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Black Diamond Lighthouse
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Brett Balmer
(backcountry) - F

Locale: Northeast US
Black Diamond Lighthouse on 04/19/2007 12:51:05 MDT Print View

I read a lot of reviews regarding this tent and it seems to generate very divergent opinions that center around the “water resistant” Epic fabric. There seemed to be a group of folks that said the tent was fine in anything less than a monsoon, and others that swore it was raining in the tent after an hour of steady rain. Despite the potential negatives I was very drawn to the tent because of the layout, and relatively light weight. I was also interested in its ability to be sealed up under colder conditions. I live near the AT in Pennsylvania where our weather is very “East Coast” (read – humid and very rainy in the spring), so the claims that the tent leaked like a sieve definitely concerned me.

I decided to take plunge and purchased one two weeks ago. I performed thorough seam sealing job from the outside of the tent as recommended by the manufacturer. I also whipped up my own batch of thinned silicon to create friction lines on the bottom of the silnylon floor and to perform a thin thread-seal on the internal seams. One thing I also did was to coat the areas of the tent body where the Velcro pole tethers make contact. (Some folks had reported this to be an area of increased leakage)

Before a field trial I setup the tent in the yard, carefully staking out the corners to keep the sidewalls taught, and opening the small rear window in the tent. (My reasoning being that taught fabric would allow water to bead off the tent easier than loose fabric) I let the tent sit in the yard through a night where we had continuous rain totally 1”. The next morning I eagerly awoke to see the results of my testing. The outside fabric was covered in beaded water, but appeared to be “dry” in areas where beads did not lie. To my delight the tent was extremely dry on the inside, and I did not detect any condensation on the inside of the tent body. The poles did exhibit some condensation, but not enough to cause drips on the floor by any means. I was very encouraged by this and eagerly awaited a two night trip we had planned for the next week.

The trip was fairly typical of PA in the spring. You always have these mental pictures of sunny warm weather, but invariably April=40’s in the rain. (Despite that I plan at least one trip every year – call me a slow learner) In any case the first night we experienced no precipitation, but we did have frost. Our tent was setup in a patch of land between two waterfalls, and the air was obviously very moist because of this. We closed the front door and window entirely to keep the inside of the tent warm. We awoke to moderate condensation on the tent walls (you could feel it, but not see it on the fabric), but did not encounter any dripping or issues with it getting our gear wet. I think not having the tent ventilated and the very humid – near freezing temps exceeded Epic’s ability to pass all to water vapor.

The second night was continuous rain from 8:30pm to 7:30am. The rain was never a deluge, but it was pretty heavy at times and didn’t stop at any point through the night. Having read numerous stories about the water resistance of Epic breaking down after X hours I was very concerned that we were going to get wet. We slept with the rear window open and the from door partially opened (down to the point where the awning would stop rain from entering). The next morning yielded walls with moderate condensation with absolutely no leakage. I might have felt one or two drips of condensation from collected condensations on the poles, but it was extremely minimal. Some of the other double wall tents on the trip had much heavier, dripping condensation on their flys, although the occupants also stayed dry.

Overall I am very pleased with the tent to this point. The design is fantastic. The large door lets two people get in and out very easily, and sit side by side for morning cooking. Setup is pretty simple, but takes some practice to get the hang of it. The tent dries extremely quickly, and after a few shakes of the fabric most of the water is gone. I have since built a larger awning (3.5 oz) for the tent that is supported by a trekking pole, and attaches to the tent via the factory supplied loops beneath the awning. This provides a nice “porch” to stow gear and cook under conditions with light precipitation. It also lets you keep the front door open 75% of the way in the rain for even greater ventilation. I will report back more findings if I run into any leaking/extreme condensation problems. Based on my experiences I can only speculate that some of the poor reviews of the tent were derived from tents with a lesser “batch” of Epic, or that I haven’t experienced severe enough rain to this point.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Lighthouses in the East on 04/19/2007 13:10:25 MDT Print View

Nice to hear an account of Lighthouse use in Eastern conditions. I've never used mine East of the Rockies. I think your awning porch rig is the way to go for Epic tent use in higher humidity conditions---to allow for opening up the tent more and still be protected. The stock optional vestibule is awkward and heavy in use.
remember to keep the Epic material clean---it's imperative to keep up the water shedding qualities of the fabric. Luckily dirty Epic, once cleaned (w/ water only) fully regains it's original abilities.

