Five Days of Black Diamond — Day 2 — Light for Europe

Post by blogger | March 17, 2009      
Black Diamond Spot headlamp.

Black Diamond Spot headlamp.

WildSnow is off on another blogathon to the motherland, where newly Obamized Americans are now everyone’s friend — but where a quality headlamp is still part and parcel to an enlightened experience. Ever since knowing the Silvretta ski binding, I’ve been intrigued by the Silvretta Alps on the border between Austria and Switzerland. Beautiful ski touring, lots of huts. Sometimes lots of people too. Classic. Never knew I’d be headed there. Then my old ski buddy Ted Kerasote called with an invitation. We got the finances working, Ted is super experienced with ski touring over there, so off we go.

Instead of grabbing some old beater out of the drawer, I figured it would be fun to choose two of the latest Black Diamond headlamps then make the final decision when I see how heavy my pack is.

Spot headlamp, Black Diamonds answer to brightness without weight.

Spot headlamp, Black Diamond's answer to brightness without weight.

Spot headlamp is a facile combination of minimal mass and maxi brightness. A burly 1-watt LED provides retina burn modes, and three smaller LEDs provide battery saving but still bright regular modes. Each bulb set has 4 settings you change by lightly pressing the switch (bright; middle; economy; strobe). With lithium batteries I figure on getting a whole six day hut trip out of this rig, but I’ll bring a spare set of three AAA cells just in case (this doubles as spares for my Tracker beacon, and lives in my tiny repair kit.)

Icon blasts eyeballs at 3 watts.

Icon blasts eyeballs at 3 watts.

Icon is the gnar rig, (which on the Silvretta might not be necessary in early spring when longer days require less night skiing, but daytime temps are still cold enough, I hope, not to require too radical of alpine starts.) With a 3-watt max instead of 1-watt, it’s something around a third brighter than Spot in terms of real world distance. Believe me, it’s bright — perfect for doing things like skiing through a crevasse field in the dark, or searching for the last bottle of hefe-weisse in the cellar of some deserted hut, or blinding your opponent in a gun battle in the event of a terrorist attack.

Spot weighs 2.7 ounces with lithium batteries. Nice. Icon comes in just three ounces heavier at 5.6 ounces, and despite using larger batteries actually has a bit less battery life than Spot. This due to Icon being brighter than Spot in in most modes. Thus, you don’t choose between these two lights based on battery life, you just need to consider how much brightness you want. That said, I can’t help but think it would be cool for the Icon to use 4 batteries instead of 3, keep the same brightness, but have more life combined with it’s searchlight quality illumination, both without much added mass (especially with the lighter weight lithium batteries).

I should mention batteries. Lithium are worth the money. Their price per hour of operation is nearly the same as alkalines, but they weigh less, last longer, and work at nearly full power even in frigid temps. Holy Grail is of course a rechargeable system. BD sells a nicely packaged recharge kit for the Icon, using nickle-metal-hydride (NiMH) cells. I still use NiMH for day-to-day applications and I’ll use the Icon recharge rig, but until recently NiMH has the big problem of losing significant amounts of energy during storage, meaning you can’t just charge a set and leave them in your drawer for later use, but rather have to keep them in trickle charger. Inconvenient at best — at worst, leaving in a trickle charger will reduce the working life of the battery. Technology to the rescue, check out the new Imedion battery. These are the ticket, and I’ll be converting all my rechargeable batteries over to Imedion ASAP.

(Comparo: Lithium AA batteries offer about 2,900 mAh of power, while Imedion offers 2,100 Mah. Pretty good, considering the money the Imedions will immediately start saving you.)

Cons? We’ve used similar BD lights in the past with no big problems. The plastic cases are built to save weight and not particularly durable, so you have to be a bit careful not to abuse (they stand up fine to normal use). As always, I long for firmware; wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to plug your Black Diamond headlamp into your computer via a mini USB and program all the brightness levels, and turn modes on and off? For example, I don’t like having to cycle through the strobe mode when I’m changing brightness levels, and frankly only need two levels rather than three. User configurable settings for this would be awesome. One other con: BD should convert their Icon recharge kit over to an Imedion type battery as soon as possible. All in good time… Off to Silvretta we go. And I don’t mean the bindings.


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27 Responses to “Five Days of Black Diamond — Day 2 — Light for Europe”

  1. OMR March 17th, 2009 8:54 am

    Hey Lou, sorry to change the subject, but I just mounted some Dukes on my “resort” skis. Just wanted to say thanks for the great tutorials. They mounted up easier than expected. I made the decisions to do-it-myself after conferring with the tech at the local shop and realized the guy had little more knowledge than what can be found in, say, People Magazine. The only thing I might offer is that I carefully wrapped a wad of electrical tape around the drill bit at 9.5mm (binding spec) which acted as a stop. Without it I would have likely drilled all the way through the ski.

