Hands-on Gear Review

Black Diamond Firstlight Review

Black Diamond Firstlight
Top Pick Award
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, along with the HiLight it is the lightest model to feature bug netting
Cons:  Not waterproof, not as strong as many other options we tested, small interior living space
Bottom line:  A fantastic bivy tent for alpine climbing, multi-day ski touring or any lightweight adventure as long as the weather is pretty descent.
Editors' Rating:   
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Floor Dimensions (inches):  82" x 48 in.
Peak Height (inches):  42 in.
Measured Weight (tent, stakes, guylines, pole bag):  3.31 lbs
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond

Our Verdict

The Black Diamond Firstlight is a fantastic bivy tent for particular applications and conditions. It's great for alpine climbing, multi-day ski touring, or any trip where packed size and minimal weight far supersede comfort and livability. The Firstlight is decent for short afternoon thunderstorms but is not ideal in the rain. This model is one of the lightest tents 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. Along with the Black Diamond HiLight, it's also the only tent we tested that's not wholly waterproof.

This tent used to be our favorite bivy tent until the MSR Advance Pro came along. The two weigh about the same, (the Advance Pro is around 1 oz heavier), but the Firstlight is still more packable. The Advance Pro is significantly more weather resistance though, due to its waterproof fabric, and burlier guyline poles. We've given the Pro our Top Pick Award for Lightweight Alpine Climbing, but the Firstlight is still our Top Pick favorite for Lightweight and Packed Size.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Four Season Tents of 2018


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Ian Nicholson

Last Updated:
Monday
April 9, 2018

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Despite some new competition in the market, the Black Diamond Firstlight is still one of the best bivy tents out there. While it doesn't do everything incredibly well, it's a fantastic option for trips where the weather is likely to be good, and weight and packed size are your top priorities. It's one of the absolute lightest models and compresses down to the smallest size of any model we tested. It isn't waterproof — you'll get dripped on in a storm — and the walls will become thoroughly saturated, soaking anything that touches them. It can decently handle wind but isn't nearly as strong as most of the models in this review. This is not our first pick for spending lots of time inside; however, it's a reliable option for fast and light trips where weight and packed size matter the most.

Performance Comparison


While the Black Diamond Firstlight isn't necessarily the best all-around four-season tent  it is an excellent option for certain trips where weight and compressed size are of the utmost importance. The Firstlight is seen here in its element  camped in Washington's North Cascades.
While the Black Diamond Firstlight isn't necessarily the best all-around four-season tent, it is an excellent option for certain trips where weight and compressed size are of the utmost importance. The Firstlight is seen here in its element, camped in Washington's North Cascades.

Ease of Set-Up


This 4 season tent pitches from the inside, with the ends of the poles inserted into reinforced corners, and Velcro strips that wrap around the poles. These strips are located at various points in the tent to help keep them in place. As a whole, the tent walls support the poles well. Set up can be tough to learn, but it gets easier the more you practice.


If it isn't super windy out, we like to set it up while standing up - versus getting inside of the tent. Because of its size, this model is a little easier to setup than the cramped Rab Latok, which has a similar design but is even smaller.

The Firstlight sets up from the inside. Its poles are held in place by Velcro tabs and by reinforced corners containing a metal grommet for the pole. This is a pretty bomber system  but when placing the pole into the grommet  you do need to take care not to stab a hole through the thin floor.
The Firstlight sets up from the inside. Its poles are held in place by Velcro tabs and by reinforced corners containing a metal grommet for the pole. This is a pretty bomber system, but when placing the pole into the grommet, you do need to take care not to stab a hole through the thin floor.

Among similarly designed and weighted tents, the MSR Advance Pro was the easiest to set-up; it pitches from the outside, using a combination of sleeves and plastic clips.

This shelter uses an internal pole setup without pole sleeves. Instead  the poles are supported by the walls of the tent and held in place by Velcro loops like the one pictured here.
This shelter uses an internal pole setup without pole sleeves. Instead, the poles are supported by the walls of the tent and held in place by Velcro loops like the one pictured here.

Weather Resistance


Weather resistance is the biggest trade-off with this model when compared to other four season tents.


This contender uses fabric that is highly water resistant, though not waterproof. It performs best in dry conditions or when it is well below freezing (if it's precipitating), as the drier snow won't saturate the fabric as quickly.

The Black Diamond Firstlight is only water resistant  and the seams aren't taped. It will do okay in drier snow  and it will protect you from the wind  but if it's raining or the snow is wet for any length of time  it will drip on the inside. You can seal the seams yourself (as shown here)  which helps a little  but not much.
The Black Diamond Firstlight is only water resistant, and the seams aren't taped. It will do okay in drier snow, and it will protect you from the wind, but if it's raining or the snow is wet for any length of time, it will drip on the inside. You can seal the seams yourself (as shown here), which helps a little, but not much.

The Firstlight is ok when used in light rainstorms, but with heavy rain, wet snow, or extended rainstorms, the fabric will become thoroughly saturated, and you'll get some (or a fair amount of) dripping on the inside, no matter how well you seam sealed it. In wet storms, the Rab Latok, BD Eldorado, MSR Advance Pro, and The North Face Assault 2 have a significant advantage in that they're wholly waterproof.

