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Black Diamond Firstlight Tent Review

So, how do you make a waterproof tent out of non-waterproof fabric? Black Diamond shows us how with the Firstlight EPIC by Nextec single wall freestanding tent.

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by Alan Dixon | 2004-09-25 03:00:00-06

Overview

firstlight firstlight again in field
Black Diamond First Light.

Firstlight Tent

Weighing in at 2 pounds 11.6 ounces (1.24 kilogram) for a complete setup, the Black Diamond Firstlight may be the lightest freestanding, two person, dome tent on the market. (It's very close to 1 kilogram with aftermarket Fibraplex carbon fiber poles.) The Firstlight has all the stability in wind and under snow loading and ease of pitch that comes from a dome tent designed for "...climbers and mountain travelers." With its through-the-door pole insertion, pitch-from-inside strategy, one can get the Firstlight stable enough to get you and your gear inside in less than a minute - great for quickly getting out of that sudden thundershower. Its Epic fabric is lighter and more breathable than the PTFE laminated waterproof breathable fabrics (Gore-Tex or clones) used in most single walled shelters. We were pleased with virtually no condensation in the tent during subfreezing and damp weather on a spring ski trip to Yellowstone's backcountry. An additional advantage of the silicone-impregnated Epic is that it absorbs very little water and dries quickly - much faster than uncoated fabrics.

For its weight, the Firstlight has a lot of floor area for a freestanding tent - 0.63 ft2/oz with supplied DCA FeatherLite poles (0.72 ft2/oz with Fibraplex carbon fiber poles). The almost vertical sidewalls and the 42 inch peak maximize usable space and make the tent seem larger than tents with similar floor areas but with sloping walls, tight corners and/or lower peak heights

While Epic is breathable, it is not as breathable as the uncoated nylon used for most double walled tents. Epic is not 100% waterproof. According to Black Diamond's website, "EPIC by Nextec fabrics are highly water resistant. This means they resist penetration by water under all but the most extreme conditions." We agree with this and found the Firstlight water resistant enough for brief and heavy thundershowers. Under sustained heavy rain (five hours) some moisture penetrated the tent and we did get some condensation in the tent in cool and damp weather (much less than in a PTFE tent though). In our estimation, the amount was not enough to be a problem, and we'd gladly take the weight reduction of the Epic fabric over a heavier 100% waterproof alternative.

At 27.3 square feet of floor area, the Firstlight has an 'alpine climbing fit' as opposed to the 'relaxed fit' of lightweight trail tents which usually have about 3 to 5 square feet more of floor area. You'll need to be comfortable sleeping close to your tent partner and stowing most of your gear outside the tent. The tent is luxurious for one person. It may be a bit trying for two people to weather a storm or heavy bug pressure in the tent. The optional vestibule may be a welcome relief for these situations, and also provides additional gear storage and a sheltered cooking area.

The 30 denier silnylon floor of the tent body is prone to abrasion and puncture on rough ground. Unless you are experienced at selecting campsites and keeping silnylon shelter floors free of punctures and abrasion, we recommend that you use Black Diamond's optional fitted ground cloth or a lighter ground cloth of your own design (e.g. Tyvek, plastic sheeting, etc.).

Black Diamond Supplied Pole Set

The tent comes from Black Diamond with a DAC FeatherLite pole set that is approximately 2.1 ounces lighter than the standard Easton 7075 aluminum poles that many tents ship with (the Firstlight vestibule uses this pole set). The DAC FeatherLite poles were also the most durable pole set of the three we tested. The DAC FeatherLite pole set shaves weight by skipping aluminum ferrule inserts and using larger but thinner walled tubing. The FeatherLites are almost as stiff as Easton 7075 poles but their non-ferruled joints are prone to damage if not fully mated.

Fibraplex and Easton after market carbon fiber pole sets

We also reviewed two aftermarket carbon fiber poles for the Firstlight from Easton and Fibraplex. On a stiffness per weight basis the Fibraplex poles are the top performers of the three pole sets. The Fibraplex poles weigh almost half (6 ounces less!) the weight of the Black Diamond DAC FeatherLite pole set and are almost as stiff. The Easton carbon fiber poles are 1.8 ounces lighter than the Black Diamond supplied tent poles and just as stiff. If not used and stored with care, however, both the carbon fiber poles are more prone to damage than the DAC FeatherLite aluminum poles. The Fibraplex poles are the most delicate (different from strength or rigidity) of the three.

