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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
***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 FeedTheHabit.com.