Black Diamond First Light Hoody
Size Tested: Medium
Stated Weight: 510 g
- Shell: Schoeller® stretch-woven nylon with NanoSphere® Technology (80 gsm, 93% nylon, 7% elastane)
- Lining: Nylon woven mesh (65 gsm, 100% nylon)
- Insulation: 60-g PrimaLoft® Silver Insulation Active
- Migration-resistant PrimaLoft® Silver Insulation Active
- Lightweight Schoeller® face fabric
- Nanosphere® Technology repels water, dirt and oil
- Insulated windflap
- Adjustable, climbing-helmet-compatible hood
- Underarm gussets for added range of motion
- Low-profile, single-adjust hem
- Stows in internal chest pocket with carabiner clip loop
- Two concealed-zip hand pockets
- Primary fabric is bluesign approved
- 2 zippered hand warmer pockets
- 1 internal zippered chest pocket
Test Locations: Swan Range, Beartooth Range, & Hyalite Canyon, MT
Days Tested: 30
“Active” insulation is a real big buzzword right now in the outerwear industry. From the Patagonia Nano-Air, to the Outdoor Research Ascendant and Uberlayer jacket, to The North Face Ventrix Hoodie, almost every outerwear company has some form of a highly-breathable puffy jacket. “Active” insulation is designed to breathe better than a standard puffy so you can put a layer on and wear it all the way up to the summit without overheating.
Black Diamond entered this category with the First Light Hoody, which they say is designed to “handle anything from windblown knife-edged traverses to mellow tours.” So we wanted to see how the First Light Hoody measured up to offerings from Patagonia, Arc’teryx, and Outdoor Research.
While most of the Black Diamond apparel I’ve worn has fit me quite well, I found the fit of the First Light Hoody frustratingly inconsistent. While many alpine-styled layers are cut slim to maintain a low profile for mountain pursuits, the First Light Hoody has a very boxy cut through the torso. (When I wear the First Light Hoody, the fabric hangs awkwardly around my abdomen and bunches up around my belly when I lean over or sit down.) And then the shoulders and arms feel unnecessarily tight and constricting. At 5’11”, 165 lbs, I’m hardly built like a linebacker, yet I still feel like I need to wrestle my arms into the sleeves, and I can’t shake the unsettling feeling that I’m going to rip a seam on the shoulders if I move too suddenly. The Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody and the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody (comparable jackets from each respective company) are cut relatively slimmer through the torso with longer arms — a fit that works much better for me.
The First Light Hoody just has more fabric in the midsection and less in the arms than these other alpine-focused mid layers, so if you’ve found other mid layers to be a bit too slim through the torso, or too long in the arms, then the First Light Hoody may work better for you.
The First Light Hoody uses a midweight Schoeller soft shell face fabric to provide weather resistance, breathability, and stretchiness, with a light woven nylon liner for next-to-skin comfort. I found the face fabric to be relatively stiff, and closer in texture to the Outdoor Research Uberlayer than the Patagonia Nano-Air. I think the stiffness of the face fabric may contribute to the bunching phenomenon I spoke of earlier. Unfortunately, even after a full month of constant use, the face fabric has not broken in or softened at all.
I also found the face fabric less stretchy than that on the Nano-Air or the Arc’teryx Atom LT. The relative lack of stretch certainly contributed to the sense of fragility when executing athletic moves. Although I haven’t ripped any seams on the jacket, there are several loose threads.
The upside of the slightly heavier denier face fabric on the First Light Hoody is that the jacket holds up better to abrasion and general garment abuse. I wore the jacket through some pretty intense bushwhacking in the Swan Range and it came away unscathed by the trauma.
Like many other alpine-oriented layers, the First Light Hoody has few superfluous features. The First Light Hoody has a pair of low-profile hand pockets, a single chest pocket, and a minimalist cinch cord at the waist. For comparison, this is almost identical to the feature set on the Nano-Air. The hand pockets are large enough for use with gloves, though I occasionally had difficulty operating the zipper pulls with gloves as the pulls are partially concealed by a flap of fabric that tends to snag on the zipper.
