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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Black Diamond Firstlight Tent > Owner Review by Selena LeonardOWNER REVIEW: BLACK DIAMOND FIRSTLIGHT TENT
REVIEW BY: SELENA LEONARD
REVIEW DATE: DECEMBER 5, 2008
Name: Selena Leonard
Height: 5’7” (1.7 m)
Weight: 145 lbs (66 kg)
Email Address: SelenaALeonard AT gmail DOT com
City, State, Country: Des Moines, Iowa, USA.
I'm a repeat-offender thruhiker. The long hikes have been in the continental US in forests, plains, deserts, mountains, swamps, etc. As with thruhiking's nature, I have been in all of the worst and the best weather, and have had to hike through it, or camp in it. Besides long distance hikes, I've also backpacked in provincial Canada, and in the Alps. For weight, my pack generally is light to midline for the season and terrain. Two to seven days of food is regular, carrying 0.5 to 6 liters of water. I generally hike 15-30 miles a day (24-48 km).
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
Year of Purchase: 2005
Listed Wt: 2 lb 11 oz (1.22 kg)
Actual Weight (in 2008): 2 lb 14 oz (1.3 kg)
Capacity: 2 people
Dimensions: 82 x 48 x 42 in (208 x 123 x 107 cm)
Packed Size: 6 x 11 in (0.15 x 0.28 m)
Tent Body Fabric: Epic
Tent Floor Fabric: Silnylon
Screen Material: Nanoseeum Mesh
Poles: 2 DAC Featherlite
Factory Seam Sealed: No
Stakes Included: 6, Titanium, Y style
Internal Pockets: Two
Manufacturing Country: China
MSRP: $300 USD
The Firstlight is a single walled, two person tent with an optional vestibule. The floor is sil-nylon; and it has an Epic fabric upper. One large door is on one skinny end of the tent, and one vent is opposite for ventilation. These each have a hood which uses wire for shape. Both the door and the vent are fully zippered from the inside.
Inside, there are two internal mesh pockets for headlamps, etc. It is assembled with two internal poles, which are held in place by grommets in each corner, and by hook-and-loop strips to hold them to the tent body in the dome.
The package comes with 6 titanium stakes and the corresponding guyline cords. On the outside of the tent, there are four guy points on each corner, about a foot and a half (1/2 meter) off the ground. The tent comes with a stuff sack for itself, and a separate one for the poles and stakes, both of which are made of sil-nylon.
Photo taken February 2007 in Southern Florida by Selena Leonard.
I have carried the Black Diamond Firstlight tent for sections of three of my long distance hikes; and, it is my primary weekend tent. It is single walled, freestanding, 2 pounds 11 ounces (about 1.2 kg), and has approximately enough room to comfortably fit one person, a pack, and a dog. It can fit two people and gear, so long as it doesn’t rain. I have repaired and fixed this tent over time (it’s at least 3000 miles old -- 4800 km), and I have not found a vastly better tent between this and other single walled tents, given the features. It is possible to go lighter, and lose the freestanding feature. And, it is possible to have a double wall or more floor space, and lose the weight advantage.
I’ve used the Firstlight for about 1500 miles (2400 km) on the Appalachian Trail during spring and summer. The next big use was on the Florida Trail in February and March. And, finally, I carried it on the Pacific Crest Trail for the length of California (high deserts, Sierras), and most of the way through Oregon. This tent has been backpacking with me in Iowa during three seasons, in the Canadian Rockies in the summer, the Pacific Northwest in the summer and fall, and the International Appalachian Trail in the summer and fall. Most of the weather it has seen is three-season, though it has handled the whole gamut at one point or another, from snow, to hail, to rain, to wind, to hot and humid, mosquito-infested nights. The average temperature is 10-90 degrees F (-12 to 35 C); and, it has been on the ocean shoreline up to about 12500 ft (3810 m).
This tent has performed well, I like it, and I can’t find a replacement that is significantly better than this. The ideal would be a similar tent with eVent fabric, for extra breathability. As it has aged, I have had to re-seam seal, patch the floor (duct tape has worked so far), reseal the floor, and wash the tent. The stitching has held up well; and Black Diamond was helpful when I called to ask about washing it.
