How simple and inexpensive a headlamp do you want for the backcountry? Or to frame the question from a different angle: How complex a headlamp do you need? Using Black Diamond’s rechargeable Astro 300-R and the optionally rechargeable, battery-powered Astro 300 on a pair of backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies—the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park and the Nigel, Cataract, and Cline Passes Route in the White Goat Wilderness—as well as a four-day hike in the Wind River Range and camping at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve, I became very acquainted with the strengths and shortcomings of two of today’s most affordable ultralight headlamps.
The two Astro models are identical except for the Astro 300-R being strictly rechargeable, powered by a 1500 mAh Li-ion battery with a micro-USB charging port—like all of BD’s “R” series headlamps. At 40 bucks, the Astro 300-R is certainly one of the most affordable rechargeable ultralight headlamps out there and arguably the cheapest that offers reliable performance in the backcountry.
As with BD’s other traditional battery-powered headlamps, the Astro 300 runs on either AAAs or the rechargeable BD 1500 battery pack ($15, sold separately). The main benefit that “dual-fuel” design offers is the option of a backup power source if the BD 1500 drains its charge—and the Astro 300 and BD 1500 combo actually saves you five bucks versus the Astro 300-R. Plus, the BD 1500 can be used in other battery-powered BD headlamps.
Operation and features are otherwise the same in both Astro models. The single power button turns them on and off, always powering on in the same mode and brightness level last used. The button controls dimming function and clicks between the white light and white strobe modes. Holding the button down when it’s off engages lockout mode.
In their primary, white area mode, both headlamps throw a round beam that fills much of my peripheral vision with even lighting; the white strobe mode does the same. The max brightness of 300 lumens, with a range of 180 feet/55 meters, is certainly bright enough for hiking or even running a trail in complete darkness. You’ll probably be comfortable walking in the dark at medium power (150 lumens), at which the range is 115 feet/35 meters, and at lower brightness levels in camp—prolonging battery life. And the range of 26 feet/eight meters at low power (six lumens) provides dim light for small tasks or finding something in your tent.
The run time, or battery life of the Astro 300 using AAAs, is four hours at high power and 140 hours at low power, with 16 hours of reserve power, according to BD. For the Astro 300-R, a full charge lasts six hours at high power and 140 hours at low power, with 1.5 hours of reserve power.
The easily adjustable, low-profile headband, made from recycled materials, remains comfortable on your head for hours and does not bounce when you’re moving quickly. The IPX4 waterproof rating, comparable with some mid-priced headlamps, means it withstands splashing water from any direction—it’s likely safe in rain but don’t stop this headlamp into water.
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The Astro headlamps lack the multiple modes found in other BD headlamps, and PowerTap technology, which allows you to tap the side of the casing to cycle between max brightness and whatever dimmed level you previously set. Those are definitely nice features, worth their added cost, and more important for more technical users, but absolutely not a deal-breaker for many users seeking simplicity and affordability.
Do the Astro 300 and 300-R offer all you need in a headlamp? The biggest shortcoming of the Astro is that the area mode does not give you the stronger, focused beam of a spotlight mode, especially for seeing an object at a distance. These headlamps are not an ideal choice for hiking or route-finding off-trail or when climbing. Otherwise, though, they deliver all the functionality that many outdoor users need. And some people will definitely prefer the simplicity of the Astro lights over models with more modes and functions but also more complexity in operating them (and cost).
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While not as versatile as the best headlamps available today, the Black Diamond Astro 300 and rechargeable Astro 300-R offer backpackers, dayhikers, trail runners, hut trekkers, and others affordable options for a simple but adequately bright and functional ultralight headlamp, including the ability to use either AAAs or a rechargeable battery in the Astro 300.
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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 Astro 300-R at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com, a Black Diamond Astro 300 at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com, the BD 1500 rechargeable battery at blackdiamondequipment.com, or any BD headlamp at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or blackdiamondequipment.com.
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