Black Diamond Ion Headlamp Review

The Black Damond Ion headlamps weighs just 1.5 ounces including batteries
The Black Damond Ion headlamp weighs just 1.5 ounces including batteries

The Black Diamond Ion is a cute little headlamp powered by two AAA batteries that has a built-in dimmer switch, red light mode, strobe, and an electronic lock. Getting a headlamp with a locking on/off switch is a must-have if you know you’ll need to count on it at night. (See Headlamps with Locking On/Off Switches for a complete list)

Weighing just 1.5 ounces, including lithium-ion batteries (which are included in the package), the Ion, has a maximum burn time of 200 hours on low with a range of 4 to 80 lumens of light. With a comfortable head strap, I thought this little lamp would be a good replacement for my Petal e+Lite which is a fantastic headlamp, but a little uncomfortable since it uses a retractable string for a head strap and not a wider band.

Comparable headlamps

Make / ModelLumensLockRed ModeWeightPrice
Biolite 330330YesYes2.4 oz$50
Knog Bilby400YesYes3.2 oz$60
Fenix HM50R500NoNo2.8 oz$60
Petzl Bindi200YesYes1.2 oz$60
Nitecore NU 32550YesYes3.5 oz$40
Nitecore NU 25360YesYes1.85 oz$37
Nitecore NU 20360YesNo1.82 oz$30
LEDLenser SEO7R200YesYes3.3 oz$40
Claymore Heady600YesNo3.7 oz$80
Petzl Tactikka450YesYes2.8 oz$70


But I had problems with the Ion from the get-go:

–>The battery case is really difficult to open and seemingly impossible to close completely to recreate the waterproof seal afterwards. It’s hard to tell if the case will stay closed once it’s been opened.

–>The front touch sensor is clever but difficult to use when you’re wearing the headlamp instead of holding it in your hands. While it’s pretty easy to learn and remember the swiping logic with a little practice, you really need to stop what you’re doing and take the headlamp off to adjust it. This gets pretty old, pretty fast, when you’re hiking at night or you’re in camp and want more or less light for cooking, reading, or setting up gear.

–>The touch sensor doesn’t work when wearing gloves.

I really wanted to like the Black Diamond Ion headlamp, but quickly decided that my old Petzl e+Lite wasn’t so bad after all and subsequently returned the Ion to the store. If you want my advice, I’d give the Black Diamond Ion headlamp a pass and stick to a headlamp with a mechanical interface like a button or the Petzl e+Lite style selector switch.

Disclosure: The author bought this product with his own funds. 
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  1. Agreed on all points. I’ll also add that I find that the electronic lock doesn’t really work most of the time and you can still swipe to turn on after locking. If this little guy would have had a mechanical switch like the Petzl Tikka, it might have been perfect for my usage. I still have mine, but I find that I reach for it less and less when packing for a trip.

    • It seems like there is no such thing as the perfect headlamp or maybe I just got sick of spending money on them. I love my Nightstick because its incredibly durable with all the light options but…it has its shortcomings. Typical 3.8 oz weight and lacking that most important locking light switch. After walking and hitchhiking ten miles one day for the most expensive batteries I ever bought. I spent the next four months taking one battery out and flipping it around every morning and every night. I set out next month comfortable that it will last another 2000 miles.

  2. Thank you for you fair review on this item.. It is a shame, that companies today are putting just about any thing they can out on the Market in hopes someone will buy it without thoroughly testing the Products. Some Magazines will give raving Reviews in order I believe to keep that company buying advertising space. When I see a Reviewer try to tell me $350.00 is a reasonable price for a jacket that cost less than $25.00 to manufacture I stop reading that Magazine and ignore their On-line Magazine as well. I do not know if it is the same with this company, but I found with a Lawn Care Product I bought that the Engineers were from a foreign Country who designed but never tested it or used it themselves. In their Country the Women did the work that would use this Product. And of course the women being sub-serviant probably told the men how great the Product was and how great the designers were.. .. So the Product was a failure from the start..I took three of them back because they failed within three use days.. SO I agree with your review, I will keep my Petzel Tikka II’s…

  3. I really wanted to like that headlamp, but I too found the swiping to be bothersome. Not to mention that when I wake up at 230 am and have to pee, it is so much easier to just hit a button on my headlamp than to try and remember the correct swipe code as I’m tired and groggy.

  4. Other commentators may have a different experience but after using a Petzl product without the ‘locking on/off switch’ over the past 10 plus years, I have never had that light turn on inadvertently in my pack and wear down the batteries. Based on positive reviews for the BD Spot, I purchased that product which had the locking switch. The lock did not prevent the light from coming on in my pack and wearing down the batteries. Possibly it is the quality and durability of the design of the head light not the locking switch which is the critical element.

  5. Wow. My experience has been quite different over the last 3 years used almost daily in winter. I have never had a problem controlling the brightness of my ion while wearing it. I find the switching completely inuitive and functional. I’ve never had the lock fail. I like the waterproof battery compartment, and have no problems with it, although, yeah, it is tight. I always wear smart phone compatible gloves anyway, so operating the light with gloves on is no problem at all. I did have annoying intermittent switch problems with my first lamp which bd sent out a replacement for the same day I contacted them. I also would prefer a mechanical switch. For that matter, I’d also like the lensing for the red light to be smoother. But given the other available options, the ion is still my favorite headlamp for most things around the house and non-mountaineering backcountry use.

