The Black Diamond Equipment First Light Stretch Hoody is a breathable insulating jacket that works well as a midlayer or on its own. It’s aimed at highly active outdoor adventurers, including alpine climbers and hard-charging skiers.
Black Diamond recently updated the First Light Stretch Hoody for this season. To get us a closer look, Black Diamond sent Man Makes Fire a review unit. This is what we learned:
Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody Review
The Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody is a synthetic, slightly stretchy jacket that’s built for movement in mind. For climbers, the sleeves are bit longer than what we find on typical jackets, which is spot on if you’re climbing and raising your arms above your head.
Our interest in the Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody isn’t in for climbing, though. We used it as a midlayer for downhill skiing, and for this purpose, it’s fantastic.
While we’re big fans of lightweight down jackets for pretty everything, but once you start skiing hard they have a tendency to get wet underneath a ski shell. How so? The water vapor your own body produces when you’re working hard can, over a few hours, saturate fine goose or duck down insulation. However, if your ski runs are generally gentle endeavors punctuated by drinks in the lodge, you probably don’t need a synthetic midlayer. (Hey, we’re not judging. We’ve been there and we’ll be there again!)
Insulation for Activity
Meanwhile, back to the First Light Stretch Hoody. It uses PrimaLoft Silver Insulation Active, which is one of the industry’s best synthetic insulations. It packs down reasonably small but lofts pretty well, and when it gets wet, it retains decent loft and insulating capabilities. It’s good stuff.
In terms of warmth, the Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody is pretty warm. While skiing in 20-degree weather with some healthy winds up top, the First Light Stretch Hoody did well over a merino wool base layer and underneath a waterproof, breathable ski shell.
In terms of breathability, the First Light seemed to breath well during a long downhill ski day — I never got clammy and the insulation seemed unaffected by any moisture I was producing. Of course, I was also wearing a good breathable waterproof shell.
Back side quilted panels.
Front zipper has an insulated windflap.
One note on the colors: The “midnight” color option is a pleasing blue, but our cameras had a hard time rendering it exactly the same in various lighting conditions — even sometimes from shot to shot with slight angle changes. In person, we think midnight is slightly brighter than the photo shown on Black Diamond’s website. Either way, we’re fans of the midnight color option in person — it’s not a common shade of blue, but it’s cool nonetheless.
On its own, it provided solid warmth in the parking lot getting ready to ski, walking the dog, and packing up. Because of its wind resistance, it’s nearly as warm as most lightweight down jackets — but it’s far more durable and capable of handling activity and moisture.
Our men’s XL weighed in at 20.7 ounces. There are some lighter midlayer jackets out there, but they’re generally a bit thinner and less warm. The weight seems fair given the amount of insulation.
The exterior is a lightweight Schoeller face fabric that’s been coated with an Eco-Repel PFC-free DWR coating. We like the fabric very much. It feels good, seems reasonably durable, and it’s not shiny.
The interior has a stretch lining, too, and it feels good on your skin. Plus, the bit of stretch helps improve freedom of motion and inhibit binding. It works well.
You get two large zippered hand pockets as well as a left-side zippered chest pocket.
The entire jacket stuffs into the left side hand pocket, which also has a carabiner loop. Black Diamond says the First Light Hoody Stows into the chest pocket, but that’s just a marketing error — it most definitely stows into the left side hand pocket. The interior fabric that turns into the exterior pouch, though, is not water resistant, so remember that if you clip it to the outside of your pack.
Packs into it’s own pocket.
The fit and finish is excellent throughout.
New addition: The hood is now adjustable for a better fit!
The small elastic cuffs are darn near perfect.
The most important update in the new 2019/2020 version is to the helmet-compatible hood: Black Diamond has included a drawcord adjuster to the backside of the climbing-helmet-compatible-hood, making it possible to dial-in the fit. Because the hood is compatible with climbing helmets, it’s a bit big for everyday use, but you can shrink the hood quite a bit with the drawcord adjustment. If you seriously plan to use the hood without a helmet, you’ll likely get the best results if you pair it with a ball cap that has a brim to help with fit and visibility.
Our men’s XL fit as expected — spot on in the sleeves and shoulders and roomy enough in the torso for layering. In fact, if have a reasonably athletic build, you can easily fit a base layer plus a pullover fleece and still have room for the Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody. This was the case for me. For reference, I’m about 6’3″, 220 pounds, and I have long arms. (If I had average-length arms, I could likely size down to a large for a trimmer fit.)
The overall cut is great for motion and active sports — and it fits surprisingly well in person.
Sizing is spot on, but slightly roomy in the torso. Shown is an XL on a 6’3″ 220 lb (reasonably) athletic guy.
The hood is designed to be compatible with climbing helmets, so it works best with a ball cap when you’re not climbing. The sleeves are plenty long (and the author’s arms are longer than average).
It might be possible for slim guys to size down for a trimmer fit — just know that you might lose some sleeve length in the process. Because the sleeves are sized long enough for climbing, you likely won’t have issues if you’re using this jacket for skiing.
The elastic cuffs are pretty much perfect, out of the way but effective. The hem includes a drawcord, so you can tighten up the bottom to stop drafts.
Overall Quality: Outstanding
The overall quality of the Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody is outstanding. The stitching is excellent throughout, and the cut is slightly loose but flattering. Some midlayers look sort of vague, but the Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody looks like it was designed to be worn while you’re actually doing something athletic. We’re big fans.
All-in-all, the Black Diamond First Light Stretch Hoody is an excellent midlayer jacket that can do double-duty on its own when you’re active outside. As a midlayer under a ski shell, it’s fantastic, and when it’s time to shed the shell and grab a beer with your buddies, it has an understated outdoor style we appreciate. Highly recommended.