Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review: Black Diamond Ion LED Headlamp

Review: Black Diamond Ion LED Headlamp (2014)

Today we write you from the bottom of a dark cave, surrounded by bats, wearing Black Diamond's newest iteration of their Ion headlamp. It's cold and weird down here, but visibility is high and spirits are soaring thanks to BD's new microlamp offering. The Ion headlamp was designed to be a "just-in-case" backup headlamp, boasting stripped down size and minimal features with full lumen power.

Black Diamond Ion Headlamp 2014
Black Diamond Ion Headlamp 2014
The Ion underwent a total overhaul from its 2013 model. The 2013 Ion model, all things considered, looks and feels like some corporate-branded swag from an industry conference. It kinda feels cheap. The brand new Black Diamond Ion Headlamp is a whole different beast.

Lightweight, stripped-down, and with brand new touch-sensor controls, the lamp is a pretty bold move on Black Diamond's part. It's the smallest headlamp we've ever seen. People call it a "micro" headlamp, and we think that's accurate. The whole lamp is not significantly bigger than the AAA batteries inside it. It's about the size of a golf ball, if you squeezed the golf ball into a rectangle shape.

The 2014 Black Diamond Ion Headlamp has a unique touch control system that is unlike any other lamp we've seen. It has several light settings on it that are all controlled by touch, instead of traditional buttons. You swipe your finger across the surface of the front of the light, and various different swipe motions have different effects.

The 80-lumen Ion has seven different light modes: white light, white strobe, white adjustable dim, red light, red strobe, red adjustable dim, and lock. All of these modes are accessible with different touch motions on the face of the lamp. The touch motions are described in detail in the Ion's instruction manual, and it will probably take you about 15 minutes to get comfortable with all of them. Without the tactile feedback of a clicky button, you have to just know the commands. Don't expect to be able to operate it with winter gloves on, by the way. 

The battery life on this headlamp is really short. We got about 12 hours of intermittent use out of it; maybe less. It's only got two AAA batteries in it, so we didn't expect it to last forever. After testing all the touch controls at home, it only lasted for one night of camping. I'd keep some spare batteries around if you plan to use it often. 

The Black Diamond Ion 2014 is a lightweight, compact emergency headlamp that will far exceed your expectations. Its performance is great for such a small lamp and its beam looks like one from a much bigger lamp. That said, don't expect to make this your full-time lamp. 

The Bottom Line

Black Diamond Ion Headlamp ($22.95 on Amazon) is a small, lightweight headlamp that functions as a backup to your full-size headlamp. It provides ample light for camp tasks or night climbing, but don't expect it to match your regular headlamp in brightness or battery life. The price is right for this little guy, though. It's small and cheap enough to carry as a spare in your camping kit for emergencies. The touch control system is innovative and intuitive once you're used to it. 

Ariel M. Castro
Rugged Innovations

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: Mammut Tusk 9.8mm Climbing Rope

Review: Mammut Tusk 9.8mm Climbing Rope

The Mammut Tusk 9.8mm rope is a classic workhorse rope from one of the most trusted names in climbing. Mammut has been around for over 50 years and has been the leader in climbing ropes for as long as we can remember. Their reputation goes a long way, but how good are their ropes?

Mammut Tusk 9.8mm getting ready for some action.
We got our hands on Mammut's Tusk 9.8mm climbing rope and it took it out for an afternoon of abuse. The Tusk is a 70m single pattern dynamic climbing rope. Designed as a sport and gym rope, the rope has a moderate amount of stretch and is rated to withstand significant falls. Unlike standard dry treated ropes that only have a treated sheath, Mammut's SuperDry technology is a coating for both the sheath and the core, keeping your rope cleaner and drier than the average rope. 

The following triptych named "Joe Didn't Die":

The rope performed admirably in our testing. Like most new ropes, it has a slippery, waxy feel to it that makes it feel like you're driving a new car. It doesn't kink or knot out of the bag. In fact, it is an absolute pleasure to flake, maintain, and use. It folds and coils neatly and doesn't knot up when you're belaying. 

The Hot:

The Mammut Tusk Climbing Rope - 9.8mm is a beast. It's burly rope made for taking a bunch of abuse and still keeping you safe. At RI, we love products that are designed to take abuse. The Tusk feels substantial in your hand. It feels like it'll take a few whips. We like that.