David Stenberg
(dstenberg1) - F

Locale: South
Re: Lighthouses in the East on 04/19/2007 13:17:30 MDT Print View

Thanks for the post!

It is funny how some have good experiences and some bad experiences with the BD Tents.

I read one report of a woman who thru-hiked the AT using the Firstlight and LOVED it. I also heard of another guy who thru-hiked using the Firstlight and claimed "it was not suitable for rain", exchaning it for a Hubba Hubba.

Edited by dstenberg1 on 04/19/2007 13:18:10 MDT.

Brett Balmer
(backcountry) - F

Locale: Northeast US
Re: Re: Lighthouses in the East on 04/19/2007 14:20:27 MDT Print View

Funny - I am actually doing the reverse of that thru-hiker. I have a Hubba Hubba with Fibraplex poles that has been displaced by the Lighthouse. I love the Hubba Hubba, but even with Fibraplex it is about 4 lbs, and not that great in high winds or cold weather.

Eric Falk
(zerolimit) - F
Brett Balmer, follow up question on 04/19/2007 20:38:03 MDT Print View

Hey Brett, saw you posted that you're switching to the ligthouse. Are you going to keep the hubba hubba or are you interested in selling it? Is it the newer model that weighs less than the old? Or any interest in selling the fibraplex poles? Price for both or poles alone? Let me know what you think. Have been looking at possibly buying the newer version of the hubba hubba. Thanks, Eric

Brett Balmer
(backcountry) - F

Locale: Northeast US
Re: Brett Balmer, follow up question on 04/20/2007 07:46:08 MDT Print View

Hi Eric
Thanks for the offer, but I think I am going to keep it (it is a 2005 model BTW). I often take new people on trips, so I like to keep a few tents on reserve for them to use.

Timothy Davis
(Davis2001r6) - F

Locale: Sunny!
Re: Re: Brett Balmer, follow up question on 04/23/2007 16:01:05 MDT Print View

I love my lighthouse tent, I use mine as a solo tent 90% of the time so it is a castle for me. I live in AZ so don't have the humidity or east coast type rains most of the time, I haven't even seem sealed mine and it's never leaked in rain for me. I few nights camped along a creek or the Colorado river with near freezing temps I had some condensation, but what tent wouldn't. I would buy another in a heartbeat. Now that the HiLight tent is out that would be my current choice.

Now if they would just make a 2 door version!

Edited by Davis2001r6 on 04/23/2007 16:01:57 MDT.

eric levine
(ericl) - F

Locale: Northern Colorado
Epic tents on 04/28/2007 19:03:51 MDT Print View

I don't have the lighthouse, but the firstlight, which is as close as you get.

I use it mainly for 1-person winter camping, although I plan to use it with two for milder temps. in bug season.

I've had much the same (good) experience here in the west, with a few drops coming off the poles.

One problem I have noted is in temps. around freezing to above 10 or so. While cooking etc., I have had ice forming on an entire sidewall, thereby blocking some breathing. It's a viscous cycle if both walls freeze. The only solution is to ventilate before this happens. I believe that all W/B materials suffer to some extent, but Ryan has noted somewhere that this problem temp. range is more pronounced with Epic than some other fabrics, esp. eVent, of course.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Epic tents on 04/28/2007 21:03:15 MDT Print View

I had a Lighthouse but sold it after problems hiking on the Washington coast. Now, our coast is just about as wet as it gets and this trip was constant water, but what I had in the tent was either extreme condensation or leaking. I'm not sure, but I decided that the tent was better suited for other than constant precipitation (I'd loved it in short southern Utah monsoons and also high alpine dry snow situations).

I can't say exactly what was going on, but the moisture inside the tent was beyond anything else I'd seen. Well, a Tarptent in high humidity and zero wind...that was about the same.

But it's a great tent. If I lived just about anywhere else, I'd probably still have it. But I live in constant multi-day sprinkles to downpours...

