Black Diamond Icon ReviewPrice: $100 List | $65.01 at Amazon
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Bright, wide spotlight, clear/smooth optics, long battery life, robust design
Cons: Heavy, bulky, and expensive
Bottom line: Very bright with a wide beam, this model is bulky and heavy with an even heavier price tag.
Claimed Distance: 100 m
Measured High Mode Run-time (ANSI): 9.4 hrs
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
The Black Diamond Icon is one of the highest scoring headlamps in our trail finding test and a contender for a Top Pick award for Trail Finding due to its unique combination of an 80 meter beam distance and excellent battery life. In the end, this particular Top Pick award went to the Fenix HP25R for its immense light throwing power. The Icon offers a bright wide beam that has excellent optics, providing an evenly lit light that was one of our favorites for trail finding, and also a favorite in its low-setting for around the campsite. While heavy and bulky compared to most headlamps, and this limitation will rule it out for ultralight backpackers, it offers excellent battery life powered by 4 AA batteries in a durable waterproof package. The Black Diamond Icon is one of the most popular serious headlamps out there (in the category of headlamps that take 3 or 4 AA batteries and weigh 6-8 oz). The current version offers significant improvements over older generations, including a brighter and wider beam as well as a robust waterproof casing.
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Icon headlamp has seen a number of significant updates in its most recent incarnation. Check out the side-by-side comparison below with the new version on the left and the version we tested on the right!
Here's a summary of the key updates:
- Increased Lumens — The new version of the Icon boasts 500 lumens, compared to the 320 lumen version we tested.
- Higher IPX Rating — The new Icon has an IPX67 rating, vs. the IPX7 rated older version. Check out our Buying Advice article for a more in-depth discussion of what IPX ratings mean.
- Upgraded Night Vision — Red, green, and blue night vision options have been added.
- Programmable Brightness — You can program the Icon to default to your desired brightness level when you first turn it on, instead of having to adjust it each time.
We tend to be optimists in our adventures, assuming that we are not going to get caught out after nightfall. But imagine yourself at sunset, separated from camp by miles of a poorly defined trail, with a storm coming in, and with an injury or equipment failure that makes travel slow. These kinds of situations do happen, and are just the kind of pickle where you would be most grateful that you brought the Black Diamond Icon along.
Waterproof to 1 meter (tested in full submersion for 30 minutes), and boasting nearly the best trail finding performance of any headlamp we tested, the Icon is unique in also offering the battery run-time firepower to get you back to camp, with adequate lighting, even if it takes an all-night epic effort.
The Icon scored an impressive 9 of 10 in our trail finding tests. This score is excellent, and even though there were two headlamps that scored 10 of 10 in trail finding, (the Petzl NAO and Fenix HP25R), both are heavier than the Icon, and all have high mode battery run-times less than 3 hours. The Icon lasted 9.4 hours in our high-mode battery life test. On the trail, most would happily settle for 9 of 10 performance to gain a battery that can last all night. On the other hand, when you absolutely need the most lighting power, you don't care about almost anything else. In this case, the Fenix will be your pick.
In the beam comparison photo below, the Icon is compared to the Petzl NAO. The NAO's beam is significantly brighter, wider, and with excellent optics. But, this only lasts for about two hours; the photo shows both lights with fresh batteries. As can be seen in our battery life comparison, the NAO is finished in about 2 hours, yet the Icon continues to produce a reasonably bright beam all night (over 8 hours).
It is interesting to look at trail finding performance independently from battery life, since in some cases a super-bright light for a few hours does the job nicely.
And niche performance is the essence of our Top Pick Award. With this in mind, we gave the trail finding award to the twice-as-bright Fenix. However, in the final analysis for most users, battery life and brightness are best considered together, and we feel the Icon offers a smart and balanced approach on these two performance metrics.
The Icon ranked near the top with a 9 of 10 score for close-proximity use, such as around the campsite or reading. Used in its low-power mode that conserves battery life, it produces a very nice, evenly lit beam that we found ideal for close proximity use. Below, you can see a nearly perfectly even beam of the Icon in low-power mode compared to the Fenix HP25R which has a hot spot in the middle that decreases peripheral vision.
We rated the Icon 8 of 10 on battery life, which is near the top. While it did not have the absolute longest run time, it was much better than the rest of the headlamps with high powered beams. Many headlamps gain long battery run time in their brightest mode by not having a very bright beam. Not so with the Icon, which manages relatively long run-time with a very bright beam.
