AccessoriesGear ReviewsTrail

Black Diamond Distance Series Pack Performance Review

What You Need To Know

  • Vest-like suspension system is comfortable on all three packs
  • Functional, accessory friendly features
  • Store everything from necessities to luxuries
  • Black diamond means the easy trail, right?

TAYLOR: Enos Mills is a prominent historical figure in my small town of Estes Park, CO. He was a man by the mountains and for the mountains. Mr. Mills was deeply touched by the power of the natural world and what the mountains had to offer. Not just for adventure, but also the transformation brought into daily life. 

Black Diamond is a company that was birthed out of that same allure. Originally focused on skiing and climbing, they have recently expanded their focus to foot travel in the mountains.

In come the Distance series packs. Created and obsessed over by trail legend Joe Grant and a team of other BD runners, mountaineers, and alpinists, the Distance series was made for just that. Going the distance.

After taking all of these packs up and down my local mountains, I can attest that these packs were made for fast travel in the great outdoors.

Each has unique details that set them apart from the typical running pack. From easy attachments for ice tools to on-the-go z-pole slings, the Distance series is ready for your next trail adventure…or off-trail for that matter.

Fit

TAYLOR: Comfort is key in mountain travel. All of the Distance (4, 8, and 15 liter) packs have a vest-like suspension to assure the best fit, comfort, and performance.

The Distance 4 (D4) pack has secured its spot on some of my speedier mountain objectives this summer because it is incredibly light, breathable, and is the only of the Distance series to be a full-on vest. 

Closest comparisons to this vest are a Salomon S-Lab Sense or Nathan VaporKrar/Howe type where the entirety of the pack focuses on wrapping the body. It hugs the torso with a flexible and very breathable four-way stretch vapor mesh. The pack itself feels kind of like a good dance partner, moving in conjunction with your body at all times. 

There is only one downside for the D4’s fit. When equipped with full bottles, they bounce more than I’d like. Maybe it’s a typical bounce for packs that carry bottles upfront, but the pack itself stays well-anchored. 

For the Distance 8 and 15 packs, a hybrid approach was used. They take on the persona of a running vest but have the capacity and practicality of an adventure pack. Both have supreme, locked-in comfort, even when fully loaded.

The fit itself is vest-like and totally dialed in. The Dynex mesh used is more rigid than the mesh used in the D4 and is super durable… like ten times stronger than steel per weight durable. It still has some flex and is very breathable for how strong it is.

The suspension used has shoulder straps almost identical to the D4 pack, but are woven to the main compartment on the torso via adjustable elastic cords rather than being a seamless wrap. They do flex some for comfort while moving but do not allow the pack to flop around in any way. The added rigidity from the Dynex material helps the pack keep its integrity and fit.  The whole “suspension” makes these packs super duper comfortable for running, hiking, and scrambling. 

All packs have two sternum straps that appear stationary at first, but they can be adjusted up and down…something I realized after I already had a strong opinion on how the D4 pack’s fit. Let’s just say a little bit of adjustment helped a lot. 

BD skipped the use of a traditional rail system to vertically adjust the chest straps. A simple clip-in-and-out system is used. It provides a much more secure fit and it stays exactly where you want it. It might not be the quickest adjusting system, but it works well and is comfortable.

Another commonality is that all edges on the packs are lined with BD SET (Stitchless Edging Tape) rather than being sewn, for a more comfortable fit with less irritation.

Shop – Distance 4

Storage

TAYLOR: With the frame of mind that the Distance series are for the mountains, there are three ways to think of carrying capacities: D4 holds the bare essentials, D8 carries what you need and what you MIGHT need (a good daypack size for runners), and D15 can haul anything you could ever need or want and more. 

All three vests have a mirrored set of shoulder straps that contain three pockets. 

Up top are zippered pockets with BD Dry backing to keep the inside of the pocket free of moisture. Works great! These are barely big enough to squeeze a large smartphone (with an Otterbox case – I have a Galaxy S8). However, it’s not my preferred pocket for a phone. 

Immediately below are two more “pouch” style pockets. You’re not going to fit a joey in there, but the combo of the pockets provides quite a bit of easily accessible storage. 

