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Black Diamond Distance 15 Review

Built for any rugged activity in the mountains but the hydration system needs some work
Black Diamond Distance 15
Photo: Black Diamond Equipment
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Price:  $150 List | Check Price at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Highly versatile, comfortable, durable, waterproof
Cons:  Hard to insert soft flasks, limited accessible pockets, no hydration system included
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond Equipment
By Jeff Colt ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 14, 2021
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77
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 11
  • Comfort - 30% 9
  • Features - 25% 8
  • Hydration System - 15% 5
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 15% 8
  • Pockets - 15% 7

Our Verdict

This pack stands alone in its utility and versatility. Take it spelunking and canyoneering Saturday, on a snowy spring mountain adventure Sunday, and then ride to work with your laptop and running shoes in it on Monday morning. The Black Diamond Distance 15 exists in its own category because it manages to carry heavy gear and run light through the mountains — and it does both comfortably. Unfortunately, the pack doesn't come with soft flasks, and the only thing keeping this pack from winning an award is that the soft flasks are challenging to get in and out of the chest pockets.

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Pros Highly versatile, comfortable, durable, waterproofAmazing pockets in arm's reach, carries a lot of gearComfortable, great fit, tons of easily reachable pockets, versatileMinimalist, lightweight, accessible pocketsLightweight, comfortable, breathable
Cons Hard to insert soft flasks, limited accessible pockets, no hydration system includedSome stiff materials on the chest, pole carry is hard to execute while movingExpensive, must buy hydration bladder separatelyDoesn't carry heavy items well, some unwanted stretchPole storage is obtrusive, tight around the neck
Bottom Line Built for any rugged activity in the mountains but the hydration system needs some workA comfortable and capable choice for big mileage when gear accessibility is mission-criticalA top-notch running pack, with excellent pockets and a comfortable fitThe best race vest on the market with form fitting stretch so it can store more gear comfortablyAn excellent running pack for those looking to go light and fast
Rating Categories Black Diamond Dista... Nathan Pinnacle 12L Salomon ADV Skin 12... S/Lab Sense Ultra 8... Ultimate Direction...
Comfort (30%)
9.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Features (25%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Hydration System (15%)
5.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
Volume To Weight Ratio (15%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
10.0
Pockets (15%)
7.0
10.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
Specs Black Diamond Dista... Nathan Pinnacle 12L Salomon ADV Skin 12... S/Lab Sense Ultra 8... Ultimate Direction...
Weight (with included hydration vessels) 14.2 oz (pack only, no bottles/bladder included) 13.6oz 13.4oz 7.9oz 9.3oz
Carrying Capacity 15L 12L 12L 8L 11L
Included Liquid Capacity 1L 1.6L 1L 1L 1L
OGL Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better!) 1.06 0.88 0.90 1.01 1.20
External Storage? Yes, paracord Yes, kangaroo pockets Yes, kangaroo Pockets Yes, back pouch pocket Yes, back pouch pocket
Type of Water Storage Not included 1.6L hourglass reservoir Two 500 mL soft flasks (included), plus reservoir sleeve (reservoir not included) 2 500mL bottles Two 500 mL soft flasks (included)
Pole Holders? Yes Yes Yes Add on Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

Black Diamond takes inspiration from their successful climbing and skiing backpacks and brings this mountain heritage into the design of the Distance 15. This running pack is built for long mountain missions, and it has the durability and water resistance to withstand most any adventure. The 100D ripstop exterior is stiff and not form-fitting, but paired with a well-designed chassis and adjustment straps across the ribcage and chest, it makes for a comfortable, secure suspension. Dual quiver pole sleeves, two piolet attachments, ample storage in the chest pockets, and 15L of carrying capacity make it suitable for fast-packing outings, quick approaches to the crag, or commuting to work. Versatility is the name of the game with this pack, but it excels at mountain running most.

Performance Comparison


While it's not a rock climbing pack, the Distance 15 certainly...
While it's not a rock climbing pack, the Distance 15 certainly excels in rocky areas with lots of vertical gain.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Comfort


With a large blitz pocket on the back, we had immediate concerns about weight distribution and bounce with this pack. Unlike other high-volume hydration vests, the Distance 15 has no pockets across the flank and limited storage on the shoulder straps. It looks more like a conventional daypack for hiking. Looks is where that observation ends, however, as Black Diamond managed to design an adjustment system that holds the pack securely and comfortably in place while running with a significant load.