The interior mesh zippered pocket doubles as a stuff sack for the jacket when turned inside out, and I did not have trouble stuffing the jacket inside it.
I do wish the First Light Hoody had a pair of internal drop pockets similar to those found on the Outdoor Research Uberlayer, since they allow for quick drying and warming of either gloves or skins. However, I have the same gripe about many alpine-focused puffies, so I’m not holding that omission against Black Diamond.
Weight and Packed Size
When compared directly to other midweight synthetic jackets, the First Light Hoody is heavier than nearly every other offering on the market. At a stated weight of 510 g, the First Light Hoody is over 25% heavier than the Nano-Air Hoody (397 g) and the Atom LT Hoody (360 g). While weight isn’t everything, the bulk of the First Light also makes it more challenging to pack.
Warmth and Comparisons
In terms of warmth, I found the 60-g Primaloft Silver Active insulation in the First Light Hoody comparable to the 60-g FullRange insulation in the Nano-Air and the 60-g Coreloft in the Arc’teryx Atom LT. When standing still in temperatures down to just below freezing, the First Light Hoody was as warm and comfortable as other midweight synthetic puffy jackets I’ve used. No complaints there.
I took the First Light Hoody out this winter climbing in Hyalite Canyon in temperatures down to about 0°F, and it performed as expected; a good stand-alone layer to about 20°F, and then as a piece of a layering system in colder temps.
I wore the First Light when climbing in temperatures around 15°F and was pleasantly comfortable while moving, but had to add a belay parka once I stopped. On days with high wind or blowing snow, I felt the need to layer a shell jacket over the First Light Hoody for added weather protection, but in calm conditions, I was happy with just the hoody. For comparison, this is right in line with my experience using the Patagonia Nano-Air.
While the First Light Hoody is as warm as other 60-g insulation jackets on the market, I found that it did not breathe as well as other active insulation pieces like the Nano-Air or Uberlayer. I even found the Atom LT (which uses a combination of standard, “non-active” Coreloft insulation and fleece side panels) breathed better than the First Light Hoody. That’s not to say that the First Light Hoody doesn’t live up to its billing as a breathable insulation layer, I just think there are other options that breathe better.
But when compared to other non-active insulation pieces like the Patagonia Nano Puff or a standard down jacket, the First Light does breathe significantly better.
Black Diamond and Schoeller advertise the “Nano-Sphere DWR” properties of the First Light Hoody as more durable and more weather resistant than other DWR coatings found on outerwear. I don’t have access to a scanning electron microscope, so I can’t comment on the molecular level, but it appears that the Nano-Sphere DWR on the First Light Hoody is the same as what is found on the Black Diamond BDV Hoody and pants, as well as the Alpine Start Hoody.
I did not notice a significant increase in water-resistance on the First Light Hoody when compared to the Atom LT or other synthetic puffy jackets, but I do think the Nano-Sphere DWR is more durable and more stain-resistant than some other DWR coatings. For example, I’ve worn a pair of the BDV pants for almost four years, and only in the past several months have I noticed the DWR coating really wearing out.
I do think the First Light Hoody is more wind-resistant than the Nano-Air, and this seems to be connected with it being less breathable overall. I was able to wear the First Light Hoody more comfortably in high winds before needing to put on a windproof layer compared to the Nano-Air.
Given its heavier weight, peculiar fit, and relative lack of breathability compared to the competition, I personally feel the First Light Hoody is not as refined a layer as some of the other active insulation jackets on the market. (And at $249, it is in the same price range as a number of other active insulation pieces.)
The First Light Hoody will hold the most appeal for those who prioritize durability over breathability and packability, and for those who think the fit of the First Light Hoody that I’ve described will work well for them.