Along the path towards the perfect jacket, we’ve gone the rounds between hardshell, softshell, down, synthetic, waterproof, breathable and everything in between. Today’s Goldilocks of jackets are increasingly made of lightweight, synthetic insulation and offer excellent breathability while fending off the best of what Mother Nature dishes out. I’d put the Black Diamond First Light Hoody squarely in the Goldilocks category of jackets.
Black Diamond First Light Hoody Features:
- Migration-resistant PrimaLoft® Silver Insulation Active
- Lightweight Schoeller® face fabric
- Nanosphere® Technology repels water, dirt and oil
- Insulated windflap
- Climbing-helmet-compatible hood
- Low-profile, single-adjust hem
- Stows in internal chest pocket with carabiner clip loop
- Two concealed-zip hand pockets
- Primary fabric is bluesign approved
- Weight: 18.4 oz (medium, actual)
- Fit: Regular (I’d call it athletic)
- MSRP: $249
The one jacket I grab
Over the past few seasons, the concept of “active insulation” has become all the rage. When Polartec launched it’s Alpha insulation a few years ago, for example, it was received to rave reviews by myself and many others. We’ve also reviewed and loved the Patagonia Nano Air and Nano-Air Lite, which uses Patagonia’s own flavor of active insulation.
In this jacket, Black Diamond has chosen to use Primaloft’s active insulation material called Primaloft Silver Insulation Active. This lightweight, breathable insulation is different than the typical synthetic materials previously used in jackets and leverages air pockets combined with air permeability to both trap warmth when sedentary and expel heat and moisture when moving. As a result, Primaloft Active delivers high levels of warmth, breathability and comfort and does so with panache.
In Utah, it’s rarely what you would call “soggy.” Yeah, we get our occasional wet, cold rain, but typically it’s quite arid and while the snow piles up high and deep, it’s of the fluffy and dry variety that rarely requires the use of Gore-Tex anything.
That said, its no wonder that Salt Lake City-based Black Diamond Equipment would develop a jacket like the First Light Hoody. No doubt, this jacket is a staple amongst the dawn patrol regulars, but using this jacket just for dawn patrols is selling it short.
You see, the First Light Hoody is my “do everything” jacket. I’ve run to the store in it. I’ve enjoyed a night out on the town with it. I’ve worn it to the office — a lot. I’ve put it to the test trail running. I’ve hiked and skied in it. In short, there’s really nothing I wouldn’t do in this jacket. It is comfortable, warm and offers classic styling and fit for everything I expect a jacket to do.
What’s its sweet spot?
As mentioned, this is the one jacket I grab. Why? Well, because it’s so darn versatile. And, when it comes to putting this one to the test, it performed admirably. I knew that a winter trail run would overwhelm the otherwise-stellar Primaloft Active. But the magic here is even though it does get saturated, it’s still warm. The worst area as far as saturation is concerned is in the sleeves. You don’t think your arms sweat that much, but they do and the sleeves (particularly the upper sleeves) do get saturated after 30 min of running.
OK, so running will certainly cause almost any jacket to get overwhelmed, but more mild aerobic activity such as snowshoeing, hiking or backcountry skiing will remain quite pleasant. And, honestly, it’s that type of activity that the First Light Hoody is made for. If you are looking for a dedicated running jacket, wait for the hybrid version of the First Light Hybrid (coming fall 2017) or check out something like the Sugoi Alpha Hybrid jacket.
As far as temperature range, I’ve remained quite comfortable down to the low 20’s and up to about 50-degrees. Wind doesn’t significantly penetrate the face fabric, but if you really focus on it, you can tell that there is a small amount of wind penetration, but that works to its advantage. That little bit of wind allows the Primaloft Active to move moisture away from the body and out of the jacket.
Durability has so far been superb with excellent DWR treatment to keep out the moisture. Again, it’s not windproof, so it’s not entirely waterproof either, but it’s pretty darn good for everything but full-on downpours. The Schoeller fabric with Nanosphere DWR is soft and quiet. The lining is also comfortable next-to-skin, even when damp with sweat. I love that I can comfortably wear it with short-sleeve shirts, but it also does well with light to midweight long-sleeve base layers underneath. More baggy-sleeved shirts do get bunched up inside the streamlined sleeves, but not uncomfortably-so.
Should you wish to stash the Black Diamond First Light Hoody, you can stuff it into its internal mesh pocket and hang it from its own carabiner loop during technical ascents. More likely, I’d be stuffing it into a backcountry pack, so it’s nice to know that it does compress and roll quite well — a little bigger than the size of a Nalgene water bottle. Since it is synthetic, it does weigh about 6 oz. more than a comparable down jacket, but again it’s much more versatile.
I’ll add that the fit is streamlined/athletic (BD calls it normal), so keep that in mind. I’m 5’11” and 170 lbs. with a 39″ chest and the medium was perfect for use with a light-to-midweight base layer, but that’s about it. The sleeves are plenty long, which isn’t always the case with medium jackets. And, the tucked-under placement of the elastic on the sleeve cuff is absolutely fantastic. It slips right over the cuff of lightweight gloves, like the Dakine Blockade. Adding to the fit is the 4-way stretch of this jacket. It moves with you and really feels like it’s part of you.
A couple of nit-picks
If you’ve followed my jacket reviews, I’m always particularly-picky about my zipper pulls. Honestly, the best ones these days are simply a small-gauge rope with a grippy nub at the end. Unfortunately, the ones used here are disappointingly awkward to use. They are stiff plastic bits and just don’t make for easy zipping/unzipping.
Additionally, the helmet-friendly hood is great, but needs some minor adjustments to keep it from blowing around when wearing it without a helmet (most of the time).
- Primaloft Active is one of the best synthetic insulators
- Breathes very well within its intended purpose
- Fantastic fit, feel and construction
- 4-way stretch makes it feel part of you
- Excellent weather resistance
- Versatile for all kinds of uses
- Subdued, classic styling
- Hood is helmet-friendly
- Anti-stink characteristics are excellent
- Awkward zipper pulls
- Hood needs some adjustments
The Bottom Line: Black Diamond First Light Hoody
When I’m heading out the door, it’s a no-brainer to grab the First Light. It’s super-comfortable and can take a ton of abuse. Above all, it stays warm when wet and breathes in ways down jackets (and most synthetic jackets) simply can’t match. Yes, it’s technical enough for the most demanding alpinists, but is also functional enough for less-demanding outdoor pursuits.
Buy Now: Available at Backcountry.com
Active insulators are quite common these days and I consider them to be the ultimate jackets. Such is certainly the case with the BD First Light Hoody. It's comfortable and warm when needed, breathes well under load and sheds most of what Mother Nature can dish out.