Black Diamond Firstlight – Long Term Review

The Black Diamond Firstlight is a two-person, self standing tent produced by Black Diamond. Its simple design makes it light and easy to pitch in adverse conditions. Steep walls allow it to shed snow like a champ and provide ample interior head space. This is my go-to tent for winter backpacking in deep snow or bad weather. I also use this tent for quick camps the night before a three-season backpacking trip so that I don’t have to unpack and repack my primary shelter.

Black Diamond Firstlight
Black Diamond Firstlight 2P Tent

Black Diamond Firstlight Specs

  • Minimum Weight: 2.82 lbs
  • Full Weight: 3.38 lbs
  • Floor Area: 27.3 square feet
  • Height: 42 inches
  • Width: 48 inches
  • Length: 82 inches
  • Seasons: 4 – but mostly winter
  • Type: Single Wall, Self Standing
  • Sleeps: 1-2
  • Doors: 1
  • Price: $369.95

Black Diamond Firstlight Overview

The Black Diamond Firstlight is a self standing, single wall tent intended for winter backpacking and mountaineering use. It is supported by a set of crossing arch poles that lock into grommets in the interior corners. The poles are inserted from the inside so that when you’re done pitching the tent, all you have to do is pull in your backpack and you’re out of the weather.

Black Diamond First Light Tent with Blackhead Mountain in the background.

The Black Diamond Firstlight is listed as a two-person tent. At 48″ wide, two people can comfortably sleep side-by-side in this tent without a problem. That’s wide enough for 2 standard width sleeping pads. However, with two people sleeping, there is not a lot of additional space for storing gear. For use wit two people, you may consider the optional vestibule (sold separately).

winter backpacking
Black Diamond Firstlight Tent

Some people claim that this tent is not waterproof, which they believe defeats the primary purpose of having a tent in the first place. The truth is that this tent does not come seam-sealed. If you take some time to seal the seams, it will be fully waterproof.

Fully Self Standing

Unlike many backpacking tents, the Black Diamond Firstlight is fully self standing. That means you don’t need any stakes or tie-out points to pitch this tent. That can be a real time saver when you’re trying to get out of bad weather in a hurry.

Black Diamond Firstlight
The Firstlight makes a great camp-and-go tent the night before 3 season backpacking trips.

Being self standing also makes this tent ideal for pitching at hardened front-country campsites or on platforms where it is difficult to find tie-out points or put stakes in the ground. I use this tent year-round for quick camps the night before longer backpacking trips because it is so easy to set up and pack up.

hyperlight mountain gear ultimid 2
The Hyperlight Mountain Gear Ultamid 2 is another example of a pyramid style tent used for winter fast packing.

The downside of being self standing is a substantial weight penalty. For example, the comparably priced Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid Pyramid tent weighs only 18 ounces and can e set up with trekking poles or an optional center pole. Pyramid tents are great alternatives for winter backpacking because they shed wind and snow so well, but they do require more time to set up and are usually floorless.

Black Diamond Firstlight Doors

The Black Diamond Firstlight has a door on one end and a window on the other. The door actually has two closures: a solid out-door and a mesh inner door for keeping bugs out. The window on the opposite end of the tent has a solid closure and fixed mesh bug screen. If you only intend to use this tent in winter, you may consider cutting out the mesh door for weight savings.

black diamond firstlight
The doors of the Firstlight drop down and can be secured out of the way.

Both the solid and mesh door layers feature a 2-way inverted-U-shape zipper. The “drop” style door is sewn to the tent body at its bottom edge so that it drops out of the weigh when open. Both the screen and solid doors can be secured with a set of toggles.


All single-wall tents are prone to condensation issues. Condensation is the moisture from your breath that sticks to the walls of your tent when the exterior is colder than the interior. Many people think their tent is not waterproof because of the excess condensation that forms when it is raining. In truth, wet exterior walls decrease breathability of the fabric and high humidity increases the amount of condensation that will be experienced.

black diamond firstlight
The front door of the firstlight can be left partially open and various sized “half moons” for venting.

To combat condensation in a single wall tent, you must keep the doors and windows at least partially opened. Using the 2-way double zippers, you can open or close the door as much or little as you want for a balance of ventilation and weather proofing. Both the door and window have a sewn-in wire supported hood to keep out rain when open.

Left: Firstlight. Right: Hilight.

The Black Diamond Firstlight is an end-entry tent. The door is on a short end rather than the side. This means both occupants have equal access to the door, but it requires some crawling to get in and out. At meal-time, only one person can sit in the doorway to cook. Those who prefer side-opening tents may consider the Black Diamond Hilight of very similar design.

Optional Vestibule

The standard issue Black Diamond Firstlight has no vestibule. That means you must store your gear either inside the tent or out in the weather. There is also no protected place to cook. Black Diamond sells an optional vestibule that adds some functionality to this tent. The vestibule costs $149.95 and adds 18.69 oz.

Firstlight with optional vestibule and pit

While it isn’t large, the vestibule is functional. It provides some exterior covered space for cooking and storing sharp gear that you might not want in the tent (crampons!) If you do choose to cook in your vestibule, be careful to provide plenty of ventilation and avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

When cooking in the pit under the vestibule, be sure to keep the door vented a little for fresh air.

