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Review: Black Diamond Iota Headlamp || Goodbye AAA’s

The standout feature of the Iota is its lithium battery, which can be recharged via mini-USB using a wall charger, car adapter, or portable battery.

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
On my drug scale, the Iota specs at under 1.9 oz.

Standout features

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.

Familiar features

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.

The Iota (left) is about three-fifths the weight and one-half the size of the Spot (middle) and Revolt (right). If anyone has been wondering, Oden is having a great summer.

Shortcomings

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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Posted in , on August 15, 2019
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17 Comments

  1. Michael on August 15, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    Any reason you picked this up over the Petzel Bindi? I’ve been eyeing that as a nice in-camp light.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 16, 2019 at 8:10 am

      A few answers to this question. First, I review what is sent to me, or at least some of it. Second, I pay closer attention to some brands and categories than others, and I wouldn’t say that Petzl or headlamps are often on my radar. Petzl is a well respected brand, but tend to be more focused on climbing and have a larger European presence than US.

      On paper, the Bindi looks good: it’s brighter than the Iota, has a red light, and can be recharged; 50 percent more expensive though. Not sure about the cordage strap, but I’d have to try it on.

      • Cody on September 19, 2019 at 4:14 pm

        I got my wife the Bindi and she loves it. She’s been gracious about my weight weenieism (and appreciative of some of the gear–she loves our Triplex, and double EE quilt for example) but gets pretty annoyed with anything that approaches stupidlight. Weight is low, runtime will last to a resupply in most 3 season usage, and is bright enough to hike on trail on comfortably. The strap is totally fine. It feels low/no compromise to use.

        The BD looks great–lower pricepoint and light/bright enough for general use.

        I used to think rechargeable lights were too heavy, but frankly it’s nice charging the thing up and knowing you’ll have plenty of power for a short trip, rather than having a spare set of batteries all the time because you’ve done a couple trips on the batteries already.

        I like using CR2032 headlamps for my typical backpacking usage because I use a light very little–I read on a kindle or phone, and tend not to night hike much. Not a great option for shoulder seasons/winter or for trips with a lot of camp time, or for any kind of guiding work. You know you’re making a conscious concession to weight. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00YDQINF6/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1 is my current choice, which isn’t as good as the Firefly branded headlight that clearly uses the same housing and emitter, but had smarter switching.

  2. Sean on August 15, 2019 at 8:28 pm

    No red light is a dealbreaker for me at this point. I almost never use the regular light in camp and stick to the red LED.

    I bet the next generation of iota will have a red LED. It can’t add that much onto the price.

    Also, I hate to say it, but it’s time for the microUSB plug to go the way of the dinosaur. They wear out, both male and female ends of the cable, and USB-C is omni-directional, faster charging, and longer lasting. I know it’ll mean a few years of 2 cables but in the end we really need to move in that direction.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 16, 2019 at 8:03 am

      I don’t know what the margins are on the Iota relative to their other lights. But I bet there’s some pressure to keep it at $40, so that it’s not priced above the Spot, which has a superior feature set (brighter, red light, longer lasting) but not a rechargeable battery. Adding a red light would probably push it into $45 at least — in this industry $1.25 added to manufacturing generally will mean $5 extra at retail.

      But I would tend to agree with you. I think the “ultimate” summertime light would be similar in size, weight, and power has the Iota, but with a red light.

      My last two Pixel phones have both had USB-C, and I agree with your assessment. Much more sturdy.

  3. Sean on August 15, 2019 at 8:34 pm

    Another note- Andrew’s Anker is actually a PowerCore II 10,000. Difference is that for devices that support it, it uses powerIQ 2 to fast charge. Anker has a new PowerCore 10,000 Redux that is about 10 bucks cheaper than the PoewrCore II and half an ounce lighter. If you don’t need to charge things fast, it may be a better option. I use my anker in the real world often enough that the fast charge would be more appealing to me. Most phones fast charge these days and it super useful to be able to put 15-30% battery charge on a phone in like 10 minutes.

  4. Brian on August 15, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    Summertime in (mainland) America means 16 hours of usable daylight and only 8 hours of sleepable night. I don’t bring a lamp at all; if I need a little light, there’s always my dim phone/camera light, but I never need any.

    All those sleepable hours are needed for sleeping.

    In the fall, I bring a bike headlamp. But from May to September is no-light season.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 16, 2019 at 7:52 am

      Not a bad move, but probably would not endorse it. Too many just-in-case scenarios where you would need a legitimate light in the middle of the night (e.g. tent stake pulls out in high winds, rain begins to fall on your cowboy camp, bear is playing soccer with your canister).

