I’ve always wanted to work two memes into the same post title. Finally accomplished my dream!
Last winter I found myself attempting to night ski with about the same lumens as a wooden match. Okay on the uphill, but nighttime downhill skiing on all but the smoothest groom (with zero obstacles) is best done with a lamp that reaches in front of you like a train headlight. Mission this summer is to pick the headlamp that’s bright, with easy controls, lightweight, helmet mounted. Mandatory requirements: Around 450 lumens at brightest, and a divorced AA battery pack. Thus the faceoff here between Petzl Duo Z2 and Back Diamond Icon (Princeton Tec to come). Let’s have fun with direct comparisons in as many relevant ways I can think of.
Brightness: Due to different focus modes, comparing brightness is difficult. Duo claims 220 lumens (Lm) with dual LEDs in use, one spotlight and one broad, and 180 Lm for single spotlight mode that yields a third more battery life. A boost mode jumps up to 430 LM, but is rather useless as the LEDs only pump this for 5 seconds then cut out automatically. Icon claims a max of 500 Lm, but in wall illumination and night comparisons I found that, oddly, Duo at max continuous (not boost) and Icon at max were similar in a any practical sense. Also rather oddly, Icon claims a 70 hour battery life at full bright 500 lumens (!) while Duo claims at most 2:45. Some of this is confuses simply because a focused beam might throw farther than one of the same lumens that’s broader. But still, I found this battery life thing to be downright strange. Perhaps clearly indicating that the Icon would be much better for expedition or SAR use, when you could easily exceed a few hours of continuous max illumination.
User interface: Yes, instead of calling this “controls” I’m using the geeked out term “UI.” The UI design philosophy with both lamps involves placing all functions under one control switch. Both UIs are incredibly confusing and soon had me wanting to get a return label printed and put them on the next available UPS truck. I persevered, however, in the name of gear freaking. (Or, freaking gear?)
Icon is controlled with a tiny, slightly recessed button that’s impossible to use with mittens, difficult with gloves, and even a little mysterious for cold bare hands when out of eyesight (another control called the “Power Tap” also provides a few functions). In the continued vein of odd curiosities, the Icon control could be easily activated inside a backpack. According to the arcane instruction sheet, you press the switch 4 seconds to activate a lock function. For me, doing so only turned on the lamp, nothing more, and adding to the confusion sometimes a long press would turn on the red LED, and sometimes the bright LED. Aha, I thought, perhaps the lock function is only for when the Icon is switched on? I tried again but still got nothing but a mode change. So much for that.
Continuing the epochal Icon UI, with the instruction sheet propped in front of me on my desk, I attempted to learn two things: How to switch on and off, and how to simply activate max brightness. Instructions say turn it on with a 1 second press. Doing so gets me a dim red LED. I fiddle around, seems my “1 second” press was too short, I linger my finger, and finally, get a bright white light. Then, shucks, another test cycle and my lingering finger gets the dim red light again… Remember, this is all supposed to be done with the lamp mounted on helmet or head, presumably without a mirror telling you exactly what’s going on. Moving on, I tried the “Power Tap” function, involving a simple finger tap on the “tap zone,” said to bring up the brightest light. That was easier, but with other concerns such as performance with gloves or mittens.
Some of you might be more adept at this sort of thing than I — more lumens to you. As it is, I like the form factor of the Icon, so I’ll probably put some effort into memorizing the controls, though I’ll also continue searching for a simpler headlamp.
Clarification: Icon has a little thing on the side of the lamp housing called the “Power Tap,” which you tap with your finger for max bright. Mixed impressions on that. I don’t see the Power Tap being practical with big gloves in a snowstorm. Indeed, UI designers probably familiarity with this sort of thing, perhaps “whoops, we made the UI too confusing, let’s add another control…”
BD does a fairly good job of lampsplaining in the following vid (the memory feature is probably the worst culprit in confusion) — but I’d still prefer the Icon to simply be simpler.
Moving to the Petzl Duo Z2 controls. The good part is you get a fat knob on the right side of the unit, easily operated with gloves and marginally with mittens. This is obvious as the headlight switch in a 1969 Chevrolet. But not as simple. With the Chevy you pull the switch all the way out for full headlights, part way out for running lights only, then twist it left and right to control dome and dash lights. Pure, unmitigated UI genius. A 2-year-old can figure it out in as many minutes (though his feet might not reach the dimmer switch on the floor).
