On most summertime backpacking trips, I barely need a headlamp: I can break camp, hike as far as I want, and find a new camp using just natural daylight. Most often, I need a headlamp for camp chores after long days; rarely, I use it to hike a few miles after dark.
For nearly a decade, my go-to light for these months has been the index finger-sized Fenix LD01 and second-generation Fenix LD02 ($30, 0.8 oz), which clip to my hat brim and were impressively bright (up to 100 lumens) for their size and weight given the LED technology at the time of their release.
But while guiding trips in Yosemite last month, I experimented with the Black Diamond Iota ($40, 1.9 oz), which has a more classic form factor and an appealing rechargeable battery.
Review: Black Diamond Iota Headlamp
The Black Diamond Iota is a small, light, and reasonably priced headlamp that offers acceptable brightness for in-camp use and occasional night-hiking. Overall, it’s a solid one-and-done option — few backpackers will feel as if they need more. My only gripe is that it lacks a red night-vision LED, a much appreciated feature on my Black Diamond Spot (my review), although that would wreck the Iota’s size and price-point.
The primary appeal and standout feature of the Iota is its lithium battery, which must be recharged via mini-USB (cord included). This eliminates the need for spare batteries, reduces operation costs, and keeps some disposable batteries out of the waste stream.
Key product specs
- 1.9-oz (54 grams)
- One LED bulb with a non-adjustable oval beam
- Up to 150 lumens of light output (“full power”)
- Rechargeable lithium battery
- $40 MSRP
- More information
Battery. The Iota is powered with a lithium ion battery, not disposable AAA’s like most other headlamps. To recharge it, plug the included mini-USB cord into a wall mount, car adapter, or a portable battery. (Personally, I carry an Anker PowerCore II 10k and mini-USB cord already, to recharge my smartphone, inReach, and sometimes satellite phone). A full recharge takes 3 hours. For high-use owners, the Iota’s rechargeable battery will be a huge economic and environmental win; for more occasional users, it’s simply more convenient.
Size & weight. Versus the more powerful and fully featured Black Diamond Spot and Revolt models, the Iota is about three-fifths the weight and one-half the size. It feels more appropriate for summer trips, when a light is rarely needed; and it fits in smaller spaces like day-hiking packs and vests, whether for intended or just-in-case use.
If you have used other Black Diamond headlamps, several nice features of the Iota will be familiar, including:
Lockout. Prevent the Iota from being accidentally turned on inside your pack, draining the battery. With the Iota off, simply hold the power button for 6 seconds. I use this feature every morning when I remove the Iota from around my neck (where I keep it at night) and pack it away.
PowerTap Technology. Generate max brightness (150 lumens) instantly by tapping the side of the Iota, then tap again to return the brightness to its former level. This button-less adjustment beats the alternative: holding the power button while it revs up or dims down.
Memory. By default, the Iota turns on at 60 percent output — it does not remember its setting when it was last turned off. For camp use, I found 60 percent to be blinding, and wished it would start up at a lower level. There is a way to reprogram it (watch this video), but unfortunately these directions were omitted from the user manual.
For a 1.9-ounce headlamp with a rechargeable battery and $40 MSRP, I can’t find any faults with the Iota. But it does leave me wanting more sometimes.
Brightness. With a max output of 150 lumens, the Iota is sufficient for camp use and occasional night-hiking. For faster paced and more extended uses (e.g. biking, trail running), look for a more powerful light with a longer burn time. Within the BD line, I’d point you to the Black Diamond Revolt ($60, 3.4 oz), which is also rechargeable and has a max output of 300 lumens; its advertised burn time is overstated, per comments below.
Red night-vision. In the summer, I use the red night-vision LED on my Spot as much as (if not more than) the white light. The aforementioned Revolt has one, but at the cost of $20 and 1.5 ounces more. The Spot has one, too, but that would mean going back to disposable AAA’s, which I’m now hesitant to do.
Have a question about the Iota? Do you have experience with it? Leave a comment.
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