Don't Believe the Hype
Please keep in mind as you read the specs on the Icon packaging, that their claimed high-mode beam distance and run time should not be interpreted as meaning you can see 100 meters for 75 hours (even though we think most people read the specs in exactly this manner). In our tests we measured the beam distance at 80 meters (20% below claimed), and the high mode run-time at 8 hours (90% less than claimed). In our tested high mode run-time, remember, the beam gradually shortens as the batteries die. Only for the first little while can you see the full 80 meters.
The Icon is quite bright, but far from the brightest headlamp in our tests, and only scored 7 of 10, taking a 5th place spot in our tests (you can see the lights all sorted by brightness here). We measured the beam distance (the metric directly related to brightness) at 80 meters which is significantly lower than the claimed distance of 100 meters. In comparison, the Fenix HP25R casts a beam twice as far, a whopping 157 meters.
By modern standards, the Icon is heavy at 232 grams or 8.1 ounces. It scored 2 of 10, one of the two worst scoring lights on weight. It is almost twice the weight of the Coast (4.4 ounces) and 2.5x heavier than the ReVolt (3.7 ounces). If you choose the Icon, you are trading weight for higher beam power, battery run-time, and increased durability.
Ease of Use
The Icon landed a solid 8 of 10 score. It is easy to switch between spotlight and close proximity/LED mode. You just click one button that is easy to operate even with gloves on. By comparison, the similarly configured Princeton Tec Sync has buttons that are harder to press and more confusing about what mode you are in. You do get more lighting modes with the Sync, but we like the simplicity of choices you get with the Icon.
The Icon also offers variable dimming. This is easily done by holding down the button (dims down, and then up if you keep holding). Dimming works in all three of its lighting modes: high-power spot, low-power flood, and red-light. This allows you to fluidly tune the brightness to exactly meet your particular needs. For example, we found that either the flood or red light, dimmed down to the lowest level, makes a perfect night light for family camping situations with young kids.
Even though the Icon is heavy, we found it surprisingly comfortable to wear. The headband is 1" wide and is complimented by a removable 3/4" wide top band. The battery sits at the back of the head and seems balanced nicely with the light in front. Even for active use, it sits comfortably and is stable.
Stargazers and hunters will appreciate the red light mode, which provides an evenly lit light from two red LEDs, and is also dimmable to get to just the right lighting level you desire.
One ease-of-use negative is that the maximum downward angle on the Icon leaves the close-proximity light pointing further ahead than we prefer for most low-light situations like working around the campsite. Most competing lights either allow more of a downward angle, or (better) tweak the optics of the low-setting lights to change their focus to point at a downward angle by default. With the Icon we find the low-proximity light points at the same angle as the beam, and we can't tilt the light enough to put the focus at our hands like we prefer in most campsite situations (cooking, eating, hanging out). We need to tilt our head down to get the light where we want it, which is a little thing but kind of annoying, or pull the headband down to our eyebrows (which is even more annoying). While a little thing, we consider it a design flaw that mars a light we consider to be otherwise very thoughtfully engineered.
We found the Icon easy to operate with gloves, and it would be a good choice for backcountry ski use or other activities where gloves are often worn.
The Icon's combination of trail finding, battery life, and durability make it an ultimate light for those who need a heavy-duty, high performance headlamp. Many climbing and mountaineering guides love this light for the long battery life, easy use, and durability. But, it also shines around the campsite, due to a very capable low-light mode with exceptional battery run-time.
It is heavy and bulky, making it a very poor choice for ultralight backpacking, and a dubious choice for most backpacking situations.
There are some lights that cost more such as the impressive Petzl NAO ($175), but there are also many that costs less such as the Coast HL7. This headlamp really only offers great value if you can benefit from its unique combination of capabilities; given the robust design, you can be confident it will last a long time.
For many people, we think the expense of the Icon will prove a barrier. Why not buy our Editors' Choice Coast HL7 instead at a street price less than $40? The Coast offers a brighter beam that can see a longer distance, as shown in the beam comparison photo below. On the other hand, due to superior optics in high-mode, we felt the Icon offered slightly better performance for Trail Finding. That said, the Coast outperformed the Icon slightly in close-proximity tests. Unless you needed the additional waterproof capability of the Icon, or its longer battery life, then the Coast HL7 would be a better choice overall.
The other key competitor to consider in our opinion is the Black Diamond Storm which is half the weight, nearly 40% lower cost, and yet delivers performance in the same ballpark. The Storm is robust, with a waterproof (IPX 7) design like the Icon, and shines a solid 60 meters in our tests compared to the 80 meter beam of the Icon. Battery life is pretty good too at 7.8 hours versus the Icon's 7.3, putting 3 AAA batteries and a less bright light against the 4 AA batteries in the Icon.
