Review: Black Diamond Firstlight tent

The Firstlight in action in PeruI bought a Black Diamond Firstlight tent for my Peru trip. We ended up using it for all our overnight ventures, logging about ten nights in it. Previously I’ve also used a friend’s Firstlight for weekends in the North Cascades in both summer and winter. I thought it would be worth writing a brief review of it here.

First off the good points; it´s very light and packs incredibly small. I was amazed at its ability to disappear into a pack and not really take up much room or add seemingly any weight. There is just so much less of it.

The listed weight is 1.22 kg (tent and poles only), I weighed mine at 1.35kg (tent and poles in their respective bags, no pegs etc). This still compares very favorably with the I-Tent at 1.95 kg or the slightly larger Eldorado at 2.04 kg. Its also about half the size of my Eldorado when packed.

The reason I mentioned the Eldorado is because the Firstlight, like the I-Tent, is only 82″ long which means it doesn’t fit my 6’3″ frame that well. The Firstlight feels cramped because it is. For me I didn’t buy it to spend days lounging around in it so I got what I asked for there. Plus the smaller the tent the easier it is to dig out a platform for it. However, if you are significantly over six foot and plan on extended trips then I’d really recommend trying one on for size before buying. Remember that a sleeping bag requires several inches top and bottom otherwise the insulation will be crushed and not do its job.

So that’s all the good stuff and don’t get me wrong this is all very good. What I wasn’t so impressed with was the breathability. Now granted, I usually would expect to use a tent like this in cold dry temperatures well above the snowline and in Peru this wasn’t the case. I have used one on the east side of the Cascades in winter where in performed noticeably better. However the unusually damp weather we had in Peru made the Firstlight somewhat soggy with condensation in the mornings, even with the door open.

The Firstlight definitely seems less breathable than my Bibler. A while back I also got to try out an Integral Designs MK1 Lite back when they were made of eVENT. This seemed to be much more breathable than either of the others. Unfortunately eVENT was taken off the market for use in tents. ID still make the MK1 Lite but the fabric has been changed and its weight is comparable to an I-Tent not the Firstlight.

Potential buyers should also note that BD describe the Epic fabric used for the canopy as “water resistant” as in… NOT waterproof. It also comes with unsealed seams and a tube of sealer, presumably to keep costs down. This seems a little lame. A hard shell jackets cost about the same as a tent and have many more seams, when did you last buy a jacket that came with a tube of sealer? In short the Firstlight is not a tent to take when serious rain is on the cards.

Durability may also be an issue. I certainly wouldn’t want to expose the groundsheet to anything sharp, or the canopy for that matter. Translucent tent fabric takes some getting used to and I wonder how it would do in serious winds.

I think the Firstlight is a great buy for super lightweight alpine climbing in summer when huge amounts of rain are very unlikely or for winter climbing in cold dry temperatures. I’ll certainly be using mine this winter if the fickle North Cascades come into condition but it’s staying at home if serious rain is on the cards.

Useful Links:

BD have a useful comparison of all their lightweight tents here.