Beyond the ultralight one- or two-person shelter that most of us use much of the time, we also have situations where we need a larger tent – for car camping, youth camping, base camping, and winter camping. For those situations we want a tent that is lightweight, roomy, durable, and very storm worthy. Is there one tent that will satisfy all these criteria and needs? The Black Diamond Guiding Light is one option that offers significant advantages.
- Lightweight shelter for four people, or roomy base camp shelter for two or three people
- Excellent snow camping tent (but lacks a standard vestibule)
- Two doors
- Easy entry
- Tight as a drum
- Very wind stable
- Sheds snow very well
- Good ventilation through the tent
What’s Not So Good
- Poles and stakes are about 40% of the tent’s weight
- Very tight for four people, with no room for gear, unless vestibules are added
|2007 Black Diamond Guiding Light|
|4-person single-wall breathable fabric freestanding tent with floor, 2 doors, optional vestibules|
|Epic shell fabric is 1.9 oz/yd2 (65 g/m2), floor is 2.3 oz/yd2 (78 g/m2) double silicone coated ripstop nylon|
Poles and Stakes
|Five DAC Featherlite poles, fourteen 6 inch aluminum Y-stakes|
|Length 90 in (229 cm), width 80 in (203 cm), height 42 in (107 cm)|
|15 in x 7 in (30 x 18 cm)|
|Measured weight 6 lb 1.9 oz (2.76 kg), manufacturer specification 6 lb 4 oz (2.84 kg)|
|Measured weight 6 lb (2.72 kg); includes tent body, five aluminum poles, and 14 stakes|
|Bathtub floor area 50 ft2 (4.6 m2)|
Floor Area/Trail Weight Ratio
|8.3 ft2/lb based on 50 ft2 floor area and weight of 6 lb|
|Footprint $54.95 (17 oz/486 g), vestibule $109.95 (15.8 oz/486 g, 12 ft2/1.12 m2)|
The Black Diamond Guiding Light is a four-season, four-person, single-wall, free-standing, breathable fabric tent. Although it will accommodate four adults in a sardine arrangement, most people probably won’t use it that way. Rather, this lightweight and larger shelter is more appropriate as:
- A roomy tent for two to three people plus gear on a backpacking trip
- A tent for several youths to sleep in, like a trip with Scouts or a church group
- A family camping tent
- A base camping tent
- A winter camping tent for two or three people plus gear
For one tent to satisfy all of these needs (especially the last one) is a tall order. At only 6.12 pounds for a four-person 50 square foot tent, the Black Diamond provides more room with less weight than many two-person double wall tents on the market. And it’s also well-suited for winter camping (more on this later).
Views of the Black Diamond Guiding Light. Side (top left), top (top right), end with door closed (bottom left), and end with doors partially open (bottom right).
The shell of the Guiding Light is breathable Epic fabric in Black Diamond’s traditional maize (yellow) color. The tent uses five DAC Featherlite aluminum poles – two in an X-shape that slip into corner pockets, two arched poles that support the end doors, and a ridge pole that extends the beaks over the doors. Setup takes about 15 minutes for one person: insert the long poles into corner pockets, raise the tent and secure the poles to Velcro fasteners, insert the two end poles and secure their fasteners, insert the ridge pole, and stake out the tent. The tent has eight staking points around the perimeter plus six guylines, and comes with fourteen Y-stakes and enough cord to make up the guylines.
The Guiding Light is freestanding and its Epic fabric shell is as tight as a drum (left). Five DAC Featherlite poles create its exceptional tautness (right): two in a diagonal X-shape, two arched over the doors, and one ridge pole that extends the beaks.
The ends of the diagonal poles slip into grommets in reinforced corner pockets (left). Ends of the arched poles over the doors are anchored in reinforced sleeves on the sides of the tent (right).
The tent’s shell attaches to the poles with a total of twenty-six Velcro fasteners, which must be individually opened up and wrapped around the pole. It’s a bit tedious and time-consuming, but they really work well in concert with the tent’s five poles to make the shell a secure unit and tight as a drum. Fortunately, the Velcro pole fasteners do not stick to the tent’s Epic shell fabric, but they do stick to the mesh inner doors.
Black Diamond recommends sealing the seams of their Epic tents with silicone, and provides a tube of McNett SilNett and syringe to do the job. I complied so I could test the tent in accordance with their recommendations. Seam sealing defaces the appearance of the tent, but it’s important to insure that the seams will not leak.
The tent body is attached to the poles on the inside with a total of twenty-six Velcro fasteners. They are tedious to individually fasten and unfasten (the webbing tab helps a lot), but they are very effective to tie the tent into a secure unit. The Velcro does not stick to or damage the Epic fabric.
The inside of the tent has plenty of headroom (42 inches), and all of the interior space is usable because of the tent’s steep walls.
The Guiding Light will sleep four (two in each direction), but it’s tight, as shown (left). Four youths would probably be happy in this configuration, but not four adults. Three adults length-wise is more reasonable, and the tent is luxury for two adults either length-wise or width-wise (right).