This is an excellent shelter for most short fairweather trips. It keeps you out of the wind and sun and still works great in a light rain or snow storm.
This is an excellent shelter for most short fairweather trips. It keeps you out of the wind and sun and still works great in a light rain or snow storm.

For milder weather conditions, the fabric on this model is more breathable than others. You can also leave the door partially or fully open. It does okay in moderate wind, but with its basic design and minimal guy points, it's straight up not as robust in the wind as the BD Eldorado.

The perfect application for the Firstlight -- a multi-day ski tour in AK. This tent is best for trips where weight and compressed volume are paramount  and it's unlikely to rain.
The perfect application for the Firstlight -- a multi-day ski tour in AK. This tent is best for trips where weight and compressed volume are paramount, and it's unlikely to rain.

Livability


Bivy tents are relatively cramped and uncomfortable. We don't recommend them for anything but alpine climbing, multi-day ski touring, or any other trip where the user is willing to sacrifice comfort for weight savings and maximum packability.


This tent used to be considered micro, with only 27 square feet of interior floor space. Now it's small, but not tiny, and is the standard for most other bivy tents. While 27 square feet isn't big, you can still fit two regular sized pads side-by-side with no problem. The Firstlight is nowhere near as big as the Black Diamond Eldorado, or Black Diamond Ahwahnee but does feel a little less cramped than the MSR Advance Pro. If you want to go fast and light in the summer, consider an Ultralight Tent. They are similar in weight but recommended for three-season conditions. They usually 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 hang out in 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 hang out in 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 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 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.

The Firstlight has a guy point at each corner.
The Firstlight has a guy point at each corner.

The Firstlight has a relatively fragile sil-nylon floor that doesn't hold up to rocks or sharp pine cones as well as most of the other models in our review; take care when pitching it in particularly rocky places. The fabric is not waterproof even to begin with, but it does keep the water resistance over 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  which at 30.8 square feet is 5" longer and 3" wider.
The Firstlight is the same size as the I-tent (27.3 square feet). Here, though, we compare it with the slightly bigger Eldorado, which at 30.8 square feet is 5" longer and 3" wider.

Weight/Packed Size


Without guylines, this model weighs a mere 2 lb 13 oz, and 3 lbs 5 oz of packed weight. When it came out, it was game-changing, thanks to its low weight.


While it's still one of the lightest options available, many models are now within an ounce or so of this tent. Those models include the Black Diamond Hilight, MSR Advance Pro, Stephenson's Warmlite 2R, and Rab Latok Summit. It's still a third the weight of many four-season models.

There are many good four-season contenders  and they each excel at different things. Some are stronger  some lighter  some more adaptable. Therefore  it is essential to figure out your needs and what types of trips you plan to use your tent for. 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, it is essential to figure out your needs and what types of trips you plan to use your tent for. Here, we're testing on the East Ridge of Eldorado, North Cascades, WA.

Minimal weight and crazy small packed size are why you buy this tent. In some cases, it is even 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!

While it may have a few drawbacks regarding livability and performance in wetter storms  for long approaches or carry-over style climbs  the weight and the packed volume of the Firstlight is tough to beat. Here  the Firstlight is camped out below Mt. Shuksan's Price Glacier  which requires carrying all your gear up and over the mountain and down the other side.
While it may have a few drawbacks regarding livability and performance in wetter storms, for long approaches or carry-over style climbs, the weight and the packed volume of the Firstlight is tough to beat. Here, the Firstlight is camped out below Mt. Shuksan's Price Glacier, which requires carrying all your gear up and over the mountain and down the other side.

Versatility


This tent isn't super adaptable, mainly because it's not waterproof. However, it performs well in desert climates because its relatively cool and can provide a nice place to hang out in while being protected from the sun.


It does have bug netting, allowing you to ventilate when the bugs are horrible. 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 almost anywhere that two people can lay down.

The Firstlight has a vent on the back of the tent. This helps to keep moisture build-up down  but when it's raining outside the walls will become wet regardless.
The Firstlight has a vent on the back of the tent. This helps to keep moisture build-up down, but when it's 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 back 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 small this tent packs up?

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

Best Applications


This tent is best for alpine climbing and multi-day ski touring. Its low weight and incredibly small packed size make it perfect for shorter (hopefully with a decent weather forecast) trips where weight and packed size top everything else. It's great as a "quiver tent" (i.e., someone who owns more than one tent) that can be picked for these types of trips when the weather is hopefully good. Its minimal footprint makes it ideal for small and otherwise unusable ledges.

Blue skies and tight camping spots? This is the Firstlight's domain.
Blue skies and tight camping spots? This is the Firstlight's domain.

Value


At $370, this tent is a great value. 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 MSR Advance Pro ($550).

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

Conclusion


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 comfortable to hang out in, regardless of the length of the trip, we recommend considering a different model.
Ian Nicholson

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