Black Diamond's Spot and Storm headtorches have been around for years. Robust and pretty powerful for their size, they're each a good solid choice for climbers and hillwalkers. A recent upgrade has improved their output and burn times: so which model better meets your needs? Here we look at the two new rechargeable versions.
Both torches now come in two different options:
- Storm 500-R with inbuilt 2400 mAh Li-ion USB-rechargeable battery £65
- Storm 450 compatible with standard AAA alkaline batteries or BD's li-ion BD1500 rechargeable battery pack £50
- Spot 400-R with inbuilt 1500 mAh Li-ion USB-rechargeable battery £55
- Spot 400 compatible with standard AAA alkaline batteries or BD's li-ion BD1500 rechargeable battery pack £40
In this review we're looking at the Storm 500-R and the Spot 400-R. For users based from home, or within reach of a power bank for charging on the go, these micro USB-chargeable models with inbuilt batteries are a convenient option.
Alternatively, the dual fuel Storm 450 and Spot 400 offer the flexibility of use with AAA batteries or a BD battery pack, making them a good choice for travelling, multi-day trips or expeditions. Assuming all batteries degrade over time, a torch without an integrated battery may end up lasting longer too.
However, if you're looking for a long burn time then the inbuilt battery of the Storm 500-R in particular is going to be hard to beat.
Ethics and environment
Lithium-ion batteries aren't great for the environment, and not yet widely recycled; but that's hardly an issue confined to torches. On the upside, Black Diamond's new headlamps use recycled elastic in the headbands, while the packaging is now plastic-free (something that's great to see).
See both torches demoed here:
Storm 500-R - £65
Sturdy and powerful, the Storm 500-R is a solid headtorch for more serious uses such as winter hillwalking or mountaineering, where high output and decent battery life are critical. Its fully waterproof rating is confidence inspiring in a downpour too. Over the years I've generally found Black Diamond torches to be user-friendly and reliable. So far I really like the Storm 500-R's power and toughness. However with quite a few combinations of modes and dimmable output levels I've not found this the easiest torch to master in the real world; it's not a deal breaker, but I do find it irritating that fuss-free simplicity seems to be too much to ask of most torches these days.
Very bright; mega burn time; tough and waterproof
Comparatively heavy and bulky; operation could be simpler
Weight and size
While headtorches that combine the battery and LEDs in one front-mounted unit seem to be getting gradually lighter and more compact, the Storm 500-R is a bit bigger than many, and at 100g it's not the lightest. Perhaps that's a fair price for the power it packs.
Since you're carrying all the weight on your forehead you might notice it when running, when I've found it has a tendency to shift and bounce. At walking pace it's not a problem, but the Storm does still feel weighty compared to the Spot. It also sticks out quite far from the head.
Robust, waterproof, and good in the cold
There are times of course when solid durability trumps weight saving, and for me that's pretty much whenever I'm up a hill at night in winter conditions or testing weather. It may be a bit big in your pocket, but the Storm 500-R should come into its own when the going gets tough. Reassuringly chunky, it feels like it's built to take some knocks.
A torch worth having on the hill should be at least splash proof, but the fully waterproof Storm 500-R goes a lot further. With an IP67 rating, it'll survive submersion to 1m for up to 30 minutes - which should be enough even for Eryri (Snowdonia) in December.
And if the temperature drops far enough for all that water to freeze, the Storm 500-R is designed to go on operating down to a frigid -17C. Many torches are noticeably affected by the cold, so its sub-zero performance should make this model an attractive choice for winter mountaineers. I've used it below freezing, in some windy weather too, and have no complaints on this score so far. However it's inevitable that the battery's burn time will still decrease to some degree as the temperature drops; some brands - Silva a notable example - provide figures for different temperatures. You don't get that data from Black Diamond, but it's something to at least bear in mind.
Its contoured mount and tapered, soft-touch elastic headband give it a comfy fit, which mostly makes up for the weight (unless you're running, when a second over-head strap might have added more stability). Size adjustment is easy, and it should fit all sizes of head or helmet. If you want to thread the torch onto something else, like a rucksack strap, the headband can be detached; thanks to the narrow slot it has to pass through, that's not likely to happen by mistake.
Whether you're winter hillwalking or climbing in the dark (by accident or design), the key consideration in a torch for serious mountain use is the balance of output to battery life. You want something with enough range to pick out distant features at the end of your abseil rope, or to highlight the tricky ground on an evening walk-off. But it's not much good if the power fades too rapidly; you need meaningful output for hours. The Storm 500-R is one of the better models I've used in that respect.
Brighter torches are available, but for even quite demanding uses the power on offer here is really pretty good. Output ranges from a mighty high of 500 lumens, for full-beam route finding, down to a 6 lumen low. At max power the stated range is 120m, and although I would take that with a pinch of salt it does cast a long way - easily far enough to see details at a rope length or navigate complex off-path terrain in the dark. The middle of the road output of 250 lumens gives you visibility to around 50-60m; this is comfortably bright enough for walking on clear tracks and trails where obstacles are fewer and the way you're going obvious, making it a good all-round sort of level that'll help conserve power.
