We are in the heart of the dark season here in the Northern Hemisphere. But even metaphorically, there is light starting to seep through the cracks of a waning 2020, and with slivers of optimism, we begin to entertain of the possibility of a 2021 racing season. And for those of us who adventure more than we race, this is also the time dreams of long explorations begin pestering in earnest for some actual planning to begin. As all these journeys encompass the dark hours as well as the day, the ability to light the way reliably and effectively enhances our safety, chances of success, and enjoyment.
Head torches have come a long way since I started ultrarunning near Anchorage, Alaska, in 1999. If I recall correctly, my off-brand headlamp may have been a heavy, bouncing 25 to 50 lumens? I struggled to see and figured it was just my bad eyes and then-unadapted road-runner self. Soon my run-abling friends persuaded me to supplement with a handheld light, also around 50 to 100 lumens, which made it significantly easier to pace them at the Western States 100 and train on the Susitna 100 Mile course in the winter. The tricks those multiple beams played with our eyes and perceptions are still things I laugh about as I recall leaping over imaginary skunks, non-existent bears, and other wild apparitions.
Though my lights improved slowly with technology over the next decade-plus, it may have been around 2015 that I discovered the Black Diamond Icon 300 with its incredible brightness and beam distance, but the attached battery pack on the back of my non-flat head was a bit of a burden. The following year, the Icon Polar solved almost all my problems with its detachable battery pack I could carry in my hydration pack while providing even more power at 350 lumens. I had always joked I wanted a train light at my disposal. Well, fast forward to 2020, and I get 700 gorgeous LED lumens in the form of the newest Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp ($100) all to myself in a lightweight, no-bounce, hands-free package around my forehead while the battery collection sits in my pack or, if you still prefer, on your head—options! Better living through technology, indeed. My apologies to anyone I unintentionally, temporarily blind at an aid station with all these lumens.
Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp Specifications
Let’s begin with the Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp’s specifications:
- 700 lumens on maximum setting (7 hours) to 140 meters distance
- 350 lumens on medium setting (80 hours) to 60 meters distance
- 6 lumens on lowest setting (190 hours) to 12 meters
- Dual Fuel, meaning it can be powered via a 4 AA battery pack (included) or a rechargeable battery pack (sold separately at $49.95)
- 236 grams (8.3 ounces) with 4 AA batteries on board and split between the 140-gram headlamp and its 96-gram battery pack
- One-meter-long cable included so the battery pack can be worn on the back of the head or in a pack
- Two switches for easy lens-mode choice, including strobe and lock mode
- Multifaceted optical lens for enhanced vision
- PowerTap feature allows quick transitioning between full power and dim modes
- Brightness Memory feature resumes your previous setting after you’ve turned the headlamp off and on again
- Additional red, green, and blue options for night vision
- Six-setting, 3 LED battery meter on the exterior
- IPX rating is 67, making it dustproof and waterproof (operable at 1 meter underwater for 30 minutes)
Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp Fit
The Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp is in a league of its own compared to the other headlamp offerings out there, in my opinion, simply due to the detachable battery pack. Hands down, this is my favorite aspect of this torch because it solves most all of the problems I have with other super-bright options and makes this very high-powered light completely comfortable even while wearing it for nine to 10 hours on alternately smooth and technical terrain. Yes, 700 lumens is brilliant, and this is my second-favorite aspect of this light. But if the beam is bouncing up and down like the inside of a club, the lamp is creating pressure points and headaches, or the brightness only lasts a few hours before requiring a battery change, then all those lumens do me no good. The Icon 700 successfully avoids all of these pitfalls every time. I do have other smaller, less weighty lights I use when I need less lumens for a very short period of time, but if I can only have one headlamp in my gear bag or I’m facing an all-night foray into the wilds, the Black Diamond Icon 700 it is.
The soft, brushed, elasticized circumferential headband and over-the-top-of-the-head band is 2 centimeters wide and snugs up perfectly without pressure points whether over a braid or above/below my ponytail. With the battery pack detached, the shape of one’s head is inconsequential. The top strap prevents any downward travel of the light and the low-profile, headlamp portion itself stays true to where you place it—no bounce, wobble, jiggle, or slide. The plastic strap-tension adjusters virtually disappear with how lightweight and smooth they are but they do contact the skin primarily at the very compact, tilt-able light housing at the forehead, so when it’s super cold, it’s nice to have a buff beneath. Each adjuster has an angled, gate opening which allows you to take them off and move them wherever you need depending on whether you have the battery pack on the headband or not.
Side note, the headlamp comes with the 4AA alkaline batteries and the battery housing attached to the head strap. If you know you want it detached, do not make this decision 15 minutes before your race. It’s extremely helpful to pull up the online instructions on the Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp webpage a few days before you actually need to use it as such. It’s alternately equally helpful to call in your 11-year-old spatial-relations/gadget whiz to handle it for you. To be clear, it’s not the simplest process unless making similar gear adjustments is your jam. I detached my battery pack (with the help of said 11 year old), hooked up the extended cord, and have never looked back.
One final, interesting feature with the detachable battery pack: they include a 2.5cm wide removable webbing belt in case you’d prefer to wear it around your waist/you aren’t carrying a pack. The webbing is comfortable against the skin or over a shirt and is easily adjustable. For larger waist sizes, one may need to cut a similar longer piece of webbing to fit. I appreciate that Black Diamond included these extras like the belt, the long cable, and the batteries themselves in the original package. But even more, I appreciate that the headlamp is so darn comfortable I almost forget to take it off when the sun comes up.
Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp Function
The Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp is my current all-time favorite ultrarunning headlamp for a variety of reasons—incredible fit with that detachable battery pack as already discussed, the insane brightness level that allows me to pick up reflective tape and wee, beady eyes long before I need to, but also the ease of use. For someone like me who is not particularly tech savvy, I get overwhelmed by the thought of programming my headlamp via computer or smartphone, and figuring out two days ahead of time how I’d like my battery life to play out over the course of a night, during which I have no idea what surprises may be in store. I have no doubt that the high-tech headlamps out there are amazing, but I’m just not there yet. I like to use items that I know just work, so I can focus my mental and emotional energy on the adventure itself and the friends I’m doing it with (and the beady eyes reflecting back at me).
The Icon 700 has one smaller round pad which functions as the lens selector and a large horizontal textured pressure pad (like buttons, but they don’t stick up) on the top of the compact light from which all mode decisions can be made. As long as my gloves are of thin to moderate thickness and have form-fitting fingers, I haven’t had any difficulty operating either of these pads with gloves on. The texture associated with the buttons facilitates cold, bare-finger usage as well. The way they’re utilized is pretty consistent with former renditions of this light and across the Black Diamond headlamp spectrum, which makes it even simpler to use if you have experience with the brand. Pressing on the smaller round pad allows the switch from the distance, the wide flood, and the lens for the red, green, and blue night-vision lights. With three color options, you really can select the best option for your own eyes as you putter around camp or in the back of your rig. I have a few friends who appreciate these color options while hunting as well.
The larger pad allows toggling between on/off, maximum power, low power, PowerTap, and strobe settings. A press and hold on this pad takes the light setting and dims it down to a bump or increases the output up to a bump, making it easy to adjust how much power you’re using particularly with the distance beam when riding that fine line between optimized vision and adequate battery life. PowerTap, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is a spot on the side of the lateral aspect of the light where you tap it and it instantly switches the light from current power to highest power or back to lowest power in one light finger tap. This can be helpful if you suddenly need max light output to see a potential danger in front of you, or if you pop your map out of your pack and need to quickly check your navigation without blinding anyone.
Another feature I appreciate that is utilized via the larger pad is the Brightness Memory feature, which enables the light to resume the setting you last used when turning it back on again. I love this especially when coming into and out of aid stations or when pausing to take in the incredible night sky. I’m glad it’s starting to become more standard in the industry. Similar to other lights, pressing both buttons at the same time while the light is off locks the headlamp buttons, preventing it from mistakenly turning on and draining the battery while safely ensconced in your gear bag.
Just how bright is 700 lumens on the trail? This light creates amazingly helpful terrain-feature shadows all by its little ol’ self without the trippy flat-light glaze that other lights seem to cause. Gone is the time I need one or two other beams coming in at different angles to avoid tripping over rocks and roots. I can pick up a reflective marker from more than a football field or soccer pitch away with ease (unless the elk ate them, of course) and even if I never dim the light, it will do this time after time for up to seven hours! It really does last that long. At even medium setting, it’s enough to pick out trail markers at the distance of two-thirds of a football field for far longer than I’d choose to be out in the dark at this point (80 hours) or alternately bleach out central vision for several seconds if someone mistakenly forgets they have this powerful beam on their forehead and looks you in the eye. So one must be rather careful with this light in the company of others. At the lowest setting, the battery life is so long that you’ll forget when you last put them in (never travel without a full new set) and at 12 lumens and with the night-vision options, it’s a pleasant reading light inside the camp tent or as an assist outside with your camp stove for late night hot-chocolate creations.
The waterproofness and dustproofness further increase the functionality of the Icon 700. I’d trust it for multi-day backpacking, bikepacking, or about any other use I could dream up. A rechargeable battery pack is available for purchase, or you can use AA alkaline, rechargeable Ni-MH, or lithium batteries, so bring an extra set just in case but you’ll likely not need them. I’ve used the Icon 700 for nighttime fat-bike rides on non-technical terrain on dusty, summer trails. I’ve been caught in Rocky Mountain rain squalls without any issue regarding light function during or after the downpour. I’ve used the light for a quick paddleboard just to say I did, and while I didn’t drop it in the lake and test the submersion factor, I loved the illumination on the water even at the lower settings. If you can only have one headlamp and you don’t want to mess with super-high-tech options that require computers or smartphones to really utilize properly, the Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp is a most excellent option. And remember, if you can’t figure out all the features, find that tech-native 11 year old again and in five minutes, you’ll have your tutorial done and be ready to go.
Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp Overall Impressions
I really can’t overstate how pleased I am with the Black Diamond Icon line of headlamps, particularly since they now have the included option for the detachable battery pack with the extra long cable included. It’s the most comfortable light I own for the amount of lumens it kicks out and it absolutely doesn’t bounce or create a headache even after an entire night of use. I love that I don’t need all my brain cells functioning to utilize the light properly, so even at 3 a.m. high on an alpine trail while pacing my sister in her latest 100-mile race, I can trust my light and my ability to do my best at the job at hand (unless I put the batteries in upside down in which case…). All in all, the Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp is an extremely comfortable graduate-level light with introductory-level simplicity and ease of use. Well done, Black Diamond!
Call for Comments
- Do you run with the Black Diamond Icon 700 Headlamp?
- What do you think of its features?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]