Thursday, July 05, 2012

Black Diamond Icon 2012 Headlamp Review

Last year, while preparing for Western States, one of the few pieces of new gear I purchased was the Black Diamond Icon headlamp. I wanted something bright, and that was definitely it. This year, Black Diamond upped their game by releasing a new version of the Icon that is twice as bright as the previous version. The old Icon is to Western States as the new Icon is to Hardrock, and I knew I wanted to test this lamp to see if it could guide me through the San Juans.

Features of the 2012 Icon:

  • Quad-powered LED has 200 lumens, a distance of 100 Meters, and up to 75 hours of battery life on the brightest setting.
  • Two single-powered LEDs have 35 lumens, a distance of 10 meters, and up to 75 hours of battery life on the brightest setting.
  •  Waterproof to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes
  • 230 grams with batteries (4 AA)
  • Battery indicator light
  • Dimmer, which allows you to fine tune your brightness with either the quad LED or the two single LEDs.
  • Strobe light
  • Red light, which is activated without turning on the white lights first.
  • Lock mode, which prevents accidental turn-on of the light (and draining of the batteries) while it’s in your pack.
  • Everything is operated with one, glove-friendly button.

My experience (and my husband’s experience) with this light has been a resounding success. I used it to light our way up the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon in March, and one of my running companions went out and bought the Icon for herself the very next week. I used it on morning runs throughout the winter, when its waterproofness came in very handy. My husband used it climbing big walls this spring in Yosemite, and he definitely wants this light for himself. (I have to keep a sharp eye on it to make sure it doesn’t take up residence in his backpack!) I used it when pacing a runner at WesternStates, and a friend of mine even takes it along mountain biking in case he gets caught out in the dark.

The Icon lights my way across the Middle Fork at mile 78 of Western States.

My favorite overall feature is the straight-up brightness of this light. 200 lumens! You can light up the world with this thing. It shines the same distance as the old Icon, (100 meters), but with the additional light you can see more of the surrounding terrain rather than just a narrow, focused beam. I also like the dimmer, which can help prolong battery life by avoiding the brightest setting when it’s not necessary, as well as give you a low enough light to be useful around camp or even for reading. A final favorite is the lock mode. Have you ever pulled your headlamp out of your pack at dusk to find it had accidentally been on all day and was now worthless? Yeah. Lock mode is good.

Unlike the old Icon, this light doesn’t have a rechargeable battery option, but you can use rechargeable AA’s in it. I also learned a fair amount about battery life and usage reading the literature. Even though it says 75 hours of battery life on superbright, it will be quite dim by that point – nowhere near 200 lumens anymore – so your functional battery life may be quite a bit less. This is a good thing to keep in mind when racing.

The only downside I see with this light is its weight. This may not be an issue, depending on your activity. If you’re ultralight fast-packing though, you may find this nearly half-pound to be too much. I don’t mind the weight in my pack for running, but I found that after about 4 hours of wearing it on my head, it weighed heavy. My neck felt a bit tired, and the light pressed into my forehead uncomfortably if I wasn’t wearing a hat. I prefer the light to shine from a lower angle though, so this is easily managed during long jaunts by removing the top strap and wearing the headlamp around my waist.

Last year, while pacing at Hardrock, I learned how important a truly bright light can be to keep you oriented, safe, and on-course. I'm glad I've got the new Icon to do just that for my own journey at Hardrock this year.

Overall, I would highly recommend the new Icon to anyone who wants to travel safely in the wilderness at night.

If you're more of a visual/auditory learner, this video shows you a great rundown of the features and how the headlamp works.

**Product provided for review by Wilderness Running Company**


  1. Great review Gretchen. This headlamp is simply amazing. One thing I would add is that in addition to being able to remove the top strap, you can easily remove the other strap and simply attach it to your vest.

    So, just stick the battery pack in the pack or a front pocket and then attach the beam where you want it; very versatile.

  2. One story of how this headlamp saved my bacon:

    I was with my cousin Austin and we were racing the dawn in an attempt to reach the summit before the sun crested the mountains.

    In our rush we somehow missed a turn in the road. So, I switched on the high beam and picked up a small reflection from the other side of the meadow. We caught the trail and made the sunrise. You have to see how strong this beam is to believe it. My ultra Mag light with 4 D batteries is nowhere near as bright.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Michael. I LOVE the idea of simply attaching the light to your hydration vest - I hadn't even thought of that. Thanks for the tip! I would agree - you have to see how strong the beam is to believe it.