15 years ago I bought the first generation of the Black Diamond Firstlight. It was a remarkable thing for the time, a silnylon floor and ripstop Epic fly which, with the simple design, added up to an almost unprecendentedly low total weight and small packed size. We used it a bunch for 7 years until passing it along, something I’ve since regretted. The design is simplicity itself, pitches fast, provides lots of living space for the footprint, and between the steep walls and relatively small panels sheds weather of all types better than two simple crossed poles would suggest. The most memorable night in the Firstlight was in the middle of Iowa, in the middle of summer. M and I did RAGBRAI in 2005, out of a single bag consigned to the cargo shuttle each day. The second or third night out a near-tornado passed nearby, something we only learned the next morning, when we learned how many of our peers had been driven inside the local school by flattened tents.
The Firstlight did eventually cease to repel rain, one assumes due to dirty fabric, something my cleaning never entirely fixed. I’ve long longed for a reliably rainproof replacement. To that end we bought a Bibler Eldorado, whose performance was faultless, but whose packed size (due to the laminate fly material) was massive enough that it was never a viable backcountry option. The long-discontinued Golite Utopia is the only other option, and floorless at that, but those models were a bit low ceilinged and hard to find.
So when earlier this year BD introduced a significantly altered line of ultralight tents, I thought long before jumping on the new Hilight.
The Hilight was introduced, back in the day, as the UL version of the Bibler Ahwahnee, just as the Firstlight was to the I-Tent and Eldorado. The new Hilight has a 30D sil/poly Polyester for the tent body, non-breathable, which makes venting a priority. This, and dry entry in the rain, makes the side door, large window, and awning pole of the Hilight sensical for this fabric. The new Firstlight remains made of Nanosphere, and thus not utterly rainproof.
The Hilight is not a big tent, with the modest length (82 inches) barely adequate for a six footer. My intentions for this tent are three fold; as a winter ski touring tent, as a fall alpine hunting tent, and as an all season shelter for myself and Little Bear. In the former two cases I’ll use it solo, and laying diagonally will provide plenty of room for winter sleeping gear.
The detailing on the Hilight is excellent; #5 nickle plated zipper sliders, big zipper flaps, nicely bartacked stake loops, guypoints tied in to laminated reinforcements inside the fly. It is small, and well built, but it isn’t exactly light. On my scale the body (in the factory stuff sack) measures 2 pounds 10.5 ounces. The pole set (in bag) is 1 pound. The included 8 DAC v stakes (my second favorite, and a very nice thing to see) 4 guylines, and pole splint all add up to 4.5 ounces. So, you might be a hair under four pounds field weight for the Hilight, but not too far in factory form.
There are enough light tents on the market today that such a figure needs accounting. Foremost, the Hilight and Firstlight are dead easy tents to pitch fast and then secure on deep snow. Stamp a platform, erect the tent, stuff a ski in two corners, inverted ski poles in the other two, and off to bed. Rarely is pitching a mid in similar conditions half as easy, as the stakes must hold tension from the first, rather than waiting for the snow to consolidate while you’re already in bed making dinner. Mids, even the newer school two pole mids, are much less weight/space competitive with the Hilight if a full nest is added to the mix, indeed, nest inserts are so fussy I’ve roundly conceded them to the bin. Floorless generally works for bugs in all but the worst conditions, and in those, might as well deal with a proper tent. This is the rationale for using the Hilight on kid trips, too; it is the simplest and close to most weight efficient containment for active sleepers.
I do wish the HiLight were lighter, though I wouldn’t do that with a lesser fabric. Our Firstlight had extensive patching along the poles, both due to several run away episodes (user error) and due to persistent chafing of the poles against the fly in strong storms. I might well do it by hacking some superfluous features, starting with the extensive loops and grommets which exist to mate with the optional fly (2 ounces at least, I reckon), and extending to the huge “flow manifold” tunnel vent on the top of the tent. On the one hand it’s a logical enlargement of the roof vents in the Eldorado. On the other it seems a bit redundant given the door and window venting. Concerningly, there is no way to close this vent. The inner, smaller pair of the four tunnel reinforcements can be bent in, but that is inside the mesh holes. How does one keep spindrift out? How does the vent act (as the catalogue copy claims) “…a central, ceiling exit rope for anchoring in on steep pitches.” Perhaps BD assumes alpinists will cut out the mesh?
I’ll give the tent a shake or two in stock form, but am assuming now that I’ll be cutting out of the whole vent complex and sewing covers over the mesh vents. The adorable little pockets welded center panel on each end are also ripe for scissoring.
The Hilight doesn’t stand out on specs alone, but it does on aesthetics and design. Based on first impressions and past experience it should on performance, too. Just need a bit more fresh snow for a proper trial.
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