Black Diamond Icon Polar Headlamp Review

BlackDiamondIconPolar

I don’t know much about headlamps.  In fact, until purchasing this unit, the most expensive headlamp I owned was a cheap $15 Energizer headlamp purchased on a whim in the Lowe’s checkout line that served me just fine for activities around the campsite.

Not too long ago, though, I went on  back packing trip where I night-hiked.  The Energizer ran out of batteries before I finished, and visibility was particularly bad due to the tree canopy along the hiking trail blocking starlight and the Energizer just didn’t have the power to see very far.

In a quest to get a better headlamp without spending several hundred dollars, wanting a headlamp where I could change the batteries without removing the headlamp itself, and having a field replaceable battery setup (vs. Li-ion permanent install), I came across the Black Diamond Icon Polar.

The Icon Polar is identical to the Icon, except that instead of wearing the battery pack on the back of the head, with a short power cord to the light, the Icon Polar has a much longer power cord and the battery pack can be worn inside a jacket or on a hip belt.

The primary reason for this is to keep the batteries warm when night hiking in the cold, hence, the name: Polar

Some random notes:
– The headlamp unit and battery case are both waterproof.
– The headlamp has flood and spot and also red
– There is one button for spot, flood, and red.
– Takes a bit of practice to switch between the three. Spot and Flood switch when you double click. For red, the headlamp must first be off, and then you depress the button and hold to switch to red. I really think this would have been better with two buttons, but oh well.
– Changing the light intensity is done by depressing the button and holding it.  When doing this, the light intesity gradually shifts from weakest to strongest.  The light blinks once when getting to the lowest or highest setting before going back gradually in the opposite direction.
This is my favorite feature as it works for all lights, even the red light, which is something that I want to change intensity on fairly often.  At night when I’m in my tent, I need very little light and am more than happy with the bare minimum red.  When sitting around a camp fire with friends, I want a brighter red light.  Walking around the camp site, a lower flood light is generally more than adequate as it isn’t as blinding to other campers.  When bear hanging at the end of the night and strong flood light is preferred.  And when hiking, high power spot and flood makes a big difference.
– The battery case holds 4 AA batteries.  This is more than plenty for most things, though there’s no doubt that an 8 AA case would have been better for long night hikes.

In this price range, it’s pretty normal to get between 200 and 300 lumens, and the Icon falls right in there at 200 lumens, which is plenty for the spot light to get reasonably far.

But the materials aren’t all that great.  More expensive units using CREE LEDs have metal enclosures for both the headlamp and battery case, but one issue with the more expensive units is that they get very hot, and the batteries are typically rechargeable Li-Ion batteries instead of field replaceable AA or AAA batteries.

The closest competitor to this unit would be the Princeton Apex Tec Extreme, which also houses an external battery pack.  Its advantage over this unit is that it is a little brighter at 275 lumens, and the battery case holds 8 batteries, but there’s no red light, and the spot and flood each only have two intesnity levels.  Because I couldn’t decide at the time, I purchase both units, but it’s pretty clear that the Black Diamond Icon Polar is the all around winner, with the Princeton Tec Apex Extreme wins if you’re planning an 8-10 hour night hike, needing more intensity and don’t want to change batteries along the way or during the rest of your camping trip (assuming you choose very high settings for most of the night).

Both lights are decent for night bicycling, and hiking.  Both units have fairly durable powere cords, and both units are fairly bright.

If you’re looking for some endurance, or looking to have the extension cord to keep batteries warm in your coat during a trip, either of these units will serve you well at under $100.

If you need more than 275 lumens, you’ll have to pony up for the more expensive units.  Even the entry level lights in that upper crust start out in the $250 range, and some go up well over $1K.

So if car camping, back packing, or general night time activities require a headlamp, you want the external battery pack (most peope don’t) and you need a little more oomph than most headlamps provide but you don’t want to break the bank, go for the Black Diamond Icon Polar.  You can’t go wrong.

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