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 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 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.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.