Overall, the Icon is a strong performer in the "serious headlamp" category. While it wasn't the absolute best in any of our testing metrics, it was near the top across the board, which resulted in the highest overall score of any headlamp in our review. We recommend it for those looking for a bright, quality, beam, durability, and battery life that can last a full night at the high-setting.
— Jediah Porter and RJ Spurrier
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: January 1, 2018
Summary of All Ratings
100% of 2 reviewers recommend it
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:
Average Customer Rating:
100% of 2 reviewers recommend it
Jan 1, 2018 - 01:50am
Matt ObermillerI'm on my third Black Diamond Icon. Currently have two of the older model (320 lumen) that I use for winter mountaineering and general off-grid living.
Pros: very bright beam that really reaches out there on high (which is where I usually have it set, no matter what I'm doing)
Decent battery life. I've had other headlamps in the past that had better battery life but they are no longer being made. All the other headlamps I've looked at recently all have abysmal battery battery life so the Icon is OK in comparison.
The power cord between the light head and battery pack doesn't get super stiff in the cold like on some other headlamps.
Holding down the control button to dim then increase light output turns out to be a pretty good feature. I like not having to click past SOS and other blinking modes each time I want to change light output.
Quality of light coverage, tightness/spread of beam is very functional.
On high spot I can almost route find on snow in brush and on mountain sides. On low spot I can comfortably read a book in bed and the in between settings are good for doing mechanics or working in the dark.
I rarely use the light on flood or wide setting. I just adjust the light output of the spot setting.
Cons:despite this being probably better overall than any other headlight,
it has some real issues I'm hoping the engineers decide to address.
Worst problem is the lack of downward tilt range. It's maddening. It pisses me off because some engineering team decided Icon users didn't actually need to be able to see anything closer than 8 feet in front of them. That means forget looking at anything in your hands. I fixed this by lashing a piece of rolled up fabric to the top of the forehead plate which tilts the light downward further so I can see what's in my hands. I basically shimmed the top of the light away from my forehead. It's kind of an easy fix but if you are not going to do this, I wouldn't recommend buying this light! You will end up a hunch back for life after a couple hours of using it!
Other issues: the plastic bar that the battery pack latch sits against broke almost immediately on both my current Icon headlights. I was being really cautious on the second one and it still broke. Extremely flimsy. Good news is the top cover of the battery pack, the piece the power cord runs to still fits in snug and allowed the headlamp to function for years of heavy use. If I were depending on the battery pack being water tight, I'd choose a different headlight or maybe try to arctic battery belt pack.
The headband elastic is not great quality. Black Diamond sent me a couple replacements then I just started making my own because it was faster and easier.
The light doesn't have consistent light output across the battery life like most other high end headlamps. It starts out bright and gets dimmer as the battery discharges. Still is a good light but not having that is kind of bush league.
The rubber cover on the power/dimmer switch gets very stiff and difficult to find and press in the cold and with gloves on. Most other headlamps are the same so I wouldn't pick a different headlamp just because of that but the old Icon had a large thumb clicker on the bottom of the light head that was divine.
The new Black Diamond Icon looks like it has improved light output which is good but the tilt angle and battery catch issues MUST be addressed before I would call this a top drawer headlight. Especially the shallow tilt is a HUGE problem. I bought a second and third one so that tells you a bit about how even the old model stacked up against the competition but I've had to rebuild both of them to make them functional. Basically, I bought a light head with a power cord I could splice a new battery pack onto. If you aren't going to make these modifications, I'd probably steer you toward a different headlamp. You'll be happier in the long run.
Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Nov 29, 2015 - 12:58am
AJM · Hunter · Sydney, AustraliaI purchased the Black Diamond Icon in Canada when on holidays and brought it back to Australia to use for night hiking with my dogs. This has been a great torch and i would definitely recommend it over some higher lumen head torches. The main advantage is the low battery drain and the width of the light diffusion. I found descending trails at night (depth perception, illumination and longevity) to be exceptional against previous (black diamond storm) and current (Princeton Tec Apex) headlamps. The country i hike is hilly with loose rock and the Icon provides the illumination needed to tackle technical obstacles. It is also great for keeping track of the dogs at long range. The only downside is the locking mechanism for the battery pack. The thin top piece has broken with all the battery changes. it is still useable but i would recommend being gentle when changing the batteries so as not to compromise its water proof abilities. I would recommend this for anyone doing a lot of trail work.
Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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