If you’re a seeker of Type 2 fun, chances are you’ve dreamed up some pretty wild mountain missions with lots of trail running, but also scrambling and technical climbing to traverse exposed ridge-lines and link up those sweet summit views.
There’s just one problem: How do you carry your climbing kit while running at a fast clip? (Without cursing.) That slick little space-age race vest just can’t handle your ice axe or cams… But the bounce-factor and chafing (ouch!) will be real if you take your alpine pack, instead. Hmm…crux of the day.
Enter the Black Diamond Distance 8L Pack. This hybrid pack was made to move. And move it does. We tested this baby last summer and fall for more than 100 miles in the mountains; both on and off trail. It’s carried loads up to 12 lbs at a running pace, and has even endured several adventures fully loaded with the addition of trekking poles and an ice axe.
The short list of this pack’s best features include: the secure vest-style fit; the burly, featherweight ripstop fabric; and the dedicated quick-access trekking pole sleeves.
The pack’s vest-style front straps have six pockets for hydration, nutrition and anything else you might need to grab while on the move. Each strap has a large mesh pocket for your bottles, as well as a smaller mesh pocket to load with gels or a wind layer. Above these stacked mesh pockets there’s also a vertical, 4-way stretch zippered pocket on each side that comfortably fits a smartphone or headlamp. The vest straps are made of a soft, durable mesh that’s fully edge-taped to sit smoothly against your chest. Compared to other large volume vests with adjustable side compression systems, these straps felt more form fitting, breathable and comfortable when loaded with food and water for a big day.
The pack itself has one large main compartment with a ripstop skirt that cinches closed and provides expandable space for shedding layers. The skirt then tucks under a burlier, weather resistant ripstop flap that’s hooked shut with a strong elastic strap. This hook closure also secures a light rope or other loose items to the top of the pack when needed. Inside the main compartment is a stretchy drop-in sleeve with a zippered security pocket that includes a clip for keys. In addition, two exterior sleeves hold your z-fold trekking poles securely on each side of the pack where they’re quickly accessible as you’re moving. There are also dual exterior attachments and adjustable side compression cords for ice tools or additional gear and layers.
The Distance 8L offers athletes two means of getting a secure, custom fit to accommodate layer changes and pack weight. Two stretchy chest straps with clip closures fine-tune the fit across the front, and threaded elastic cords with toggles provide a responsive compression fit along each side of the ribcage. Both systems are easy to use on the fly and stay tight.
That the Distance 8L is easy to get fitted and secure is important for another reason: BD only offers three sizes (S,M and L) for the pack, meaning the perfect size might not exist for you. Other leaders in the running vest market provide sizes that feel more akin to clothing options. As a 5-foot-3-inch and 115-pound mountain athlete, an XS would have been ideal, versus having to make do with the small.
Overall, this sizing issue was a small disappointment considering the functionality, durability and comfort of the Distance 8L across all testing missions. The pack is well made and stands up to the rigors of mountain travel over time. After more than 100 miles of travel in all weather conditions and many different terrain types, the pack looks nearly new, save for a few smudges of alpine mud. Where the soft material of a running vest would snag and rip on rocks or understory, the burly ripstop of the Distance 8L remains unscathed. All the cords, clips, cinch points and toggles likewise remain in great working order.
Most importantly, it’s just easy to forget that you’re wearing this pack. It loads well, carries beautifully and has not caused any hot spots or chaffing. It gets an A+ for comfort, even after wearing it for three to four days in a row.
Bottom line: The BD Distance 8L pack is a must-have for any mountain athlete with a mission mindset. This rig is a well-executed hybrid that marries the secure, fitted design of a trail running vest to the greater capacity and durability of an alpine pack. This means you can carry your technical climbing kit and long-haul gear while also moving quickly and comfortably from trailhead to summit. If you’re rallying big days in the high country, do yourself a favor and snap one of these babies up before your next adventure. This pack just gets it done.
Kelsey Brasseur is an ultra runner, climber and field scientist from Carbondale, CO. She climbs 5.13 with draws or gear, spends much of her working time above 11,000’ and loves the freedom of running to explore landscapes of all types.
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