I find that digging a pit under my vestibule increases its usability. I can sit in the tent with my legs dangling comfortably in the pit. This makes it easier to don and doff shoes. When cooking, heavy carbon monoxide with settle in the pit rather than killing you in your tent. If the pit extends beyond the perimeter of the vestibule, it will help provide extra ventilation while the vestibule itself blocks wind and snow from entering your tent.

Black Diamond Firstlight Set-Up

Pitching the Black Diamond Firstlight is extremely fast and easy because it pitches from the inside. You can be inside this tent in less than two minutes if the weather is bad.

  1. Stamp it down flat with your snow shoes. If you have time, wait about an hour for the surface to harden before pitching. You can skip this whole step if you’re in a hurry.
  2. Spread out the tent body and stake out the corners. If the snow is very deep, take apart your trekking poles and use them as stakes. You can skip this step if you’re in a hurry.
  3. Fully assemble both arch poles. Make sure the ends are seated properly so that you don’t snap them. Push the poles through the front door of the tent.
  4. Crawl part-way into the tent. Stick one end of each pole into the corner grommets in the floor at the back end of the tent. Then flex each pole upward so that you can stick the other end into the opposite corner. The poles should cross at the top.
  5. Take a moment to adjust the position of the poles so they line up with the velcro strap, then secure the straps around the poles. You can skip this step if you’re in a hurry, but it does add strength to the tent.
  6. If winds are heavy. you may want to use extra guy-lines to tie out the corner of the tent. There is a pull tab about 1/3rd of the way up each corner. You can tie these off the trees, rocks, or buried objects. Once these are tied out, you can retrieve your trekking poles and go on day hikes from camp.
black diamond firstlight spread out for setup
With the body spread out, you can just crawl inside with the poles.

Adding the Vestibule

If you’re using the vestibule, it is added after the rest of the tent is fully pitched. This is nice because it allows you to get out of the weather or attend to other tasks and put up the vestibule later when things calm down. Setting up the vestibule is a little tricky.

  1. Fully extend the collapsible pole.
  2. Thread the pole through all of the Velcro loops on the underside of the vestibule.
  3. Flex the pole and insert both ends into the corner grommets on the exterior of the tent body. Make sure the corner with the clips is toward the tent body and the Velcro loops are facing the ground.
  4. Pull the vestibule grommet tabs down and around the ends of the pole under the tent grommets. This is tricky because there is a lot of tension, but the tension will lock everything in place.
  5. Fasten the clips to the apex of the tent.
  6. Stake or anchor out the “beak” end of the vestibule.
  7. You can add a lot of functionality and comfort by digging a pit under the vestibule.

Is the Black Diamond Firstlight Waterproof?

There is some controversy surrounding the waterproofness of this tent. There are three reasons for this. First, the fabric is highly breathable but slightly less waterproof than other tent fabrics. Second, the tent doesn’t come seam sealed from the factory. Finally, poor ventilation leads to a lot of condensation which people mistake for water leaking through from the outside.

The fabric used in the Firstlight tent is less waterproof than most tent fabrics on purpose. This is primarily a winter tent intended for use in very cold environments in which all external moisture is frozen. With the door and window closed for extremely bad weather, this tent would trap an enormous amount of vapor from your breath if it were fully waterproof. Instead, the fabric is slightly breathable to allow vapor to escape, but still waterproof enough to keep out most moisture from the outside world.

This tent doesn’t come seam sealed from the factory. Seam sealing adds cost and weight. Some tent manufacturers leave it up to the user whether to seal the seams or not. I coated all of my seams with silicone spray and find the water proofness to be tolerable.

black diamond firstlight vestibule vent
The main door and vestibule door can be vented at the top and are protected by wire-frame hoods.

The last problem is related to the first. Although the fabric is breathable, it ceases to breath when soaked with rain. A coating of water on the outside of the tent will prevent vapor from escaping. When it is raining, it is especially important to keep the doors and window vented as much as you can.

Likes & Dislikes

  • Likes
    • Spacious for one person
    • Fast and easy setup
    • Light for a self-standing winter tent
    • Optional vestibule adds a lot of functionality but can be left home to save weight
    • Packs fairly small
    • Self-Standing tents are easier to deal with on snow or platforms
  • Dislikes
    • Hot & Humid inside if used in summer
    • Lots of condensation if not well vented
    • Heavier than some ultralight alternatives


The Black Diamond Firstlight is a self standing, single wall, two person tent intended for winter backpacking and mountaineering use. It is ideal for very snowy conditions where setting up more complicated non-self-standing tents may be difficult. It can be used year-round for camp-and-go one nighters or in areas that require you to use tent platforms.

black diamond firstlight with vestibule
My tent covered with snow after the morning flurries.

When fully closed up, the Firstlight can get very wet inside. Remember to keep the door and window vented or you will get wet. You should seam seal this tent if you plan to use it in the rain. Don’t buy this tent if you are only interested in 3-season backpacking. This is a winter tent.

For a lighter option that might make a better all-year tent, consider a pyramid. Be warned, pyramid tents are not self standing and may be difficult to set up in adverse conditions.

My standard 3-season tent, the Tarptent Stratospire Li, can handle heavy wind and snow but MUST be well anchored.

Don’t pay full price for a Black Diamond Firstlight! Many people purchase these tents and then sell them because “they’re not waterproof” or they find out they’re just not that into winter camping. I got mine used for a heavy discount.

Happy Trails!