I have a couple complaints with the tent. One is that the poles can cause condensation inside the tent, which can drip down into puddles. A bandana usually works for this, so long as I realize it before I roll my bag into it. I have also had issues with condensation collecting due to the overlapping fabric near the front door. The vestibule would probably solve that, but it also eliminates the advantage in weight that this tent has.
This is one tradeoff of single-walled tents; and, I have never had more condensation than any other hikers camped around me who also use single-walled tents. I’m not sure that the Epic fabric helps much, because I do get just as much condensation as anyone else camped with me, and yet the fabric claims to be breathable. But, I do know that being able to vent both sides of this tent helps, especially if I face one of the openings into the wind.
An option I've used when I need to cook in the rain is to make a vestibule out of my groundcloth. Basically, what I already use for a groundsheet is a piece of nylon tarp, which I've cut down to my tent's floor size. I have managed to rig a vestibule up a few times by safety-pinning my tarp to a strange, unused clasp on the tent roof, and to each of my trekking poles, which are shortened and stuck in the ground upright. It works long enough to cook and eat, though is a little unstable if there's high traffic in and out of the tent. With a bit of rope attached from the trekking poles to some stakes in the ground, it could probably be made more stable. If my shoes need to be left outside in the rain, I usually will wrap them up in my groundsheet. They've always been dry in the morning. Vestibules, I've found, are not necessary features.
Pitching the tent, itself, is easy. Once the poles are assembled, it is easy enough to grab one of the far reinforced corners, and feed the pole into the tent until it's taut. With practice, it's easy to get the second pole into the other far corner, and set the tent up. Once inside, the adjustments can be made to set the poles in the small grommets in each corner, though I only need to do this if the weather is rainy, snowy, or windy. The same situation applies to the internal hook-and-loop strips which hold the poles in place; again, I only do those in the worst of weather. This tent, for all its abuse, has held up magnificently. When it's raining, there is also the option of throwing my pack and other somewhat dry gear into the tent before assembling it - though, this is a more time consuming process. But, it is a nice feature of the set-up.
The footprint is small, making it extremely easy to find a campsite. And, for one person, it is roomy. I can sit up, get dressed, eat, and still have room for gear. I remember, one afternoon in Oregon, when my hiking partner and I stopped for lunch in a wasp infested area. We could both sit in there and stretch out our legs, and still have enough room for our food bags and our lunches. I also have a thing for freestanding tents, mostly for the ease of setup, and the range of places to set it up. There were a few times I set this up in Appalachian Trail shelters, and had no problems, while others were stringing ropes to the floor and walls and such.
Probably my favorite thing about this tent is that, if it is a clear night, I can sleep with my head near the door, and look through the mesh at the stars, listening to the mosquitos buzzing around outside.
One note, though, is that anyone over 6 feet tall should test this tent out before committing to it. It may be possible to sleep diagonal, but it isn’t a tent made for tall people. For my size, though, it's plenty roomy.
Overall, this tent has done me well. I do not like the overlapping front panels since these can cause extra condensation. This tent is probably nearing its end, as I have had to reseal the floor; but the actual craftsmanship has been good and has held up in all this time. Day to day, this tent works well. It is roomy, comfortable, easy to use, and easy to set up and take down. It also meets my needs of being a single walled, free standing, two person tent. It has held up to all the weather that has come its way, including strong winds, heavy rain, snow, and some hail. I’ve been happy with this purchase. But, as with all backpacking gear - if only there was a true waterproof/breathable material; and, of course, if only it was more compact and lighter.
Features I like about the Firstlight:
• Good ventilation
• Roomy for the weight
• Packs down small
• Small footprint, easy campsite finding
• Fast to pitch
• Fast to tear down
• Holds its shape in bad weather (esp. wind)
• Good customer service
Features I dislike in the Firstlight:
• Could be made with more breathable fabrics now available
• Overlapping flaps by door cause extra condensation
• Internal condensation from poles
• Not factory sealed
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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Black Diamond Firstlight Tent > Owner Review by Selena Leonard
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