Black Diamond Distance Packs Review

Hillary Gerardi running high peaks in the Swiss Alps.

Packs are my thing. I spend most every day of the year with various types and sizes on my back, working from them, living out of them, and of course carrying them. I know what works, and what’s just plain annoying and useless. All too often, brands add features that look good in the store but actually reduce usability where it matters, in the mountains.

I have always wanted to design the perfect pack based on my experience. Thankfully, Joe Grant did exactly that with his line of Distance Packs for Black Diamond. I spent some days a couple of years back with Joe while he was in the testing phase of these packs. Now, I have a few weeks of use in them myself and his design strategy makes sense. Best of all, it works.

In Joe’s own words, “I worked with the BD design team to create a pack that would transition seamlessly between running, scrambling, and climbing. We took inspiration from the BD Blitz alpine pack, shrunk it to a more runnable size, then added running vest pockets in the front for quick access to food, water, and other gear. We wanted to make a pack that was aesthetically simple, yet loaded with all the features needed for efficient mountain travel. We used seam taping from our climbing harnesses for comfort along the shoulder straps, and super strong, abrasion resistant nylon for the rear pocket for max durability.”

Joe Grant testing his creation prior to release while trail running in the Alps.

Available in 8 and 15 liter sizes, with a soon to release 4 liter vest, these packs are made for mountain runners with what BD athlete, and 2018 Sky Running Champ, Hillary Gerardi called, “adventuring in mind.”

Yes, they are running packs, with all the design elements and features runners want. But, there is more to them than that, so much more. And, so much less. What they have more of is what makes the Distance line, I’m just going to say it, about as close to perfection as any pack I’ve seen. Ditto for what they don’t have, which is anything unnecessary.

For mountain and trail runners, peak baggers, ridge climbers, climbing/running multi-sporters – these are the packs for you. 

The 8 liter is perfect for venturing to higher ground without the need to carry too much.

Black Diamond Distance 8 Liter

Black Diamond, being first and foremost a climbing brand, has carried over the climber’s mentality and addressed specific needs. They’ve successfully made the Distance packs climbing packs for runners, but also, running packs for climbers.  

The pack is a simple tube, with super wide chest straps to distribute and hold weight tight against your chest. The shoulder straps have four extra large pockets, two on each side, plus a slim zippered pocket on each shoulder, one of which is lined with waterproof material to keep sweat from soaking your phone. That’s 6 pockets, in other words, loads of storage and organization in front. I call the shoulder strap pocket set up my “cockpit” since it’s where I work from when I’m on the move. Besides phones and windshells, and snacks and cameras, the cockpit-pockets easily carry 500ml soft flasks with an ingenious tightening system to keep them from flopping around. 

Until the 4 liter model hits the shops, the 8 liter is your day running pack. Yes, it’s a bit big. But, like the 15 liter model, it is not necessarily for simply going out to run. So, if I say the pack is not necessarily for just going running, what’s it for? 

It’s for missions. 

“I used the 8L Distance pack for Nolan’s 14 last year – a 2 day, solo and unsupported push in the Sawatch Mountains. For me, it’s the perfect pack for these types of mountain missions.”  -Joe Grant (watch the Nolan’s Fourteen)

An 8 liter pack is a pretty big bag for running – use it to go further, or higher (it’s perfect for our Way Ups), or just for when you have a bit more to carry. 

Mixing it up? Glacier? Rock? The 15 is ideal for carrying that little extra, including an ultralight rope.

Black Diamond Distance 15 Liter

Now this is the ideal pack for, as Hillary said, “adventures.” I have used mine for easy climbs with glacier travel when it’s necessary to carry more gear. I’ve packed a small rope, small rack (okay draws, I live in the Alps), harness and even a helmet – all inside. I ran to a technical ridge traverse with all this, did the climb, and cruised out. 

With all the same features as the 8, the 15 is ideal for bigger days or multi-day tours (the Via Valais).

The 15 Liter Distance, fully loaded, poles stowed in sleeves.

After running a peak in the Alps with Hillary Gerardi, she mentioned that this pack design is where she would like to see more packs go. I couldn’t agree more. Now, if BD would only make a Distance 28 liter for all around climbing use!

The 15 liter is ideal for ridge traverses that combine climbing and running.

Distance Pack Features (8L and 15L)

  • Side pole carrying sleeves (hidden sleeves that easily swallow your poles, even when the pack is full, and prevent the poles from bouncing around and getting caught on things).
  • Adjustable compression straps with the pack on (since you have the pole sleeves, the compression system is free to use for other things).
  • Dual ice axe carrying system with one hand access.
  • Easily adjustable side straps for tightening the pack to the body (uphill or downhill, packed or empty – this adjustment is useful).
  • Two soft water flask pockets (500ml) on shoulder straps (one each side).
  • Two slightly smaller pockets on shoulder straps for food or smaller soft flasks (Trail Butter).
  • Two thin pocket sleeves with sweat proof material on shoulder straps, perfect for Trail Butter single serves (one each side).
  • The grey pack, being a light colored material, allows for things to be easily found inside the pack – it’s not a dark hole.
  • Customizable sternum strap positions.
  • Interior valuables pocket.
  • Hydration bag sleeve.
  • Bomber, water repellent Dynex material.

By Dan Patitucci


Comments 3

  1. Awesome review. I like using water bladders, and would like to know what size bladders can fit into the 8 & 15? I bought a Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set, but the bladder sleeve is tiny & hose routing is super difficult. I could barely fit my half filled 1.5 L bladder in the Salomon.

    1. Post

      Hi Angela, I honestly don’t know about the size of bladders they’ll take – probably best to check the BD site.

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