Rechargeable Ultra-Bright Headlamp
Black Diamond Distance 1500
$200, 7.5 oz./213g
Comparing any hiking-oriented headlamps I’ve used to the Black Diamond Distance 1500 headlamp feels rather like comparing a Honda Civic to a Bradley armored fighting vehicle. At 7.5 ounces/213 grams, and putting out a supernova-like 1500 lumens at max power, the Distance 1500 is at least twice the price of all of today’s best headlamps for the backcountry and more than doubles most of them in weight and power. Over six months of testing this beast hiking, climbing, mountain and road biking, and backcountry skiing, I’ve concluded that, while it’s certainly overkill for many activities, it’s invaluable for both route finding and high-speed sports after dark.
First, full disclosure about its max power: the Distance 1500 can’t actually sustain 1500 lumens of power. According to BD, the maximum sustained power is 800 lumens—still very bright. The 1500-lumen Power Tap Technology is activated by double-tapping the side of the headlamp and it turns off automatically in about 15 seconds to prevent overheating; the cooldown period depends on the outside temperature.
The Distance 1500 headlamp operates exclusively on BD’s rechargeable lithium-ion Distance Headlamp Battery ($60), which recharges via USB-C. BD claims a full charge will last for one hour 42 minutes at 800 lumens and for six hours at 300 lumens—the latter still more than bright enough for most activities, including hiking a trail in complete darkness. The headlamp has three modes: area, spotlight (in which max brightness also activates the area-mode LEDs), and color mode with three colors.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: The Distance 1500 is not for most users. It weighs too much, costs too much, and puts out an unnecessary amount of light for both camping and hiking on well-marked trails after dark. If you’re not doing any serious route-finding (ie losing a trail for more than 100 feet), a 300- to 400-lumen headlamp is plenty.
The Distance 1500 proved itself useful in faint or off-trail situations where I needed to see more than 100 feet/30 meters to determine where to go. The Power Tap mode seems designed for exactly this situation: when unsure of how to proceed, having a portable spotlight on my head allowed me to see distant trail indicators and even the general contours of the terrain around me, helping me figure out where I was. While climbing, even 800 lumens proved too bright for most use; it’s way brighter than a climber on the wall needs to see holds within reach. However, it can illuminate an entire 100-foot wall from the ground, which is useful in some situations.
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This headlamp isn’t a replacement for the sun: the range is severely limited in trees and foliage, of course, and it can’t illuminate the peaks and large-scale features that I use to orient myself in the mountains. I generally try to avoid off-trail navigation after dark, and I rarely find myself in situations where I need a headlamp this bright. But if I’m planning on being off-trail into the night, I’ll definitely throw the Distance 1500 in my pack.
While useful for navigation after dark, I obtained the Distance 1500 primarily for biking and skiing, activities where this headlamp really shines: 800 lumens of sustained output proved sufficient for both of these sports. While I’m not the fastest or steepest mountain biker, I found the Distance 1500 to be more than bright enough for all of the trails I ride, and the multifaceted optical lens seemed to do a pretty good job of preventing a confusing shadow: obstacles on the trail only had small dark outlines. I wouldn’t expect to be able to ride gnarly downhill trails at high speeds without more light, but the Distance 1500 provides more than enough illumination for cross-country mountain biking on blue- to black-difficulty trails.
I’m way faster on skis than wheels and I found myself slowing down a bit when skiing at 800 lumens. Above roughly 20 mph, the beam would reveal smaller obstacles and fine snow details less than a second before I hit them, giving me little time to react. However, I think the average backcountry skier (who makes more turns than me) wouldn’t find themselves slowing down much, and the maximum comfortable speed at 800 lumens is more than enough for general backcountry skiing in the dark. I found the PowerTap mode very useful for scoping out small terrain features. While choosing the direction to skin uphill, it let me put in a safe up track with the accuracy that I do during the day. But the 15-second Power Tap boost doesn’t last long enough to ski anything at 1500 lumens.
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As long as I turned down the brightness for slower uphill segments, I only consumed 50 to 70 percent of a battery charge for one to two hours of after-dark skiing and biking. I purchased a spare battery for days where I planned on being out for longer, to avoid having to carry a spare headlamp. I’ve found it very fast and easy to switch batteries and have had no usability or durability issues with the battery attachment mechanism.
The Distance 1500 uses a Comfort Cradle and diagonal position on the head (with the light on the forehead, like normal, while the rear battery pack sits at the top of the nape of the neck. I found the Distance 1500 very comfortable and it works great with any headlamp-compatible helmet. I was even able to get it to work with my mountain bike helmet—which has no headlamp-compatible features and almost seems designed to not work with a headlamp—by placing the battery pack on the flat back of the helmet and the LED under the brim on my forehead in front. The band is both stretchy and adjustable and accommodates any size headlamp or helmet.
One minor note: The Distance 1500 comes with a lot of modes and a lot of controls, including flashing options for lights on the back. I’ve found all the modes quite useful, except the blue and green colors in the color modes; however, the controls took a while to learn and I had to do some fiddling and experimenting on my first few times taking it out (despite reading the instructions, which occupy about four square feet of paper).
While overkill for most users, the ultra-bright Distance 1500 proves invaluable for off-trail navigation as well as high-speed activities like skiing and biking after dark—in other words, the circumstances when you really need a bright light.
You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking either of these affiliate links to purchase a Black Diamond Distance 1500 Headlamp at blackdiamondequipment.com or backcountry.com, or the Black Diamond Distance Headlamp Battery at blackdiamondequipment.com or backcountry.com.
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Note from Michael Lanza: An avid climber, backpacker, dayhiker, and backcountry and resort skier, Nate Lanza has been doing all of these since he was a preschooler; and as my son, he has nearly 20 years of experience on wilderness adventures. 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 The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of all gear reviews and expert buying tips.