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Black Diamond Icon Review

Price:   $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.
Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
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  • 5
Measured Max Beam Distance:  82 m
Claimed Distance:  100 m
Measured High Mode Run-time (ANSI):  9.4 hrs
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond

Our Verdict

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 Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Jediah Porter and RJ Spurrier

Last Updated:
February 3, 2017


Product Updates

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!
Black Diamond Icon
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.

Hands-on Review

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.

Performance Comparison

The Icon in spot mode.
The Icon in spot mode.

Trail Finding

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.

Beam Distance Photos

Black Diamond IconFenix HP25R

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).

Beam Distance Photos

Black Diamond IconPetzl NAO

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.

Climbers enjoy the prodigious light of the Black Diamond Icon while escaping the early onset of darkness during "Rocktober" in Utah's Indian Creek.
Climbers enjoy the prodigious light of the Black Diamond Icon while escaping the early onset of darkness during "Rocktober" in Utah's Indian Creek.

Close Proximity

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.

Close-proximity Beam Pattern

Black Diamond IconFenix HP25R

Battery Life

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.

This headlamp uses 4 AA batteries in a pack that sits on the back of the head.
This headlamp uses 4 AA batteries in a pack that sits on the back of the head.

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.

The battery packs of some of the two-part headlamps we tested. Some compact lights put the batteries in with the bulbs  while bigger products balance the weight of more batteries by putting them the back of the user's head. Clockwise from upper left: Coast HL7  Fenix HP25  Black Diamond Icon  Black Diamond Sprinter.
The battery packs of some of the two-part headlamps we tested. Some compact lights put the batteries in with the bulbs, while bigger products balance the weight of more batteries by putting them the back of the user's head. Clockwise from upper left: Coast HL7, Fenix HP25, Black Diamond Icon, Black Diamond Sprinter.

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.

The Icon with red mode on.
The Icon with red mode on.

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.

Best Applications

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.
Beam Distance Photos

Black Diamond IconCoast HL7

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.
Beam Distance Photos

Black Diamond IconBlack Diamond Storm


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