The First Light Hoody by Black Diamond is an insulating multi-tool, ideal for a range of conditions on its own, or as a sturdy layer under tougher exterior protection. The jacket is heavy when compared to category competitors but makes up for that weight with moisture resistance and usefulness when active. It feels great to wear, breathes better than its true down competitors, and looks the part in the frontcountry. The hood could use adjustment mechanisms but stays in place when over a helmet. Overall, the First Light Hoody is streamlined and technical, and a top performer in the test.
Black Diamond partnered with outdoor apparel mainstay Schoeller for the First Light Hoody’s lightweight, NanoSphere-finished exterior, and PrimaLoft to fill it with its Silver Insulation Active.
Both materials are used in situations where manufacturers are shooting for a warmth-to-weight balance. However, as a synthetic insulator not pretending to be down, PrimaLoft Silver Active eschews bulk, emulating a mid-layer softshell more than it does a traditional synthetic puffy. It’s also considerably water-resistant and breathable as a result.
Schoeller’s NanoSphere finish has been in the market for some time, introduced to provide exterior water and stain resistance. The former was more evident than the latter, as the primary tester was able to mar with it notable cosmetic evidence of continued use. The stretch-nylon shell affords the wearer flexible comfort and aids in packability. In terms of durability, one tester said that ” … the Schoeller stretch woven nylon face fabric used in the Black Diamond Equipment First Light Hoody scoffed at attempts to abrade or puncture it during extended use in rocky and brushy areas.”
The materials excel in giving the First Light Hoody above-average performance when faced with direct precipitation. One tester faced more than 30 minutes of heavy late-season snow in the northern Sierras before considering a more advanced hardshell while another tester found, ” … it remained comfortable at rest despite freezing temperatures and gusts of cold north wind.”
The jacket stays close to the body to build warmth quickly but manages to breathe enough to remain comfortable, even when trudging through waist-high snow. The jacket didn’t face rain during testing, but circumstantial evidence suggests its a dependable barrier against prolonged mist and light rain. It shouldn’t be depended on as a reason to leave the rain shell at home.
The hood stretches enough to accommodate ski helmets, but lacks adjustment features to fully batten it down around the head without one (Black Diamond currently markets the jacket as having hood adjustments—the version tested did not). The center zip finishes just above the chin to aid in security against the elements, especially the wind. As a wind protector, the First Light Hoody holds its own against heavier softshells and windshirts.
A wish—more than a complaint—the First Light Hoody could benefit greatly from a dual-zipper, even with the Primaloft Silver Active’s inherent breathability. As an active insulator, improved access to a harness, for example, could vault this jacket to the ultimate shoulder-season belay piece. That said, it excelled in keeping its tester warm in a variety of conditions, from lift-served laps in early spring to sunny winter bike rides to town.
While rating breathability often comes down to how sweat build-up was avoided during cold weather activities, it’s perhaps more important to retard overheating when a jacket is worn during warmer conditions. In these instances, the First Light Hoody proved highly versatile and comfortable, even up to 50º F.
The handwarmer pockets include a layer of insulated fabric on the outer edge, so the zipper is concealed by almost an inch of warm material. It’s a subtle, effective design choice for helping hands stay warm.
The waistcord can be adjusted with one hand by pulling it taught, and cinching it in a plastic fastener sewn into the hem. When released, the hem returns to its natural fit instantly. It’s a sleek method to aid in temperature control, and one we’ll probably soon see become more popular.
The lightweight, soft fit of the First Light Hoody allows for its use in countless outdoor pursuits, from a mid-layer in nasty alpine environs to a subtle, external warming piece for fall bocce league. The medium offered a quasi-slim-athletic fit that hung nicely on the 5’9’’, 170 pound tester, but both testers noted that it could be too snug on those with broader chests and shoulders. It’s soft, flexible, and light.
Beyond the materials combination, the First Light Hoody benefits from a simple, one-handed hem adjustment that stays put and ideally-sized handwarmer pockets. The grippy zipper pulls are suited for gloved hands and showed no signs of stress during testing. The internal chest pocket is a stretch-mesh that absorbs the jacket better than most stuff-pockets, yet testers admit it’s not as compressible as its competitors. The hood is very large, ideal for helmets, but baggy without one, and requiring a lot of manual adjustment as you go. The sleeves have additional fabric over the elastic cuffs that helps trap warmth.