower, which the new headunits do not duplicate well IMHO.

Straps and cable-handling: BD are just plain clumsy at designing these. You note some, and I've had issues with the PI cable catching on clothing etc. This design clumsiness is especially blatant in the 2016 Storm: an utter failure for running, due to the lack of an over-the-top strap to help support the very heavy headunit, and headache-inducing pressure on the forehead. I'm disgusted with this product, it's terrible.

I'll continue using the Polar Icon for longer outings, but am still interested in running-focused headlamps with wider beampatterns, and in solutions for lighting mounted lower on the body (I don't see the UD belt light on their site any longer?)

rms said...

Ah the beltlight is Ultraspire, not UD. Haven't tried it

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