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Review: Black Diamond Spot Headlamp || Bright, lightweight, reasonably priced

The Black Diamond Spot is a solid all-around headlamp. It's bright, lightweight, versatile, and reasonably priced.

The Black Diamond Spot is a solid all-around headlamp. It’s bright, lightweight, versatile, and reasonably priced.

While in the headlamp aisle at the local REI last summer, I wondered if other customers felt fortunate for the recent advances in LED technology. The three models I was deliberating between were all less expensive, lighter weight, longer lasting, and brighter (by several factors) than the lights I had used for my thru-hikes in the 2000’s and for running Leadville in 2008.

Review: Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

Ultimately, I chose the Black Diamond Spot, which is generally suitable for hiking, camping, running, and climbing, plus other similarly paced nighttime activities. It claims no superlatives — like “the brightest” or “the most ultralight” — but it’s spec package is compelling for all-around use:

  • 1.9 oz (no batteries), 2.6 oz (with lithiums), 3.2 oz (with alkalines)
  • 200 lumens max light output
  • Three bulbs (2 x white, 1 x red), all with dimming
  • Waterproof up to 1 meter
  • Reputable build quality
  • $40 retail price

The Spot is one of my three go-to headlamps. It’s the generalist, while the others are more niche. For running technical trails or hiking off-trail in the dark, I prefer the Coast HL27 (long-term review), which is 65 percent brighter but slightly more expensive and twice as heavy.

For just-in-case situations, I pack the Fenix LD02, which is one-third the weight but not as bright or long lasting. It’s ideal for summer backpacking trips, when I rarely must do more than camp chores in the dark, and for evening runs that could accidentally drag on beyond civil twilight.

The Spot is the just-right light for everything in between, and could cover both extremes adequately if you only want to own a single light.

My headlamp quiver: the Fenix LD02, BD Spot, and Coast HL27

My headlamp quiver: the Fenix LD02, BD Spot, and Coast HL27

Bulbs

The Black Diamond Spot features three different bulbs:

  • Primary high-powered white LED spot,
  • Secondary lower-powered white LED flood, and
  • Low-powered red LED flood, which better preserves night vision than white light.

Each bulb can be used on its own and is fully dimmable.

The two white lights can be powered in unison to achieve peak brightness (200 lumens). This can be done through the main power button, or by simply touching the side of the housing, a featured BD calls PowerTap Technology.

The Spot's beam, when using only its primary high-powered spot LED at full power.

The Spot’s beam, when using only its primary high-powered spot LED at full power.

At max power, the Spot uses both its high-powered spot LED plus its lower-powered flood LED. Notice how more of the peripheral area is illuminated in this photo.

At max power, the Spot uses both its high-powered spot LED plus its lower-powered flood LED. Notice how more of the peripheral area is illuminated in this photo.

Brightness

Lumens are a measure of total light output. The actual usefulness of this light depends on how it is cast.

The max output of the Spot is 200 lumens. Relative to the competition, I would categorize its brightness as moderate. At this max setting, the Spot casts a spot beam with its primary white LED and a flood with its secondary white LED.

At its dimmest setting, the Spot throws 4 lumens, which is about enough to tie your shoes.

Control settings

My biggest gripe about the Spot is its control system. Just one button is used to power three different bulbs (in four possible configurations: primary only, secondary only, red only, and primary/secondary), a strobe setting, and a lock-out feature. Each mode is accessed by tapping the control button once, twice, or three times, or depressing it for two or seven seconds.

I shouldn’t have to say this about a headlamp: Until the controls are second-nature, bring a cheat sheet into the field. Without one, it may take a few minutes of random guessing to get what you want. If you only use the Spot a few times per year, it’s unlikely that you will remember the “passwords” to unlock its features.

If you plan to use the Spot in a high-stakes setting, like an ultra marathon, I would strongly advise you to memorize its controls before the race. Or use a more straightforward light that is foolproof even when you’re exhausted.

The PowerTap Technology is thankfully more intuitive. Tap it once to get full brightness, and tap it again to revert back to the preceding setting. I’m not sure how it works, but a bare hand is not necessary; it works with glove liners, too.

Power

Three AAA batteries power the Spot. This is my general preference, as they are widely available and easy to replace in the field. Lithium batteries can be used in the Spot, giving it better battery life and cold weather performance.

Because of its LED bulbs, the Spot is very battery efficient. With its high-powered LED at max, it supposedly will run for 50 hours. This seems optimistic based on my experience, but it nonetheless is still pretty long. When the two white LED’s are used together, run time is much less.

The batteries are easily and quickly replaceable, with just your hands, no tools.

The Spot swivels from horizontal to about 45 degrees down. When at 45 degrees, the battery compartment becomes easily accessible.

The Spot swivels from horizontal to about 45 degrees down. When at 45 degrees, the battery compartment becomes easily accessible.

