Black Diamond Apollo Lantern
Reviewed by Jon Griffith
Black Diamond are no newcomers to the LED business. Whilst Petzl might have pioneered it all, Black Diamond have proven to be a very strong (if not the only?) real competitor to the Petzl market for climber’s head torches. Its amazing to think that in such a short space of time technology in the lighting industry has allowed us to move on from those heavy battery sucking ‘Zoom’ head torches to now ultra-light LED powered energy efficiency monsters. In fact when you think about it, the technological gains made in the head torch industry are some of the largest ones in the climbing gear sector. It comes as no surprise therefore that LEDs would become incorporated into some kind of camp lantern to replace those cumbersome screw-on gas lanterns. What did come as a surprise was how incredibly small it was.
For some reason all the images I had seen of it on the internet had not inspired any minimalist ideals in my head and I was impressed to see how small the thing could pack down to. I wont deny that I had thought that this seemingly ‘luxury’ piece of kit would be valley bound and the weight and size of it would never induce me to take it up high. However, so impressed was I that its first venture was up to the Fourche bivouac hut on the Frontier Ridge (3700m).
Size and weight
Well as mentioned before it’s a very small lantern. BD refer to it as ‘soup-can sized’ – measuring 5.2×3 inches (13×7cm) when its collapsed. Compare that to some of the normal size screw on gas lanterns and it’s a pretty clear winner. Even the smallest gas lantern I could find on the Internet measured 5×3.7 inches. The fact that its also fully extendable means that you can go from 5.2 inches tall to a full 9.5 inches
So far so good. But how about the weight. Well obviously this is no eLite but you may be surprised to hear that it weighs in at a mere 220gr (without batteries). The hard part about writing a review for this is that there is nothing to compare it to. In my view it is far more like a headtorch than other LED lanterns on the market as it incoportates the same kind of technology and build quality as you get in top of the range head torches. Obviously though its a very different product as it is designed to diffuse light rather than concentrate it as head torches do. However just to give you a rough idea. My other head torch is a Myo 5 which weighs in at 238gr so actually heavier than the Apollo (just to give you an idea how it compares in weight). As for light, the Apollo floods out an even 360 degree beam at 50 lumens. Most headtorches have a concentrated light at around the 80-100 lumens mark so its actually pretty bright when you consider the dispersal of the light in the Apollo.
Extending the Apollo
How does it work?
One of the issues with battery powered lanterns is that they have problems diffusing light well. It’s an obvious design choice to put as many reflectable surfaces in the lantern itself to try and maximise the output from the bulb in the center. However this often ends up in shafts of small but concentrated amounts of light bleeding from badly placed reflectors. The way to combat this, in theory, is to try and diffuse the light as much as possible when it leaves the lantern chamber. Gas lanterns do a very good job of this as they are covered in a wire mesh that allows an even distribution of light. However electric ones suffer as the light comes from a single small source. The Apollo overcomes this by having a frosted globe meaning that they essentially sacrifice lumens to eliminate glare. It works very well and you get a pleasant diffused light.
In addition there is a dimmer button incorporated into the on/off switch which is great as it allows you to save on batteries as well as simply adjust it for small environments where you don’t need it blazing. There is also a small battery indicator light which informs you of how you are doing on the old energy supply. Oddly enough it is covered up when you extend the lantern so that you cant actually see it when the latern is on. It’s a bit of an odd flaw in an otherwise very well constructed lantern.
On the top of the lantern there is also a fold away clip that allows you to hang the thing pretty much anywhere you want to.
Now you see it, now you dont
Other features include a 9V DC charger input. If you, like me, are a fan of re-chargeable batteries then you can purchase the Black Diamond NRG rechargeable battery system for it. Once you get home all you have to do is just plug the 9V DC cable into the lantern and the battery pack charges itself. A great way to save money and the environment (the unit works on 4 AA batteries)
It’s a novel thing to have light inside a freezing winter bivi hut without having your head torch on. In fact its just novel to be able to see all around you. Hanging from a suspended sling it provided ample light- in fact it provided too much light and it had to be dimmed. On the efficiency side of things there were 6 of us in the hut and it allowed is to spend pretty much all evening without having to use our individual head torches. It also prevented those maddening moments where your mate is talking to you as well as blinding you as he looks in your direction. It’s the old classic ‘can you pass the tea Jon’ followed by some seriously white tunnel vision for the next few minutes, whilst trying to fumble for a pan of boiling water (though that’s probably not a major selling point!).
Simon Weatherall inside the Fourche Bivi hut
I’m not sure how cold it was in the bivi but bearing in mind it was some time in early April and it was snowing lightly outside it wasn’t warm. The batteries lasted all evening and early morning- ending up about 50% full by the end of it all. So battery life was pretty good.
Its next test came at a typical Gaillands BBQ. Ok, not exactly high mountain but I got to test its ‘feet’ well. Perched up high on some rather uneven rock it kept the party going til late in the early hours of the morning. The three legs can be moved about to allow the lantern to stand even on really uneven ground. Pretty cool I thought, and much better than trying to seat a gas canister lantern on similar terrain.
As far as good innovation and thinking goes this kit gets top marks. Its entering into a relatively new field and I cant seem to find anything wrong with it apart from the battery indicator level. In addition it has some cool extra features so its not just a barebones bit of kit. For me this will be great for the low mountains and any camping trips etc- the Fourche was maybe a little unnecessary and I cant see anyone bring this up on long mountain routes. But then its not made for that. When I head up for the mountains though and set up a base-camp for a few days this will be with me. At the end of the day this is ‘base camp’ material not alpine light and fast stuff. Having said that its also great for those long summer bbq evenings. At a RRP of £34.99 its also pretty cheap for what you get. If you are a big fan of spending time outside in the evenings, especially camping, then I recommend this highly.