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Black Diamond First Light Hybrid Hoody - Women's Review

This insulated hybrid hoody is plush and warm with amazing stretch but it's not meant to get wet and the hood is a strange size.
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Price:  $229 List | $159.93 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Warm, stretchy, comfortable, good breathability
Cons:  Not water repellent, takes a long time to dry, poorly designed hood
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Penney Garrett ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 22, 2019
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 15
  • Weather Protection - 30% 7
  • Breathability - 30% 7
  • Mobility - 25% 8
  • Weight - 10% 6
  • Versatility - 5% 6

Our Verdict

The Black Diamond First Light Hoody is a comfy and cozy hybrid mid-layer perfect for things like swing season camping when it's warm during the day but still chilly at night. While not as warm as a puffy, it's quite insulative, and there are panels of merino wool that aid breathability. Despite the good ventilation, however, those panels are not water resistant in the slightest. This isn't a jacket you want to get caught in a rainstorm with, as it soaks up water like a sponge and takes a long time to dry. Overall we don't find this to be a particularly serious technical layer (unless you're using it as a base layer for skiing or snowboarding), but it's well-cut, very comfortable, and just a pleasure to wear.

If you would like more weather protection and durability, our Editors' Choice for Cooler Temps, the Arc'teryx Gamma MX Hoody is an excellent buy. For another hybrid with better water management our Top Pick Rab Kinetic Plus is the only waterproof layer in this review.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The First Light Hybrid is plush hoody excellent as a mid or base layer when it's cold or a standalone piece when you want some warmth but still need your body to be able to breathe.

Performance Comparison


Warm and cozy even in cold temps  the First Light is an insulated piece perfect on its own or layered up under a hardshell.
Warm and cozy even in cold temps, the First Light is an insulated piece perfect on its own or layered up under a hardshell.

Weather Protection


This is a mixed bag for the First Light — it's insulated and quite warm but also not very water repellent, especially where it has merino wool panels optimized for breathability. We give all our contenders a water test by wearing them into the shower. While this is more water than a softshell is meant to withstand, it shows a lot about each jacket by really pushing its limits. The First Light was completely soaked through almost immediately — it felt more like wearing a sweatshirt into the shower than a jacket. Not only that, the saturated wool panels became very heavy when waterlogged and took a long time to dry. If you think rain might be part of your outdoor adventure, be sure to take a rain jacket or hardshell along to layer on top. This hoody makes a great mid or base layer as it's insulated but still light and breathable. Used correctly, it could replace your puffy on the regular.

This plush hybrid is cozy warm but still breathable - just don't get caught in a rainstorm!
This plush hybrid is cozy warm but still breathable - just don't get caught in a rainstorm!

Breathability


For an insulating layer, breathability is really good on this jacket. Blended merino wool on the back and down the sides give a break from the insulated hood, chest, and arms. While not as breathable as an unlined shell, you can still work up a bit of a sweat in this layer without being totally stifled. Hybrids are tricky because they try to do a lot at once (and softshells are already attempting to cover a ton of bases), but this one is pretty successful. You will be happiest if you consider this a base or mid layer puffy-replacement as opposed to a traditional softshell.

Walking around exploring on a sunny but chilly day was prime territory for the First Light. Special merino wool panels help keep the body vented despite the plush insulation.
Walking around exploring on a sunny but chilly day was prime territory for the First Light. Special merino wool panels help keep the body vented despite the plush insulation.

Mobility


In most respects, mobility is great on the First Light. It's a well-tailored and very stretchy layer suited to moving the body. Our one issue is with the hood. It's an awkward size if you want to be able to wear a helmet. You can pull it over a helmet just barely, but there's really not enough fabric at the back of the neck for this, so it renders you pretty immobile. If you try to put it under the hood there's extra material — it's not quite that fitted — so it feels bulky. The insulation in the hood, while cozy, also makes it difficult to hear. Without a helmet, everything is fine, though long-necked individuals may still feel a bit of constriction. This is a great option for approaches, hanging at camp, or belaying with the hood off, but if your activity requires a helmet, we suggest either trying before you buy or choosing something with a hood designed specifically for this purpose.

We tried the First Light hood under a helmet after feeling immobilized with it over the top. While this works  you can see all the extra material at the back of the neck and the insulation makes it hard to hear.
We tried the First Light hood under a helmet after feeling immobilized with it over the top. While this works, you can see all the extra material at the back of the neck and the insulation makes it hard to hear.

Weight


A medium-size First Light will weigh you down 16.1 ounces. This is twice what the lightest models in our review weigh but still considerably less than many of the other lined/insulated pieces. While this hoody could replace a light puffy in your wardrobe, it doesn't compact down the same way many of those do — meaning, it's a bit bulky. If you're car camping or road tripping, it won't matter in the slightest, but this probably isn't the layer to choose for alpine ascents or backpacking.

Here you can see the various different panels on the First Light. There are sections of PrimaLoft insulation and others of breathable blended merino wool.
Here you can see the various different panels on the First Light. There are sections of PrimaLoft insulation and others of breathable blended merino wool.

Versatility


Versatility is so-so for this piece. It's warm, stretchy, comfortable, and quite stylish. But there are limitations in regards to breathability and what activities are appropriate to undertake. While it's breathable for what it is, it's never going to feel like a thin unlined jacket. And even though the hood is fine on its own, if you have a big hat or helmet on underneath it will probably feel tight.

While the First Light is great for a lot of things  it's not as versatile a piece as others in our review. As a mid or base layer or a puffy alternative this is great  but it's not what you'll grab for ultralight backpacking or trail running.
While the First Light is great for a lot of things, it's not as versatile a piece as others in our review. As a mid or base layer or a puffy alternative this is great, but it's not what you'll grab for ultralight backpacking or trail running.

Best Application


This insulated softshell is best utilized in situations where you might grab a light puffy. It's great as a mid or base layer under something more weather protective like a hardshell because, on its own, it won't keep much moisture out. It breathes well for an insulating layer but is too warm for anything where you will get truly hot. The hood is also not particularly helmet-compatible, and the whole piece is a tad bit bulky. But it's cozy, stretchy, and well-tailored — excellent for chilly and windy weather.

This warm and stretchy hoody is best for chilly camp days  casual hikes  or layered under something more weather protective if moisture is in the forecast.
This warm and stretchy hoody is best for chilly camp days, casual hikes, or layered under something more weather protective if moisture is in the forecast.

Value


The First Light is generally well-conceived and constructed with some premium materials. Because of that, it's a bit pricey. However, if you want something that's like a puffy but with more breathability, this may be worth it — well-made insulation layers aren't cheap, and you tend to get what you pay for. Overall, this hybrid is worth its price if you're in the market for a savvy mid-layer with great stretch.

Conclusion


The First Light Hoody is an insulated hybrid hoody with breathable panels of merino wool. It's attractive, stretchy, and pretty lush feeling to wear. While it doesn't have very good water resistance, it's a great jacket to layer under something more protective or use to keep warm on cold camp nights and chilly belay ledges. We wish the hood were more conducive to pairing with a helmet, but overall this is a wonderfully cozy (if pricey) piece to hang out in.

Hanging out on a chilly spring day in the First Light is downright cozy.
Hanging out on a chilly spring day in the First Light is downright cozy.


Penney Garrett