Black Diamond Hilight 2 Tent Review

Black Diamond HiLight 2 Tent Review

The Black Diamond Hilight 2 Tent is a freestanding wedge-shaped, single-wall tent with a trail weight of 3 lbs 12 oz. It’s made with Sil/PU coated polyester which does not sag or stretch when it gets wet and is fully waterproof and seam-taped. While it’s tailor-made for winter camping, it has plenty of ventilation to extend its utility into the warmer weather months.

Specs at a Glance

  • Capacity: 2 people, but best used by 1
  • Type: Freestanding
  • Doors: 1
  • Poles: 3
  • Trail Weight: 3 lbs 12 oz, (actual: poles and body)
  • Measurements: 82″ x 50 x 42″ x 40 (actual: 78″ x 49″ x 40″ x 40″)
  • Material: Sil/PU coated 30D polyester, mesh
  • Hydrostatic head: (Walls – 1500 mm), (Floor – 3000 mm)
The Hilight 2 would be a tight fit for two people, but it’s quite comfortable for one person plus their gear
The Hilight 2 would be a tight fit for two people, but it’s quite comfortable for one person plus their gear.

Dimensions

While the Hilight 2 is billed as a 2 person tent, it only has one side door, making it very inconvenient for use by two people. Dimensionally, it’s also fairly small inside, short in length (78″) with sloping walls and a narrow tapered floor (49″ narrowing to 40″).  If you were to try to sleep 2, you’d probably rub up against the sidewalls and get drenched by internal condensation, if your partner doesn’t injure you getting out and back in at night.

The Black Diamond Hilight 3 is probably a better choice for 2 people because it is wider and has two side doors. But as long as you’re under 6′ in height or don’t mind sleeping on a diagonal, the Hilight 2 is fine for use as a single-person tent, with plenty of space to store your gear, rather than leaving it outside.

The rear window acts like a transom, venting the top of the tent and creating a cross breeze with the front door
The rear window acts like a transom, venting the top of the tent and creating a cross breeze with the front door.

Ventilation

The Hilight 2 has a single rainbow door that fills most of the sidewall. The opposite wall has a half window and there are two ceiling vents joined by a pass-through tunnel, so there is a lot of available ventilation. The side door is backed by a separate mesh door for insect protection, but also prevents spindrift from entering the tent when the side door is zipped open.

The front rainbow door is backed with mesh which provides insect protection and prevents spindrift from entering the tent in winter
The front rainbow door is backed with mesh which provides insect protection and prevents spindrift from entering the tent in winter.

The rear window is also a half-moon, zippered circle, but only extends halfway down the back wall and is not full-sized like the main door. It is also mesh-backed, so you can create an excellent cross breeze through the tent when the rear window and side door are vented.

The tent also has two ceiling vents, again mesh-backed. These help channel air into the tent from outside as well as evacuate warm, moist air that accumulates overhead. The vents open onto a covered tunnel that runs along the top of the tent and provides enough coverage to prevent rain or snow from being blown inside. The vents cannot be closed but you can block airflow through the tunnel by pressing down shapable wires in the middle of the roof.

Structural/Setup

The Hilight 2 has three tent poles: a brow pole and two long collapsible poles that form the wedge shape. All of the poles are secured inside the tent, so you can stand in one place and erect the tent without having to move around it or you can sit inside and position the poles from there. This is important if you’re setting up in deep snow, so you don’t have to posthole your way around the tent or wear snowshoes while setting it up.

The brow pole (silver) supports short awnings over the door and rear window
The brow pole (silver) supports short awnings over the door and rear window. Note ceiling vent.

The brow pole is used to create short awnings over the side door and side window, which prevent snow or rain from leaking into the tent. It’s best to insert it into the tent first, while the tent body is still slack. It slides through 4 grommets and is anchored in the outermost two.

The two long poles are inserted in opposite corners, so they criss-cross inside the tent. The ends of the poles are sharp, so you have to be careful not to tear the tent body when inserting them into the corners. The ends fit into what is best described as the female end of a metal snap, which locks the pole ends in place so they don’t move. Once inserted, there are velcro tabs that help position the poles inside the tent to form the steep-walled wedge, which is very strong and sheds snow well. The poles are under considerable tension, accentuated by the no-stretch polyester tent body, so some elbow grease is required to anchor them in place.

