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Hands-on Gear Review
Black Diamond Firstlight Review
Cons: Not waterproof, not as strong as many other options we tested, small
The Black Diamond Firstlight is a fantastic bivy tent for alpine climbing, multiday ski touring or any trip where packed size and minimal weight far supersede comfort and livability. This model is the lightest tent in our review and packs up smaller than a Nalgene bottle (not including the poles). It performs best in dry or below freezing conditions, where all precipitation is frozen; it's also the only tent we tested that's not completely waterproof.
This tent used to be our favorite bivy tent until the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 came along. Though this contender has better packability, the weight difference between the two tents is negligible (the Direkt 2 is 1 oz heavier), with our tests showing the Direkt 2 is more weather resistance due to its (actually) waterproof fabric. Testing also determined the Direkt 2 is stronger, thanks to its reinforced panels and non-stretch fabric, as well as its' superior guy line options that maintain a tighter pitch in high winds.
Check out our Four Season Tent Review to see how this tent compares to the 23 additional models that we tested.
RELATED: Our complete review of four season tents
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
Ease of Setup
This four season tent pitches from the inside, with the ends of the poles inserted into reinforced corners, and Velcro strips that wrap around the poles, which are located at various points in the tent to help keep them in place. As a whole, the poles are well supported by the tent walls themselves. Setting it up can feel a little cumbersome at first, but with a little practice it gets MUCH QUICKER. If the weather permits (AKA not too windy), our testers even prefer to set it up while standing-up instead of crawling inside the tent. Because of its size, we think this model is a little easier to setup than the cramped Rab Latok, which has a similar design, but is even smaller. The Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 is marginally faster to setup, but its rear pole ends are blunt and have rounded ends that clip into the corner, meaning it's likely for you to stab a hole in the floor of your tent.
Weather resistance is the biggest trade-off with this model when compared to the other 4-season tents. This contender uses a fabric that is highly water resistant, though not actually waterproof. The tent performs best in drier conditions or when well below freezing (if its precipitating). This contender works okay in light rain storms, but when used in heavy rain, wet snow, or extended rain storms, the fabric will become completely saturated and you'll get some dripping on the inside, no matter how well you seam sealed it. In wet storms this is were the Rab Latok, Black Diamond Eldorado, and Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 have the big advantage; they're waterproof.
For milder weather conditions, the fabric on this model is more breathable than the the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2's fabric. Though a small benefit, it is still a benefit; if it's nice out, you can leave the door partially or fully open. When it's windy, we don't observe a significant difference between the condensation inside the Direkt 2 and the Firstlight; wind "pumps" through both tents with enough adequately circulated air, enough so that breathability is more or less of a factor. It does okay in moderate wind, but with its basic design and minimal guy points, it's straight up not as strong in the wind as the Direkt 2 or the Eldorado.
Bivy tents are relatively cramped and uncomfortable. We don't recommend them for anything but alpine climbing, multiday ski touring, or any other trip where the user is willing to sacrifice some comfort for wight savings and maximum packability. Even compared with other fairly "small" single wall 4-season tents like the Black Diamond Eldorado or Black Diamond Ahwahnee, this model feels small. If you want to go fast and light in the summer, consider getting an Ultralight Tent. They are similar in weight, but recommended for 3-season conditions; they can also offer better livability.
No ultralight tent, especially one this light, is that durable. The reason to buy a tent like this contender is for its low weight and minimum bulk, rather than longevity and toughness. If you like it, but want something a little (or rather a lot, in this case) more durable, consider the dimensionally identical and waterproof Black Diamond I-Tent (4 lbs 14 oz) or the marginally larger Black Diamond Eldorado (5 lbs 1oz). If you're careful with this investment, it can last a hundred days of use or more, but you have to put in a little extra effort to keep from tearing it.
This 4-season tent features a pretty fairly fragile sil-nylon floor that doesn't hold up to rocks or sharp pine cones as well as most of the other tents in our review. Its fine for snow, but take care when pitching it in particularly rocky places. The fabric, which while not waterproof to begin with, does keep the water resistance it has for a decent amount of time, provided that care is taken to dry it out and keep it clean.
Without guylines, this model weighs a mere 2 lb 13 oz without guylines and 3 lbs 5 oz at packed weight for most users, making it the lightest four season tent in our review and the lightest four season tent we know of. It's soooooo light and soooo compact; for this reason, it has been used on many badass alpine climbs and FAs all over the world. This is why you buy this tent, because its a third the weight of many other tents and less than half the size of most other single wall tents!!! Seriously, the body packs up smaller than a Nalgene bottle and the poles break down to some of the shortest in the review!!!! All this said, it's only one ounce less than the Direkt 2, but does remain more packable.
This tent isn't super adaptable, mainly because it's not waterproof. However, it works pretty well in dry desert climates because its relatively cool and can provide a nice place to hangout in while being protected from the sun. It does feature bug netting, something the Direkt 2 does not, allowing you to ventilate when the bugs are horrible. Something that's sort of adaptable; in an Alpine environment, this tent rarely has the problem of finding a site (or ledge) big enough to set the tent up on because the footprint is small enough to pitch the tent just about anywhere that two people can lay down.
While this tent doesn't have a lot of extra features, it prioritizes low weight and minimum bulk. It does offer a small vent on the pack and a little awning on the front to help with ventilation. It features a bug screen mesh door on its only entrance and two small pockets. That's about it, but did we mention how freaking small this tent packs up?
This tent best provides for alpine climbing and multi-day ski touring. Its' low weight and incredibly small packed size make it perfect for generally shorter (hopefully with a decent weather forecast) trips where weight and packed size supersede everything else. Its great as a "quiver tent" (AKA someone who owns more than one tent), that can be picked for these types of trips when the weather is hopefully good. Its' extremely small footprint make it ideal for small and otherwise unusable ledges.
At $370, this tent is a great value. However, if you have the cash to push the performance envelope and want a marginally more versatile bivy tent, we think it's worthwhile to cough up even more to invest in the the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2, which rings in at $550.
The Bottom Line
The Black Diamond Firstlight is pretty sweet for what it's designed for; fast-and-light trips where weight and packed size matter the most. If you want a tent that will hold up in storms, is more versatile, or is just plain more comfortable to hangout in, regardless of the length of the trip, we might recommend checking something else out.
Other Versions and Accessories
Black Diamond Eldorado or Black Diamond I-Tent.
Black Diamond Ahwahnee
Firstlight Footprint - $50
— Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: July 18, 2016
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