Monday, 10 June 2019 09:15

Black Diamond Women’s First Light jacket tested and reviewed

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Described as the ultimate in lightweight, highly breathable insulation that eliminates the need for constant layering changes my first impressions with the Black Diamond Women’s First Light jacket… it looked a bit girly for me.

I had my preconceptions about who would wear this jacket. 

Sporting an ‘Aquamarine’ colour, the Black Diamond First Light jacket sample is one of the paler items of clothing I’ve got in my outdoor wardrobe, in a pale duck-egg, greeny blue. It’s like the kind of jacket I first imagined it being aimed at a twenty something, sun-kissed, bronzed demi-god of sport climber who would very casually don the jacket in-between belays, hair swishing in the gentle breeze and possibly pouting as they lowered their equally gorgeous climbing partner off their 7c project.

BD 1st Light 1

This kind of person very much contrasts with my idea of climbing, a typically thuggier, altogether more gritty affair; my hair is usually clumped into one big dreadlock as a result of the constant westerly winds and a potent mixture of suncream, sweat and matted chalk all streaming down my face when climbing up ( or rather slapping up) those infamous Gritstone edges.

When I found out I was reviewing the Black Diamond First Light jacket, my first thought was whether it would be the kind of piece of kit that would survive a rigorous testing. Testing the jacket over three months, I decided to wear the jacket in a range of situations, from alpine mountain to Peak District crags and see how it faired with a number of situations that involved layering changes. 

To my surprise, the jacket has exceeded expectations as a jacket that’s lightweight, breathable synthetic piece of insulation. It’s also ‘casual’ enough to be worn in day to day civilian life, subtle enough to not resemble a highlighter pen on the high street. Aside from some wear and tear, the jacket seems to have the potential to last for a while.

What the manufacturer’s say:

From routine ski tours to serious alpine routes, the First Light Jacket is the ultimate in lightweight, highly breathable insulation that eliminates the need for constant layering changes. The First Light’s baffled construction features migration-resistant PrimaLoft® Silver Insulation Active that not only insulates, but breathes efficiently during even the most intense aerobic outputs. Combined with a woven mesh lining and weather-resistant Schoeller® shell fabric, the First Light will be the most versatile layer in your kit. The jacket also stows inside its chest pocket and attaches to your harness with an integrated carabiner clip loop.

Features

  • · Migration-resistant PrimaLoft® Silver Insulation Active
  • · Lightweight stretch fabric
  • · NanoSphere® Technology repels water, dirt and oil
  • · Baffled construction
  • · Low-profile, single-adjust hem
  • · Stows in chest pocket with internal carabiner clip loop
  • · Underarm gussets for added range of motion
  • · Minimalist elastic cuffs
  • · Two concealed zip hand pockets and one internal stretch mesh pocket
  • · Primary fabric is bluesign® approved
  • · Fit: Regular

Size: XS-XL

What features stood out?

Range of movement designed with active use in mind- If you’re purchasing a synthetic jacket,  an option to consider is whether yo want something to be stood still in ( i.e. a belay jacket) or something that allows you to keep moving in and easily put other layers on top. The jacket is cut with a regular fit, meaning it fits comfortably across the shoulders, with enough ‘give’ to be able to comfortably stretch and reach up as well as rotating movement, with underarm gussets built in. It also has a minimalist elastic cuff that allows you enough room to wear a long sleeve top or thin softshell jacket underneath, but sits snugly enough to avoid stuff like snow getting down your cuff. A longer vertical white zipper means you can so the jacket up with gloves on, although confusingly the zip is on the right hand side (it’s usually on the left hand side for women’s jackets, which does take some getting used to.)

BD 1st Light 2

It’s a lot warmer and technical then it looks- Most synthetic jackets have a performance insulation that is one of its main selling points. The Black Diamond First Light is no different, with Primaloft silver active insulation, which is ‘migration resistant,’ meaning it doesn’t move about when it gets wet, or get lumpy. A baffle construction on the front means the distribution of the synthetic insulation is evenly spread out, but isn’t visible other then a few horizontal seams that go from chest height down to them hemline. What you have with the First Light is a technical performance jacket, designed with simple, minimalist design savvy in mind.

 BD 1st Light 3

It feels nice and soft – One of the determining factors about whether a jacket feels wearable all the time, is how it feels to touch and move in. The Black Diamond First Light is made out of highly durable, lightweight, synthetic  material- the Swiss-made Schoeller material has a  40 CFM permeability, meaning its designed to be more breathable. It feels suited to those wearing the jacket in high output activities, from from alpine climbing to a spare layer for rock climbing. The fact it moves like a soft fabric is a bonus, because it doesn’t retain sweat and consequently moderates body temperature more effectively.

BD 1st Light 4

Not too shouty- It’s subtle in the way it incorporates the white Black Diamond logo on the back left shoulder panel and next to the front left pocket (as you’re looking down.)  It’s not overtly shouty, it’s soft to touch and yet has the subtle technical performance that makes it stand out more than just a layering jacket.

BD 1st Light 5

It’s a definite benefit of having a jacket that feels more subtle, the argument being not everyone wants to wear a high performance, shiny synthetic belay jacket when they’re off the mountains.

Produced sustainably- In addition, for the environmentally conscious, the jacket is Bluesign approved, meaning the product has been produced in a factory which has been independently verified to trace each textiles path along the manufacturing process, so that at every stage from factory floor to finished product, the jacket has been produced in a sustainable environment that supports the people who make the item.

Interesting way of stowing it away - Until I started writing the review, I wasn’t aware that the inner chest pocket  (made out of a soft, stretchy grey fabric) could be used to incorporate the jacket and folded inside out. A teal-colour fabric loop means it can be clipped to a harness, meaning the jacket is much more likely to be taken up for the cold drafty belays, or compressed down in my pack as a spare mid layer for the summer.

Any points to note? 

  • · Can get a bit muddy. Despite the manufacturer’s claim that the jacket has NanoSphere® Technology which repels water, dirt and oil, I’ve found the jacket can get quite dirty and stained, especially around the cuff area. The elasticated cuff is on the ‘inside’ of the sleeve, so the edge of the sleeve is prone to picking up dirt and oil, which although doesn’t impact on the product’s overall performance, will be something I will need to spend time trying to clean to get rid of the marks.
  • · The inside lining can bobble- I’ve noticed after three months of daily wear, the grey lining has started to bobble slightly. There are no noticeable holes or threads that have come away - just a light bobbling in the bottom right hand side panel of the jacket, which is aesthetically noticeable only to myself. It’s not on the outer shell, so I wouldn’t consider it a major flaw.
  • · No Hood - The only downside to the First Light jacket – is that the jacket doesn’t come with a hood. According to Black Diamond’s website, a hoodie hybrid version gives you the added benefit of hooded insulation for when you need the extra warmth. The argument I guess for no hood means that you wouldn’t typically wear the First light in situations where it would be raining- or the jacket would perform as a mid layer, ideally underneath a waterproof.

To conclude:

Ok, so there’s nothing wrong with wearing this if you’re a total sport climbing wad and fancy a new belay jacket . What’s impressive about the Black Diamond First Light is in its subtlety in its design and performance. The practical side of me would opt for the Black Diamond jacket with a hood (because it means it’ll keep me toasty warm) but it’s certainly a jacket that has so far kept me warm on numerous belays, to driving around to and from work. Even the duck egg blue colour has grown on me – it’s made my grimy, grit scarred hands looked tanned rather then just dirty. It’s a beautiful jacket, and it’s super breathable and durable to withstand being chucked into the bag and stowed away until needed in colder climates.  Here’s to the next three months of summery adventures (pouting optional).

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