The top of the two is meant for 500ml soft flask bottles. The D4 comes with two bottles and they fit easily into the designated pockets (as mentioned before, they do bounce more than I would like).  I can’t say the same for the D8 and D15 pack. For whatever reason, these pockets were quite literally millimeters too small to fit my bottles into them without getting my face washed. As for the bottom pockets, they have slightly wider openings and a little more space. This is where a phone, buff, headlamp, etc fit nicely. Bottles fit well here, too, but they still be bumpin’ as in the other pockets.

The D4 pack has a couple of other open pockets just below the armpits that are easy-access to smaller items. One more open mesh pocket runs horizontally along the back and opens on both sides – a perfect spot to stuff one extra layer like a thin windbreaker. Nothing popped out on any of my runs. Two more large pockets make up the main storage. One is zippered and the other open, fitting a 2-liter bladder in which I preferred for carrying water over the bottles.

Personally, the D8 and D15 have a really sweet appeal because of their main compartment’s style and practicality. They have one stuff-sack style compartment with a roll-top to fit the bulk of your gear. Inside, there is a mesh insert for a bladder, one zippered pocket, and the rest is open. That’s it. Nice and simple to maintain that light and fast physique. 

Alongside the main compartment are two vertically aligned quivers that carry poles effortlessly. All of the main compartment and pole storage are covered by the weather-resistant Dynex ripstop material. Getting out in any season will be no problem.

Shop – Distance 8

Accessories

TAYLOR: BD stuck to its fast and light motif by having useful accessories that don’t bog down the system.

One of my favorite features in the whole Distance line is the D4’s z-pole sling. The sling attaches poles to the exterior of the pack with two bungies. One cord pops out of the side pocket underneath the left armpit, and the other from the right shoulder behind the zippered pocket. Attach to either end of the z-poles and adjust for comfort. I did have some issues with synching down the poles. Over time, I noticed that the bungies started to loosen a little, but a quick pull on the shoulder bungie made the readjustment easy. It’s a simple system that is quickly accessed without taking off your pack and stows away easily when not in use. 

For the other two packs, they allow for the carrying of poles (as mentioned above), but also have specific fittings for bringing along two ice axes. Two exterior bungies that run along the outside of the pole quivers hold the tools next to the pack. A reinforced sleeve at the bottom of the main storage is where pick ends are anchored; making this a completely functional running and alpine pack.

All packs have the standard safety whistle, keyring, and accommodate a bladder.

Shop – Distance 15

Purpose

TAYLOR: All of the Distance series packs have a designed purpose of moving swiftly through even the most technical of terrain. 

The D4 has a bare essentials element to it that lends itself to be used for shorter/speedier adventures (at least in terms of carrying capacity) or racing. 

As for the D8 and D15, they too have a “stripped down” feel but can be utilized for a variety of outings based on your gear needs. 

The D8 is a more classic capacity of a trail running pack. It’s sleek enough for your ultras, but large enough to be an all-day adventurer.

15 liters is a lot of pack for a normal trail day. My mind goes to shoulder seasons where the potential of various extra layers or gear might be needed. Fast-packing is another new trend that this style and size of pack would be nicely attuned for. Don’t forget about those sun up to sun down adventures where you’ll only have access to the resources you start with. 

The D15 is probably the most ready-for-any-adventure pack you could come up with. I mean, jeesh, use it for the mountains on the weekends and your run-commute the rest of the week (makes it an easier sell when convincing your partner that you need one).

Black Diamond Distance Series Conclusion

TAYLOR: Perhaps being a mountain trail runner myself lends me a more appreciative view, but all of the Black Diamond Distance packs are winners. They are purposefully designed, have a dialed-in fit, avoid fluff, and have very minimal complaints. Though these packs were created for runners traversing more highly-technical terrain, they would be a great choice for any trail runner looking for a high-quality, lightweight, durable pack to accompany all their adventures.

You can pick up the D4, D8 and D15 packs for $150, $140 and $150, respectively from Black Diamond’s website.

Shop – Distance 4 Shop – Distance 8 Shop – Distance 15

Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultrarunner living in Estes Park, CO, with his wife and daughter. He and his wife both love running the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. When not running, Taylor is a Kindergarten/1st grade teacher, running coach, and youth leader for his church.