Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody Review
Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody is similar in many regards to the other stretch fabric, active insulating synthetic jackets we have reviewed. It receives similar overall scores based on its performance but has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. In particular, it is heavier than any other jacket of this type, but this weight quite obviously comes in the form of added insulation, as it is noticeably thicker and bulkier than the super-thin options we compared it against. This translates directly into more warmth.
The fit of this jacket is a bit more spacious and slightly less body-hugging than those jackets that are designed exclusively as mid-layers, and thus we found it easy to wear over the top as an outer layer as long as the temps weren't too frigid. The hood is helmet-compatible, and also has a drawstring on the back for tightening it up in a wind. The hem rides down below the waist and also features a drawstring with a buckle for sealing up the opening. We found the sleeves to be plenty long enough and the fit overall to be comfortably loose. It has two zippered hand pockets on the front, and a single zippered chest pocket also on the outside.
Using 60 g/m2 PrimaLoft Silver Active, the First Light Stretch Hoody is among the warmest active insulated layers in this review. It is noticeably heavier, and as far as we can tell, the majority of the added weight comes in the form of extra insulation, which also can trap more heat. While this jacket is not a substitute for a large puffy in frigid winter temperatures, it can serve nicely as a belay jacket in autumn in the shade and is also perfectly suited for winter skiing, where it can either serve as an outer layer or have a shell thrown over the top. The hood, hem, and cuffs of the sleeves seal in such a way that it is easy to keep out cold air if the temps are frigid, and thus add to the warmth of the jacket.
Weight and Compressibility
Our size large test model weighed 19.0 ounces on our independent scale, a fair bit heavier than any other technical insulated jacket we have tested, even ones that manage to be even warmer than it. Black Diamond claims that a size medium will weigh around 16.8 ounces, which is still pretty heavy compared to the competition. One of the main advantages of this style of jacket is its very lightweight, but this jacket unfortunately misses this mark, and wouldn't be our top choice if we were trying to shave ounces.
It is capable of stuffing into its hand pocket, which we found to be neither super easy, nor exceedingly tricky. There is a clip in loop for attaching it to a harness, although once again at this weight, we aren't sure we would want to lug it around on a harness all day.
This is a comfortable jacket, with soft liner fabric that feels great against the skin, and provides no added friction for a great interface with whatever clothing you are wearing underneath. While the fit is rather large and roomy, with a low hem, we took minor offense with the sleeves feeling ever so slightly short for climbing in; we wish they were an inch longer. Other than that complaint, however, we endorse it as very comfortable.
One thing we must mention, however, is the weight, which, although we talked about and graded for above, also affects the comfort slightly. Most lightweight jackets are barely noticeable when we put them on, but this jacket is certainly present the moment we put it on, we can literally feel it hanging down off of our shoulders. When experienced in isolation, we doubt this would be something most people would notice or worry about, but as we test multiple top jackets side by side, it is certainly noticeable to us.
The First Light Stretch Hoody is more weather resistant than most active stretch layers of its kind. It uses stretchy Schoeller face fabrics that seem to have a slightly better level of wind resistance or its possible that this enhancement comes instead from the added amounts of insulation. The DWR coating also impressed us with its ability to force water to bead up and run off, rather than immediately soak in. While we would still pair it with a heavier shell if the conditions were super windy or raining, we would hesitate less to use this jacket as an outer warmth layer compared to the many other options with similar characteristics.
This jacket uses a variety of PrimaLoft Active insulation, which we have found to be one of the more breathable choices. We tested it against its competitors by running up a long, steep hill, in full sun on a 70 degree day, and despite its added weight, found that we felt just as cool in this jacket as in any other choice, and also didn't retain as much sweat inside as we would have expected. All this goes to show that it functions well as an active layer, and can be left on and trusted to breathe when you just don't feel like stopping and taking it off.
While this jacket has a similar subdued mat finish as most of the other jackets that use stretch fabrics, we noticed that the Schoeller seems to wrinkle quite easily, and thus this jacket constantly looks like it was just picked up off the floor. For this reason alone it is slightly less preferable for wearing out when you need to look your sharpest, but everything else about this jacket looks nice.
While by no means cheap, this jacket retails for a bit less than the highest priced competitors. While it has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, the overall scoring and impression is that it is just as solid as any other, and so presents a relatively good value.
The Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody is a looser fitting, casual feeling stretchy active layer that is a bit warmer and more weather resistant than its competitors. That said, it is also significantly heavier, so it comes with its downsides. It doesn't cost as much as the priciest active layers, so it presents pretty solid value.
— Andy Wellman