Specifications

• Tent type

Single wall, freestanding tent with floor

• Weight Full Package

As supplied by manufacturer with stuff sacks, stakes, guylines, etc. (note: tent body, poles, guyline, 6 stakes, 2 stuff sacks)

Backpacking Light scale Manufacturer claim
3 lb 0.6 oz (1.38 kg) N/A (for tent body and poles: 2 lb 11 oz (1.20 kg) website, 2 lb 9 oz (1.16  kg) owner's manual)

• Weight Minimum Package

Includes tent body and fly, minimum necessary stakes and guylines, no stuff sacks or extra hardware.

Manufacturer supplied Backpacking Light
4 stakes, 0 ft guyline. Same as Manufacturer Minimum but with 0.25 ounce (7 g) titanium stakes and 0.004 oz/ft (0.37 g/m) Aircore 1 Spectra guylines. 4 stakes, 0 ft guyline.
2 lb 12.6 oz (1.26 kg) 2 lb 11.6 oz (1.24 kg) (Black Diamond supplied DAC FeatherLite poles)

2 lb 9.8 oz (1.18 kg) (with Easton carbon fiber poles)

2 lb 5.8 oz (1.07 kg) (with Fibraplex carbon fiber poles)

• Floor Area

Manufacturer claim/Backpacking Light verified ft2 (m2) Dimensions in (cm)
27.3 (2.5) 82 x 48 (208 x 123)

• Floor Area/Manufacturer Minimum Weight ratio

0.63 ft2/oz (2.1 m2/kg) with Black Diamond poles note: Floor Area/Backpacking Light Minimum Weight ratio with Fibraplex carbon fiber poles is 0.72 ft2/oz (2.37 m2/kg

• Vestibule Weight

1 lb 2.4 oz (0.52 kg) (vestibule, poles, 3 manufacturer supplied stakes)

• Vestibule area

adds 13 ft2 to tent floor area (48 x 42 x 42 in high)

• Optional Accessories

Vestibule, Fitted Ground Cloth, Attic Storage Loft, Pocket Pal Organizer, Soft Stakes

• MSRP

$299 tent, $129 Vestibule.

Fibraplex carbon fiber pole set, $102.

Depending on the model, Easton Carbon FX poles could add $30 - $40 to the price of the tent but are not available as a separately purchased item. (The Carbon FX poles will be available only on existing models through Sierra Designs, Integral Designs, Black Diamond, Outdoor Designs and possibly a few other tent manufacturers.)

Features

Ease of setup

With its through-the-door pole insertion, pitch-from-inside strategy, you can get the Black Diamond Firstlight stable enough to get you and your gear inside in less than a minute - great for quickly getting out of that sudden thundershower. There are no sleeves or clips to thread the poles through and only four stake out points. To pitch the tent, stake out the corners, assemble the shock-corded poles, and push them through the open front door of the tent. The pole ends fit into metal pockets in the reinforced tent corners. Lastly, wrap the attached Velcro strap around the crossing 'X' of the poles at the tent ceiling. Except in very strong winds this gives the tent enough stability that you can put your gear in the tent and get in. Anchor the poles to the tent body with eight additional Velcro straps along the inside corner seams of the tent.

Note: Make sure that the pole ends are in the rear reinforced corner pockets before applying pressure to bend the pole into place. It takes a fair amount of pressure to bend the pole and insert it into the final pocket at the front of the tent. I missed a rear pocket once and the pole end punched a small hole in the silnylon tent floor. The DAC FeatherLite poles' joints are delicate and require care to make sure that all sections are properly mated. If sections are partially mated, you risk damaging the thin aluminum joints when you flex the pole into the tent body of the Firstlight.

The vestibule quickly attaches via two side-release buckles at the peak of the tent. The ends of the shock-corded Easton 7075 pole fit into brass grommets at the bottom of the vestibule, and attach to the inside of the vestibule by the same style Velcro straps as the tent. The vestibule pole ends then fit into grommets on nylon webbing attached to the front corners of the tent. If the tent's front stake-out loops are already staked, you need to un-stake them, thread the tent's stake-out loops through the vestibule's lower stake-out loops and re-stake. Finally, stake out the front of the vestibule with a single stake. There are four additional tie out points to further stabilize the vestibule in strong winds.

