Black Diamond Spot
$40, 3 oz. (with 3 AAA batteries, included)
Black Diamond Cosmo
$30, 3 oz. (with 3 AAA batteries, included)
A headlamp doesn’t have to take a big bite out of your gear budget—in fact, as these two models demonstrate, you can score a multi-featured backcountry lamp for as little as 30 bucks, and a high-performance model for less than you’ll probably spend on food and gas for a weekend trip. From backpacking trips in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains in October, Utah’s Dirty Devil River canyon in late March, and the Panamint Range of Death Valley National Park in May, to a four-day climb of the Mountaineers Route on California’s 14,505-foot Mount Whitney in mid-April and dayhiking the 32-mile, 10,000-vertical-foot Pemi Loop in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in August, I put the Cosmo and Spot through many hours of use. Both shined at the usual tasks, like lighting the way when pitching a tent or hiking off-trail in the dark, but my testing also spotlighted their differences.
Both redesigned for 2016, the Cosmo and Spot share many useful similarities. With both, one click of the power button turns on the TriplePower LED, two clicks powers up the dimmer white bulb (DoublePower LED in the Cosmo, SinglePower LED in the Spot), and three clicks puts the headlamp in white LED strobe mode. With both, holding the power button for two seconds with the power off switches it to the red LED for night vision (DoublePower in the Cosmo, SinglePower in the Spot); and both have a red LED strobe mode. Holding the power button down for two seconds with the lamp off in red LED mode switches both back to white light. They both have dimming capability through holding the button down.
Each has a smart locking feature to prevent it from turning on accidentally in a pack—just hold the power button in any mode for four seconds and it locks off, with the Cosmo blinking red to indicate it’s locked, and the Spot’s power-meter light blinking blue. The Spot is waterproof up to a meter underwater for 30 minutes, the Cosmo water-resistant to splashing, rain, and a briefing, shallow immersion (but dry out the batteries and casing after immersing either of them).
They differ in brightness and range. The less-expensive Cosmo projects 160 lumens up to 200 feet/60 meters at its brightest setting, the Spot 300 lumens up to 260 feet/80 meters, according to BD. Many hikers and backpackers rarely need a headlamp to project a beam 200 feet or more—but that kind of power can be critical in an emergency, or route-finding or rappelling in the dark, and useful when skinning uphill before dawn for some backcountry turns. The Cosmo is pretty darn bright, but few ultralight headlamps match the Spot’s 200 lumens. The choice comes down to how you intend to use a headlamp.
The Spot’s unique PowerTap technology allows you to simply tap the right side of the casing (marked by a bulb icon) to cycle between the TriplePower LED and SinglePower LED—a feature I liked for circumstances such as rolling into a campsite late at night in the Panamint Range, after a few hours of backpacking in the dark, and switching from the brightest light for hiking to medium brightness for pitching my tent. The Spot also has dimming capability in red LED mode.
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They have an identical, streamlined housing, with an inset power button that rarely turns on accidentally, an adjustable, comfortably wide headband, and a battery compartment that’s easily opened with the flip of a small lever, requiring no tools. BD says the Spot’s burn time (how long it operates on one set of batteries) ranges from 50 to 200 hours, the Cosmo’s from 50 hours to 250 hours. I took several typical trips with both without having to replace the batteries.
My take: If you just want a headlamp that’s reliable, lightweight, functional in typical dayhiking and backpacking situations, and inexpensive, the Black Diamond Cosmo is a good value. But for only a few more dollars, the Spot offers high-performance features and brightness at a hard-to-beat price.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links or the text ad below to purchase a Black Diamond Spot at moosejaw.com, ems.com, sunnysports.com, or rei.com, or a Black Diamond Cosmo at moosejaw.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 all of my Gear Reviews at The Big Outside.
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