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Black Diamond Ion Review
Cons: Non traditional switch trickier to operate
Bottom line: This model balances performance and size, but its funky switch can be difficult to operate.
Claimed Distance: 38 m
Measured High Mode Run-time (ANSI): 7.3 hrs
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
The first version of the Black Diamond Ion was the first micro headlamp we ever used. At the time, it was hard to believe a light could be so tiny and still cast a decent beam. We immediately bought one and took it everywhere we went — even climbing El Capitan-in-a-day (as a just-in-case item). We like the safety advantage provided by packing a micro headlamp in case something goes wrong — truly micro equipment like the latest crop of tiny headlamps never get in the way, and are sure to be appreciated in an emergency. The latest version of the Ion is almost twice as large as the first. This additional bulk increases basically all of its performance attributes. However, the additional performance is not enough to edge out our Top Pick Petzl e+LITE for ultralight applications.
RELATED REVIEW: The Hunt for the Best Headlamps
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Update - New Ion vs. the one we tested
In the latest incarnation of the Ion headlamp, Black Diamond responded to customer feedback and replaced the on/off switch with a push-button for ease of use. Additionally, the Ion has seen an increase from 80 lumens to 100. Check out the new version on the left below, next to the version we tested on the right!
While this product has existed in name for many years, the latest version is twice the size of the original and has a unique on/off switch. It is now in an entirely different league than when we first encountered this model name.
This light does not have the most impressive score, until you consider how small it is. The fact that anything this small can cast a workable beam is impressive. As compared to much larger lights like the Petzl Tikka+, the Ion's trailfinding is pretty good. Other full-size lights, like the Black Diamond Spot perform noticeably better, while the much-more-compact Petzl e+LITE suffers a little next to the Ion.
This is where the Ion really outscored the Petzl e+LITE. The e+LITE has about the same brightness at the Ion, but the beam is not as even. This newest version of the Ion is an excellent camp lamp.
The latest redesign of the Ion scored at the middle of the pack for battery life, with 7 hours in our tests for high beam and a claimed low beam run time of 200 hours. The e+LITE, on the other hand, lasted 9 hours on high beam and has a claimed low beam of 70 hours. Further complicating the battery life comparison between these two compact headlamps, both the e+LITE and past versions of the Ion used non-standard batteries. The most recent version of the Ion is a little bulkier and heavier, but uses far-more-readily available AAA batteries.
The Ion ties with the Energizer 3 LED for brightness. However, the Ion accomplishes this with greater reliability and smaller size.
This thing is a perfect size. It is small enough to go anywhere with you, but performs like many larger products.
Ease of Use
The newest version of the Ion uses a touch sensitive panel for the on/off switch. One swipes one way for red and the other way for white. With just a little practice and attention, this proves to work just fine for bare-handed use.
This little guy is great as an emergency light, a backup to your other headlamp, or for running late in the day when you might have to finish the last few minutes in darkness.
At $25, this is by far the least expensive ultra-lightweight headlamp. The Petzl e+LITE is $30. That said, there are so many $10-20 lights with much better beam performance. In general, we advise most consumers do one of the following: get a true value headlamp like the Energizer 3 LED, a true lightweight performer like the e+LITE, or a brightness champ like the Coast HL7. However, there are certainly some users for whom the performance and weight balance struck by the Ion may just be perfect.
Even though its total score was not that high, we still consider this or the e+LITE a must-have emergency headlamp for anyone who does serious activity in the backcountry or away from the car (trail running at dusk, etc). It eliminates the decision of "should I bring a headlamp?" because it weighs almost nothing, and is so small you can just tuck it in your pack and forget about it. Overall, in compact emergency lights we prefer the Petzl e+LITE because it is just that much smaller. That said, if you want a better spotlight and want to save $5, the Ion may be the way to go. If you are on a budget and don't mind a slightly larger headlamp that weights two more ounces, we would go with the Best Buy winning Petzl Tikkina which performs about the same, and is still pretty darn small and light.
— Jediah Porter and RJ Spurrier
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