The instructions for the vestibule are lacking important information, and some of the vestibule's installation is far from obvious. For instance, the Velcro loop about half way up on the edge of the vestibule where it meets the tent body looks exactly like a pole attachment, but there is no obvious pole to attach it to. Actually, the Velcro loop overlaps an upper tie out loop on the tent body. You are supposed to attach the Velcro loop through the tent's matching tie out loop. There's a small nylon loop further up this edge that is not mentioned anywhere. Its purpose is to reduce flapping by better sealing the vestibule to the tent. It is staked out toward the rear of the tent. Also not mentioned in the instructions is this timesaver: leave the vestibule's Velcro pole loops fastened and thread the pole through them.

We suspect that Black Diamond designed some of these peculiarities into the vestibule to allow it to be used on the similar Bibler I-Tent. In particular, Black Diamond says that the rear vestibule vent was designed to accommodate the I-Tent. As such, it has limited clearance at the top of the Firstlight's tent body and constricts airflow. As a work around, one could design a simple spreader to increase the space between tent and vestibule to increase ventilation.

good stakes
0.25 ounce titanium wire skewer stake on left - 0.5 ounce triangular cross-section Firstlight 'Y' stake on right.

Note: We are not fans of the triangular 'Y' stakes that come with the Firstlight tent and vestibule. It is a mystery to us why so many manufacturers supply these stakes with their ultralight shelters. They are heavy, have poor penetration, and require a tremendous amount of force to place in all but the softest soils. Because they are so wide they do not steer well around rocks. The ends of the 'Y' stakes are small, sharp, and extremely uncomfortable to 'palm.' They are almost impossible to push in by hand and require that you bash them in using a rock or other heavy object. In comparison, a 0.25 ounce titanium wire skewer is half the weight, requires much less force to penetrate soil, and steers around rocks. The hooked end is comfortable in your palm while you push it in. We switched to titanium skewers at the earliest opportunity.

Usable Features / Options

Black Diamond Firstlight Tent Components ounces grams
Tent body: Epic fabric walls, 30d silnylon floor 29.6 838
Poles: DAC FeatherLite 7075 aluminum 13.1 370
6 Stakes: triangular aluminum 0.5 oz (14 g) each 3.0 84
Cord: 0.125 inch (3 mm) diameter nylon 1.4 41
Body Stuff Sack: silnylon with drawcord & cordlock 1.0 29
Pole Stuff Sack: silnylon with drawcord & cordlock 0.6 16
As Shipped Total 48.6 1,378
Black Diamond Firstlight Vestibule Components ounces grams
Vestibule Body: 30d silnylon Fabric 10.5 297
Pole: DAC FeatherLite 7075 aluminum 5.8 165
3 Stakes: triangular aluminum 0.5 oz (14 g) each 1.5 42
Stuff Sack: silnylon with drawcord & cordlock 0.7 19
As Shipped Total 18.4 523
Optional aftermarket carbon fiber pole sets ounces grams
Easton Carbon Fiber Poles with aluminum ferrules 11.2 318
Fibraplex poles with carbon fiber ferrules 7.2 204

The tent canopy fabric is Epic (see more on Epic in the Storm Protection Section below) and the bathtub tent floor fabric is 30 denier silicone-impregnated nylon. The corner pockets are heavy Cordura with a tough plastic coating with steel cups for the pole ends. The large arched front door covers most of the front panel of the tent. It zips down to the ground for easy entrance and exit. The outside panel of the door is Epic and the inside panel is no-see-um mesh. The Epic and no-see-um mesh have their own zippers and can be independently adjusted. The Epic and no-see-um mesh door panels independently roll up and can be stowed using ties with adjustable cord-locks. There is a no-see-um mesh-only option for increased ventilation and views while maintaining bug protection. There is a small rear window with a fixed non-see-um mesh panel and a zippered Epic panel to control ventilation and storm protection. Small wire-stiffened eyebrows protect the upper portion of the front door and rear window from rain while allowing some cross ventilation and providing minimal views.

There are two small mesh pockets for storage of small items. They are located near the floor in diagonally opposed tent corners. Four small ceiling loops are points of attachment for an optional attic storage loft. The loft is not a bad idea given the limited floor storage area with two people in the tent. It will reduce vertical room to sit up in the tent, though.

