Brightness and a long battery life may be essential in a torch for more serious uses such as mountaineering or winter hills, but you don't always need the highest available output, nor the weight and bulk that comes with it. More compact, less powerful headtorches can be easily sufficient for summer hillwalking and climbing, night-time trail runs, and camping. Being smaller and lighter has obvious appeal whether you're watching the weight, or just slipping a torch into a pocket on the slim chance it may be needed. Depending on the situation I'll often carry two headtorches, and for this a lightweight, compact model is also an obvious choice in secondary emergency backup role.
Two new models from Black Diamond hit the small-and-light remit head on. The Sprint 225 packs a reasonable output and burn time into a compact body, making it a good all-round headtorch for weight conscious users in less-exacting circumstances. The Flare, meanwhile, is BD's latest emergency mini torch, a robust but suitably tiny model that's for times of unexpected need rather than regular use.
I'm looking at both here.
Sprint 225 - £40
Sold as a runners' torch, the light and compact Sprint 225 is equally applicable to hillwalkers and climbers. This small USB-charged headtorch is ideal for times when you're out in the dark for just an hour or two, or indeed any occasion when lighting may not prove essential but you want something pocketable with you just in case. While it has less range and battery life than will be required of your primary light on bigger adventures in the darker months, I think it's an ideal size for a backup second torch at any time of year. And during the long days of early summer, I found the Sprint 225 was more than sufficient as my main light on overnight trips.
Weight and build
At just 49g on my kitchen scales (BD variously say 51 or 56), the Sprint 225 is a real lightweight, and this lightness relative to its performance is a key selling point. As a result it is comfy and unobtrusive on the head and doesn't tend to bounce around much when you're running. Looking at BD's other front-mounted units, the Revolt 350 is a worthwhile comparison. While that boasts more power and a longer burn time, it weighs 90g for the privilege. Being smaller and a lot lighter puts the Sprint 225 at an obvious advantage if you're looking for something to slip into a pocket.
Build quality feels good so far - plasticy, but not in a bad way. These compact front-only units do tend to take the knocks well, partly because there's no exposed wiring to damage. Its IPX4 rating means that it's resistant to rain (though not full immersion in water), and for UK use I'd say that's pretty much essential.
With a maximum output pf 225 lumens, which Black Diamond say gives you a range of 40m, the Sprint 225 is not a bright or powerful torch by modern standards. For safety-critical uses such as alpine climbing, or route finding on steep, complex ground, a torch with more reach and overall beef would be a lot better. However it does seem relatively bright for its modest size and weight, and in that sense I think you're getting a decent bang for not much buck. While you can't see miles with it, you don't always need to carry a lighthouse on your head, and for less challenging terrain, such as easily-followed paths, the Sprint 225's full beam generally feels comfortably sufficient. Thanks to its multifaceted lens the light is cast in quite a broad arc rather than a narrow focus, giving you a nice wide field of view.
Medium output is 120 lumens with a 20m range - fine for hanging around camp, and perhaps just enough to feel your way off a hill in the dark if you're ekeing out the battery. Down at low power you get 6 lumens with a 7m range, adequate for bedtime reading but not much else.
The built-in 750 ma-Hr lithium-ion battery gives you a promised 1.5 hours of use at full output, rising to 4 hours on medium setting and 20 hours on low. While I haven't timed these figures to the minute, I'd say in use they sound about right. Its small battery simply doesn't have the capacity for sustained output, and as such this torch is better suited to quick hits after dark than anyting ambitious or serious. Indeed the Sprint 225 is specifically aimed at post-work evening runs and suchlike uses. A torch for quick hits and frequent recharges, it's not ideal for multi-day backpacking, travel or camping far from a USB charger, unless you carry a separate battery pack.
How does battery life fare in the cold? While the weather hasn't been obliging recently, I tried it after a few hours in the freezer at -20. Surprisingly, the burn time didn't appear to be adversely affected, and I still got around 90 minutes at full beam. This may bode well for winter use.
Keeping track of the power level is easy thanks to a little three-light display on the side of the unit. The percentage remaining can be gleaned depending which of the three lights is lit constantly, flashing, or off; but I'd consider it a moot point whether I've got 20% or 40% juice left, given the limited burn time even on full charge, so there's more detail here than I (or anyone) would be likely ever to need, and perhaps Black Diamond could have kept this simpler.
Re-charging via USB takes 3 hours from empty, and again the light display on the side gives you a running commentary on the progress. When not in use the battery seems to hold its charge well, though to be safe I've generally tried to give it a top-up before heading out.
I find the Sprint 225 fits comfortably and securely, and with little or no bounce when you're running it's possible to forget you're wearing it. Narrow, tapered and stretchy, the headband is low-profile and easily adjusted. It can be detached too, though I'm not sure why you would. There's enough pivot in the head to afford clear sight of your feet without getting a stiff neck.
A single button on top switches between various modes and power outputs, with the addition of a dimming function, a strobe, and a button lock. I get a bit lost in the number and duration of presses each function requires, but there are not so many that this really becomes a problem. Fundamentally, once switched on I just want max or medium power - and for this Black Diamond's Power Tap function is pretty handy, allowing you to switch between the two by just touching the side of the torch rather than the button. In a small torch like this, simplicity is my ideal - and the Flare 225 more or less delivers.
