There are a few pieces of gear that are indispensable in almost any adventure. These can vary from person to person but for me those things include a zip-lock sandwich bag (or two), a lightweight rain jacket, a small folding knife and a good headlamp. The latter is what we’ll be looking at today with two pieces from one of the heavyweights in the outdoor adventure industry, Black Diamond Equipment and their Iota and Sprinter headlamps.
I’ll be looking at each of these lamps from our usual review points and then doing a loose comparison at the end of this review to call out applications for each. Read on and we’d love to hear about your headlamp(s) of choice!
With the Iota being the smallest and lightest headlamp in Black Diamond’s arsenal, there aren’t really any extra frills on the lamp. The strap is a soft, elastic band that is about 3/4 inches wide and easily adjustable on the back (though the adjustment can easily be moved to the side if you prefer by simply moving the lamp unit around the strap). The lamp itself sits on a mount plate that is curved for comfort on the forehead and is adjustable to roughly 30° of down-angle.
The plastic body of the Iota wraps the electronic bits in a housing rated to IPX4 so all that sweat and rain that will inevitably be thrown at it will be met with a firm barrier, but swimming with this little beast isn’t an option – unless you just want a non-functioning decorative headlamp just so you can look cool. There is only one button to speak of on the Iota which resides on the top of the lamp. This button is the power on/off button but is also used to dim the light by turning on the lamp and then holding down the power button until you hit your desired brightness. It also takes the lamp into strobe mode with three presses. The power button also activates a very cool Lockout feature which prevents the power button from accidentally being bumped while in your pack and thus, killing your battery before you can use it.
On the left side of the lamp we see a lightbulb icon which indicates the tap point for BD’s PowerTap technology. With this cool feature you simply tap the housing and the light instantly goes from brightest to a more dim setting without having to go through long-pressing the power button. The right side of the lamp face sports a small LED battery indicator which, while not the most accurate thing ing the world, is still a good, general indicator of how much juice is left in the tank. Also taking residence on the right side of thew lamp is the flap-covered micro USB port for charging.
At under 2 inches wide and ~3/4 inches deep, the entire lamp comes in at about 2 ounces. Whether running, hiking or simply stumbling around your campsite, this is a size that disappears on your head and also packs away without a second thought.
While the Black Diamond Iota is a pretty all-purpose headlamp, the Sprinter is a headlamp which is clearly aimed at runners – in particular, those who spend at least some time running in more trafficked areas. Way back in 2010 I reviewed the then current version of the Black Diamond Sprinter and still go to that lamp here and there. The updates since that time have been pretty massive and and have found the current version of the Sprinter more than doubles the brightness while still managing to shave weight.
The headband is made from the same, soft elastic band as the Iota as is the removable top strap which goes front to back over the top of the head for further stabilization. The main lamp is ~1/2 inch wide and ~1 inch square. There is also the option to move the light to a 45° down angle depending on needs and preferences. Mounted to the back of the band is a taillight which is also the battery pack for the Sprinter that is joined to the front-facing lamp by a coiled cable running on the right side of the band. This rear light (which I’ll talk about a bit more in the PERFORMANCE section below) is ~2 inches ac ross and ~1/2 inch deep. Another bonus for the Sprinter is its weight which, all-in, comes in at ~3.7 ounces.
Like the Iota, the Black Diamond Sprinter is rated to IPX4 so all the rain, sweat, blood, hail and such you want to throw at it will be fine but swimming is still out. Also like the Iota, there is one button on the main lamp of the Sprinter and the functions are the same. In the case of this lamp though, the main button also powers up the rear-facing taillight. On the taillight there is a secondary button which change that light between two different strobe modes, a constant on and completely off. This is ideal since you may not always need a taillight when not around traffic and you can easily conserve some battery life. Also on the taillight is a covered micro-USB port for charging which is different (and much better) from some earlier versions of the Black Diamond Sprinter which used a proprietary cradle.
First and foremost I should say that the size and wight off the Iota is a huge plus for me. Its compact size (in addition to the Lockout feature) mean that stuffing this into any pocket or pack is very easy and requires very little space at all. At the same time, the battery life of the lamp, while great for shorter outings, isn’t fantastic for longer, more off-the-grid adventures. The caveat to that is carrying something to recharge it such as a solar panel or BioLite stove for recharging which is a completely viable option. Battery life is ok, with ~2 hours of burn time at full power and about 40 hours on the lowest setting.