Each door has tie-downs (left) to avoid damage to the Epic fabric or mesh inner door when they are open. Standard storage options are limited to four shallow mesh pockets (right, two on each side). A mesh loft is available, but it decreases headroom somewhat.
For a technical description of Epic fabric, read Alan Dixon’s article on Waterproof Breathable Fabric Technologies: A Comprehensive Primer and State of the Market Technology Review. Epic is technically water-resistant and not waterproof. From our long-term experience with Epic fabric in tents, we have found that it sheds water well in shorter duration showers, but wets through after about 5 hours of continuous rain. It breathes well in warmer temperatures, but not very well at all in cooler temperatures and when wet. For good performance, adequate ventilation is necessary in addition to the breathable fabric, especially in cool/cold temperatures and wet weather.
We tested the Guiding Light in a variety of uses and weather – car camping, base camping, youth camping, winter camping, snow, rain, and high winds – so our evaluation was pretty thorough.
For car camping and base camping for two or three people, the Guiding Light is pure luxury. The packed tent is very compact so it is easy to stow in a small car.
The tent packs into two stuff sacks (tent body on left, poles and stakes in center), so it is easy to divide up the weight on a group trip, and the two sacks weigh about the same. An optional vestibule (right) comes in a separate stuff sack.
I had the opportunity to test the Guiding Light in some strong winds, 47 mph gusts to be exact (measured with a Kestrel Pocket Water Tracker), and I was impressed with the tent’s wind stability. The tent has a low profile and with 14 stakes (8 around the perimeter plus 6 guylines) it barely budges in a strong wind gust. I strongly recommend using the guylines to protect your investment.
The Guiding Light’s Epic shell readily sheds rain showers but wet snow sticks to it (left). There are beaks on the two ends to shelter the doors, and I found that I can leave the top one-third of each door open for ventilation (middle) while its raining, less if the rain is accompanied by wind. The add-on vestibule (right) also has a large vent.
Not all tents in Black Diamond’s Superlight series are rated for four seasons, but the Guiding Light is one that is. Although Black Diamond does not actively promote the Guiding Light as a four-season tent, I found it to be more than acceptable for winter use. I have already mentioned its drum-tight shell and wind resistance. It sheds snow equally well, and will support a sizeable snow load with its five-pole design. On one April snow camping trip, I had rain followed by snow in the afternoon and an overcast night. The tent easily handled the weather and the weight of the snow.
The Guiding Light does not have any standard vestibules, but an add-on vestibule (15.8 oz, 12 ft2, $110) is available (left). For winter snow camping (right), a vestibule is a must to store wet gear.
The Guiding Light’s larger volume and good ventilation helps to reduce condensation inside, especially on cold nights. The following graphs show the tent environment on a clear, cold night and on a rainy night. In both cases the condensation was only moderate.
Environment inside the Black Diamond Guiding Light tent on a clear, cold night (left) and on a rainy night (right). In the left graph, the sky was overcast then cleared. I entered the tent at 10:15 PM, kept the doors closed until 3 AM (exiting the tent briefly), then opened the top of the doors. With the doors closed, the inside air temperature hit the dew point and moderate condensation occurred on the inside tent walls. With the doors partially open, the inside relative humidity dropped and condensation stopped forming. In the right graph, it was overcast all night with intermittent rain. I entered the tent at 10:05 PM, and left the doors one-third open all night, exiting the tent briefly at 3:20 AM. Because of the extra ventilation, there was only light condensation on the inside walls in the morning. All data were taken with a Kestrel Pocket Water Tracker.
The Black Diamond Guiding Light is the largest tent in the Superlight series of single wall breathable Epic fabric tents. Granted, most of us don’t routinely use a larger tent, but there are many situations where a lightweight larger tent is really useful, as explained earlier. For those special situations, the Guiding Light is one of the most versatile larger tents to be found. It’s very lightweight for its size and the number of people it will accommodate, and the weight can easily be divided between two hikers.
For base camping and winter camping, using a larger tent with extra space is really a nice luxury to have, and the Guiding Light provides that extra space without much of a weight penalty.
Although the Guiding Light’s five poles account for 40% of the tent’s weight, there are distinct benefits from its drum-tight shell. This tent is remarkably wind stable, sheds snow well, and will support a substantial snow load. For winter camping and mountaineering, it would be a good idea to purchase at least one add-on vestibule for the tent, which could be carried by a third person. The vestibules have one pole to prevent them from flattening under snow loads. The Guidling Light will accept an add-on vestibule at both ends, but two vestibules add 2 pounds to the weight and $220 to the cost.
The only problem I had with the tent is one of the end pole anchors tore loose. A Black Diamond representative said that the component is attached with a super-adhesive that is used on white water rafts, but from now on it will be sewn in addition to the adhesive.
Although the Guiding Light is not marketed as a four-season tent, it is in fact capable of withstanding strong winds and a substantial snow load. Overall, it’s one of the most versatile larger tents to be found.
Recommendations For Improvement
- The tent’s five poles account for a lot of its weight. Revise the design to use four poles for 3-season use and five poles for 4-season use
- Design a lighter, less expensive add-on vestibule
- Make the interior storage pockets larger