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Thanks Brett for the tent review. on 04/29/2007 09:50:21 MDT Print View

It was very reassuring to read your detailed review of your BD epic tent. Im taking my HiLight on an alpine trip next week, and am relying on it to keep my down bags dry. I will have a sponge available, and keep one of the two large peak vents open when possible. And of course I will report back.

Nick Kelley
(nwkelley) - F
lighthouse awning on 08/30/2007 20:33:03 MDT Print View

hey brett,
was glad to read your review! probably being somewhat less ingenuitive than yourself, I was wondering if you had a picture of your awning or maybe some basic instructions on how you made yours? did you manage to find the same EPIC material?

Scott Jones
(Ultimate2) - F
Black Diamond Tents on 09/01/2007 23:18:22 MDT Print View

Why pay extra money for a tent that does not seem able to keep a person dry. The idea of someone having to pack a sponge (in order to keep a bag from getting soaked)seems absolutely ridiculous. This is a failed product with the exception of places where it doesn't rain perhaps.

I always read the glowing reviews, even on this site, and then cringe when they are saying it is a good buy even though the pole pockets tear out and had condensation problems. I just think a person could spend less and have a much superior tent quality wise and even more importantly keep you dry in a storm with a different brand. There are much better tents on the market and you don't have to pay a King's ransom for them either. Just my opinion.

I think if backpackinglight is going to really test one, then take it to the Hoh Rainforest in Washington and truly resolve the issue about the tents weather protection abilities. I would do it myself but I do not wish to spend the dough on the tent or die from hypothermia from getting soaked. Perhaps there is a braver person on the forum to try this.

Edited by Ultimate2 on 09/01/2007 23:19:17 MDT.

Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Black Diamond Lighthouse-would buy again on 09/01/2007 23:46:45 MDT Print View

I should have gone back and updated my previous post like I wrote I would. Glad your post reminded me..

I have used the Hilight now in rain, snow, and extreme(60mph) gusting wind, and it has performed very well. It is not an exaggeration to say I trust it with my life, because if I got soaked on a winter backpacking trip, with nothing to burn, up above the tree line, it would be a very grim situation indeed.

If the tent failed me, I would certainly write a harsh review here; as I have for other failed products. I have a 'bias' toward trying products from BD, Montbell, Granite Gear, and a few other favorite brands; but when they make a dud I report it.

Back to the Hilight.. condensation was the 'worst' on a cool , humid summer morning last month while camping in a valley near a river. The interior of the tent was damp, but no drops formed unless I were to create one by running my hand along the fabric.. Outside the tent however, everything was soaked with morning dew. If I was laying under a tarp (essentially out in the open) I dare say the surface of my bag would have been damp as well (an educated guess speaking from years of experience sleeping in open shelters; not a slam against tarp camping..)
The tent was a bubble micro-climate which I consider preferable to sleeping outside. In less humid conditions the epic fabric breathes so well I completely close the peak vents and let the moisture transport through the fabric while maintaining a decent temperature differential.
I never did need the sponge.

About the vestibule; I bought the OEM epic vestibule from REI, but I doubt I would ever carry that extra pound. If I was going to carry a three pound tent I would just take my roomier REI Quarterdome. An exception would be an extended winter trip where the tent would stay at basecamp and not need to be carried around every day.

Bottom line, I would buy it (or any other BD epic tent) again, and I would recommend it to a friend when my reputation as a gear-head is on the line. It's practically in a class of its own as a 2.6lb, 4 season tent.

Edited to correct weight!

Edited by Brett1234 on 09/02/2007 07:26:15 MDT.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Tent Choices and Compromises on 09/01/2007 23:47:34 MDT Print View


I think that if I camp all over the place at all times of the year and all I can buy is one tent, then it will have to be bombproof enough for all kinds of conditions.

But the problem is that such a bombproof tent will almost always be needlessly tough (and thus needlessly heavy) for three-season or summer camping!

And this is where "specialized" options like the featherly light tarptents and highly water resistant (but not waterproof) tents like Black Diamond come in. You should view these options as if they are additional arrows in your quiver. You pull a different one to use depending on when and where you are going.

A 2-pound tarptent will never be as tough as a 7 lbs. Hilleberg winter tent. But when hiking in the West during the summer, no bombproof tent can match the tarptent's super light weight and cool, airy comfort!

