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December 14, 2009

Black Diamond Icon Headlamp Review and Battery Pack Giveaway

The more I learn about all these outdoor companies, the more fascinating their stories become. They’re also becoming more and more interconnected.

Case in point: remember this summer, when I profiled the Patagonia company for a review of their Release running shoe, and went on to pretty much fall in love with both their performance standards and their commitment to social responsibility? As far as I’m concerned, Patagonia is the gold standard for the outstanding positive impact a dedicated company is capable of generating in all aspects of its reach.

Well, it turns out that the whole Patagonia thing was really just a side business for founder Yvon Chouinard; his primary enterprise was manufacturing equipment for rock climbing and skiing; a company that eventually (after a roundabout process - see here for the whole story) became Black Diamond.

During its 20 years of existence, Black Diamond has stuck to its guns in terms of the outdoor activities that inspire them – or, as the company’s own website will tell you, “It’s all about climbing and skiing.” It’s a testament to their product quality that Black Diamond’s prominence among trail runners exists not because of an aggressive marketing push to rebrand itself as a running company, but because athletes have actively sought out their lighting systems for reliable performance.

While the Spot lamp I reviewed last week is the company’s most affordable (as well as most popular) option for trail runners, I mentioned that its brightness is somewhat lacking for taking on highly technical trails in the dark. For those conditions, the Icon is Black Diamond’s recommended model. Like the Spot, it’s a tremendous value on its own, and like my previous review, Wilderness Running Company is helping to make it an even more attractive buy. But first, let’s get to the details.

Like the Spot, the Icon features separate bulbs for spot or flood, modes that are alternated by scrolling through the power off position (this inability to switch from spot to flood without turning the lamp off remains my biggest pet peeve about Black Diamond lamps – but it’s becoming less of an issue the more I use it). The spot bulb is a 3-watt LED that can shoot 100 meters, and the flood mode uses 4 high-powered LEDs that give off 100 lumens of brightness.

That’s the strength of the Icon, or any of the larger (non-compact) headlamp models out there – they throw plenty of light to see all the rocks, roots, lumps and bumps on the trail. The tradeoff is that the necessary battery power requires an external pack in addition to the lamp casing. The difference from one brand to another becomes one of efficiency: how long the batteries last, how much the overall unit weighs, and how comfortable the whole contraption feels on your head after the sun comes up, because they’re generally too large to tuck into a small pocket.

From a comfort standpoint, the Icon performs pretty well. At 6.6oz (187g), it’s not the lightest headlamp of this variety out there, but it’s on the low end of a category where lamps often weigh in at 8oz or more. If you’re really hammering the pace, you’ll certainly notice the weight difference between this lamp and the much lighter (85g) Spot – but if you’re logging your miles more casually, the weight doesn’t seem overbearing. Everything stays in place fairly well with the adjustable headband strap, but there’s an additional top strap if necessary for added stability.

The Icon casing features a single on/off button on the bottom that, like the Spot, is large enough to be used with gloved fingers. Both the lamp and battery pack have IPX4 water resistance for good protection against rain from any direction. The casing ratchets to project the beam downward and holds it in place at any angle within its range.

Where the Icon shines (pardon the pun) most prominently is the area of battery efficiency. It uses 3AA batteries, which can last up to 80 hours on the highest brightness setting, and is compatible with rechargeable batteries; an integrated circuit board recognizes the type of batteries used, and automatically calibrates the battery meter to regulate the charge accordingly. An indicator light tells you when you’re below 50% (yellow) or 20% (red) battery life, so you know when it’s time to replace or recharge.

Black Diamond also makes a rechargeable NRG battery pack that fits the Icon, so you’ll never have to buy batteries for this lamp again. This is an especially attractive feature to me; with all of the eco-awareness stuff I’ve been writing about lately, the thought of wasting piles of alkaline batteries year after year grows less and less defensible. The NRG battery pack is especially cool in that you don’t have to remove it from the case to recharge it – the Icon and NRG have an integrated charger port system that plugs directly to a wall outlet. The NRG pack is sold separately and retails for $30, but it makes you totally enviro-friendly, and you’ll still get the 10% discount applied to your total purchase price. It’s not exactly a giveaway, but probably as good a deal as you’ll ever see for this lamp. Click here to check it out. (***Admin note: see also footnote below post.)

Once you have your Icon, there isn’t a trail around that darkness will prevent you from conquering.

*product provided by Wilderness Running Company
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at

***If you're debating whether to pick up the Icon this week and wondering how the upcoming lamps I'm reviewing compare, here's an EXTREMELY brief comparison:

1. Petzl MYO RXP: More brightness, regulated output levels, much shorter battery life, and much more expensive (typically $100)

2. Black Diamond Sprinter: Fully rechargeable, has rear blinking LED, lighter overall, more expensive ($80), less brightness (borderline for technical trails).

Full reviews of both are currently available on


Anonymous,  12/15/09, 4:26 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dave 12/15/09, 6:14 AM  

Donald, always love your product reviews. You have saved me money and helped me get what I need. For those thinking about letting Donald review your products. I have purchased 2 items solely from his review. Been happy with both!