    As a test I pounded bumps all day yesterday at Snowbird (spring conditions and no powder in the BC) and they performed great. The only downer was that the toe height adjustment is not static. That is, over the course of the day the toe-space seemed to grow and my boot started to rattle just a bit, not a huge deal but I could feel it while carving a high speed turn. I had to use my Black Diamond Binding Buddy (plug) several times to re-adjust the toe hieght (my drivers license was used as the paper gauge). Have you heard of this problem? Do you see any problem using lock-tigh on the threads to hold the adjustment static?

  2. Lou March 17th, 2009 8:59 am

    OMR, I don’t see any reason why a tiny bit of blue Loctite wouldn’t work… that said, you should check and see if your bindings are defective or somthing…

    LOL about People Magazine binding tech certification program!

  3. Bill March 17th, 2009 10:09 am

    I have been using the spot for almost a year now and still like it. More than outdoor night missions, I use it while working under neath my car. The lack of a battery pack on the back of the strap is nice for lying on your back. The switch of the rubber does not seem to be affected by grease and oil either. Still wish there was a seperate switch for the spot and flood light since I use the flood light 90% of the time.

  4. Magnus March 17th, 2009 10:45 am

    How does the Spot compare to the Petzl Tikka plus (with 4 LEDs)? It’s been with me all over for many years and usually always perform well, but the light distance is a bit short at times.

  5. Johno March 17th, 2009 11:25 am

    I have had the Spot for over a year now and feel it is a great combination of brightness, battery life, and price. I feel you can find headlamps that are better at any one of the categories, but the Spot nicely combines all three. For the money you just can’t go wrong. My wife and I also have a BD Cosmo. It’s a good choice if you are on a budget, but for just a few bucks more the Spot gives more even light distribution and is brighter. The Cosmo should have more battery life, but practically speaking they are about the same.
    My only complaint . . . I agree with Lou, it’s a pain having to cycle through settings you don’t use just to get to the one you want. I suspect though, that if BD fixes that issue the price will reflect it.

  6. Sam Reese March 17th, 2009 11:43 am

    Let me brutally raise the volume on a previous complaint. The button on the spot is dumb to the point of being almost broken. The difference between light touch and big touch is hard with gloves, accidentally triggered, and there are some changes that require a bad middle mode (for instance, going from low beam to off, often makes you go through high beam strobe. Not what you want.)

    princeton Tech and Petlzl have way better buttons, and interface counts for a lot in something like this.

  7. al March 17th, 2009 2:12 pm

    another thumbs up for the spot,I been happy with it AND cheap is always good ,the price point made it a good convienient x-mas presant for the kids … I bought 2 more spots over anything else

  8. Tom Gos March 17th, 2009 3:29 pm

    Hey Lou, cool to hear that you’re headed back to Euro Land. Please try to provide frequent and detailed blog entries on your trip – I’m laid up with a torn rotator cuff and need to live vicariously through someone!

  9. Lou March 17th, 2009 3:43 pm

    Will do Tom! That’s my mission!

  10. justin March 17th, 2009 4:37 pm

    OH YEAH! I used to rent this movie from the library all the time back in the day! Still always remember the scene where Plake(?) climbs up on the railing, steps in and drops it. Siiiiick.

  11. Lou March 17th, 2009 4:41 pm

    Earth to Justin, come in Justin, are you there, Justin?

  12. RobinB March 17th, 2009 7:07 pm

    The general term for the newer generation of high quality NiMH batteries is LSD (Low Self Discharge.)

    The Eneloop brand from Sanyo is a popular brand, and the Imedions that you mention also get good reviews. There is much speculation on sites like candlepowerforums (which has endless discussions about headlamps and flashlights) about which brands are actually rebadged Sanyos…

  13. Lou March 17th, 2009 7:12 pm

    Thanks Robin!

  14. Tom Gos March 17th, 2009 8:16 pm

    I think justin is lost in blog land – Romeo has a post about a new Greg Stump film over on his site, perhaps justin lost track of which blog he was commenting to.

  15. Mark Worley March 18th, 2009 5:52 am

    The Spot is the first reasonably priced headlamp I would endorse for cycling. I’ve been commuting to work for about five years, and the Spot works pretty well. It still can’t touch dedicated rechargeable bike lights, but it gets good marks.

  16. Lou March 18th, 2009 6:35 am

    Yeah, that’s what I figured Tom, just giving Justin some friendly ribbing.

  17. Doug Matthews March 18th, 2009 5:42 pm

    Lou, was just wondering if The BD Spot has been officially endorsed by BD for use with Lithium batteries? I know that the Petzl don’t recommend lithium batteries with most of their LED based head torches as they burn out the LED circuitry due to their slightly higher voltage output. I have a BD Spot but have only used alkalines for this reason. Some other brands have regulated LEDs circuitry (I think PrincetonTec) but BD doesn’t mention anything in their spec.