As well, if you are going to be hiking in areas where rainfall is either seasonal or fast moving, then why not consider the Black Diamond? If you don't have to worry about a 10-hr continuous downpour, why not take advantage of the BD's sheer simplicity and light weight?

Toughness in and of itself is not an "absolute good". Tougher is not always better. It can be appropriate or inappropriate -- depending on your particular usage. After all, a bombproof tent that's stiflingly hot in the summer can be viewed as a failure too!

And at the end of the day, isn't every single tent really just a set of compromises? I think there is a place for the waterproof, double wall "go to" tent. And depending on your hiking style and all, there is a place for the more specialized tents as well. Tent failure is often just the result of a mis-match between tent and trip!

Edited by ben2world on 09/02/2007 00:02:12 MDT.

John S.
(jshann) - F
BD HiLight on 09/02/2007 04:52:27 MDT Print View

2 pounds 10 ounces by BD website.

Neil Bender
(nebender) - F
Re: Black Diamond Tents on 09/02/2007 08:28:13 MDT Print View


I have to agree with Ben here. My BD Firstlight fills the niche for conditions where I would like to use a tarp or bivies, but my companion (usually my wife) wants a 'tent' to keep out bugs, bears, or velociraptors;-) These are stalwart properties BD doesn't advertise, but for little more weight than many floorless shelters I get a happy companion for short trips where I am reasonably sure I don't need a bombproof double walled tent. The money I save by not going on the alternative 'camping' trip at the Marriot has already paid for the tent in just one holiday weekend.

It's an evil 'gateway' product, sure to ensnare the innocent into ever riskier behaviors they might enjoy and could hurt themselves with. For the sake of the children, we need an Omnibus Federal Guaranteed Bombproof Gear and Backcountry Security Act administered by the Nannyland Security Workfare Administration. "Sir, did you pack that Hunchpack yourself and do you have more than 4ounces of any scary looking fluids or incriminating sponges in there?"

People carrying 'bomber' gear get hypothermia all the time. Sometimes safety comes from speed. There are conditions where a damp snow cave trumps a tent (if you plan for those conditions). I didn't expect much from Epic tents based on my experience with Epic-built jackets, and have been pleasantly surprised at how much better the fabric works in a tent.

Happy trails...

Scott Jones
(Ultimate2) - F
Black Diamond Tents on 09/02/2007 13:06:51 MDT Print View

Like I said, there are varing opinions. Going over to the Trailspace Forum there is nothing but complaints about leaking, netting tearing out, and the fact that you are paying a premium price for a tent that you have to seam seal yourself. To me that is ridiculous.

An MSR Hubba Hubba is far superior and isn't much heavier. The price is better too.

Charles Bilz
(denalijoe) - F

Locale: California
Re: Black Diamond Tents on 09/02/2007 14:28:26 MDT Print View

I love my Black Diamond Hilight.

I got my HiLight in May and have used it on 6 trips this past summer ranging from over nighters to 6 days. Yes there was minor condensation but nothing to complain about. It kept me dry during heavy all night downpours and shed wind when camping above the tree line. Weighs 2 pounds 12 ounces on my scale. I have not experienced the pole pockets tearing out or ripped mesh. But, yes IMHO having to seam seal a tent this expensive is uncalled for. Blck Diamond should be doing this.

Just my thoughts...

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Problem with Factory Seam Sealing on 09/02/2007 15:07:53 MDT Print View

Well, we know that uncoated silnylon can't be machined taped, so manual seam sealing is the only method for now. I am not a safety expert, but if manufacturers can't get China or India to do this, there must be a reason -- probably a safety issue. In any case, I'd hate to be the poor slob seam sealing 8 or 10 hours a day, day after day...

Edited by ben2world on 09/02/2007 15:25:32 MDT.

Scott Jones
(Ultimate2) - F
Black Diamond Tents on 09/03/2007 10:58:09 MDT Print View

Apparently the customer will be the poor slob that has to spend 8 to 10 hours sealing a tent he paid a premium for that has a known reputation for leaking in heavy rains.

I think Black Diamond needs to evaluate their pricing. There are better tents, which are far more versatile, and almost as light that would be a much better choice.

I am sure it would be fine in desert country or drier mountain ranges.