Reviews You Can Rely On

Black Diamond Firstlight Review

A fantastic bivy tent for alpine climbing or multi-day ski touring, as long as the weather is decent
black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review
Credit: Black Diamond
Top Pick Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $450 List | $449.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Crazy lightweight, most packable in our review, fits anywhere two people could lay down, features bug netting
Cons:  Not waterproof, not as strong as many other options we tested, small interior living space
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 11, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
62
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#17 of 17
  • Weight - 27% 10.0
  • Weather/Storm Resistance - 25% 3.0
  • Livability - 18% 7.0
  • Ease of Set-up - 10% 6.0
  • Durability - 10% 5.0
  • Versatility - 10% 4.0

Our Verdict

The Black Diamond Firstlight is a fantastic bivy-style tent for certain types of trips and conditions. It's ideal for trips where low weight and packed sizes are the most critical aspects of shelter selection, and its water-resistant design (rather than waterproof), isn't a deal-breaker. It performs respectably for short afternoon thunderstorms but is not ideal for any sustained rain. It's the straight-up lightest tent in our review and packs up smaller than a Nalgene bottle (not including the poles), making it perfect for fast-and-light trips with a good weather forecast but isn't nearly as versatile as most other models in this review.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $450 List
$449.95 at Amazon
$500 List
$429.95 at Amazon
$626 List
$625.95 at Amazon
$449 List
$449.00 at REI
$500 List
$449.95 at Backcountry
Overall Score Sort Icon
62
72
71
70
64
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Crazy lightweight, most packable in our review, fits anywhere two people could lay down, features bug nettingVersatile, handles moderate snow loads well, giant vestibule, roomy interior, easy to set-up, the vestibule is removable and can be left behind to save weight, handles condensation wellBomber, light and compact, small footprint lets it be pitched anywhereLightweight for a double wall tent, inexpensive, versatile, easy set-up, interior fabric handles condensation well, and longer-than-average dimensions make this a better option for taller peopleLightweight, extremely compact, tons of ventilation, big side door, decent headroom for a bivy-tent
Cons Not waterproof, not as strong as many other options we tested, small interior living spaceRespectable size and weight for how spacious it isNo bug netting, not very breathable, only 24 square feet of interior spaceTiny vestibule, one of the weakest 3(.5)-pole designs in our review, only one doorLeast storm resistant model in our review, fabric isn't waterproof, just so-so in moderate winds
Bottom Line A fantastic bivy tent for alpine climbing or multi-day ski touring, as long as the weather is decentIt converts nicely in both 3-season and 4-season conditions, and has a huge vestibule and spacious dimensionsPerfect for trips where weight and packed volume are at a premiumA solid 4-season shelter at an excellent price. Great for summertime mountaineering or winter camping near treelineOne of the best bivy-style tents for fair weather trips near and below treeline camping where its huge mesh door lets air circulate without letting the bugs in
Rating Categories Black Diamond First... Sierra Designs Conv... MSR Advance Pro REI Arete ASL 2 Black Diamond HiLight
Weight (27%)
10.0
8.0
10.0
6.0
10.0
Weather/Storm Resistance (25%)
3.0
6.0
7.0
7.0
3.0
Livability (18%)
7.0
5.0
3.0
7.0
7.0
Ease of Set-up (10%)
6.0
9.0
10.0
9.0
6.0
Durability (10%)
5.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
5.0
Versatility (10%)
4.0
10.0
3.0
8.0
6.0
Specs Black Diamond First... Sierra Designs Conv... MSR Advance Pro REI Arete ASL 2 Black Diamond HiLight
Minimum Weight (only tent, fly & poles) 2.8 lbs 5.88 lbs 2.88 lbs 5.75 lbs 3.75lbs
Floor Dimensions 82 x 48 x 42 84" x 55 in. (at head) x 49 in. (at feet) 82" x 42 in 88 x 57/60/44 in 82 x 50 x 42 x 40 in
Peak Height 41 in 43 in 44 in 43 in 40 in
Measured Weight, with tent, stakes, guylines, pole bag 3.15 lbs 4.1 lbs 3.22 lbs 6.25 lbs 4 lbs
Type Single Wall Double Wall Single Wall Double Wall Single Wall
Packed Size 6 x 9 in 7" x 15.75 in. 6 x 18 in 6 x 6 x 20 in 6 x 9 in
Floor Area 27.3 sq ft 30.3 sq. ft. 24 sq ft 32.9 sq ft 27.3 sq ft
Vestibule Area N/A 16.4 sq. ft. 0 sq ft 8.7 sq ft N/A
Number of Doors 1 0.32 in. 1 1 1
Number of Poles 2 1 1 4 3
Pole Diameter 8 mm 9 mm 9.3 mm 8 mm
Number of Pockets Side: 2 Ceiling: 0 Side: 2 Ceiling: 0 Side: 2 Ceiling: 0 Side: 2 Ceiling: 2 Side: 2 Ceiling: 0
Pole Material Aluminum Yunan UL Aluminum Easton Syclone Aluminum Aluminum
Rainfly Fabric NanoShield 20D Nylon Ripstop, Silicone/1200mm PeU 20D ripstop nylon 2 ply breathable 1000mm Nylon ripstop NanoShield
Floor Fabric 70-denier polyester 68D 210T Poly Ripstop DWR/2000MM PeU 30D ripstop nylon 3000mm Durashield polyurethane & DWR Nylon taffeta 70-denier polyester

