Black Diamond Distance 15 Pack Review

Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack Review

The Black Diamond Distance 15 Pack is a cross between a low profile running vest and a durable mountaineering backpack. At 15L, the capacity of the main compartment might not seem like a lot, but with the right lightweight gear and good planning, it can be more than enough space to support a 12-24 hour trip into the mountains. Because of its versatility, you will likely see the Distance 15 Pack thriving in a variety of uses, from trail running and day hiking, to rock climbing and mountain biking.

Specs at a Glance

  • Volume: 15L / 915 in3
  • Weight: 13.9 oz
  • Secured Pockets: 4
  • Hydration: Compatible with  2x 500 mL bottles and/or a 2-3L hydration reservoir
  • Materials: Dynex (Nylon 100d + UHMWPE 200d) body material with Dynex Ripstop yarns

Ergonomics and Storage

Simplicity is a good adjective to describe the storage format of this pack. Two symmetrical shoulder straps on either side, each with three sizable pockets, provide a lot of accessible space for snacks, maps, your phone, or other essential and commonly used items. The pockets are also compatible with 500mL collapsible water bottles, giving you an extra liter of water capacity when carrying one on each shoulder.

Two roomy pouch pockets on either side give you plenty of space for extra water, snacks, and your phone for easy access to take photos. The pockets are simple, secure, and made out of mesh so it’s easy to see the contents.
Two roomy pouch pockets on either side give you plenty of space for extra water, snacks, and your phone for easy access to take photos. The pockets are simple, secure, and made out of mesh so it’s easy to see the contents.

There is also a pocket on each shoulder that is secured by a zipper, and because of their size, they are incredibly useful! The zipper is solid, and the compartment is plenty large enough to fit a headlamp, a map, keys, or any small PLB or GPS devices.

The main compartment is spacious and simple. There is a divider that separates the water reservoir from the rest of the pack, and a decently sized zip pocket set into it. It’s roomy for a 15-liter pack with a simple burrito shape lends itself well to an even and compressible load, while the internal pocket is perfect for your backcountry ‘untouchables’ (keys, wallet, identification, etc.).

For example, I’ve this pack on a single day, 31-mile Pemi Loop, and found that the design was intuitive and easy to use on the go. The bag was not only able to carry what I needed (3 liters of water, first aid kit, headlamp, rain shell, GPS beacon, map, 4 energy bars, a dozen fruit snacks, and a bag of candy), but it also fit my 9lb DSLR camera!

The Distance 15 pack is not as low profile as many of its contemporaries, but at 15 liters, it is built for tougher days (or even multi-days) requiring more supplies and equipment.
The Distance 15 pack is not as low profile as many of its contemporaries, but at 15 liters, it is built for tougher days (or even multi-days) requiring more supplies and equipment.

On the outside of the pack, there is an open compartment on each side of the pack to hold trekking poles, along with a sling at the base of the pack to tuck the working end of an ice axe for easy storage during winter endeavors. Both features are simple additions, yet they indicate Black Diamond’s intent to produce a versatile ultralight pack capable of supporting more technical endeavors while keeping a relatively low profile and maintaining its general function as an everyday hiking vest.

Hydration

Like most running vests, Distance 15 has shoulder strap pockets that are compatible with 500mL bottles, one on each side. Combined with the dedicated reservoir compartment in the main pocket with a capacity of 2-3L, this pack will likely give you the capacity needed to get through long stretches between water sources.

I was nervous that putting bottles on the shoulders might impede the functionality of the other pockets since they overlap, but you will find that the capacity of the outer pocket is still impressive, even with a full water bottle underneath it. As with pretty much every other running vest, the Distance 15 is uncomfortable to sip from the front water bottles while on the move. With the Distance 15 in particular though, it seems as though the water bottle pockets on the front are even lower than on other vests, so it puts those bottles even farther out of reach. Either way, I have yet to find a running vest where using those front bottles is anything other than awkward and uncomfortable.

The main compartment is secured by a drawstring and a flap that folds over and attaches to the pack. This makes for easy access to your gear, provides some water resistance, and would likely hold up better against the elements than a zipper.
The main compartment is secured by a drawstring and a flap that folds over and attaches to the pack. This makes for easy access to your gear, provides some water resistance, and would likely hold up better against the elements than a zipper.