Ray,  12/15/09, 6:25 AM  

Great write-up. I was holding off to see how this compared to the Petzl Myo XP, so was REALLY happy to have the brief comparison at the bottom. I just ordered the Icon from WRC as the deal is just too good to pass up.

Just one tip - it wasn't clear whether I should put the NRG pack in my shopping cart or not. I emailed Stacy @ WRC and she confirmed there was no need to place the NRG pack in the shopping cart; they would include it with my Icon order regardless (though clearly I had to indicate I was using the R&R10 discount).

Thanks Donald & WRC!!!


Stacy, WRC,  12/15/09, 7:13 AM  

Ray helped tease out a detail I had not thought of, so to further clarify: to take advantage of this offer, you do NOT need to put the NRG kit in your shopping cart. Just use the R&R10 code and that will be our signal to add the NRG kit to the order. (In fact, you won't be able to add the NRG kit now, as I have forced it into an 'out of stock' status; don't let that worry you.) Thanks for another well-conceived review, Donald, and for the order, Ray.

Tuck 12/15/09, 8:55 AM  

Black Diamond has definitely stayed true to Chouinard's philosophy. The catalog even still has the same approach to presenting the gear.

I've been a customer of both companies for 25 years. I've never had a purchase from either that's left me in the lurch. In the rare instances something's not right, they fix it with a smile on their faces.

(Just to give you an idea, I'm an active skiier with my family, and the majority of our clothing comes from Patagonia and a lot of my ski equipment comes from Black Diamond. It may seems expensive when your first purchase, but when you're using the same thing 5, 10, 15 years later you realize how what a great value it really is.)

The Sprinter, I think, is more geared for road runners, I use mine as such, and it's very nice.

Sean 12/15/09, 11:14 AM  

Good write-up on the light, but as a current owner of the product, I have a few things to add.

The light is awesomely bright and you absolutely CANNOT beat the battery life. This is great when you're doing ultras. Note that after a 20-30 hours, the LEDs seem to "dim" (even with fresh batteries), and you never get the major lumens you do when the light is brand new. I suspect this has to do with the lifespan of the LED's but unfortunately, the LEDs are not replaceable.

However, I need to point out that I've bought 4 of these over the last 2 years, and 2 of them have been defective. On one, the power switch just stopped working, and on the other, it randomly switched from low to high power.

I have friends who have had similar issues. The quality control on this product is not that great. Don't get me wrong....It's a great product and I will buy more because you can't beat it for the price and light output but....

If you buy it, make sure you get it from somewhere you can return it, because there is a good chance you will need to.

mweston 12/15/09, 2:47 PM  

I got one, with the NRG, after the first race I needed a light for (Miwok -- I'm slow). The random lights I already owned just weren't up to the task of running trails in the dark.

I also got a Fenix L2D handheld at the same time, and it seems to work fine with rechargeables. I would recommend both, and both lasted me all night at the Headlands Hundred without battery changes.

I will say that if I had to choose, I would bring the handheld and leave the headlamp behind. But both is better.

FT Admin 12/16/09, 5:21 PM  

Fine Review. The comment by Sean above highlights the usefulness of researching the item before you buy. Even though you may be determined to purchase a quality flashlight or headlamp, the reputation of the vendor should have some bearing on you decision to purchase.

Donald 12/16/09, 8:16 PM  

Sean and FTAdmin: those are very good points of caution. For what it's worth, I feel very confident in recommending WRC as a vendor - all my experience with them has been outstanding, and I know they make customer service priority number 1. Everyone I know who has bought from them feels the same way.

Josh 12/17/09, 10:54 AM  

Just a side note. You can use most rechargeable batteries but I found that NiMH rechargeable works the best. (Maybe because it mimics the BD NRG Battery?) When I've used lithium batteries... I've found that it may burn longer and be a bit lighter but the battery pack tends to warm up and give me a headache after a while.

Ray 12/19/09, 1:19 PM  

Just got my Icon yesterday and did my first run this morning with it... it was AWESOME. I might as well have had a lighthouse on my head! The trail was lit up perfectly and on the road, I could tell that cars noticed me from a a loooong ways away.

The lamp was comfortable and really worked well. Also, WRC shipped fast and did a great job.

Thanks guys....

Notleh,  1/7/10, 12:35 PM  

Donald, 2 questions.

1) One problem i have with headlamps is depth perception. When running on rugged trails or washboards they just don't give me the proper depth perception I need. Do you ever have this problem with other headlamps, and how does this compare?

2) Have you ever tried mounting a headlamp on your chest (using the straps of a hydration pack) and do you think the Icon might work for that?


Michael Shane Helton 4/9/10, 9:38 AM  

I purchased this headlamp on Donald's recommendation and I am very pleased so far. I compared the light output to a variety of flashlights I have (including a 4 D-cell Maglite) and this little headlamp was brighter than all of them.

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