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison


Despite a lot of new competition in the market among insanely lightweight bivy tents, the Firstlight is still one of the best models out there. While it certainly doesn't handle every type of trip well, nor is it the most versatile, it is a fantastic option for trips where the weather is likely to be good, and weight and packed size are your top priorities; which in reality is the types of trips most people are going on. It's the absolute lightest model in our review and compresses down to the smallest size of any 4-season tent we tested. Its downside remains the same despite an upgrade in its fabric to NanoShield, which offers improved water resistance but still isn't fully waterproof and in the rain, you are almost certain to get dripped on, and the walls will become thoroughly saturated, soaking anything that touches them.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - while the black diamond firstlight isn't necessarily the best...
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.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

It can handle moderate wind okay but isn't nearly as strong as most of the models in this review. Also, as the internal space is so small, this is certainly 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.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - the black diamond firstlight has plenty of advantages but a super...
The Black Diamond Firstlight has plenty of advantages but a super easy and quick setup isn't one of them. To pitch the Firstlight we found it easiest to drape the tent over ourselves entirely and pitch it from a standing position. It isn't that setting up a Firstlight is super difficult but practicing a few times prior to setting it up particularly if there is any chance of being forced to pitch it in windy or otherwise stormy conditions.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

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 along the walls. These strips are located at various points in the tent and help keep them in place. If it's windy and you don't use them, the tent will be significantly weakened. The interior pitch does take a little longer to become accustomed to and become efficient at pitching.


If it isn't super windy out, we like to set it up while standing up and pulling the tent over us - versus getting inside of the tent. If it is windy more care must be taken while pitching this tent as the poles are quite vulnerable and susceptible to bending or breaking in only moderate wind when only one pole has been inserted or partially inserted, and extra care must be taken.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - the firstlight sets up from the inside. its poles are held in place...
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.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Overall this is one of the least easy models to pitch in our review. The trade-off is its exceptionally low weight and packed size but even compared to other 2-pole bivy style tents like the Mountain Hardwear AC 2 or the North Face Assualt 2; this model was among the most time-consuming to pitch and required the most care to set up during a storm.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - this shelter uses an internal pole setup without pole sleeves...
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.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Weather Resistance


Weather resistance is this model's biggest trade-off that it takes to achieve its incredibly low weight and unbelievably small packed size.


This contender uses fabric that is highly water resistant, though not waterproof. The Firstlight is okay when used in shorter thunderstorms or light rainstorms, but in the event of short-term moderate or heavy rain, wet snow, or prolonged but steady rainstorms, this model's 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. To make matters worse in these wetter conditions, the walls will become completely saturated, and anything that touches them will get wet, which is a bummer if two people are squeezed inside as it will be nearly impossible to stay dry.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - the firstlight is only water-resistant, and the seams aren't taped...
The 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.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab Team

This model 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. However, wet snow will have the same or even worse effect than extended rain showers, and it will be difficult to stay dry in any sort of prolonged wet storm.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - this is an excellent shelter for most short fairweather trips. it...
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.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

In general, this model's fabric is pretty average as far as breathability goes and handles condensation respectably well. It doesn't breathe as well as the Black Diamond Eldorado or Awhwanee, nor does it have as many ventilation options as the North Face Assualt FUTURELIGHT but it does breathe better than the MSR Advance Pro. While it doesn't offer much in the way of ventilation, we found that it certainly helps manage internal condensation build-up if you can leave the door partially or fully open.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - the perfect application for the firstlight -- a multi-day ski tour...
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.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab Team

It does okay in moderate wind, as its low profile helps wind flow over it but minimal guy points and so-so pole strength mean it is actually one of the weakest models in our review. It's fine for most fair-weather trips into above-treeline terrain in the lower-48 or as an on-route bivy-style tent in the greater ranges but isn't a tent we'd want to be forced to sit out a prolonged storm in. Overall we found it, along with the similarly designed Black Diamond HiLight, to be the weakest and least storm resistant of all the 4-season tents we tested.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - livability is not why you buy this tent as you can only barely fit...
Livability is not why you buy this tent as you can only BARELY fit two full-size pads and its best to sleep "head to tail" if you are sharing this tent with another person.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

