By James McCormack

I only got really heavily into trail-running a few years ago, and one of the things I discovered was just how freaking practical trail running vests are. They’re comfortable, light, don’t bounce around on your back, and have loads of handy pockets up front so you can access drinks, energy bars, and, if you’re like me, hordes of jelly snakes whenever you want them without removing your pack. One thing they’re not, though, is roomy. Four-litre capacities are common; eight is getting on the large side.

But last year, Black Diamond released its 15L Distance pack, a hybrid that’s essentially a pack attached to a running vest, although that’s underselling what it is. I’d been wanting for some time to get my hands on one, but it was only towards the end of 2019 that I actually buckled down and did so. I was heading to North America for six weeks, and wanted to do loads of snowshoe running. To get to the trailheads, however, (which I’d be running to) I needed a pack big enough to carry snowshoes along with enough warm gear to see me through the sub -20°C temps I’d likely experience.

“Often multisport packs involve compromises. But for Black Diamond’s Distance 15, I’d say that’s not only not the case; it’s led to a synergistic advance.”

Before heading over, though, I took the Distance for a few trial runs here. Wow! Despite its 15L capacity, it definitely wore far more like a vest than a pack. In fact, it wore entirely like a vest; I simply forgot its size (it helped that its elasticised cinch cords were really effective). It had the accessible pockets I’d expect on any running vest, it sat comfortably, and it didn’t rub despite me sweating in the summer heat. And when I got to the States and started running with snowshoes strapped to the Distance, it didn’t bounce around. This thing actually carried a load. And it had lashing points for not just snowshoes, but ice axes, running poles, etc. As for my concerns that snowshoes jiggling about might rip the pack to shreds, I needn’t have worried; the main compartment is constructed with bombproof 2000D ripstop. I’ve seen plenty of ‘pack’ packs less tough than this.

If there was one failing, it was the pockets for fluid soft flasks. They weren’t deep enough for my usual tall 600ml flasks, which flopped about. But once I swapped to shorter, squatter 500ml Hydrapak flasks—which admittedly are the flasks the pack is designed for—the problem disappeared.

All in all, this is a remarkable pack. And it’s so comfortable and effective, there’s no need to restrict its use to running. In recent months, it’s actually become my ‘go to’ day pack for walking. Often multisport packs involve compromises. But for Black Diamond’s Distance 15, I’d say that’s not only not the case; it’s led to a synergistic advance.

Need to Know
Intended use: Trail running; mountain adventures
Capacity: 15L
Weight (as tested): 422g
RRP: $229.99

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