Ergonomics

The design of the Spot is familiar. The bulbs and batteries fit into a small case that is attached to an elasticized and adjustable band. The light housing pivots, from horizontal to about 45 degrees.

I have used the Spot as a waist-level light, where it casts better shadows than when it’s at eye-level, but would discourage it. Even when the elasticized band is replaced with static webbing, the housing bounces around too much (and so too the light) because of its small size.

Waterproofness

Supposedly the Black Diamond Spot Headlamp is waterproof to one meter. I have not tested this, and don’t plan to. Reviews are mixed. Rain has not been a problem for it.

Impact resistance

Updated: January 17, 2017. I dropped my Spot headlamp on a carpeted hotel lobby floor last week, after returning from a post-tradeshow night run. Shockingly, it broke and no longer works.

Specifically, one or both of the metal prongs for the middle battery dislodged, so the battery no longer is in contact with both of them. When I shake the light, I can feel the middle battery slide back and forth between the prongs.

 

I’ll update this post again when I have spoken with customer service. But at the moment I’m very disappointed with its impact-resistance, which may or may not be indicative of its general build quality.


Your turn:

If you own the Spot: What’s your opinion of it?

If you are considering the Spot: For what purpose(s), and with what other models is it in competition?


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15 Responses to Review: Black Diamond Spot Headlamp || Bright, lightweight, reasonably priced

  1. Kyle December 14, 2016 at 10:24 am #

    I really like the spot for it’s weight and brightness. I use it a lot on SAR ops when tracking or just moving on a trail at night as opposed to the heavier icon which stays on my helmet for technical rescues.
    I have both the previous model & this model. The biggest gripe I have is figuring out all the settings, I wish it was simpler but I mostly just use the bright setting so it isn’t too bad.

  2. Caps December 14, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    I just purchased a Spot yesterday for a family member who plans to use it on yurt-based back-country ski trips (and also for general outdoor use). As you said, it seems to be one of the best in terms of comprising between, size/weight, brightness, features, battery life, price, and build quality. I was worried that the PowerTap was going to be obnoxious, but after testing it out at an REI I think it will just be irrelevant. I would like to see easier use controls (maybe replace the powertap with a second button to continuously control brightness). I personally use an older Petzl Tikka, which is acceptable, but the Spot seems to just be a little better on all counts. On a different note, I am always amazed how long the manufacturers claim the battery life on headlamps are… my experience has been that the practical battery life is always a fraction of the claimed life. I’ll be curious to find out how the Spot stacks up in this regard.

  3. sean December 14, 2016 at 11:27 am #

    I’ve owned a couple generations of Spots, because they’re cheap, bright enough for most backcountry travel, and seem to have long battery lives. That said, BD has a knack for poor headlamp design. My first Spot had the squishy top button that required a half-press to activate some features, and would cycle through its modes, including “epileptic blink,” semi-randomly depending upon how quickly you pressed the button. It was next to impossible to use in gloves. And it didn’t have a lock-out, so it was easy to turn it on by accident in your pack and drain the battery. My second/current, which I believe is the model before this one, got rid of the half-press, and has a lock-out, so it’s “good enough,” though not “great.” I’d prefer something brighter, offering 250-300 lumens max, and simpler hi/med/lo brightness rather than the continuous variety.

    • Andrew Skurka December 14, 2016 at 11:52 am #

      Good God, your descriptions of the earlier generations make me cringe. Maybe I should not have complained about the button control on this iteration — it sounds like it’s much better than others.

      You might like this light: https://coastportland.com/product/fl70/. It sounds like exactly what you described: high/medium/low and 285 lumens, but with a twisting bezel that refocuses the light from flood to beam.

      • Sam H December 14, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

        The original Spot was simply abysmal (although it lasted the entirety of my PNT thru hike). Fortunately they got their act together and the following generations of them were far superior.

      • sean December 14, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

        Thanks for the link. The Coast sounds simple and cheap, though I wish “medium” and “low” were both a bit lower, i.e. “easy walking” and “reading in my bivy.” I wish some light with real power would have controls as simple as a Petzl e-Lite: a simple dial that went from “off” through “red” through a few useful modes, and was resistant to being accidentally triggered while off.

  4. Carl December 14, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

    I’ve used a Spot for the past year as my primary camping/backpacking light source. I agree about the controls not being intuitive; I make sure to do an at-home refresher before I hit the trail. I also printed out a small label that’s stuck the back with lock/unlock instructions because my head is too full of trivia to retain anything useful. Other than that, my only complaint is that the double-buckle design of the headband adjustment tends to loosen over time moreso than a single-buckle foldover. Or maybe I just have a big head. 🙂

  5. Matt J December 14, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    My first good headlamp was the BD Storm which I replaced with this new Spot the second it came out. It was such an improvement over the Storm in every way. Comfort, brightness, waterproofing (the new Spot has a better IPX rating than the new Storm which surprises me.) I can personally attest to the waterproofing (it’s actually over 1m.) When I take a group of passengers out to the hot springs in Bishop it’s the only light I bring and it has sat in a big pool for over an hour.