The 30 denier silicone-impregnated nylon vestibule has a single side door with no mesh backing. The vestibule adds 13 square feet of storage area. It has two wire-stiffened eyebrow vents, one to allow venting of the vestibule door in rainy/windy conditions and another one at the peak of the vestibule where it attaches to the top of the tent. Although we seriously doubt that Black Diamond would openly suggest cooking inside the vestibule, these vents are probably there to vent moisture and gases produced by cooking.

Black Diamond offers the following optional accessories: vestibule, fitted ground cloth, attic storage loft, pocket pal organizer, and soft stakes. The only accessory discussed in this review is the vestibule.

Weight / Sizing

Note: Our rating is based on 1) a combination of total weight for a two person freestanding tent and 2) the usable area in proportion to tent weight. Only the tent's tight quarters kept it from receiving the highest rating.

floor space
The Firstlight is spacious for one person and gear. Here our reviewer Alan relaxes and dries out after a long day's ski in wet snow.

At approximately 1 pound 6 ounces per person, the Black Diamond Firstlight may be the lightest freestanding two person tent on the market (it's under 1 pound 3 ounces per person with Fibraplex carbon fiber poles). It is about 1.5 pounds lighter than Sierra Design's Lightning Tent. In fact, the Firstlight approaches per person weights of floorless, non-freestanding shelters. The GoLite Hex is 1 pound 4 ounce per person with one 7-ounce trekking pole, a pole extender and eleven titanium stakes.

For its weight, the Firstlight has a lot of floor area for a freestanding tent - 0.63 ft2/oz (0.72 ft2/oz with Fibraplex carbon fiber poles). The Firstlight has an 'alpine climbing fit' as opposed to the 'relaxed fit' of trail tents which usually have about 3 to 5 square feet more floor area. Black Diamond thinks it's designed for "... climbers and mountain travelers." At 27.3 square feet, the Firstlight is cozy for two. We found that it had adequate room for a multiple night trip with two dudes who didn't want to get 'all that close.' Sleeping head to foot helped. For one person, the tent is spacious and has plenty of room for gear storage. For two, you'll need to be comfortable sleeping close to your tent partner and hope that you can tolerate some thrashing or snoring. The almost vertical walls do maximize usable space in the tent making it seem larger than tents with similar floor areas but with sloping walls. The 42 inch peak of the tent is adequate to sit up and stretch. If you are sharing the tent, some gear will need to go outside. The optional vestibule might be a good choice to store gear and cook in if you expect extended inclement conditions.

Flexibility of Pitching

The Black Diamond Firstlight is a one-pitch tent. The only variation is to attach four additional guylines at the pullout loops halfway up from the corners. This adds stability in strong winds, helps the tent from breaking loose in snow and soft ground, and adds some strength to resist snow loading. The vestibule can be considered a pitching variation. It adds some additional structural stability as well as sheltering the front door from rain and wind and providing additional storage space and a sheltered cooking area. There are four additional tie out points, two on either side of the vestibule to increase its stability.

Usable Space

firstlight with vestibule
Firstlight with optional vestibule.

The almost vertical sidewalls on the Firstlight maximize usable space in the tent. The tent is rectangular so there are no narrow comers of useless space. The 42 inch peak is fairly generous for a tent of this weight and there's room to sit up in it. The vertical walls and high peak create more usable area and make the Firstlight seem larger than tents with similar floor areas but with sloping walls and/or lower peak heights. The vestibule adds 13 square feet of area. This is quite useful for two people if you will be tent bound for a while in lousy weather.

Usable Vestibule/Porch

The Firstlight's vestibule adds 13 square feet of area. As mentioned above, the tent is cozy for two and would not be our first choice to cheerfully wait out a long storm. The small eyebrow covering the front door does not provide protection for entering and exiting the tent in rain. With two people in the rain, the vestibule is almost a must for additional gear storage, cooking and keeping the tent dry when entering and exiting. Things can get a bit tight to hold extra gear, cooking supplies and still leave enough room for entrance and exit. It can be managed with a bit of creativity. The vestibule is set-up for cooking with two peak vents to dissipate combustion gasses and the additional humidity of cooking. As noted before, the rear vestibule vent was designed to also accommodate the Bibler I-Tent. As such, it has limited clearance with the top of the Firstlight's tent body and constricts airflow. As a work around, one could design a simple spreader to increase the space between tent and vestibule to increase ventilation.

