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Black Diamond Firstlight Review

Black Diamond Firstlight
Price:   $370 List | $277.46 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Crazy lightweight, most packable in our review, fits anywhere two people could lay down
Cons:  Not waterproof, not as strong as many other options we tested, small
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Black Diamond

Our Verdict

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 REVIEW: The Best Four Season Tents of 2017

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Type Weight (oz.) Weight (lb.)
82
$935
Editors' Choice Award
Double Wall 113 oz. 7 lbs 1 oz
79
$1,095
Top Pick Award
Double Wall 152 oz. 9 lb 8 oz
78
$700
Top Pick Award
Single Wall 83 oz. 5 lb 3 oz
78
$800
Single Wall 113 oz. 7 lb 1 oz
77
$700
Single Wall 81 oz. 5 lb 1 oz
77
$760
Single Wall 107 oz. 6 lb 15 oz
76
$775
Double Wall Tunnel 97 oz. 6 lb 2 oz
76
$589
Best Buy Award
Double Wall 136 oz. 8 lb 8 oz
75
$650
Double Wall 157 oz. 9 lb 13 oz
75
$500
Top Pick Award
Single Wall Tunnel 50 oz. 3 lb 5 oz
75
$550
Single Wall Tunnel 81 oz. 5 lb 1 oz.
71
$700
Single Wall 84 oz. 5 lb 4 oz / 6 lb 10 oz
70
$575
Single Wall 48.2 oz. 3 lbs 4 oz
70
$600
Single Wall 108 oz. 6 lb 12 oz
69
$735
Double Wall Tunnel 85 oz. 5 lb 5 oz
66
$600
Single Wall 54.9 oz. 3 lb 7 oz
66
$650
Double Wall 71 oz. 4 lb 7 oz
63
$750
Double Wall 134 oz. 8 lb 6 oz
61
$550
Top Pick Award
Single Wall 53 oz. 3 lb. 5 oz
58
$370
Single Wall 53 oz. 3 lb 5 oz.

Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Ian Nicholson
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Monday
July 18, 2016

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Performance Comparison


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.

The Black Diamond Firstlight uses an internal pole setup where there are no pole sleeves. Instead the poles are supported by the walls of the tent and held in place but velcro loops like the one pictured here.
The Black Diamond Firstlight uses an internal pole setup where there are no pole sleeves. Instead the poles are supported by the walls of the tent and held in place but velcro loops like the one pictured here.

Weather Resistance


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.

The Black Diamond Firstlight offers excellent shelter for most short fair weather trips. It keeps the users out of the wind and sun and works great in a light rain or snow storm. In heavy rain or wet snow the walls do become fully saturated and no matter how much seam sealing you do  the tent will drip....
The Black Diamond Firstlight offers excellent shelter for most short fair weather trips. It keeps the users out of the wind and sun and works great in a light rain or snow storm. In heavy rain or wet snow the walls do become fully saturated and no matter how much seam sealing you do, the tent will drip....

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.
Perfect application of the Black Diamond Firstlight on a multiday ski tour in AK.
Perfect application of the Black Diamond Firstlight on a multiday ski tour in AK.

Livability


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.
The Black Diamond Firstlight offers just enough floor space for two full sized Therm-a-rests (shown here) and just enough extra room for a little bit of gear. It's not mega comfortable to hangout for extended periods of time  but for shorter trips where weight is paramount it gets the job done.
The Black Diamond Firstlight offers just enough floor space for two full sized Therm-a-rests (shown here) and just enough extra room for a little bit of gear. It's not mega comfortable to hangout for extended periods of time, but for shorter trips where weight is paramount it gets the job done.

Durability


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.
The Firstlight is the same size as the I-tent (27.3 square feet). Here though we compare it with the slightly bigger Eldorado (5" longer and 3" wider) which is 30.8 square feet.
The Firstlight is the same size as the I-tent (27.3 square feet). Here though we compare it with the slightly bigger Eldorado (5" longer and 3" wider) which is 30.8 square feet.

