With more and more people getting active in the backcountry, breathable insulation is becoming more and more important. Cold-weather laps, start-stop activity…it all requires layers that didn’t exist until recently. Black Diamond has joined the breathable insulation movement with their latest, the First Light Hoody.
Black Diamond reached out to Schoeller for the foundation of their jacket. The 7% Elastane, stretch-woven nylon shell provides some mobility while remaining breathable – the fabric is listed as providing 40CFM of air movement. Schoeller’s Nanosphere treatment keeps water, dirt, and oil from penetrating. The face fabric is Bluesign approved. Inside, a tightly woven nylon mesh lets moisture through almost effortlessly.
Primaloft provides their Silver Active insulation. Insulation is stitched to the face fabric but not the liner. Primaloft’s Silver Active is their most breathable insulation. The First Light Hoody uses the 60g weight version.
The First Light’s hoody is climbing helmet-compatible. It will not fit over a ski helmet, however. There is no adjustability on the hood. Rather, it relies on elastic piping around the edge of the hood to keep it in place. Black Diamond includes two hand-warmer pockets and an internal chest pocket. Sleeves have elastic piping around the wrists and the hem has a drawcord adjustment.
Our large tester weighs in at 550g. Black Diamond lists the First Light Hoody at 510g, but probably in a medium size.
Generally, Black Diamond has a somewhat slim fit. The First Light Hoody is no exception, but it’s an American slim. At 5’10”, 230, I generally wear a large in American brands and XL in European brands. The First Light is slightly tight in the shoulders when donning it, but once my arms are fully inserted, everything slots into place and fits perfectly.
For reference, Patagonia’s Nano Air hoody is slightly tighter in the hips, but similar in other places. Arcteryx’s Atom LT has a similar fit to the First Light, but the Proton LT is tighter in almost every dimension, especially in the hips. If you have a booty like I do, you’ll get a better fit out of the First Light. Sleeves are a perfect length. They aren’t so long that they bunch around the wrist, but also don’t ride up when reaching.
How We Tested
We took the First Light out on ski tours, wore it on inbounds days at Vail, shoveled snow, and wore it to the office. Temperatures ranged from 40° on the high end to -5° on the low end. Our ski tours included multiple dawn patrols with pre-sunrise starts and one sunny afternoon tour. On the tours, I wore the First Light over an Arcteryx Satoro base, a merino-blend, and Patagonia’s Merino Air base. Inbounds and while shoveling snow, I wore it over the Merino Air.
So, does the First Light work? Does it breath? Yes, and yes. Is it the most breathable layer out there? Maybe.
On the ski tours, my back was the only part of me that got sweaty. That was my pack’s fault, not the fault of the jacket. Every other part of my body, including my pits, had enough air moving around it to remain pretty dry. While shoveling snow on a sunny, 0° day, my head started to get a bit toasty inside the hood, but removing the hood made everything hunky dory.
How does it compare to other breathable insulation layers? Take all this with a grain of salt, because we haven’t done any scientific testing; it’s all based on feel. My best estimation is that Primaloft’s Silver Active is less breathable than Patagonia’s Full Range insulation and is the limiting factor in the First light. The Schoeller fabric is breathable enough that sweat should move through effortlessly. That said, the entire piece is breathable enough that it serves its function well.
So, the question is, do we need more? I don’t think so. Even if the First Light Hoody isn’t the most breathable mid layer out there, it functions well (then, there’s the question of whether a jacket can be TOO breathable. I think it can). Black Diamond put together a great jacket. It has a minimal feature set – everything it needs, nothing it doesn’t. Fabric and insulation work together well.
Could it be improved? Yes. The elastic around the hood is not quite tight enough to keep the hood off your face when using it without a helmet. A single cord for adjustments would be a welcome addition. BD should also replace the mesh liner around the wrists with something smoother – a ripstop nylon maybe. Right now, velcro snags on the liner and has created a few loose threads.
In the world of breathable insulation, all other things being equal, the fit is what matters. And, the Black Diamond First Light is the one that happens to fit me the best.
MSRP is $250.