Performance

Stability

The Firstlight easily pitches into a taut shelter. It was extremely quiet and remained taut when subjected to strong winds and 40+ mph gusts on an exposed frozen lakebed at 10,000 feet. Our only gripe is that the large and vertical sidewalls deflected somewhat in strong crosswinds. To mitigate sidewall deflections (and improve tent ventilation), try to pitch the tent with the back end facing into the wind. The side walls bounce back easily and are only a problem with two people and condensation on the tent walls, in which case a wet wall might touch a down bag. It is not a problem for solo use where there is plenty of room to keep your sleeping bag well away from the sidewalls. Using the tent's four additional tie outs will add tension to the side panels and reduce deflection but won't completely eliminate side deflection in strong winds. Adding a tie out point in the center of each sidewall would solve this problem. With two, side tie outs there would be less need to use the four additional corner tie outs. Most of the time, one could get by with staking out the four bottom corners and just the two side tie outs.

Pole Performance

In our estimation all the pole sets tested provided adequate rigidity and stability for the Firstlight. The Fibraplex pole set is slightly less rigid than the Black Diamond-supplied FeatherLite pole set and the Easton carbon fiber pole set. Nonetheless, on a stiffness per weight basis the lighter Fibraplex poles significantly outperform both the FeatherLite and Easton carbon fiber poles. The Black Diamond supplied FeatherLite pole set was the most durable of the lot and the Fibraplex poles the least durable. Note that durability is not the same as strength and rigidity.

Black Diamond Supplied Pole Set

The tent comes from Black Diamond with a DAC FeatherLite pole set that is approximately 2.1 ounces lighter than the standard Easton 7075 aluminum poles that many tents ship with (e.g. the Firstlight vestibule uses this pole set). They were also the most durable pole set of the three we tested. The DAC FeatherLite pole set shaves weight by skipping aluminum ferrule inserts and using larger diameter (approximately 8.9 millimeter versus 8.6 millimeter) but thinner walled tubing (approximately 0.6 millimeter versus 0.7 millimeter). The FeatherLites are almost as stiff as the Easton 7075 poles but their non-ferruled joints are prone to damage if not fully mated. On a stiffness to weight basis the DAC FeatherLite poles slightly out perform a comparable Easton 7075 aluminum pole set. Note: the uncapped ends of the DAC FeatherLite poles were the most likely to damage the tent floor if one missed the reinforced pole pockets.

Fibraplex and Easton after market pole sets

The Fibraplex poles weigh almost half (6 ounces less) the weight of the Black Diamond DAC FeatherLite pole set and are almost as stiff. On a stiffness per weight basis the Fibraplex poles are the top performers of the three pole sets. The Easton carbon fiber poles are 1.8 ounce lighter than the Black Diamond supplied tent poles and just as stiff. Both the carbon fiber poles are more prone to damage than the DAC FeatherLite aluminum poles. This is especially true with the smaller diameter, thinner walled, and carbon fiber ferruled Fibraplex poles. Note: many Firstlight and Bibler I-Tent owners use the Fibraplex poles with success if they handle the poles with care making sure that they don't step on the poles, bash sharp objects into them, scrape or nick them, and carefully mate sections before flexing the poles into place.

Pole Performance Weight grams Diameter mm Wall thickness mm Percent Deflection Deflection/Weight*
Fibraplex poles with carbon fiber ferrules 204 7.5 NA 10.60% 1.9
Easton carbon fiber poles with aluminum ferrules 318 8.9 NA 8.30% 3.8
DAC FeatherLite 7075 aluminum poles 370 8.9 0.60 8.30% 4.5
Easton 7075 (estimated weight of tent length poles) 430 8.6 0.70 8.70% 4.9
*Lower numbers = higher performance

Storm Protection

in snow again

The Firstlight performs well in snow. The slick silicone-impregnated Epic fabric easily sheds snow, reduces snow loading, and improves ventilation through the tent walls. We used the tent on a four-day spring ski tour in Yellowstone's backcountry. In two days of wet snow the tent stayed dry and condensation free. For one person, the shelter is comfortable to wait out a storm with all his or her gear (though without a vestibule there is no place to cook). During precipitation, visibility is limited to the upper portions of the front door and rear vent that are protected by wire-stiffened eyebrows. Fortunately the tent fabric is a cheerful yellow and transmits a lot of light. The front door of the tent slopes outwards and the eyebrow only shelters the very top of the front door for ventilation. Without the vestibule you'll get rain and snow in the tent when you enter and leave. For very rainy and/or snowy conditions, some door cover, a tarp, or the Black Diamond vestibule would be a good idea. Finally, as mentioned before, the tent is cozy for two and would not be our first choice to cheerfully wait out a long storm. In this case the vestibule is almost a must for additional gear storage, cooking and keeping the tent dry when entering and exiting.

