Gear Reviews

The Black Diamond Ion Headlamp

I think a lot of backpackers maybe take lighting for granted. It’s bright out when you leave in the morning, you think you’ll be back at camp before night fall, and then you will have lanterns and camp fires and all sorts of light sources by which to cook, clean, and be merry.

But what if you need light on the trail?

Head lamps are nothing new. For the past couple of years, my trusty Petzl has been a staple item in my backpack, long after the case had cracked in a few places and was now held together mostly by electrical tape. It needed three AAA batteries, and had a flip-up red cover to keep my night vision working well.

But what if you’re a weight weenie, like myself? What if you’d want to carry something that weighed a scant 28 grams, with batteries? What if it only had two batteries, and used a red LED for night vision mode? The Ion has all of this. But it also has a very cool touch control housing that lets you dim the light, toggle the modes, and decide if you want white or red light.

The Box
The Ion in its package from Altitude Sports
27 grams!
27 grams! One gram lighter than advertised.

I carried one of these lights in my pack on a recent trip to Norway’s west coast thanks to Altitude Sports, who graciously provided me with the red model for review. While much of my hiking took place during the day, there were times when I was pretty glad I needed it, and with the weight savings it offered, I wasn’t tempted to leave it out of my pack. The control touch housing seems to borrow some of the circuitry from Black Diamond’s Apollo lantern, which has the same hold-to-dim system, although with a push button mechanism instead of a touch plate. The lantern, by the way, is also pretty great.

I found the brightness of the light adequate for just about everything I needed to do. It was perfect for task lighting around my hostel or camp site at night, but was also up to the task of providing me with light during a sketchy after-sunset descent off of Trolltunga, a section of the trail where you descend nearly 500 meters on a set of large boulder steps that happened to be covered in wet mud, off camber, and unstable. I was impressed.

As an aside, the touch control does indeed work when wearing regular gloves, but it isn’t quite as responsive as with bare hands. Most of the time, things worked completely as they should but I occasionally found myself hitting the control more than once to get the light to turn on or off. This is not really a big deal.

The Black Diamond Ion and front touch control housing
The Black Diamond Ion and front touch control housing

So, a big recommend for the new Ion headlamp from Black Diamond. Are there brighter offerings out there? Sure, but those other offerings are heavier, and if you need more light anyway, you probably have specific goals in mind. Black Diamond and Altitude Sports can still help you out with those too.