Weight/Packed Size


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.
There are many good four season contenders and they each excel at different things. Some are stronger  some lighter  some more adaptable. Therefore figuring out your needs and what types of trips you plan to use your tent on are important while reading this review. Shown here we're testing on the East Ridge of Eldorado  North Cascades  WA.
There are many good four season contenders and they each excel at different things. Some are stronger, some lighter, some more adaptable. Therefore figuring out your needs and what types of trips you plan to use your tent on are important while reading this review. Shown here we're testing on the East Ridge of Eldorado, North Cascades, WA.

Adaptability


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.
The Black Diamond Firstlight has a vent on the back of the tent. This helps some to keep moisture build up down  but when its raining outside the walls will become wet regardless.
The Black Diamond Firstlight has a vent on the back of the tent. This helps some to keep moisture build up down, but when its raining outside the walls will become wet regardless.

Features


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?

Best Application


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.
Small footprints aren't just important in the greater ranges. Here Dan Whitmore appreciating the small footprint of the Black Diamond Firstlight  waking up with nearly 2 000ft of air below after a stormy night on a very small bivi ledge on the Northest Buttress of Mt. Goode  North Cascades WA.
Small footprints aren't just important in the greater ranges. Here Dan Whitmore appreciating the small footprint of the Black Diamond Firstlight, waking up with nearly 2,000ft of air below after a stormy night on a very small bivi ledge on the Northest Buttress of Mt. Goode, North Cascades WA.

Value


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 Black Diamond Firstlight is the least expensive product in our review. It is a great fair weather bivi tent for shorter trips  but it isn't as versatile as many other contenders in our review which all offer unique advantages.
The Black Diamond Firstlight is the least expensive product in our review. It is a great fair weather bivi tent for shorter trips, but it isn't as versatile as many other contenders in our review which all offer unique advantages.

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 iTent
Black Diamond Eldorado or Black Diamond I-Tent.
  • The Black Diamond Eldorado is a slightly larger version of the I-Tent with same 2 pole design
  • The I-Tent is a burly version of this model, but the same size
  • Expedition and mountaineering tent for severe weather
  • $700

Black Diamond Ahwahnee
Black Diamond Ahwahnee
  • Slightly larger version of the this model
  • Similar 2 pole, easy setup design
  • Comfortable for 2 people with greater head room
  • $760

Black Diamond First Light Vestibule
FirstLight Vestibule
  • Attaches to the front of the tent to create a vestibule space
  • Allows for ample gear storage
  • Ideal for snowy or rainy environments
  • $140

Firstlight Footprint - $50
Ian Nicholson and Chris McNamara

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: July 18, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (5.0)

100% of 1 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
2 Total Ratings
5 star: 50%  (1)
4 star: 50%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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Write a Review on this Gear

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   Apr 11, 2015 - 04:06am
QITNL · Climber
I like a tent I can set up and come back to it. Something I can seal up. Light as I can get. Quick. Year-round I use pretty much the same kit. Come home, rinse it off, head back out.

For a long time, I packed a Firstlight. It's a a good Sierra solo tent.




For two folks you'd probably want a Lighthouse.



My Firstlight wore out so I replaced it with a HiLight. A new model or something. This review is more about the HiLight.


The HiLight:
  • Has the extra pole across the top like the Lighthouse; the door is on the side rather than the end. Much better views, less claustrophobic, less condensation than the Firstlight.
  • Instead of two doors - netting and cloth - one door, with the netting at the top. Wasn't sure about that at first, but it's much easier to work.
  • You can hang an extra set of guylines off the beak; lashed down, it does better in wind, despite the wing.
  • It's a little harder to set up, you gotta pull things into place. Which helps with the wind-resistance - it pulls tight.
  • Ex-trendy lime green but that fades.
  • Floor space is even smaller than the Firstlight. Two folks would be real kissy-kiss. If you are much over 6 foot, forget it.
  • With the extra pole it weighs a couple ounces more than the Firstlight.

My real-world weights:
  • Tent in compression sack with beat up tyvek sheet & space blanket: 2lbs 10oz
  • Poles in sack, guylines, 10 light stakes: 1 lb 4oz.

Whatever.


I like my tent. If you ever stumble across it in the sticks, please don't molest it. Then I'd have to beg Black Diamond for a sponsorship.

Top Line: Quiet is the new loud.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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Unbiased.