  6. Hi! Thanks for the review. I have been trying to buy made in America gear as much as possible so tried petzl headlamps. They do not do well in the winter at all. Any suggestions you might have?

    • If you are trying to buy made in the USA, why did you try a French headlamp? And, which Petzl does not do well in winter and why? For what it’s worth, Princeton Tec lights are made in New Jersey which is a lot closer to the US than France.

      • Nelson, a kind caring simple ” oops sue they are made in France” would have sufficed and perhaps a helpful comment or two . I know they are made in France , but I actually meant the Princeton vizz thank you. I have a petzl tikka Xp I bought years ago ( before trying to buy American). That was before I wanted a little more , like a red light option so I then decided to try a Princeton vizz that corroded out within a few months of use. My first headlamp was a Princeton fuel ( which I still have as I keep it as a back up because it is dependable and the light lasts for a long time) so I decided that maybe my first vizz was just a defective one so I got another. this one doesn’t seem to have good lasting power and I find backpacking at night when it is sleeting/ snowing tough to see far enough ahead with it. So I am looking to change and hoping to stay American. Thank you anyways for trying to be helpful… Happy trails to you!

      • Sue, your comment on Nelson’s response is evidence for why the backpacking community are the most likely to be my friends. Your diplomacy and continued cheer make me proud to share trails with the likes of you. Should I discover a USA-made headlamp with exceptional function, I will be sure to post it here.

    • Check out FourSevens lights. They are made in GA.

  7. I have used the petal e-light on several hikes and find it superb. I also attach a Filzer UFO to my pack. It is tiny and light and useful if you have to hike on roads or just need some bright light. It is much better and also more expensive than the cheap little lights but worth every cent. Thanks for the review. Dara

  8. Different experience completely. I’ve been using the BD Ion for almost two years and close to 1200 miles including some night hiking and always around camp. The only comment I agree with is “The touch sensor doesn’t work when wearing gloves.”, Other than that my experiences have been spot on, as long as the one I have is functional, I can’t think of any reason to use anything else.

  9. I have loved my ion for the last 3 years, other than the glove thing. Never had a problem with it coming on in my pack. Love how comfortable it is and find the light sufficient for night and early morning hiking. The first time I changed the batteries getting the back off was difficult but not a problem now. I was worried at first that the batteries would wear down but I don’t think I change them more than once a year and I do a lot of backpacking. :)

  10. I seriously HATE the trend of touch sensitive controls for everything! There are so many downsides to the interface, regardless of what the designers and engineers say that it makes things easier. I don’t care. I like a nice clicky tactile physical button press that I know I can operate without issue with gloves on every single time.

    I’ve switched my main light sources over to Lithium Ion powered rechargeable cells. Specifically 18650 and RCR123A cells. These have many advantages over AA and AAA. I still use my AAA powered Petzel headlamp and I love it. But I can’t deny the output and run time benefits of having what is essentially a laptop cell powering an LED.

    Something like these products are fantastic. Just something to look into if you haven’t explored the huge world of high quality LED lighting. It’s vast.

  11. I love my Petzl E-lite. Great battery life, super lightweight and bright.

  12. FYI, the links to the Petzl e-lite do NOT work in the HTML email I received, but DO work in the web blog post.

    I had the predecessor to the BD Ion, also called the Ion. It required a $7 special lithium battery, which did not last very long, But it was lightweight and the light was good enough for camp, but not for hiking. I don’t use it anymore.

    My current headlamp is a BD Spot, circa 2007. It is still working, but blips out at times. A shake or tap on it usually restores full brightness. I have not been impressed with it’s durability. I keep it well protected in an outside pocket of my pack. The plastic is not very durable and keeps cracking/chipping away. The battery compartment barely stays shut now. It’s a stupid amount of money for a flashlight. I don’t think my next headlamp will be from BD. I had the same problem with the original Petzl Tikka, but not as bad. You would think that for the $30-$50 we pay for what amounts to a flashlight on a headband (I can buy a regular lightweight aluminum flashlight weighing 2-3oz with lithium batteries for $7), they could offer up some more durable materials. I am not rough on my gear, I can imagine that someone who is rough would need to replace their headlamp every year or two. These should not be disposable.

  13. I have been buying petzl headlamps since the 80’s and have found that besides being outdated , LED technology changes very quickly , that there headbands suck and loose there stretch . Maybe it’s time for some Princeton tech

  14. I have to say there is a learning curve when you first use the headlamp but after that
    it performed flawlessly…. I really like it!

  15. Has anyone tried the Princeton Tec Red/White/Blue or the Byte? They also have red light as well. I have a really old Princeton Tec Quest – it is a bit heavy, but I like how easy it is to turn on and off (with gloves on) by rotating the light. Full Disclosure: I sell a lot of these headlamps, but I have not tried the two Ptec ones I asked about.

  16. What headlamp have your been using recently? Just went to REI and saw a new version of the ION is out and they must have listened to you guys. 100 lumens and most importantly no “tap dimmer”. Everything is operated via the click button. Even has a red light. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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