Gear Review: Black Diamond Firstlight Tent

The Black Diamond First Light tent has been my go-to tent while on guiding and personal climbing missions for the past 9 years. Many other guides I know use it as well. It’s certainly not a new gear item on the market and while I obviously am very happy with it, it is not the tent for everyone. It is a very lightweight single wall shelter that I find indispensible on most backcountry trips when a tent is needed.

It is modeled on the I-tent, a popular Bibler-designed alpine climbing tent. It weighs in at 3lbs 5oz (packed weight) and compresses down to 6 by 9 inches. It officially is a 2-person tent with one door. The poles are lightweight DAC Featherlight poles. It also has a zippered mesh window, which is so important because many times I only bring a tent because of mosquitos.

First of all, it is not waterproof. But does this really matter? Well, it depends. It is made of Black Diamond’s Nanoshield fabric which is “weather proof”, but not completely waterproof. The pros of not being waterproof mean the fabric is more breathable, lighter weight and more packable. It is highly water resistant and it will be fine in a light rain, hail and even a snowstorm. But put it in a wind-driven sustained rain storm and you will find leakage for sure (I ruined an iphone once because of this). So the fact that it is not fully waterproof will not matter if you are using it in cold winter environments, or in less rainy regions such as the Sierra Nevada. But it’s probably not the best Pacific Northwest tent.

At 27 square feet this is not a roomy 2-person tent, but it is a palatial one-person tent. So if you are looking for that tent for one and would like to actually sit up inside your tent and have room for some gear, then it is the right choice. Also, if you are a team of two looking to go very light and fast, and still need to bring a tent, then it’s also a good choice. One nice feature that makes up for some of the lack of space is the Firstlight’s steep wall design, which maximizes usable space. However, two people will be very cramped inside this tent, especially if you are over 6 feet.

Like many of this tents features, one other concern is also one of the tent’s strengths. The material is so lightweight that it is not very durable. My first Firstlight tent was destroyed when a gust of wind blew it over when I was setting it up with a partner (“I thought YOU had a hand on it!”). It tumbled only a few feet across granite but that was enough to put numerous holes on one side. The point here is to be extra careful with it, and it will last.

So, there’s the scoop from a 9-year veteran of the Black Diamond Firstlight tent. Bottom line is that if you are not in driving rain, you are not particularly large and are careful with it, this is one heck of a lightweight and compressible tent.

Dave Miller
International Alpine Guides