      Personally, as someone who frequently runs out the clock on daylight before setting up camp (which has burned me more than once, pulling into a “camp” that I thought would be nice, only to find it crappy or already occupied) and as someone who guides trips for most of the summer, I’d be reluctant to leave my light behind.

  5. Mike on August 16, 2019 at 3:55 am

    I’ve been using this lamp for 2 or 3 years and absolutely love it for mostly the reasons you mention. Small, simple, lightweight, waterproof, and rechargeable. I also really like the beam pattern, it’s pretty wide angle so it gives nice usable light for around camp, it’s good for peripheral vision without the searchlight effect of lights with a more tight beam. I originally bought it for (trail) running at night and found it great for this too.

  6. Ryan on August 16, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Check out the Nitecore NU25. I’m sure you’re aware of it but it matches the Iota and adds a red light.

  7. Dave L. on August 16, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    Nitecore NU25 was a winner for me in this category. 1.84oz/52g on my scale WITH the heavier (included) headstrap. Although there are mods out there to use shockcord and bring the total weight down to under an ounce. Max output is 360 lumens which is quite bright for seeing all around camp in emergency, but typically I’ll use it on it’s lowest setting which gives an amazing battery run time. And when the battery runs low, it’s rechargeable too. Has multiple light modes an also includes a red light (with low/high/strobe settings as well) and the all important lock feature so it doesn’t accidentally get turned on in my pack.

  8. Maurício on August 19, 2019 at 7:11 am

    Andrew, you can easily reduce weight changing the headstrap of this headlamp. I do not think that shockcord is the best way, Backcountry Banter showed the best idea using other materials, i did it and made a video: https://youtu.be/AJBfRBbs-4s. It is really confortable.

  9. Aaron C on August 19, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    “Within the BD line, I’d point you to the Black Diamond Revolt ($60, 3.4 oz), which is also rechargeable and which will run for 30 hours at 300 lumens.”

    I believe this statement is mistaken, or a typo. To output 300lm continuously for 30 hours, high end headlamps would need the equivalent of 20 AA batteries, while the linked BD ReVolt has only 3 AAA batteries. Compare to the high-end Zebralight H600F Mk IV XHP35, which uses the equivalent of 4*AA (one Li-ion 18650 cell has about twice the voltage and twice the charge of one AA, so roughly 4x the energy), outputs 300lm for just 6hrs without dimming or throttling, and costs $100 with battery.

    Many camping lights are advertised confusingly. Probably, this rating means that the BD initially outputs 300lm on a full charge, and will output at least a tiny trickle of light for 30hours before it goes out. Legally, this advertising is acceptable, but confusing. This is how BD, Petzl, etc. typically market their lights. I was misled by this for a number of years.

    • ASW on August 20, 2019 at 2:00 pm

      I second this comment regarding uninformative/misleading headlamp specifications. I have used two older versions of the BD Spot and the newest version of the BD Storm for nighttime trail running/hiking during several 100 mile races. The Storm, with 4 Eneloop rechargeable AAA batteries, gives me maybe 4 hrs of suitable (for running) illumination at the highest setting or 5-6 hrs if I’m mostly hiking and can get by with only using the wide-angle bulb. Other runners have told me that a high-quality alkaline or lithium AA will last longer, but I refuse to buy disposable batteries. The Spots, with 3 AAA batteries, obviously provide good illumination for a shorter period. Note that my races have been under East Coast forest canopy, so you might not need as much headlamp power if you’re in more open terrain and can take advantage of moon or star light. I now plan on needing two BD Storm headlamps (I prefer to carry two headlamps vs carrying and changing extra batteries) to get me through the night during my races.

      • Andrew Skurka on August 20, 2019 at 2:10 pm

        Hmm, good to know, thanks. For years I have used that Coast HL27 light for ultras that go through the night, and I’ve never had to replace the batteries mid-race.

    • Ben on August 27, 2019 at 3:12 pm

      For those who are interested, Outdoor Gearlab has a good article on this from 2014 entitled “Why Headlamp Claims are Deceptive”.

  10. Tim Meyer on October 9, 2019 at 8:12 pm

    I’ve got the Bindi and can give the following review:

    -The bungee straps are fine. I chose the bindi over other models because i use the headlamp for running and the bungee won’t stink like a headband would.

    -The lumen output is sufficient for urban running and dark rail trails. I wouldn’t trust it to trail run at night. It would be suitable for hiking.

    -For me, it’s a winter game changer. I did a legit workout this morning that I would not have been comfortable doing in the dark.

    – On high it lasts just 2 hours before needing a recharge. Battery life is clearly sacrificed for weight.

    Bottom line…it’s for runners avoiding night time urban obstacles.

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