Black Diamond Distance 15 backpack

Climbing pack meets running pack – the ultimate tool for 3-season aerobic alpine adventures. 

The Black Diamond Distance 15 backpack a great choice for epic runs, ridge traverses, and peak bagging. Even ultralight overnight runs. Radical!

Running packs carry weight tight against your spine and have chest pockets for water bottles and goo packets. Climbing packs are rugged, waterproof, and carry ice axes. Black Diamond decided to build one pack that’s both runner and climber – and they pulled it off. 

Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack Engearment

I don’t run with a backpack unless I have to, but for long runs and technical scrambles in the mountains, this pack is gold. The larger of their two “Distance” packs (the smaller is 8 Liters), the Distance 15 a great choice for epic runs, ridge traverses, and peak bagging. It’s even large enough that people are using it for ultra (and I mean ultra) light overnight mountain runs. Radical! 

Being a BD product, this pack is oriented a little more towards the alpinism end of the running spectrum – perfect for peak bagging, semi-technical mountain runs, even a great choice for ridge traverses and free-solo climbing. Most of the features are genuinely useful, not bells and whistles if you’re going to use it in an ‘alpine running’ setting. It’s rugged and weather-proof, holds enough gear for a light-n-fast day in the mountains, and carries trekking poles and even ice axes really well. That said, it probably has more functionality and capacity than you need if you’re just running 2-3 hours in the foothills on a warm day. 

Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack Engearment

Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack

This pack is built more like a climbing pack, with a draw-cord closure on top they call ‘blitz-style’ that you can open quickly with one hand and close quickly too. This makes it easier to stuff bulky items in (like climbing shoes and puffy) compared to the slimmer, zipper-closed packs. It’s also built of really tough material while remaining lightweight.

Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack Engearment

Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack

The fabric is Dynex UHMWP Ripstop, which BD likes to say is 10 times stronger than steel per weight. I can’t yet speak to the long-term longevity since I’ve only had this pack for a season, but I’ve bushwhacked through sharp gamble oaks and knocked it around or rocks and there are no signs of wear whatsoever. It’s also waterproof, with the BD.dry vapor barrier liner. When the flap over the drawcord top is properly closed its effective at sealing the pack from rain or snow.

Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack Engearment

The 15 Liter capacity is quite large for a running pack, large enough for a legit peak-bagging mission or super-light overnight kit. For example, you could carry light aluminum crampons, a puffy, climbing shoes, and water purification, and even ice axes. There is also a slot in the back and a hole in the top for a hydration bladder and hose.

Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack - Ultimate Pack for 3 Season Alpine Adventure 1Distance 15 Backpack












Granted, if you load this down with 8 lb of equipment and 2 liters of water, running won’t be so fun…but I found I could run reasonably well with the weight around 5 lb, which is enough for water, lunch, layer, raincoat, and trekking poles for a long run/scramble in the mountains in autumn. Elastic compression straps on either side are effective for cinching the packs’ contents against your back when it’s not full.

Speaking of trekking poles: this pack has an added bonus that’s AWESOME. There are two slender sleeves on the sides that fit Black Diamond Z-style collapsible trekking poles. It’s not a gimmick – it’s actually really handy if you want to bring poles for steep terrain. You can literally reach behind and pull the poles out mid-stride to deploy them.

You have to take the pack off to put them away, or hand them to a partner and ask them to stash the poles. This makes for quick transitions on the trail, and the sleeves hold them very tight – I didn’t notice them while running, and I’m not worried about them falling out.

Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack Engearment

Testing the Distance pack and Distance Wind Shell on a run along the continental divide near Jones Pass, Colorado. It was a windy September morning and chilly above 12,000 ft; the wind shell was a great lightweight layer for keeping comfortable in these conditions. The hood cinches down around a bare head and doesn’t flop in the breeze.

The front pouches are useful while running. Each side has a zippered pocket on the upper chest that holds a standard 5-inch cell phone, which is really handy if you want to take photos or are using your phone for navigation. I usually put my keys in the other zippered pocket. On the lower chest are parallel bottle pockets with fixed-length elastic closures, and additional slip elastic pockets attached to these.

The bottle pockets generally work for small water bottles and most brands of soft flasks (BD sells flasks that fit really well), but it would be nice if they were adjustable, either to open up a bit so you could stow 12-oz bottles with one hand (you can’t), or to cinch down a bit to hold soft flasks more securely in place. I haven’t had a soft flask seem anywhere close to falling out, but they could be held a little tighter. 

Keep in mind that this 15 Liter running pack is really geared for huge runs and alpine missions – you won’t find a better running pack for these. For runs closer to town with less gear on board, the elastic compression straps do a really good job of collapsing the pack down and securing it against your back, but there’s still some inevitable load settling and nylon swishy sounds that will happen as all that extra material moves about. The slimmer, low-capacity race packs are quieter and sleeker for runs where you don’t need the capacity. 

Among the competition, Nathan makes a 12 Liter running pack ($149) and Ultimate Direction makes a 30 Liter pack – All Mountain ($135)  While the UD packs come with a ski-carry loops (respect), for fast and light alpine days that require running, scrambling, and even some technical climbing, I’d go with the Black Diamond Distance 15 pack for alpine-oriented functionality.

Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack - Ultimate Pack for 3 Season Alpine Adventure 2Distance 15 Backpack $149.95

Drew Thayer

Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack - Ultimate Pack for 3 Season Alpine Adventure 3

Drew’s love of gear is born from his life-long obsession with human-powered adventure in the mountains. On foot, on ski, on bike, and on the steep rocks, he loves exploring Colorado’s mountains through each season.
Drew brings a technical eye to gear — he’s a data scientist with a Masters’ degree in Geophysics and loves to understand the design and engineering make great gear what it is. He’s also worked in the field for many years — as a wilderness therapy field guide and a Geophysicist — and knows a thing or two about function and durability of technical equipment.
Drew tests gear in real mountain conditions, on overnight ventures whenever possible. His specialties are rock/alpine climbing and light-and-fast human-powered pursuits on ski or mountain bike. He’s ventured on exploratory climbing expeditions in Argentina, Peru, and Alaska, and completed remote technical river descents in Alaska and Colombia.
When not building statistical models and writing code, he can be found tending his garden or trying to keep up with his awesome wife.
Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack - Ultimate Pack for 3 Season Alpine Adventure 4

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