The Not:

We don't have much bad to say about this rope. The price is what you would expect from an industry-leading brand, but for almost $250, we really would love a bipattern on the sheath. Rope manufacturers realize this is a "premium" feature and have been using it as an upsell for long enough. 

The Bottom Line:

The Mammut Tusk Climbing Rope - 9.8mm ($239.95 for the 70 meter version on Amazon) is a workhorse rope. It's not light, but neither is a Ford F-150. The Tusk is strong, high-performance, and durable. There are ropes from lesser manufacturers with similar stats and a lower price, but Mammut is one of the most trusted names in rock climbing and alpinism. They've been the leading name in ropes for decades with good reason. The price is on the higher side, but if you can afford it, we highly suggest you pony up. Mammut makes superior ropes, and the Tusk is a sturdy, well-built rope that will last you for years and keep you safe through many a whipper.

Be safe,

Ariel M. Castro
Rugged Innovations

Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

Review: Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp next to a fire
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
A headlamp is an absolute necessity in a climber's kit. It's one of those gadgets that you don't need at all... until you do. And when you do it's usually a sketchball situation where you're glad you have the headlamp. Our team had just such an experience lately and were fortunate enough to have a Black Diamond Spot Headlamp ($29.95 on Amazon) for the job.

Team RI was doing a leisurely 7 pitch trad route at First Creek Slabs with a team of four just outside of Red Rocks Canyon in Las Vegas -- It was supposed to be a quick day trip. A three hour touuur.... Lady Luck (5.7) is a great moderate slab haul with a huge variety of climbing: big hollow huecos, forgiving slab with balancey moves, some exposed arete areas, a couple of juicy fist crack sections, and basically everything you'd want out of an afternoon of moderate multipitch climbing. The descent, on the other hand, was a total bear. We ended up getting lost and rapping in the dark. You probably saw that coming.

Enter the hero of our story, Black Diamond's Spot Headlamp. Two of us on the team had this headlamp and the other two of us had some generic crappy ones from Wal-Mart. We going to credit the Black Diamond Spot Headlamp with keeping us from ending up as hamburger meat at the bottom of a sparsely-traveled sandstone cliff. We'd like to thank all the appropriate deities and BD for keeping us safe for the umpteenth time.

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp in Red Rock Canyon
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp in action.
The lamp itself is BD's entry level device and the cheapest one they make. The 2013 model is for sale at $29.97, and it's one of the best value headlamps you'll find. Even though it's Black Diamond's lowest model, the headlamp performs better than either of the department store headlamps our team had. It's bright. We used it on our abseil fiasco and it allowed us to spot features and anchors in the pitch black of Nevada night from around 50 feet.

Since it's the entry level model, it doesn't have much in the way of features, but we're okay with that. At the end of the day, your headlamp has one job and must do it well. The Black Diamond Spot cranks out 90 lumens, which isn't as much as more expensive models, but it was plenty for pitch black rapping misadventures. Maybe if you're a kayaker or mountain biker, you might want a brighter lamp. For a climber, BD's 90 lumen light is plenty. The headlamp has several different LEDs on it, including a red one that is designed to preserve your night vision. The main light set has a fader which allows you to turn down the brightness. We could see that being useful in dusky situations or when you're trying to infiltrate an enemy compound or something. 

We totally didn't die. Thanks BD!

The hot

The BD Spot Headlamp is an affordable multi-lumen fiend from one of the most trusted names in alpine sports. It's $29 bucks. That's cheaper than a sandwich and a beer at a ski lodge. It's an incredibly high-value head lamp with great performance and a long battery life. 

The not

It's hard to find any gripes about it. It's a stripped down lamp without many features. It doesn't have rechargeable batteries, it doesn't have an over-the-head strap, and it won't call you back after a first date. It's 90 lumens. If you can find a better lamp for the price, let us know! 

The bottom line

The Black Diamond Spot Headlamp ($29.97 on Amazon) is a little powerhouse of a lamp at a great price point. We credit it on saving our hides on multiple occasions. If you want a durable, powerful lamp for a low price, look no further. The Black Diamond Spot Headlamp is a great value and doesn't skimp on performance.

Be safe, 

Ariel Castro
Rugged Innovations