For a broad field of vision at close proximity, flood mode casts a nice wide beam that's soft and not too dazzling. If you want more distance, switch to the tighter-focused spot. And for the best of both worlds, tap the housing to activate both the wide angle and the long distance LEDs at once. In terms of beam intensity I don't find the dedicated flood or spot modes particularly stellar, but when you switch to full-on with everything the visibility, both peripheral and long-range, is really impressive.
Its battery life beats any compact front-mounted torch I've tried before. That big 2400 mAh Li-ion battery holds a lot of juice, giving you a very generous 7 hours at full beans (as measured by the ANSI FL-1 test standard now used by many manufacturers). It's the longest life of any Black Diamond integrated battery model. But inevitably for an unregulated light, this output decreases steadily, so 'full power' at 7h is just 10% of the output you started with. After 7h you're down in 'reserve' mode with only a dribble of light to stumble around in. This will be the case for any model with an unregulated output, and it pays to be hard headed about the headline advertised burn times for all torches.
Set the Storm 500-R to around medium output (you have to estimate this since it's a dimming scale rather than discrete steps) and you'll have 19 hours before hitting the sub-10% reserve. And right down at minimum power - knocking about camp maybe - you're good for a massive 350 hours.
In the hills its burn time makes the Storm 500-R a real winner. For winter mountaineering it's reassuring to think that you'll be able to operate on fiddly ground for longer, and still have power in hand for later. While your full 100m+ beam won't last ages, 50m will still get you a long way. With frugal use you'll have quite a cushion.
Operation is via two buttons, and while it should be relatively intuitive I do think there are rather too many modes and permutations for hassle-free use out in the cold and dark. The larger right hand button turns it on and off, and can be held down for dimming or brightening the light. I'm not sold on the ability to dim the beam since I'm often unsure what level of output I've set it to and have to keep going back to check: for me, three discrete modes (low, mid and high) would be plenty, and clearer than an undifferentiated scale. The torch will remember the dimmed output you previously had it set to, and I don't know if this reduces or adds to my faff factor.
The smaller left hand button switches between spot, flood, and coloured light for night vision (with a choice of red, blue or green - all three being pointless complications as far as I'm concerned, but presumably someone wanted them). It's also possible to set it to strobe. Importantly, the on/off function can be locked by simply holding both buttons down for a few seconds; there's little worse than reaching into your pack to find your torch has been knocked on accidentally and is nearly out of charge, so I do question the wisdom of any design without a lock. These buttons are more or less operable with cold hands or wearing gloves, but it helps a lot of you're already well familiar with using the torch since you can't feel much.
Many Black Diamond torches, this one included, feature 'PowerTap Technology' which lets you switch from whatever setting you're on to full output merely by tapping or touching the torch housing. When reviewing a previous torch with this feature I thought it was 'pretty cool'. After longer use I can't claim to be a full convert after all, though on balance I do still come out pro.
Let's start with the annoyances. I'll often want to maintain whatever mode I'm in, without needing to constantly ping from one to another. The problem is that every time you reach to adjust the tilt of your torch, or scratch your head, you end up nudging the tap feature unintentionally. But then it doesn't always work first touch when you do want it to. It soon gets irritating.
On the plus side, though, it works even with gloves on, and it's when you're wearing gloves (and least able to feel the little buttons) that I think you might particularly benefit from the tap function. Another advantage of the quick tap is that you can use it to help save battery life, by having the torch set at a lower output and then only tapping to full-distance for brief periods when you really need to pick out your route far ahead. This benefit is probably the clincher.
The inbuilt battery on the Storm 500-R charges via a micro USB, taking 3 hours for a full charge from empty (and with clear and useful charge level indicator lights). The newer fitting for a lot of devices is USB-C, and I've no doubt torch manufacturers will catch up at some stage. A recent forum thread suggests that the main advantage of USB-C may be that it's less easy to damage than the little pin of a micro USB. I don't think I've ever managed to break a micro USB input, and as I have plenty of old micro USB cables, and nothing that yet takes the new style, it's not presently an issue for me if this input is looking dated.
- For more info on the Storm 500-R see blackdiamondequipment.com
Spot 400-R - £55
Perhaps you don't quite need the class-leading power and battery life offered by the Storm 500-R? From summer hills and crags, to camping, and even potentially running, there are lots of occasions when something a bit lighter and more compact might better fit the bill. I've been using the Storm's slimmer sibling throughout the dark months of autumn, and now into winter, for its size I've found it's still impressively bright. Ten pounds cheaper than the Storm 500-R, the Spot 400-R feels like a good buy for the money too.