Clearly, the Duo control is intended to make for easy manipulation with thick gloves. Beyond a simple toggle switch, it’s probably the most tactile control I’ve seen on a headlamp in a long time. Yet in similar fashion to the Icon, the Duo requires various sequences of switch rotation “bumps” to invoke various modes. I found these to be no easier than the Icon, perhaps even tougher as the enclosed printed instructions made no sense to me. Experimentation showed me the control knob seemed to increase brightness as I rotated clockwise in short bumps, with a 2-second hold to turn on or off.
Duo is 348 grams, Icon at 226 grams — a startling and neck bending difference in two fairly similar lamps. The Petzl is overall more bulky, even the 4 cell battery case is significantly larger than that of the Icon. I have no idea why all this extra flesh is necessary, my first guess was that the Duo must be super waterproofed, but it’s apparently IP67 rated just as the Icon, meaning both can go to 1 meter deep for 30 minutes. Next guess, Duo appears to have a much larger cooling area than Icon.
Third guess: Duo has a feature called “Face2Face” that dims the lamp when up against another Duo, as when you’re face-to-face with someone. I’m not convinced on that, as in our world it’s random we’ll be encountering others with the same model headlamp. Better to simply practice good headlamp manners, that way when you’ve got your Duo on bright mode, you won’t have to stop and think about whether another person has the same lamp. (This is a serious concern, as these super bright LED headlamps may damage eyes, or temporarily blind someone.) Fourth guess: Duo is built with beefy multi-purpose mounting brackets that fit accessory brackets from Petzl, such as an option for mounting on helmet. Fifth guess: Perhaps the design language of this item is “I am beefy.”
To be fair, I did ask a Petzl representative about the obvious bulk of the Duo. Their word was that it’s indeed super strong, industrial grade equipment.
Didn’t someone once write: “When the going gets weird, the weird carry bigger batteries?” What’s weird here is the Duo, at a claimed 120 lumens, lasts 6:45 hours, while the Icon says you’ll get 100 hours at claimed 90 lumens! Overall, when comparing the two lamp’s battery charts as best I could, Icon seems to have better battery life. But the only way I can see really resolving this is to use both lamps for fairly lengthy periods of normal activity, and see what we get out of the same type of batteries.
I did read that the Icon is “regulated,” meaning it reduces output when battery voltage drops to a pre-set. Perhaps the claimed Icon battery life includes triggering this feature, which would explain the stated performance (for example, Icon specs state it’ll go 70 hours at 500 Lm!). Near as I can tell, the Duo is not regulated, meaning whatever setting you choose will suck the batteries dry, with the lamp as bright as possible the entire time. Both regulated and unregulated would clearly have pros and cons. From a safety standpoint, or engaging in activities far from spare batteries, regulated would perhaps be better.
Battery pack mounting:
Icon comes with a battery case body-mount and cord extender. On Petzl website see no such accessories for the Duo. I prefer my entire headlamp assembly to be on my head, so the lack of this accessory is not an issue for me (though the noticeable weight of the Duo is a concern for tired neck muscles, and an extension would be useful).
We tend to avoid stating prices here at WildSnow, but in this case felt doing so is important.
Icon, MSRP $100.00 but presently marked down to around $75.00 at backcountry.com and several other etailers.
— Thus one has to ask, what in the world do you get for hundreds of dollars more in the Petzl. Most certainly it could be more durable, that might be a big factor for SAR and commercial applications. Likewise, it’s rated for explosive environments. The accessory mounting plates are nice, but more money.
I prefer the large control knob on the Petzl, but as skimo racer Max Tam told me about the Icon he’s been using for the Elk Mountains Traverse:
“I removed all of the straps from the BD Icon headlamp and Gorilla taped the remaining mount to the front of the helmet. Goggles move easily from face, over the headlamp and rest just above the headlamp. Battery pack was stored against the body with the included cord extender. This system functions very well but requires taping everything in place. I have used a lot of BD headlamps in recent years so am used to their controls. For races like the Grand Traverse I adjust it a lot to save battery and avoid blinding myself on long climbs. For sprint races I leave it on full power the whole time.”
Conclusion: For caving or SAR type use, the Duo might be good due to its probable durability. More, some of you might like the idea of the Petzl helmet mount — we certainly did. For basic ski touring, I prefer the Icon due to its light weight and oddly superior battery life. (BTW, you might wonder why I didn’t lab test the battery life. I’ll continue to attempt, but doing so is difficult for a variety of reasons, e.g., confusing user interfaces and being sure lamp output is similar.)
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.