Black Diamond Spot Headlamp


A waterproof flashlight belongs on every paddler's "essentials list". Some states may even require it by law. As an angler, you already know that the darker hours can be the best fishing times for many species. Even if you intend to limit your paddling to daytime, you ought to have some kind of flashlight on board. Any number of unforeseen things could mess up your plans and you could find yourself out after dark and desperately needing light to navigate, find shelter, or signal for help.

And if you're going to carry a light, then I highly recommend a headlamp. Handheld flashlights cast equally good light and don't look so dorky. But a headlamp does its thing hands-free. And that's a big deal on a watercraft that usually requires both hands to propel. A headlamp also has the nifty habit of always pointing wherever you look. Depending on the mental capacity of the brain it encircles, it's like having an intelligent targeting system!

My headlamp is the Black Diamond Spot.

The Spot runs on 3 AAA batteries and has a maximum output of 200 lumens. Now, if you've comparison shopped flashlights before you know that not all lumens are created equal. Let's just say that some manufacturers are very optimistic with their power ratings. Black Diamond on the other hand, seems to be fairly conservative. This seems like 200 real lumens. It's a bright light. In fact, it's maximum output is too bright for a lot of activities and most of the time I have it dimmed down quite a bit. But it's much better to have the power and not need it, than to need the power and not have it!

The Spot will run on alkaline, lithium, or rechargeable batteries. I have ton of rechargeable batteries from my photography habit, so I mostly use those.

The Spot has a single case that houses the LED lamps and the batteries (as opposed to a separate battery case). Personally, I like that because it minimizes weight and bulk. The case is made of rubberized plastic and has a solid, quality feel to it. It also rotates on a hinge with detents so you can adjust the angle of the light up and down. The elastic headband is color-matched, reflective, and adjusts using two buckles. It has a similar feeling of quality. Unfortunately one of the buckles faces inward against your head, which makes the band slightly less comfortable than it could be. It's an odd design decision. Perhaps it helps keep the buckle from slipping, I don't know. In use, it's not a big deal to me, but it might be an issue if you prefer to wear the headband tight . In any case, the whole package is lightweight at 3.2 oz and it's compact, so other than the buckle it's about as unobtrusive as something you strap to your head can be.

The Spot has a waterproof rating of IPX8. IP ratings are supposed to give consumers more detailed information than just saying "waterproof". But each IP rating has a specific meaning that is not intuitively obvious and some of the ratings have vendor-defined meanings. (This would seem to defeat the purpose of having a standard rating system, by the way, but I digress.) In the case of the Spot, IPX8 means it can withstand being submersed in water down to 3.6 feet for 30 minutes. That should be sufficient to withstand rain, splash, and the typical kayak capsize, but not a plummet to the bottom of a lake. Of course, not many people have the wherewithal to retrieve a headlamp at the bottom of a lake anyway, so this seems like a reasonable limitation.

The Spot has 3 different LED lamps built into it: The big lamp is a very bright "triple power" LED that is used for general and long-distance illumination. The top-left lamp is lower-powered and configured for close proximity lighting. And the bottom-left lamp is a red LED for casting a red light.

There are four modes of operation, which deploy one or more of the lamps automatically:
  • Standard Mode uses the big main lamp. It provide longer distance and general purpose light, and is the mode you'd use for most situations.
  • Proximity Mode uses the lower-power proximity lamp. It's good for doing close-up work, like reading, rummaging through your pack, or tying a new rigging on your line.
  • Strobe Mode flashes the main lamp like a disco light. It would be good for signaling, emergency rescue, and triggering epileptic seizures.
  • Red Light Mode uses the... well, you can probably work out which lamp it uses. Red light won't upset your or your friends' natural night vision, so it's useful for using in a group (so you don't blind people you're looking at) or when you have to leave the tent in the middle of the night to answer nature's call. It also attracts fewer insects, which can be very useful on the water.
In all modes except Strobe, you can adjust the brightness of the light along a continuous scale from dimmest to brightest. In Standard mode, at the brightest setting the Spot will activate both the main and proximity lamps to put out its maximum 200 lumens.

The Spot has an interesting feature called "Power Tap". You tap the side of the case, and the Spot instantly goes to full-power. Tap it again to deactivate it. Power Tap remembers your previous brightness setting so you can instantly switch from a dimmed setting to max power and back. It's a very handy feature, especially for kayak fishing. But if you tend to grip your headlamp by the sides when you adjust its fit or angle, then you will probably find yourself accidentally activating Power Tap a lot. I could see that being a pain in the butt, especially if you're doing an activity that requires frequent adjustment. However, I naturally tend to grip the headlamp by the top and bottom (which actually provides better leverage to adjust its vertical angle) and I almost never activate Power Tap unless I mean to. In any case, it's something to be aware of.

Another great feature is lock mode, which temporarily disables the on/off button. This allows you to put the Spot in a backpack and not have to worry about it accidentally being turned on and discharging its batteries.

So, you can see that the Spot has a lot of modes and features. Power Tap is accessed via a touch-sensitive area on the side of the case. Everything else is accessed using a single button on the top. As you might imagine, accessing all those features using a single control is not going to be an intuitive experience. In fact, it was confusing at first and I'm a technical kind of guy! But there is a logic to it and once you figure it out, it's actually pretty easy to use in my opinion. It's just that figuring it out isn't straightforward.

And the user manual does not help! In fact, I have to say that the Spot's manual is simply awful. It's a big sheet of paper with text in a dozen different languages. But the text is primarily safety and warranty information. The actual operating instructions are rendered in very poorly designed pictograms. A picture should have the advantage of being language-independent. But in this case, it just means that no matter what language you speak, you'll be equally confused as to what the pictures are supposed to be telling you.

The good news is that I've posted my own user manual for the Spot. I did all the head-scratching and brow-raising to figure this thing out so that you don't have to! You're welcome. ;-)

Finally, let's talk price. I paid $26 for mine, shipped to my door. Now that was for a close-out deal on the 2016 model, which can still be found as of the writing of this post. But even the new 2017 model (with 50% more power and the ability to remember your brightness setting when you power off) is only $40, which is not at all bad for a light with its quality and capabilities. Highly recommended.

Summary

I really like the Black Diamond Spot a lot. It provides what I consider ideal balance in terms of price vs performance; power vs battery life; and size/weight vs features. There are a couple of things I would change on it, but they are relatively minor in the big scheme of things.

Pros:

  • Reasonable price
  • Good power
  • Good battery life considering power
  • Compact size and light weight
  • Lots of useful features
  • Waterproof
Cons
  • Headband buckle impairs comfort
  • Not intuitive to learn
  • Craptastic user manual


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