The main water reservoir compartment on the back is comfortable, and the drinking tube runs seamlessly from the bag, through loopholes on the shoulders, to the front of the bag for easy sipping. Unfortunately, there is no suspension loop to support the water reservoir itself from the top of the pack, so it tends to slouch at the bottom of the pack and become uncomfortable as it empties. I feel like this was a bit of an oversight, as most packs have these loops, and they can make a big difference in the comfort and functionality of a running pack that uses larger reservoirs against the back.

Fit

The soft and lightweight material of the shoulder straps makes the Distance 15 incredibly comfortable. The straps, being wider, allow the pack’s weight to be distributed broadly across the shoulders and chest. The extra storage space on the shoulder straps is a bonus as well, giving you the opportunity to balance your weight between the front and back for a more natural center of gravity. The bungee attachment below the arm holds the pack snug to your back while allowing plenty of flexibility to avoid being constrictive. Like much of the bag, the bungee is fully adjustable and intuitive to fiddle with for just the right comfort.

This pack does well on long distance hikes and trail runs like the 31 mile Pemi-Loop in the White Mountain National Forest. The main compartment is large, and has a very simple and use-able shape. This is aided by a compression strap on either side that pulls the contents closer to your back for a more balanced, and less bouncy load.
This pack does well on long-distance hikes and trail runs like the 31-mile Pemi-Loop in the White Mountain National Forest. The main compartment is large and has a very simple and use-able shape. This is aided by a compression strap on either side that pulls the contents closer to your back for a more balanced, and less bouncy load.

The compression cords along each side of the pack make it incredibly easy to secure both the contents of the bag and a water reservoir if one is on board. I would like to have seen the compression cord travel higher on the pack, so that the entire main compartment compressed more evenly, though they use reflective cordelette as opposed to bungee for the compression, and this helps the load feel much more secure, especially with heavier items.

The chest strap height is adjustable to your comfort, though the adjustment itself can be frustrating. The chest straps hook on tight loops along the inner edge of both shoulder straps. To move the chest straps higher or lower, they need to be unhooked and rehooked onto different loops. This can be a great feature if you don’t like the usual sliding adjustments for whatever reason. Maybe you find that they are always moving on you, or sliding off the rail, and you just want something that will stay put. Though this makes the straps more of a challenge to adjust at first, once you find where they sit comfortably for me, most folks won’t ever have to adjust them again.

Comparable Adventure Vests

Make/ModelCapacityPocketsPrice
Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 5.013.4L12$165
Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 5.017L11$180
Salomon Advanced Skin 12 Set Hydration Vest12L6$170
Salomon XA 15 Hydration Vest15L3$170
Osprey Duro 15 Hydration Vest15L9$140
Black Diamond Distance 15 Trail Pack15L6$150
UltraAspire Bryce XT Hydration Pack15L8$155
Nathan Trail Mix 12 Hydration Vest12L6$150

Recommendation

The Black Diamond Distance 15 exceeds expectations as an adventure vest. It is well suited to multiple sports, has a higher than average capacity for a vest style pack, and is blessed with an incredibly accessible and functional design. Since the pack is larger than your average running vest, it also serves nicely as a small daypack with the added benefit of vest-style storage on the shoulder straps. In the time that I have been taking it out, I have become thoroughly impressed by its comfort and functionality. By keeping things simple, the design of this pack makes it super easy to use, and retains a spacious and familiar pack shape, while adding a vest and pockets for more on-the-go accessibility, and the ability to more evenly distribute the weight.

Disclosure: The author owns this backpack.

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About the author

Nico Dubois Nico Dubois is a mountain enthusiast who isn’t too picky about how he gets his miles in. Trail running, backpacking, skiing, day hikes, and any other human powered explorations he has the opportunity to enjoy, will do. He spent his teen years hiking the Adirondack 46ers and Hundred Highest with his family, and eventually started guiding youth backpacking trips in 2013. This included a 34 day trip with high-schoolers where he, again, completed the Adirondack 46, coming full circle from his youth. Now he spends his time as a backpacking guide and photographer in the Whites, backcountry skiing in the winter and spring, and spending long days on the trail during summer and fall.

One comment

  1. More evidence of how the lines blur between hiking and trail running. I was thinking about getting a vest-style pack, so I not only appreciate this in-depth review, but especially the table for comparison to other vests.

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