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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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