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For the last year, the Black Diamond Astro has been my primary light source anytime I’m in the wilderness or on the trail after dark. I’ve put it through the ringer — as I do with pretty much all of my possessions. The result? a reliable source of illumination that hasn’t let me down once, and didn’t destroy my budget.
Prior to getting the Astro, I simply used whatever cheap headlamp I could pick up at Wal-Mart. If it cost more than five bucks, I didn’t see the value. As far as budget gear goes, that’s fine. But once I had a light fail on me when I was counting on it, I decided to upgrade. That’s when I found the Black Diamond Astro.
A little bit about Black Diamond
In addition to the Astro headlamp, I own a few bits of Black Diamond gear — including pretty much all of my climbing stuff (the only exception being my Cotopaxi Halcon chalk bag). I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the company ever since a Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe saved me from broken legs (or worse) during an unintended and uncontrolled glissade on Mount Whitney.
After that experience, I was eager to give Black Diamond more of my business. I only kept doing so, however, when the stuff that I was buying kept working out for me. Thus far, it all has. Including the Astro.
About the Astro
This is a small, lightweight headlamp that you can pick up in five different color options. That’s the headband and the lamp itself, not the light — more on that in a moment. You have different options on brightness, but instead of having two or three specific settings, it will dim or brighten with a button hold. For general discussion, I’ll break that into Low, Medium, and High. So here are some official specs from Black Diamond on each of those ranges.
Light output: 4 lumens
Beam distance: 3 meters
Operating time: 250 hours
Light output: 85 lumens
Beam distance: 28 meters
Operating time: 22 hours
Light output: 175 lumens
Beam distance: 35 meters
Operating time: 8 hours
What to make of these specs
As far as battery life goes, I tested two Astros at both high and medium settings. The official operating times are pretty spot on. I didn’t test at the low setting for no other reason than having already torn through enough batteries to feel wasteful. Considering the accuracy at the other two settings, I’m willing to accept 200 hours at face value.
In regards to light output or brightness, I don’t really know how to judge luminosity based on a number. You’ll have to settle for anecdotal evidence. At its brightest, the Astro made it easy to hike at night, even in uneven terrain. For anything close up, the brightest setting seemed incredibly overpowering. The medium setting is perfect for just working in camp like making dinner, purifying water, etc. The lowest setting works well for when you’re getting settled in your tent or just want to run to the bathroom at night — but is perhaps just a little too dim for reading.
Overall, the Black Diamond Astro does an exemplary job of fulfilling its primary task — providing light.
As previously mentioned, you can gradually adjust the brightness that you want to work with. I do prefer that to a having just three individual brightness settings. What I love even more is the Brightness Memory feature. So if you have it set at the perfect level for working in camp, then you turn it off while you’re sitting around the fire, it will return to that same brightness level when you turn it back on.
It also has a strobe feature which, to be honest, I’ve never used outside of playing around in the basement. Still it’s handy to have, just in case you ever need to use it for signalling. The Black Diamond Astro also has a lock to help prevent the lamp from coming on in your pack. Having lost hours of lighting from flashlights switching on in backpacks, I’m grateful for a locking mechanism.
But the Astro’s lock is a bit touchy. It’s supposed to work like this — hold the on/off button down for 4 seconds, release when the lamp flashes for a few seconds. Now to release the lock, hold the button down for another 4 seconds. While you do this, the lamp will flash for four seconds and then turn solid for second. If you release too soon, the lock stays engaged and the lamp keeps flashing. Hold too long and the lamp will start flashing again and the lock will continue to stay engaged. Sometimes it takes me a few tries to get it unlocked.
That’s not ideal, but it’s far from a dealbreaker for me. Other than that, I like the Astro’s one button operation. One click turns it on or off. Once it’s on, holding the button for one second will turn the light to the max setting, and holding it down again will slowly dim it down to the lowest setting. Two clicks will engage the strobe feature, and we’ve already talked about the locking mechanism.
Everything else about the Black Diamond Astro
The head strap is easily adjustable, and pretty comfortable overall. I have a lot of headache issues, so I have to be careful not to have anything to tight on my noggin, but this lamp stays put pretty well without feeling like a celery rubber band on my head.
The lamp itself can be tilted downward to a roughly 60 degree angle, locking at several intervals along the way. This seems like a simple thing, but I LOVE IT. If you have a headlamp that can’t be tilted downward, you’re missing out. This allows you to keep the light focused ahead of you on the trail without having to tilt your head downward. You know what else this does? It prevents you from shining your lamp directly in anyone’s face around camp or on the trail — my personal pet peeve.
The Black Diamond Astro runs on 3 AAA batteries, and weighs in at 4.3 oz with batteries installed. It has a water-resistance rating of IPX 4, meaning that it can stand up to rain, snow, and sleet and keep on shining, but won’t deal with being submerged at all.
Here’s the pros and cons
If you like lists, this section is for you.
- This lamp does a great job of lighting the trail or camp. The gradual dim is great, and I love that it remembers the last setting when I turn it back on.
- It has excellent battery life, especially at lower settings.
- I found it comfortable to wear and light on the head.
- Handles inclement weather with no problem.
- It’s easy to use once you figure out the one button system.
- You can lock it to prevent accidental battery drain.
- Tilts downward for ease of use.
- The Astro is easy on the wallet — you can usually snag one for under $20.
- It can be a little tricky to unlock once locked.
- The Astro uses traditional AAA batteries — some users may prefer a rechargeable lamp.
- There’s no red light option. Though it’s not entirely necessary, red light setting can be nice in some scenarios, as red light has minimal effect on night vision.
The Black Diamond Astro: My final word
Not everybody is ready to spend $100, or even $50, on a headlamp. Most of us don’t need to. That said, I highly recommend upgrading from cheap lamps and flashlights and investing in a headlamp you can rely on. The Black Diamond Astro ticks all the important boxes — it provides excellent lighting, has good battery life, feels comfortable on the head, and is easy to use. It also has features I love, like Brightness Memory, and a price tag that won’t make you feel guilty.
The Black Diamond Astro is an excellent headlamp for most users, with great features and a reasonable price. It’s an excellent buy, in my humble opinion.