Pros: Small, light, tough and waterproof - and still pretty bright
Cons: Battery life much shorter than the Storm's (but still pretty decent); operation could be simpler
Weight and size
At just 68g (BD say 73g) and notably more compact than its big brother, the Spot 400-R is light and packable, comparing well for size with other models of similar output. Not too heavy for summer, but still with plenty of oomph for darker seasons, this is a torch you could be glad to carry year-round. For Scottish winter mountaineering it'd more than do in main torch mode (though I'd prefer the Storm as my primary light), but it's also nice and compact if you're carrying it as your backup.
Robust and waterproof
With a tough plastic body and a robust pivoting action this is a solid little torch, sharing the durable feel of the Storm. Likewise it's IP67 rated, tested waterproof to 1m for 30 minutes. Splash-proof torches generally seem fine even in a downpour, but I think fully submersible has to be better!
Its operating temperature is the same too: from 43C (which definitely beats my personal upper safe working limit) down to a nippy -17C. With its smaller housing and lower capacity battery I suspect the Spot will if anything fare a bit less well in the cold than the Storm, but after a couple of hours in the home freezer it still seemed fine. It hasn't failed me outside yet, even on sub-zero days.
There's the same tapered elastic headband, with its soft and reasonably unsweaty feel on the head, and since there's less weight to carry here the strap feels more comfy and secure than the Storm. With pretty much no bounce, this is a nicer torch to use for running.
While it doesn't quite match the Storm on full beam dazzle, the Spot still packs quite a punch for a torch this size. Going flat out it hits a very respectable 400 lumens, with a quoted range of 100m. As with the Storm, I'm not convinced you get a usable range quite that far in the real world, but you can certainly see a good enough distance to abseil off a winter crag or navigate tricky ground in the dark. Mid output, around 200 lumens, has a quoted range of 60m - still pretty decent even if that promised figure is ambitious - while the 6 lumen low of 12m is the sort of setting you want for sitting around in a tent and saving batteries.
It's the same setup as the Storm, with one LED for wide-angle proximity lighting and another for long-distance spotlighting. With its soft and not-too-dazzling quality, flood mode gives a very broad field of vision, but very little reach, so you're lighting up your immediate surroundings clearly while not seeing much beyond that bubble. Spot mode is a lot more focused, throwing a narrow beam a long way but at the expense of closer range peripheral vision. If you want it all - and I think I definitely would in trickier situations at night - then the Power Tap puts you on full output from both LEDs... at which point you can see loads.
The Spot 400-R features an integrated 1500 mAh Li-ion battery. As a more compact unit with a smaller capacity battery it can't out-compete the Storm 500-R for burn time; but size isn't everything, and it does quite a lot with what it's got.
At full pelt you've got a 4hr burn time. As per the Storm, this is measured according to the ANSI FL-1 test standard, which means that by the time 4 hours have elapsed you're on 10% of initial output. After this, it's 1hr on sub-10% 'reserve' output, where there's only a trickle of light. Your mid-power 200 lumen option - still brighter, let's not forget, than a lot of older torches on full - gives you a more forgiving 8hr burn time (30mins reserve), while the very lowest output will go on for a full 225hr (0 reserve).
So as well as giving you 100 lumens less output when fully charged, the Spot 400-R has a significantly shorter battery life than the bulkier Storm. It's obvious which one you'd rather have to hand on a Ben(ightment) .Still, for its modest size and weight - 68g really isn't a lot - the Spot 400-R has quite impressive staying power. It's a better battery life than many rival compact headtorches.
You get the same two-button setup as the Storm, with identical features and functionality. I'm coming round to that PowerTap thing, but I do think small torches are best as simple as possible, and as such I would definitely prefer three distinct output modes rather than endlessly scrolling through the dimmer function. And I've no use whatsoever for dim coloured 'night vision' LEDs.
Again, charging is done via micro-USB. It takes 3 hours for a full charge from empty, and there are handy charge level indicator lights.
- For more info on the Spot 400-R see blackdiamondequipment.com
It's not quite the powerhouse of the Storm. But still, the Spot 400-R has more brightness, and more staying power, than many compact torches in its class. Arguably its balance of output and burn time versus weight makes it more of an all-rounder than a winter mountain specialist like the Storm; but take it on the winter hills and it is still very capable. For a lot of users this will do a great job as the main torch year-round. But if you're carrying two – and I always do at this time of year – then the great thing about the Spot 400-R is that it's small and light as a backup torch, but still tough and powerful enough to get you home safe if called on.
Despite a couple of minor niggles with operation I've become a big fan of the Storm 500-R. It's got a winning combination of toughness, waterproofness, high output and long burn time, and that big inbuilt battery easily beats most of the competition. If you're looking for a new model to be your main torch for winter mountains, this is one that really shines.
I think BD have done a great job with the new rechargeable Spot and Storm. In fact these are the two torches I'm planning on using the most this winter season.