Tighten the fit and suspension by pulling on the bungee across the...
Tighten the fit and suspension by pulling on the bungee across the ribcage. A neat stow nook for the extra cord is hidden behind the chest pockets.
Photo: Jeff Colt

We found that this pack's comfort stems from the wide shoulder straps that help distribute weight and the positioning and shape of the adjustment system on the ribcage. Instead of simply using webbing or continuing a stretch material across the flank, it features highly reinforced breathable fabric held snug with strong elastic cord — a design that allows for ample adjustments and compression.

Hooked clasps make repositioning sternum straps simple.
Hooked clasps make repositioning sternum straps simple.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Elastic closures across the sternum can be repositioned to the best point of comfort, accommodating more body types. Though, more than once, we tightened the sternum straps as much as we could and still wanted a snugger fit. While this is a trend with many packs that incorporate soft flasks on the chest, the sternum straps need to have more adjustability or the elastic cording on the sides needs to be easier to make minor changes while on the move. Despite these small shortcomings, we appreciate how easy this pack is to throw over the shoulder, unlike many hydration packs that you have to contort your body to get into. Because of this, we found ourselves reaching for it time and time again, which reinforces its degree of comfort. If a pack isn't comfortable, you won't use it.

Features


It would be unfair to credit this pack with having more features than other hydration packs for running, as it is clearly designed for more than just running. While we loved the easy storage of collapsable poles in the pole sleeves, it's important to note that the pack has to be removed to do so. Their intended use is more rooted in stowing the poles for hand over hand climbing, not quick storage for running down a blistering descent.

Ready for the next mountain mission.
Ready for the next mountain mission.
Photo: Jeff Colt

In addition to pole sleeves, the Distance 15 is equipped to carry two ice axes, appropriate for those of you who also enjoy running and scrambling in a climbing helmet. In harsh conditions, reflective accents and a safety whistle can come in handy too. We appreciate the thought behind the zippered pockets on the shoulder straps, one for quick deployment of a rain or wind layer and one for keys, headlamp, or micro-trash. All of the design features appear to integrate with other gear that Black Diamond positions for mountain running, including two soft flask pockets on the chest.

Hydration System


Considering how well this pack is designed, the hydration system and compatibility are a letdown. First and foremost, Black Diamond doesn't include soft flasks or a bladder with the purchase of the pack, but we tracked down some of their soft flasks and tried a variety of others too. Regardless of the soft flasks we sampled, the chest pockets are too tight at the top to swiftly refill bottles and slide them back in. and if you have any food or readily accessible gear in these pockets, it makes it all the more challenging.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

That is part one. Our second gripe with the hydration system design is that the soft flasks end up being positioned well below the mouth, requiring some serious neck strain (and potential for tripping) when we wanted to hydrate on the go. Inside the main compartment is a bladder sleeve with an attachment to keep it upright and a port for the tube to run out from the pocket and route along the shoulder straps. This option may be easier to use than the soft flask pockets on the chest. We hope to see more consideration to this area in the next iteration of this pack, as we are in love with so much that it has to offer.

Volume to Weight Ratio


At first glance, the Distance 15 scored very highly on the volume to weight ratio, but consider that most other packs include soft flasks or a bladder with the pack. Still, this pack is featherweight for a 15L running pack that is far more durable than the standard. We have a feeling that between the volume of this pack and its durability, users will love how light it is and how much gear weight it can carry.

To be fair, we could've fit a 6 pack in here too were it not 8am.
To be fair, we could've fit a 6 pack in here too were it not 8am.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Pockets


A large, fully waterproof main compartment with a blitz opening (quick pull) simplifies accessing all of the gear you need to keep dry. Inside that main compartment is a mesh zipper pocket for storing valuables. Six other pockets are located on the shoulder straps, with a secured zipper pocket higher up on each shoulder and two mesh pockets on each strap intended for snacks, headlamp, gloves, and soft flasks. We love this design for fast-packing and scrambling; however, we wish the mesh pockets on the chest were more spacious.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Value


There is inherent value in a pack as versatile as the Distance 15 because you will likely use it for far more than just running. With a comfortable and ergonomic shape and constructed of durable materials, you can carry anything that will fit in this 15L bag. It has gotten more daily use than any of the other bags we've tested, so the value should be apparent.

Conclusion


Capable, durable, and comfortable. It's an anomaly for a 15L pack with this shape to carry so well and run as smoothly as it does. While we are not entirely thrilled with the hydration system, we are confident that the Black Diamond Distance 15 will perform for the runner looking for longer and more rugged mountain missions.

With enough space for a bivy and down blanket, the Distance 15 can...
With enough space for a bivy and down blanket, the Distance 15 can really be whatever you want it to be: fast packing, mountaineering, or a waterproof daypack for floating the Grand Canyon.
Photo: Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt