Thursday, June 27, 2013

Firstlight vs. Seedhouse: Best Tent for Summer Backpacking

Me pitching the Seedhouse on a cold, windy day in late summer


The The Black Diamond Firstlight and the Big Agnes Seedhouse are two of the best tents on the market.  They are both are super lightweight, burly, three season tents.

We own both tents because they each have areas where they outshine the other.  The Seedhouse is awesome anytime you might want a breeze or end up in a downpour, the Firstlight is amazing for truly alpine sites.

Neither are roomy tents for lounging, but both tents have a low profile and small footprint that makes it easier to find a good place to pitch them in rough terrain and high wind.

My dilemma: which tent should we take on our five day backcountry trip next week?


The Firstlight


The Firstlight is the first birthday gift Ryan ever gave me (is it a wonder that I married a man with such good taste?).  I was enamored of the tent after selling lots of tents and other gear for a couple seasons at the top-notch Second Ascent in Seattle.  Its simple, tough construction is ideal for alpine conditions.

Pitching the Firstlight from the inside is a one person job

We have tested the Firstlight in many conditions: gusting winds, driving rain, below zero with deep snow as well as blazing hot with little wind.

One of the best features is that the Firstlight is free standing and you can pitch it from the inside.  This feature makes it much easier to pitch in the wind because your body weight keeps the tent in place while you are putting it up.  Pitching the tent from the inside is a bit of a mixed blessing when it is raining hard because I need to take more care to keep my wet clothes from getting the inside of the tent wet.


The Firstlight on our first sub zero (F) trip....we did experience some frozen condensation

The Firstlight excels in windy alpine conditions, especially in cool weather.  The single wall construction keeps off the rain, and can also double as a makeshift bivy sack for two if need be.  It has the smaller footprint of the two tents, making it easier to find a place to pitch in a rock field or on a steep slope.  This tent also has a taller ceiling and steeper walls, so both Ryan and I can sit up inside the tent.

We escaped to the Firstlight after being followed for hours by a bloodthirsty swarm of mosquitos

The Firstlight is not at its best in humid conditions.  The downside of the single wall construction and limited mesh is that condensation forms easily and does not evaporate quickly.  You can't get a breeze unless the mesh door is pointed in exactly the right direction.

Also, the tent gets a bit wet in the driving rain.  The walls don't leak when left alone, but if you or your sleeping bag touch the sides moisture will come through.  This is a bigger issue if you are tall.  Ryan is 5'10" and was ok if a bit cramped.  We took this tent on a very stormy trip to the Enchantments a couple years ago and stayed cozy enough.

This is the tent I would take for dryish, cool to cold conditions when I will be camping on a ridge or other exposed site where I could get a breeze. The extra head room, lighter weight, smaller footprint and windproof walls make it ideal for camping above tree line.  Black Diamond is now selling a newer, lighter version of the Firstlight.


The Seedhouse


The Seedhouse in late summer up Chaffin Creek

I want to describe the Seedhouse in the way that fashion magazines describe a dress: a confection of mesh with fabric in all the right places and none where it doesn't belong.

Big Agnes designed this tent with an entirely mesh body, and still managed to keep the weight down to under three pounds.  We got this tent for summer camping when you need lots of mesh for a cross breeze and mosquito protection.  However, we have tested the Seedhouse in more trying conditions than balmy summer days including high wind and storms.


The sturdy little tent performs admirably in adverse conditions.  It seems delicate but still looks new after all that we have thrown at it.

The vestibule gives it an edge over the Firstlight in terms of overall comfort, and the rain fly keeps out all the rain when pitched correctly.  I also love sleeping in it with the fly off because the mesh keeps out the bugs while I get to stargaze.

This tent could be used as a three season tent, however, because the body is all mesh, more heat escapes from the sleeping space even with the rainfly on and it gets colder faster than other tents I have slept in.  Also, if the wind is really gusting it more easily drafts up from under the rainfly.  This tent is tapered: it is taller by the head than the foot.  Ryan can sit up inside, but only in the middle and it really doesn't work for both of us to sit up inside at the same time.

The Seedhouse is the best tent for camping trips so hot we want to spend most of the time in the water
The Seedhouse wins if we'll spend lots of time below treeline, camping by lakes, on hot days or when it is humid.  Big Agnes has released a new lighter two person mesh body tent, the Fly Creek.


Conditions Dictate the Choice

The Firstlight and the Seedhouse are each clearly best suited for particular conditions.

Our clothing and sleeping bags also modify the conditions for us.  Warmer, slightly heavier gear will extend the Seedhouse comfort range.  If I bring less and lighter gear, the Firstlight will be better - but not much fun if we end up on a warm night by a lake.

......Just checked the weather one last time and there is a hazardous weather warning for very hot weather.  This time we'll take the Seedhouse.

*****

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The awesome Black Diamond Firstlight



The amazing Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2


2 comments:

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