Chris Townsend likes some new rechargeable headlamps

Black Diamond‘s new R series headlamps have built-in rechargeable batteries, hence the R designation. You can’t replace them with other batteries, which means you need to carry a battery pack on a long trip, something far more usual these days anyway as they’re needed for smartphones. It also means there are no dead batteries to dispose of, saving waste.  Black Diamond says the batteries can be charged to full power over 1000 times each so the headlamps should last well. The batteries are lithium-ion ones that work well in the cold. Recharging is via a micro-USB connection rather than the more recent and increasingly common USB-C. This surprised me but as the headlamps are supplied with charging cables it’s not a big problem. Battery life is reasonable, especially as there’s really no need to use the headlamps at more than half power much of the time. All the headlamps have reserve power, so they’ll still operate at low power after the runtime ends.

There are four headlamps in the range – the Astro R, Cosmo R, Spot R and Storm R. The names may be familiar, but these are all new models with new designs. As well as a rechargeable battery they all have LEDs whose brightness can be increased or dimmed simply by pressing the big power button, a much simpler method than on previous Black Diamond headlamps. You can also turn the headlamps on and off at last used brightness level without reverting to maximum brightness, a useful feature. Each headlamp has a locking mode too to prevent it accidentally turning on in your pack or a pocket. All the headlamps also have frictionless pivots (these could have a wider range), battery life indicators, recycled elastic adjustable headbands and storm-proof ratings (these are higher in the more expensive models).

I’ve been trying three of the four headlamps and I am impressed. They are small, light, powerful and easy to use. There’s no need to memorise complex sequences of button presses.

Black Diamond Astro 300-R

The Astro R is the budget model. It only has one LED and only one switch. That makes it very simple to use. It’s not as powerful as the other headlamps and battery life isn’t as good though. I wouldn’t choose it for winter hiking when I might want it fairly bright for many hours at a time. However outside of the long hours of winter darkness it should be fine. For camp use about a quarter power is adequate. The beam is a flood rather than a spot, also good for camp, though not so good for picking out details far ahead when walking.

The Astro R lacks a red LED and a strobe, which I think are bigger drawbacks than the lower power when comparing it to the other headlamps.

As a basic headlamp for occasional use, especially in summer, it’s fine. The more powerful headlamps with more features are better for regular use though.

Black Diamond Spot 400-R

The Spot R has three LEDs and two switches so it’s not quite as simple as the Astro 300-R. However, it’s much better specified and is still easy to use. The two white LEDs are termed distance and proximity by Black Diamond. The first has a narrower more focused spot beam and so is good when walking and you want to see what lies ahead. The second is a flood beam that lights a wide area evenly, which is good in camp. There’s a red LED too. The dimming and strobe settings work with all three LEDs. You can also alter the brightness by tapping a point on the side of the lamp housing. The different LEDs can all be switched on without having to cycle through any of the others.

The large switch operates dimming in all three lighting modes and turns the headlamp on in the same mode it was in when switched off. The small switch is used to change the modes. To activate the strobe the large switch is pressed twice in quick succession.

The Spot 400-R is powerful. The distance light is great for walking on difficult terrain on just half brightness. For close up work – tent pitching, cooking, map reading – about quarter brightness is fine.

Of the three headlamps tested I think this is the most generally useful for year-round use.

 Black Diamond Storm 500-R

This is the heaviest, most expensive and most powerful of the R series headlamps. This is because it has a bigger battery than the others. It has the same features as the Spot R with the addition of green and blue lights and works in the same way. To switch between the colours the small switch is held down until they change.

Because of the bigger battery the Storm 500-R has the best battery life of the three headlamps even though it’s the most powerful. For long winter nights it would be a good choice and it would also be excellent for multi-day trips as long as you don’t mind the extra weight.

RECOMMENDED: This product has been awarded our ‘Recommended’ endorsement, meaning our reviewer believes it is a strong product which works well for its intended purpose.