In warmer conditions, the tent did not leak in brief (15 to 30 minute) and hard thunderstorms. The tent is not seam sealed, but comes with a user sealing kit (seam sealant and an irrigation syringe). In five hours of sustained and heavy rain we experienced minimal leakage in the tent. We aren't fans of seam sealing and didn't do so on the Firstlight. Water seeping through the ceiling and walls was the major contributor to moisture in the tent. We noticed that the Epic fabric had water bleed-through, especially in places where something was in contact with the tent wall, like a sleeping pad or a person's back. Rule number one: do not let things touch the tent wall in rain. Also note here the need to stabilize the sidewalls so that they don't blow in and wet people or tent contents.

The amount of water in the tent, even in heavy and sustained rain, was not a cause for concern. This seems to be in keeping with Black Diamond's expectation of the tent. From Back Diamond's website: "EPIC by Nextec fabrics are highly water resistant. This means they resist penetration by water under all but the most extreme conditions." We agree with this and feel that the Firstlight is water resistant enough to use in all but the worst conditions.

One gripe is that the wire reinforced 'eyebrow' that shelters the tent's front door had a tendency to flip upside down and shed snow and/or water into the tent. With care we learned not to bump into the eyebrow. Because the door of the tent slopes outwards, the eyebrow only shelters the very top of the front door for ventilation. Without the vestibule you'll get rain and snow in the tent when you enter and leave.

Note: Epic fabric is lighter and more breathable than the PTFE-laminated waterproof breathable fabrics (Gore-Tex or clones) used in most single walled shelters. Epic is not 100% waterproof. It is considerably more water resistant but less breathable than the uncoated microfiber fabrics used in the body of most double walled tents. Epic depends on silicone encapsulation of each fiber to repel water and to close spaces between fibers. After encapsulation, the Epic fabric is extremely wind and water resistant (not proof!) - water resistant to 4 lb/in2. The water resistance is a permanent feature of the Epic fabric and can't be washed out like a durable water-resistant finish (DWR) used on most fabrics. Epic is good for light rain, heavily condensing shelters and wet snow. Think of it as a little less waterproof but more breathable than a standard waterproof breathable fabric. We've had great success using softshell jackets that use Epic fabric.

An additional advantage of the silicone-impregnated Epic is that it absorbs very little water and dries quickly - much faster than uncoated fabrics. To keep the Epic fabric at its most water resistant, make sure that you keep it clean and free of chemicals that could foul its water resistance.

Ventilation/Condensation Resistance

Our breathability rating is for a single walled, floored, tent. The Epic fabric on the Firstlight is more breathable than the PTFE-laminated waterproof breathable fabrics used in most single walled shelters. Pitching the rear of the tent into the wind and leaving a vent open at both the rear window and top of the front door creates cross-ventilation that helps reduce condensation. In a four-day spring ski trip with 15 °F lows and two days of wet snow we had virtually no condensation in the tent. This included getting into the tent while very, very damp after hiking in wet snow all day. In comparison, four other ventilated silnylon fabric shelters on the trip suffered significant condensation. In dry conditions we had little condensation in the tent. The only time we experienced significant condensation in the tent was in cool, damp, rainy conditions, with little wind to cross-ventilate the tent. We assume that the wetted tent walls do not breathe as well as dry ones and that the added humidity added to the condensation potential. We were able to keep the condensation under control with a 0.3-ounce shop towel.

Insect Protection

The large mosquito-netted front door and small rear window provide adequate ventilation and bug protection in dry weather. Again, pitching the rear of the tent into the wind is a help for cross-ventilation. With both bugs and rain, one could get frustrated with minimal ventilation, limited views and cramped space. The vestibule will mitigate many of these inconveniences. It will allow the front door to be mostly open no-see-um mesh during precipitation. Because of its cozy quarters and limited visibility, it is not all that pleasant to wait out bugs, especially in rain. The tent is plenty bug proof.