  18. Lou March 18th, 2009 5:56 pm

    Interesting! I’ve been using lithiums in BD headlamps since the dawn of creation, never had a problem. In fact, I’ve used them with every headlamp I’ve owned since lithiums came out, and never had a problem. I’d think BD would mention this in their spec sheet if it was a problem. Lithium cells are quite popular now, people buy and use millions of the things in all sorts of electronic gear.

    If lithium is ok for BD and not for Petzl, black mark for Petzl.

  19. justin March 18th, 2009 10:43 pm

    HA! Sorry about the Lou! Tom hit the nail on the head though. Had two windows open here at work, commented on the wrong one when I was in la-la land. That comment must have elicited a few WTFs, apologize everyone.

    Just got the Spot for Christmas actually to replace my aging (and corroding) Moonlight. I like it thus far, especially the lack of battery pack on the back of my head.

  20. Doug Matthews March 19th, 2009 4:00 pm

    Thanks Lou, will definately give the lithiums a go. For anyone interested who uses Petzl headlamps here’s the link to their lithium batteries media release

  21. Chris March 20th, 2009 11:58 am

    Have you checked out the Mammut headlamps? Brighter than anything I could compare it to in the dark, and it’s extremely bright. Give them a try. And they last a lot longer on a set of batteries because they run 1 watt bulbs instead of the 3watts of petzl and BD.

  22. Paul Fleming February 10th, 2010 5:11 pm

    A few years ago while doing a beacon practice session, I noticed my DTS Tracker was not working properly in search mode. While it would transmit fine and could be picked up by other beacons, in search mode it would not give any indication of direction and gave a constant reading of 0.1 M. Normally when I put my beacon on I simply check to see whether it transmits and receives, not whether it searches correctly, so I don’t know how long I’ve been using it like this. I returned it to REI and they gave me another one.

    Turns out that the problem appears to be related to the use of Energizer Lithium AAA batteries. When I initially used the new beacon with the alkaline batteries supplied with it, it worked fine. Today when I changed to Lithium batteries, it ceased searching again. I also tried this with a 3rd beacon with the same result. Switching back to alkaline batteries rectifies the problem. Cursory examination of the batteries with a voltmeter shows they both put out the correct voltage, so I’m not sure what the problem is, but in any case I would advise against using Lithium batteries in your tracker (even though I love them in cold weather for other devices.)

  23. Jonathan February 10th, 2010 5:27 pm

    I just finished up a draft for the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review on the details behind beacon battery power readouts.
    Along the way, I started to put something in there about the standard reminder never to use anything other than standard alkaline batteries, but it’s so well known by everyone that I thought it was pointless to repeat…

    Out of curiosity just now, I looked through some user manual to confirm that they almost always stress up front that alkaline batteries are to be used:

    “The Tracker DTS operates with three AAA alkaline batteries. Use only high-quality alkaline batteries of identical age and brand.”

    “Only use alkaline LR03/AAA batteries.” [Pulse]

    “Use only 1.5 V alkaline batteries (Type LR03/AAA).” [Opto 3000]

    “The ARVA EVOLUTION+ functions exclusively with 4 standard LR03 alkaline batteries.”

    “The ARVA ADVANCED functions exclusively with 4 standard LR03 alkaline batteries.”

    “Replace three fresh AAA Alkaline batteries 1.5V LR 03 and make sure the positive and negative poles are inserted correctly. Use only brand name batteries. No rechargeable batteries and no lithium batteries.” [S1]

    In conclusion:
    “I’m not sure what the problem is”
    – The main problem is that you’re messing around with life-saving devices without reading the user manual.

  24. Paul Fleming February 10th, 2010 5:45 pm

    Clearly not a good idea. The reason I posted was because in the original blog item I was commenting on, which talked about using lithium batteries in Black Diamond’s LED headlamp, Lou mentions that he was carrying an extra set which could also be used as spares in his Tracker. I’m sure many people have considered this and some are currently doing it, so I thought I’d highlight the fact that it causes a problem which is not immediately obvious to the user.

  25. Bar Barrique February 10th, 2010 9:58 pm

    I have been using a DTS tracker for many years, and, while I have always used alkaline batteries, I was not aware that some other types of batteries could cause the device to malfunction. So, I am glad that this was brought to my attention.

  26. Lou February 10th, 2010 10:14 pm

    Um, I hate to say it, but I’d still use my spare lithiums in my beacon if my beacon batteries ran out in the field. I’d swap to alkaline as soon as I got home. No one at a beacon company has told me this would be a problem.

    As far as I know, the only function that gets messed up by using lithiums is the battery check.

  27. Paul February 11th, 2010 7:08 am

    Hmmm, have you checked to see that your Tracker actually works in search mode with lithiums?

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