Brightness of the Iota is 150 Lumens which is impressive for its size (though by no means unmatched) reaching to an advertised 40 meters (~130 feet). This is for sure more than enough to handle lighting things in your immediate vicinity and plenty of light for seeing well ahead. Of course, this depends on speed and preference. When I was using this as a running and hiking lamp, I found it more than adequate, lighting up reflective elements – and freaky-ass dear eyes – easily at its 40 meter advertised limit. On a bike, however, I found that while it was fine for slower, smoother pursuits, once the tempo got turned up I found that the light bounced (or at least my head was bouncing) too much to give proper focus to trail elements ahead with enough time to properly react.
The Iota comes with a brightness memory feature which turns the light on at a predetermined brightness of your choosing. This is a very cool feature which is great for helping you conserve battery life without having to really think about it. To activate this feature you hold down the power button until the battery indicator LED on the front of thew lamp cycles through to blinking yellow at which point that brightness will be set. The trick to this is that is must be programmed within 25 seconds of disconnecting from a power source. It took me paying attention to the actual instructions for this to get it done – especially since in my hard-headed approach it didn’t make sense why this is limited to those 25 seconds. In any event, this is a cool added feature.
The Black Diamond Sprinter headlamp can certainly be used for whatever application you want – and I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t been broken out more than once for fix-it projects around the house. However, this thing is for runners and when I was using the earlier version of this lamp I was living in Manhattan (that’s NYC for those who aren’t sure) and even then, the Sprinter’s features were a must.
In this updated version, the lumens now go all the way up 200 with a range of 50 meters. In my measuring the beam distance, I found it to reach right about its advertised 50 meters but those last five meters were quite faint on general terrain. However, reflective elements lit up well in excess of those 50 meters so road signs and trail reflection was very visible. Battery life is just ok on the Sprinter with ~2 hours of light at maxed out power (this was with the main lamp at full brightness and the taillight on constant light, not strobe) but with the taillight off and the front lamp adjusted to a lower, passable setting, the battery life can jump up over 40 hrs.
From a stability standpoint, I never felt any bouncing from this 3.7 ounce headlamp with the possible exception of the mountain biking as with the Iota mentioned above. With the taillight housing the battery and thus being a bit heavier than the main light, I was afraid there would be a bit of instability but there wasn’t, thanks largely to its wide, curved surface which adds some head-shaped contour to keep things flat. I also didn’t ever feel the need to use the head top strap for added stability but if you need it, it’s included.
The taillight is excellent on this lamp and the ability to easily scroll through the settings. Personally, I like the quicker of the two strobe options as the pattern is more disruptive to the eye and therefore, more visible. In my experience, drivers (as a driver myself) tend to not look out for runners on the road at night as much and when they see them it’s much more of a “WTF?!” moment but this taillight gives much more of a visual impression of a bike on the road, a much more frequent – though often, just as disrespected – sight on roads.
As for the PowerTap feature on both the Black Diamond Sprinter and Iota, I really didn’t find myself using it very often at all because it’s just as simple for me to hold down the power button to adjust brightness. With that said though, that and the brightness memory feature are both ways to conserve battery in these lamps, neither of which has particularly huge battery life.
There is certainly room for improvement with both the Black Diamond Sprinter and Iota headlamps. Neither has a red light setting (though the taillight of the Sprinter would suffice if needs be) which isn’t something I use often at all. The other standout thing for me is that battery life isn’t fantastic. I fully understand the trade-off here being weight for power but as technology advances I expect to see these numbers change and with their background of advancement in design, I have to assume that Black Diamond will be on top of it.
The final thing I’d should mention is price with the Iota coming in at $39.95 and the Sprinter at $79.95 (though please check the links below to see if we’ve found the cheaper!). Not the cheapest things out there – mores in the case of the Sprinter – but both save on battery waste from all angles. Also, these are very reliable products in my experience and do their intended jobs very well.
Which of these lamps is for you? Well that depends on what you’re looking for. Are you a runner who spends time on roads? The Black Diamond Sprinter is definitely worth a look. Are you someone who doesn’t really need a taillight but wants a lightweight, rechargeable, do-it-all headlamp? The Iota could be your pick. Which would you pick? Let us know in the comments below!