Black Diamond say:
A light that easily fits into the pocket of your running shorts or vest and is virtually unnoticeable on your head, the Black Diamond Sprint 225 is purpose-built to power fast-paced morning runs or post-work trail sessions. With 225 lumens on the max setting with an average 2.5 hours of burn time, the lithium ion battery is rechargeable via USB, and the light's storm proof IPX4 rating protects against rain and sleet from any angle. In addition, the Sprint 225 utilizes our updated optical efficiency, which provides brighter light with more peak intensity, plus now you can easily track battery life with a six-setting, three-LED batter meter. The Brightness Memory feature allows you to turn the light on and off at a chosen brightness without reverting back to the default setting, and the Sprint 225's PowerTap™ Technology makes for instant brightness adjustment with the tap of your finger. Finally, the light's vari-width headband is lightweight, packable, and stays comfortably in place on high-output runs.
- Weight: 49g
- Produces 225 lumens on max setting
- Compact, low-profile design is powered by a lithium ion rechargeable battery (3-hour USB charge time)
- Vari-width elastic headband purpose-built for running
- Six-setting 3 LED battery meter
- PowerTap™ Technology allows instant transitioning between full and dimmed power
- Brightness Memory allows you to turn the light on and off at a chosen brightness and revert to its most recent brightness
- Settings include full strength, dimming and strobe
- Multifaceted optical lens design
- Lockout feature safe guards against accidental use when stored in a pack or pocket
- IPX4: Storm proof—Tested to withstand rain and sleet from any angle
- 750 ma-Hr li-ion battery
For info see blackdiamondequipment.com
Flare - £25
While the Sprint 225 is a small and compact all-rounder, the Flare is very much an emergency light to crack out only when all else fails. Stick it in your first aid kit and think about it in a couple of years; slip it into a pocket on a multi-pitch climb in case night arrives sooner than the top; carry it along as your backup light on summer hillwalks where a full-sized second torch might be overkill - there's not a lot of oomph here, but this lightweight and robust mini-unit could one day prove to be your get-out-of-jail card.
In terms of output and battery life the Flare just has the edge over its obvious rival the Petzl e+LITE, another teeny emergecy torch that also runs on coin-sized CR2032 batteries. They weigh the same, and the cost is pretty similar too.
Weight and build
Weighing a piffling 26g including batteries, and tiny with it, the Flare is suitably light and compact for its emergency role. Made of plastic, with a chunky aluminium dial, the build has a reassuringly solid feel. With an IP67 rating it can survive immersion in water, which is the sort of thing you want from a backup light of last resort.
At full strain the Flare musters just 40 lumens of output, which is not exactly going to slice the night, but might be enough to effect a safe abseil or walk on a bearing across a moor in the dark, if all else fails. Black Diamond suggest a maximum range of only 10m, but I think that's being conservative. At full beam you can definitely see a bit further than that, but don't expect miracles! Low setting, 4 lumens, has a weedy 1m range.
At the higher output there's a quoted 4-hour runtime, while low will dribble along unspectacularly for 15 hours, according to BD's figures. Because batteries are sourced separately, and there must be some variation in their quality depending on where you buy them and their age, I have not tried to test the burn time in real world use. Operating range, say BD, is 43 degrees down to -17, which should cover you for any conceivable UK use.
This is not a rechargeable model, but takes two tiny CR2032 batteries. Your first set comes included, and, say Black Diamond, the Flare can be stored for 10 years with the batteries installed and still remain operational. While the lack of charging ability initially seems a bad thing in our increasingly eco-conscious age, the fact that it can sit unused and lose power far more slowly than a built-in rechargeable battery is arguably the key concern for a safety light that is made to sit in the bottom of your pack or the car glove box, almost forgotten until called on in extremis.
The Flare fits securely and neatly, with an easily adjusted headband which combines a stretchy cord around the back with a short bit of webbing for better comfort across the forehead. As with the Sprint, the strap can be detached from the unit; but again, I can't see when I'd ever want to do so.
Five settings are on offer: red, red strobe, dim white, full white and white strobe. With a manual dial that cycles through the five modes, operating the Flare couldn't be easier, and as someone with little patience for electronic faff I wish more general-use headtorches were this basic. How many modes and permutations do we really need? There's no need for any kind of locking ability; it would be pretty hard to turn on by mistake as it is.
Black Diamond say:
Built to support any adventure, the Flare is an emergency headlamp that's lightweight and compact, while remaining extremely robust. Featuring 40 lumens of dependable light that runs off two Lithium CR2032 batteries housed in a burly aluminum housing, the Flare stows easily in a chalk bag zip pocket, a glove box, or emergency kit and can be deployed in any weather thanks to its IP67 submersible waterproof construction. The low-profile headband keeps the Flare minimal yet secure when worn. In addition to its low and full-strength white modes, the Flare includes red, strobe, and SOS modes to complete the Flare's undisputed status as the ultimate emergency light at the ready for any mission.
- Emits 40 lumens on full strength white setting
- Extremely compact, lightweight, and packable design
- Settings include low and full-strength white, red, strobe, and SOS modes
- IP67: Waterproof and dust proof – Unit is completely sealed and tested to operate up to 1 meter underwater for 30 minutes. Requires no maintenance after submersion.
- Always ready for use, can be stored with batteries installed for 10 years
- Runs on two coin-cell Lithium CR2032 batteries, included
For info see blackdiamondequipment.com