Durability Field Observations

The tent has a delicate floor. The Epic body of the Firstlight is sufficiently strong to withstand normal tent use. Seams and tie outs use appropriately durable construction techniques and reinforcements. The reinforced corner pockets that the poles insert into are bombproof. The silnylon fabric on the vestibule is not subject to much stress and is adequately durable for its application. The only area of concern is the 30 denier silnylon floor of the tent body. On rough ground it is prone to abrasion and puncture. Unless you are experienced with keeping silnylon shelter floors free of punctures and abrasion, we recommend that you use Black Diamond's optional fitted ground cloth or a lighter ground cloth of your own design (e.g. Tyvek, plastic sheeting, etc.). As noted above, we misinserted a tent pole into a pocket and punctured the tent floor. This is particularly troublesome since it's attaches to a $300 tent. Note: we easily patched the hole with a small piece of silnylon and some SilNet silicone seam sealing adhesive.

Value

At $299 Black Diamond's Firstlight is far from inexpensive for a two-person shelter. Add another $100 or so for an aftermarket carbon fiber pole set and $129 for the optional vestibule. The only reason for our high value grade is the level of performance of the Firstlight. We know of few freestanding shelters than can match its combination of stability in strong winds and snow loading, ease of pitch, and ridiculously low weight of 2 pounds 11.6 ounces. In our estimation it is a three-plus to light duty four-season shelter. With aftermarket carbon fiber poles the tent approaches 1 kilogram for a complete setup.

Final Thoughts

Tips and Tricks

Make sure that the pole ends are in the rear reinforced corner pockets before applying pressure to bend the pole into place. It takes a fair amount of pressure to bend the pole into place and insert it into the final pocket at the front of the tent. Black Diamond recommends putting a finger over the pole end near the doorway while sliding it over to the reinforced corner pocket.

The DAC FeatherLite poles joints are delicate and require care. Make sure that all joints are fully mated. If joints are partially mated, you risk damaging the thin aluminum joints when you flex the pole into the tent body.

The near vertical side walls deflect in cross winds. Make sure that you pitch the tent with its rear into the wind. Use the four additional ties out points halfway up the tent walls for additional holding power for the tent and to stabilize the side walls in cross winds.

To reduce moisture in the tent, shake all snow and water off the front door before opening. To keep the Epic fabric at its most water resistant make sure that you keep it clean and free of chemicals that could foul its water resistance.

Recommendations for Improvement

Although alternate fabrics may be heavier, Black Diamond might consider adding some durability to the tent floor. We do understand their approach of minimal floor weight and adding a ground cloth when pitching the tent on unfriendly ground. This is fine for experienced tenters. Nonetheless, we feel that owners who are less experienced with delicate tent floors may be frustrated with a punctured floor on a $300 tent.

In addition, the sharp ends of the tent poles can puncture the floor if you aren't careful. Black Diamond might consider capping the pole ends to reduce the possibility of puncturing the tent floor.

Adding side tie outs to the middle of the side walls will decrease deflection of wet tent walls and subsequent wetting of tent inhabitants and down sleeping bags.

The wire reinforced 'eyebrow' that shelters the tent's front door had a tendency to flip upside down when bumped and shed snow and/or water into the tent. We suggest stabilizing it.

The vestibule is too close to the tent body and constricts ventilation of the vestibule's rear vent. Black Diamond should consider designing the vestibule with more tent clearance to not constrict airflow through this vent. (In the interim, users can design a spreader to increase ventilation.)

The instructions for both tent and vestibule are written in general terms to cover a number of similar products and therefore lack important information on features, setup, and tips and discuss features not on the Firstlight or its vestibule. The instructions could be improved dramatically with more pictures and a complete discussion of all features of the Firstlight leaving out features of other tents. We spent a lot of time on the phone with Black Diamond figuring this stuff out and have tried to convey most of this information in our review.

We'd like to see an integrated stuff/storage system for tent/vestibule bodies and associated poles and stakes.

Finally, Black Diamond may want to investigate lighter versions of eVENT fabrics which are 100% waterproof and more breathable than Epic. This will likely add weight and cost to the tent.


Citation

"Black Diamond Firstlight Tent Review," by Alan Dixon. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/black_diamond_firstlight_tent_review.html, 2004-09-25 03:00:00-06.

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