Black Diamond First Light Hybrid Hoody - Women's Review
Cons: Not as water repellent, takes a long time to dry, hood could be better
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
Our Analysis and Test Results
The First Light Hybrid is a plush hoody that is excellent as a mid or base layer when it's cold. It is also a great standalone jacket when you want some warmth but you require some breathability.
This category is a mixed bag for the First Light — it's insulated and quite warm but also not very water-resistant, especially where it has merino wool panels optimized for breathability. We give all our contenders a water test by wearing them in the shower, and this one soaked through almost immediately. It felt more like wearing a sweatshirt into the shower than a jacket. Not only that, but the saturated wool panels became very heavy when waterlogged and took a very long time to dry. While the wool will still insulate when wet, it can be pretty dang uncomfortable to wait around until it dries. If you opt for this jacket and rain is in the forecast, be sure to bring a rain jacket or hardshell to layer on top. However, if your main concerns are wind and snow, you will be fine as long as you keep moving. This is a great mid or base layer as it's insulated while still being light and breathable. Used correctly, it could replace your puffy on the regular.
For an insulated layer, the First Light offers great breathability. This is because it features blended merino wool on the back and down the sides to allow great ventilation and give a break from the insulated hood, chest, and arms. While it is not as breathable as an unlined shell, you can still work up a sweat 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 replacement for either a thin fleece or puffy rather than using it like a traditional softshell.
Mobility is one of the categories where the First Light performed quite well. This is due to it being both well-tailored and very stretchy, both qualities which are suited to moving the body with ease. Our one issue is with the hood. The hood is an awkward size if you want to be able to wear a helmet. With some effort, you can just barely pull it over a helmet, 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 — because it is not fitted enough to wear underneath a helmet without feeling 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 feel constricted. This is a great jacket for long but chilly approaches, hanging at camp, or belaying with the hood off. However, if you often need to pull your hood on to protect from the wind, we suggest trying it on before you buy or choosing something with a hood designed specifically for this purpose.
A medium-sized First Light weighs 16.1 ounces, just over a pound. While this hoody could replace a light puffy in your wardrobe, it is somewhat bulky and doesn't compact down very well. 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.
Versatility is so-so for this piece. It's warm, stretchy, comfortable, and quite stylish. But it isn't incredibly breathable and it is ideal for fewer activities and climates than other models. While it is 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 underneath, it will probably feel tight and restrictive.
The First Light is fairly innovative and well-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, and you prefer merino wool over other breathable insulating materials.
The First Light Hoody is an insulated hybrid hoody with breathable panels of merino wool. It's attractive, stretchy, and pretty lush to wear. While it doesn't have very good water resistance, it's a great jacket to layer under something more protective or for using to keep warm on cold camp nights and chilly belays. We wish the hood was more conducive to pairing with a helmet, but overall this is a wonderfully cozy (if pricey) jacket to rock around the campfire or even around town.
— Mary Witlacil and Penney Garrett
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