    But then I managed to pick up a Tikka RXP at a garage sale for next to nothing and that has become my go to headlamp. I thought Reactive lighting was a gimmick until I started using it and no longer had to adjust it once it was on. Walking up to a campfire and not blinding anyone because it pretty much shut itself down is definitely a positive.

    So I use the Petzl for daily use and Spot when I expect things to get wet.

  6. Katherine December 14, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

    The controls were a deal breaker, particularly the battery-save function. Required waaay more attention than I wanted to pay to a headlamp.

  7. Charles December 14, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

    I used this on a PCT thru-hike this year. No big complaints. It was plenty bright enough for night hiking; it got wet a lot in Washington and didn’t suffer for it; and the low-power settings meant long battery life even with frequent after-dark use for camp chores and reading.

    I guess the controls weren’t totally intuitive, but I was familiar enough with them since my old BD Storm’s controls were almost identical. After a few days using all the functions was second nature.

    I hope to do a number of shorter trips in the coming year, and maybe the AT or CDT next year. I wouldn’t replace this headlamp unless something really revolutionary popped up. I’m happy to keep using it.

  8. Bryan G December 14, 2016 at 9:20 pm #

    I had an earlier generation of the Spot and it was terrible. The controls were way to complicated for on the fly adjustment, My biggest gripe was the “power lock out”. There were several times i would pull in to camp at dusk, pull out the headlamp only to discover that a day of jostling on my pack had turned it on and now I had a battery near dead. I now use a Princeton Tech lamp that is great. Easy controls, good lighting options, lighter, and a physical power lock out. BD once made great stuff, but their quality and innovation has gone done in recent years IMHO.

  9. Steve A December 15, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    I have two generations of Spots, both were from the pre-box shape era (the first box shape version used their “touch” sensitive button and were horrid. Mine both offer dimming, two led options (though one of the two options was less bright and used more power…), and a lockout. I really love the newer of the two that I have, the controls are intuitive, it lasts a long time, and I can easily night hike with it if I need to. Most of the time around camp I turn it on and dim it all the way down and leave it there.

    It will be interesting to see how these new ones compare to my old ones.

  10. Dogwood December 18, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

    The BD Spot has only recently ben on my headlamp radar.

    I’m on my third one in less than the last 18 months after having the first two Power Tap controls jam or malfunction. In less than one week the first unit failed on Portland very rainy Forest and Washington Parks trails night hiking and night time trail running. I got a bit more than a wk for the second unit on a SOBO Oregon Coastal Trail thru in July under very fair weather with the wind at my back. Third unit has only 30 or so bag nights/days on it so this is the final shot I’m giving the BD Spot. First two units were warrantied.

    With my big hands the small top control that depresses combined with the Power Tap are cumbersome to control wearing anything but the lightest wt least bulky gloves. For me, it’s mostly a headlamp unit used when my hands aren’t covered or I’m wearing thin nylon running gloves or something like TNF’s Etip or Manzella’s Touch Tip gloves.

    Have had the same experiences as Sean with the BD Spot “epileptic blinking,” semi-randomly depending upon how quickly you pressed the button. It was next to impossible to use in gloves.” This is unacceptable when stealth camping or under the full moon wanting a sense of solitude on beach night hiking.

    As Caps related I too am skeptical of claimed headlamp battery life. This is no direct knock on the BD Spot though as I haven’t made any personal tests specific to the unit.

    As said the Power Tap tech in not intuitive so perhaps carry the booklet or getting accustomed to the controls pre hike is a wise recommendation.

  11. Joel Horn December 24, 2016 at 8:05 am #

    I hope BD improved the swivel a early version I have, the swivel went limp and flopped down. Have tape on it to hold it at a fixed angle now.
    I do love the coast but as you say it is a lot heavier.
    Yes I can appreciate the advantages of lighting technology! I grew up backpacking to my home and the flashlight batteries of the late 60’s and 70’s sucked! We actually went to using a candlebug to walk the trail at night.

  12. Doug K January 3, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

    deeply appreciate the improvements in headlight technology.. started with 4-AA battery headlamps and filament bulbs, had to carry both spare batteries and bulbs.

    Petzl Tikkas were a great improvement. Last year mine started failing sporadically, would flicker and dim at random moments. Eventually hurled them into the trash and started looking for a replacement.

    Bought this headlamp based on http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-headlamp, plus extensive research. This is the only headlamp for which I have saved the instructions – it is a spectacularly awful user interface. More buttons, please. That said in practice I use only the lockout and the bright setting so it isn’t as bad as it might be. The lockout in particular is new to me and very delightful. Previous lamps needed to be opened and batteries removed every morning before packing.
    I think mine does not have the Power Tap option ? bought them on sale so perhaps they were an older version.

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