A ventilation tunnel runs along the top of the tent pulling air and moisture our through ceiling vents
A ventilation tunnel runs along the top of the tent pulling air and moisture our through ceiling vents

There are webbing loops at each of the four corners, so you can stake out the tent with skis or ice tools, as well as reflective loops positioned higher up along the seams. I usually deadmen three of the reflective loops with sticks I find in the forest to secure the tent rather than carry any tent stakes. If I’m above treeline, I carry plastic shopping bags, fill them with snow, and deadmen them. Once they sinter up, they’re really solid anchors.

Truly Freestanding

The Hilight 2 is a freestanding tent that can be picked up and moved to a different spot, even when it’s fully set up and full of gear. This is particularly useful in winter when you want to modify the snow platform you’re sleeping on to make it more comfortable. For example, you can pick the tent up with all your gear inside, move it to one side, and reshape the sleeping surface you’re lying on with a shovel, before moving the tent back in place. You can imagine doing the same thing if you find you’ve pitched the tent on a rock or tree root in warmer weather.

The huge side door makes it very easy to keep snow out of the tent in winter.
The huge side door makes it very easy to keep snow-covered boots out of the tent in winter.

Recommendation

While I wish the Black Diamond Hilight 2 weighed about a pound less, it has a lot of properties that make it a very desirable tent for cold weather and winter camping.  Being a single-wall shelter, it’s very easy to set up dry in inclement weather or on a snow-covered surface and has lots of ventilation to offset the internal condensation that usually accompanies a single-wall tent. The huge side door makes getting in and out without dragging snow inside easy and the tent’s small footprint and freestanding nature reduce the effort required to find suitable campsites in inhospitable terrain.

Black Diamond Firstlight 2 Comparison

If you’re considering the Black Diamond Hilight 2, you’re probably also looking at the Black Diamond Firstlight 2 tent as well. I’ve been using one since 2008 and reviewed the latest update (see BD Firstlight 2 Review) in 2019. The current Firstlight 2 is quite similar to the Hilight 2, in that it’s a single wall, wedge-shaped mountaineering tent that’s best used by one person. While the Firstlight is lighter weight (by about 10 ounces), it isn’t factory seam-sealed, it has much poorer ventilation to combat internal condensation, and it only has a front door instead of a large side entrance. While the Hilight 2 is multi-season capable, the FirstLight 2 is really just a winter tent, intended for dry, cold conditions. If you’re looking for a winter-only tent, I’d go with the Firstlight 2. If you want a multi-season tent that’s also good in winter and don’t care about the weight difference, I’d go with the Hilight 2.

Other Winter Tent Options

The Black Diamond Hilight 2 isn’t a bad tent if used by one person, but it’s not that suitable for most people unless you need a mountaineering tent for heavy snow loads or that’s strong enough to withstand above treeline wind speeds. If you’re on the market for a winter tent for more benign conditions than these, I’d steer clear of the Black Diamond Hilight 2 and recommend using a freestanding double-wall tent like a Big Agnes Copper Spur (1 or 2) or MSR Hubba (1 or 2) instead. You’ll be much more comfortable in their one or two-person models and there are a load of tricks you can use to make them suitable for your winter needs. For some examples, see: Can You Use a 3-Season Tent in Winter?

Disclosure: The author owns this tent.

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About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide, a distance of approximately 2500 miles, completing a second round in 2021. Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire.

12 comments

  1. Are both the highlight and first light the same length? I would eventually like something that is less hassle in winter than a mid.
    The First Light seems like the best option considering weight and value. However at 6’ 1” with large sleeping pads I always worry about fitting. Thanks!

  2. Great review. Such a bummer about the length though. There are a lot of people out there that are taller than 6 feet :(

  3. The BD Firstlight seems to be unavailable everywhere. :(

  4. With its “awning and top vents this design addresses the major shortcomings of most previous wedge tents.

    I know whereof I speak having owned a JanSport wedge tent in the late ’70s. Aaaarrgghhh! It lacked both of the design features the BD Highlight 2 has.

  5. Biggest issue we had when testing this one, snow will blow in since there is hardly an awning and airflow wasn’t good enough.

    • That’s a good point. You want to be proactive about knocking snow off the awnings before getting out. Ideally, you’d want the vestibule because it adds a much greater amount of space.

  6. From the experience mentioned in my above post I feel that the “wedge design” is a failed design UNLESS they have a good awning or vestibule and upper AND lower ventilation.

    Virtually all Tarptents have upper and lower ventilation which helps them manage condensation “fairly well”. The BC wedge tent needs that lower ventilation (and a larger “awning”).

  7. What do you think about a large NeoAir Xtherm (75″x25″) on the diagonal? If you like sleeping in tents, being 6’3″ is a problem.

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