Black Diamond Distance 15 Pack: First Look
Volume: 15 Liters
Material: UHMWPE 100d Nylon 4mm Ripstop
More Info: www.blackdiamondequipment.com
The Black Diamond Distance 15 Backpack is supposedly what you get when you take the utility and no-nonsense design of the best alpine packs and combine it with the body-hugging profile of a running vest, and on paper it all looks pretty good.
I had been looking for a new pack for run commuting. Previously, I had been using an older Salomon Peak 20. I really liked this pack, but Salomon has a knack for using zippers that don’t hold up well when exposed to moisture and salt, and the pack’s main zipper ceased to function a while ago. All of the online reviews of the Distance 15 were positive, so when I found it on sale at the local gear shop I pulled the trigger and picked one up. Unfortunately, once I got the Distance 15 home and started loading it up I became aware of a number of things that don’t agree with me.
Please keep in mind that this is not an extensive review based on hours of use and real world experience. It’s one person’s opinion after some backyard testing. That said, I have used a lot of gear in my time, and having more information will only allow you make better decisions.
First, let’s take a look at the front pocket arrangement. Each side has three storage areas. At the top there is a zippered, stretch compartment. The one on the left has a waterproof panel next to the body, and easily fits my Pixel 3a. The zippered pocket on the right is open mesh and has no water protection.
Next we have a stretch pocket on each side with a bungie cinch intended to hold soft flasks for water. These aren’t nearly as refined as those found on other packs I’ve tried and owned. First, they are too low on the vest for me. I tried them with some 500ml Hydrapak softflasks and a pair of 500ml Salomon flasks. The Salomon flasks were too tall. They stuck out of the top and flopped around. The Hydrapak flasks were shorter and wider and did fit much better. However, the pockets are located so low on the vest it was difficult to drink out of them. Additionally, the top of the pocket is made of nylon and doesn’t stretch. The lack of stretch made it difficult to get the wider flasks into the pocket. It also necessitated the need for a bungie cinch. While the mechanism they used is clever and works well, I don’t think it’s necessary. Additionally, when the pocket is cinched up tight you then have a length of bungie flapping around.
Lastly there is the lower pocket. The design is the same as the soft flask pocket, but a little wider. I have no issues with these pockets. They would be great for bars, gels, a gopro, etc… Because the straps don’t wrap around the body the way some other packs do they are on the smaller side. However, they should be plenty large enough to carry fuel for a day-long adventure.
Next up is the main compartment. They did this part right. The material is light, but feels very durable. Additionally there are no zippers. On my other packs the zippers are the weak spot. They corrode and wear out well before the rest of the pack, and I appreciate that BD kept the design of the Distance simple in this respect. There are also minimal compression straps on the side that work quite well. Overall, I have no complaints about this part of the pack. This part is pretty dialed.
Lastly, let’s look at the harness system. This is where I feel some work needs to be done, and it’s the reason I’m going to be returning the pack. For the most part the materials are all very nice. They’re soft and smooth with no sharp edges, and for the most part everything sits well and close to the body. The area that’s problematic for me are the wings that wrap around the body under the arms. Here BD decided to go with a funky bungie system. I assume the goal was to spread out the load, but under tension the fabric bunches and twists.
Another issue that appears to exacerbate the problem is the wing that is supposed to wrap around the body is sewn so it follows the shape of the pack and curves in at the bottom. Because of this curve the wings can’t sit flat against the body.
Here you can see the pack being worn with some gear inside. I played and fiddled with the straps, but nothing I did would make them lay flat. If you look at the bottom where the wings wrap around the pack you will see they actually fold under when worn. This is not acceptable as it causes the lower part of the wing to dig in and will definitely cause some undesirable chaffing on long outings.
Black Diamond got a lot of stuff right, but there are a few things that still need refining. And, while things didn’t work out for me it might be different for you. A different size… a different body shape… It could work.