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. While 27 square feet isn't big, you can still fit two regular-sized pads side-by-side with no problem. However, people taller than six feet will have their heads and feet touch the ends of the tents.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - this tent is not particularly durable and you should take care to...
This tent is not particularly durable and you should take care to avoid pitching it on any type of remotely sharp rocks and do your best to avoid prolonged and unnecessary exposure tot he sun.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Durability


No ultralight tent, especially one this light, is that durable. If you're after low weight and minimum bulk, rather than extreme toughness, this is the tent for you.


black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - the firstlight has a guy point at each corner.
The Firstlight has a guy point at each corner.
Credit: Max Neale

The Firstlight has a relatively fragile sil-nylon floor that doesn't hold up to rocks or sharp pine cones well; take care when pitching it in particularly rocky places. The fabric is not waterproof, but it does keep it water-resistant over a decent amount of time, provided that care is taken to dry it out and keep it clean.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - the firstlight is the same size as the i-tent (27.3 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, which at 30.8 square feet is 5" longer and 3" wider.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Weight/Packed Size


Without guylines, this model weighs a mere two pounds 13 ounces — or three pounds five ounces with everything you need to make it functional (guylines, pole bag, etc.). When this model came out around a decade ago came out, it was game-changing light. While it faces a lot more competition now than it once did, it is still the lightest and most compact 2-person 4-season tent on the market. While it isn't super versatile and is only good for certain applications, this tent is as small and light as it gets for its category.


black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - there are many good four-season contenders, and they each excel at...
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.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

You buy this tent because of its ridiculously low weight and crazy small packed size, and compared to the competition, in some cases, it's even half the size of 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.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - while it may have a few drawbacks regarding livability and...
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.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Versatility


This tent isn't super adaptable or versatile, mainly because it's not waterproof, very strong, and offers only a tiny interior space. It does have bug netting, allowing you to ventilate when the bugs are horrible, which was a HUGE advantage for climbing in the lower 48 and Southern Canada, where many routes involve an approach at lower elevations before ascending into the alpine. In more rocky or alpine environments, this tent rarely has the problem of finding a site (or ledge) big enough to set the tent upon. Its small footprint can be pitched almost anywhere that two people can lie down.


While it's been done, you don't really want to hang out for extended periods of time in this tent. If it's a rainy trip, this shelter can border on miserable. It performs well in desert climates because it's relatively cool and can provide a nice place to hang out while being protected from the sun, but overall it isn't that versatile. It is good for summertime mountaineering trips or multiday ski touring trips that are short in duration or have a fairly good weather forecast.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - the firstlight has a vent on the back of the tent. this helps to...
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.
Credit: Max Neale

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. Yep, this model's main featuresis that it is so light and compact.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - blue skies and tight camping spots? this is the firstlight's domain.
Blue skies and tight camping spots? This is the Firstlight's domain.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Should You Buy The Black Diamond Firstlight


The Black Diamond Firstlight is pretty dang sweet for what it's designed for — fast and light trips where weight and packed size matter more than anything else, and you don't need to log a lot of time in your shelter. 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'd strongly recommend considering a different model. However, for shorter, fair-weather trips with a good forecast, it is hard to argue with how this model disappears in your pack like no other and is considered a game-changer for its low weight and packed volume.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - the firstlight is one of the least expensive products in our review...
The Firstlight is one of the least expensive products 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.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

What other 4-season tent should you should consider besides The Black Diamond Firstlight


For the lightest tent you can buy, then this model is tough to beat, but if you love the weight but want a little more versatility or a little more headroom and "livability," then the Black Diamond Hilight isn't much heavier but has a smaller 1/3 length pole to create more headroom and a door that completely unzips one entire side of the tent making it "feel" much less cramped inside. If you want the lightest, fully waterproof tent, then our favorite is the Mountain Hardwear AC2 due to its weather protection, weight, and included bug netting. That is the biggest thing we don't like about the MSR Advance Pro 2 is the lack of bug mesh. If you like this model but want something a little more versatile, then we'd recommend the vent-filled single-wall North Face Assualt 2 FUTURE LIGHT. Lastly, if you like this design but want something far more robust, storm-resistant, and superior at moisture management (albeit heavier), we'd recommend checking out the Black Diamond Eldorado.

black diamond firstlight 4 season tent review - small footprints aren't just important in the greater ranges. here...
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.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Ian Nicholson
You Might Also Like

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More