Black Diamond Spot 400
$50, 2.5 oz.
How do you choose a headlamp for the backcountry? If you’re looking for a range of modes that’s both basic and versatile, good brightness and dimming capability, and smart features that make it more useful while maintaining a design simplicity that doesn’t require an advanced science degree to operate it, Black Diamond’s Spot 400 is hard to beat. On evenings in camp on a five-day, late-summer hike in the Wind River Range, I found this latest update sustains and improves on the legacy of BD’s popular Spot line as an excellent value in an ultralight headlamp.
Powered by three AAA batteries, the Spot 400 boosts maximum brightness to 400 lumens, casting a beam for 100 meters; that’s bright enough for hiking off-trail or searching for a descent or ascent route in pitch darkness. BD says that at max brightness, the headlamp will burn for four hours on three fresh AAA batteries—but most users won’t need that brightness level for anywhere near that length of time on a single outing or multi-day trip.
At minimum brightness level of six lumens—bright enough to find your way in and out of a tent in the middle of the night—the headlamp will run for 225 hours. At medium power, the Spot 400 projects a beam 60 meters and runs for eight hours on fresh batteries; that’s brighter than many users will need in camp or even most of the time you’re hiking a trail in complete darkness. In peripheral white light mode, the broad beam projects adequate light uniformly to organize gear or illuminate a campsite or tent interior.
Those metrics illustrate not only this lamp’s power but a key fact: Typical use will not quickly drain its batteries. After four nights of regular use at various brightness levels and modes in the Wind River Range, the headlamp still retained two-thirds of its charge—displayed by its three-level battery meter. The Spot 400 will normally make three AAA batteries last more than one typical backcountry trip or throughout a long trip.
BD made this Spot update incrementally lighter and more streamlined, with a housing that doesn’t feel like a load on your head or bounce around when you’re moving fast. The low-profile design still has two buttons and simple operation: It powers on and off and dims using the larger button, while the smaller button cycles between the three modes: direct beam, peripheral white mode, and red for night vision.
It also has dimming capability in all three modes, activated by holding down the larger button. Strobe is activated in all modes by clicking the larger power button twice rapidly.
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BD’s unique PowerTap technology—found in other BD headlamps—allows you to simply tap the right side of the casing (marked by a bulb icon) to cycle between max brightness and whatever dimmed level you previously set. The Spot series and other BDmodelshave brightness memory technology: They turn on in the mode and brightness level you last turned them off.
Like other BD headlamps, the Spot 400 also has a lockout mode that turns on and off by holding down both buttons for a few seconds, to ensure that the lamp isn’t inadvertently turned on and draining its batteries inside your pack or pocket.
I found the easily adjustable headband remains comfortable for hours. The IPX8 rating means the headlamp is waterproof to just over one meter for 30 minutes. The battery compartment is easilyaccessed by flipping a small lever on one side.
BD’s rechargeable 1500 mAh Li-ion battery and its charger can be purchased separately ($30) and used instead of three standard AAA batteries in the Spot. But if you’re buying a new headlamp and don’t want to constantly throw away batteries, it makes more sense to just get the Black Diamond Spot 400-R ($65, 2.6 oz.), which is rechargeable and otherwise identical to the Spot 400—and it won’t take long to cover the additional $15 cost of it through the savings on batteries.
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Still priced competitively among ultralight, high-performance headlamps at $50, the Black Diamond Spot 400 has the brightness, versatility, and features to make it arguably the best ultralight headlamp value for backpackers, hikers, climbers, trail runners, and other outdoors users.
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You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a Black Diamond Spot 400 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com, or a rechargeable Black Diamond Spot 400-R at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all reviews and expert buying tips.