Black Diamond have gradually been making a name for themselves in the trail running arena originally with their headlamps and the nearly ubiquitous Distance Z poles but more recently with specific packs and a clothing line. A while back Dave reviewed the Distance 15 pack and over the summer I’ve been using the Distance 8 pack for all my runs that warrant carrying a pack.
The Distance 8 is most definitely a pack rather than an out and out race vest (that’s covered by the Distance 4). Those with a climbing background will spot the ‘Blitz’ heritage in the design of the Distance 8 with the body being made of a robust UHMWP 10x Ripstop fabric which makes it ideal for more abrasive adventures. This durability incurs a bit of a weight penalty but to be honest unless you’re at the sharp end of the race it’s not something to loose sleep over 335g vs 200g for something like the Distance 4. That extra 135g is buying you alpine use durability and the Distance 8 is clearly aimed at the adventurous runner with twin axe fasteners and the ability to carry a winter’s day ‘s worth of moving fast kit.
Design wise you get an 8 litre body that will swallow whatever running kit you need, I’ve loaded it with waterproofs, windproof, bivibag, bothy bag, warm Polartec Alpha top, warm gloves, hat, Khatola spikes, ice axe, poles, comfort butties, headlamp, map, compass and first aid kit. Equally I raced the Ring of Steall with just mandatory kit and thanks to the compression cord had no bounce and could barely tell the difference between it and a race vest. In fact the only difference I noticed was a lack of ‘kidney’ zone storage. The pack closes with a draw cord and roll/flap just like the Blitz which is super quick and simple but not fully weathertight so as always if you have water sensitive kit stow it in a drybag. The body fabric of the pack seems very waterproof but water can pool and channel in on top. I would say that the pull tab being black on a black fabric is not the most visible – simply using a bright colour here would help in those stressful/tired scenarios. Inside the body of the pack there is an inner pocket with key clip suitable for wallet/compass/first aid kit etc. and also a hydration sleeve.
The back of the pack has a ventilated foam padding permanently in place which makes packing easy and also reduces sweaty back syndrome very slightly. Pole storage is not ‘on the go’ accessible, well you can get them out if you have mobile shoulders but there’s no chance of stowing them on the go. However they are very secure and totally out of the way, again more suited to adventure running than a race scenario if you’re a runner who likes to switch back and forth with poles. You can also grab your ice axe(s) easily without removing the pack which is always handy when you’ve ‘pushed’ a bit too far up that slope! Up front there are twin soft flask pockets with generous food (or whatever) stash pockets over these and above the soft flask pockets two zipped pockets on the shoulder harness, one weather resistant (not waterproof) for a phone and the other intended for BD’s Deploy Wind Shell though I tended to use it for more extra food. The bottle pockets take a HydraPak 500ml bottle but work better with a more flat profile bottles – my old HydraPak was a tight fit especially with food in the front pouches and this discouraged me from removing it so I tended to lift the bottle to drink from it in place and they would benefit from a more generous fit (I actually found that the Decathlon 500ml softflask fits well if you want to save some dosh ;-). Because of the zippered pockets the soft flasks sit lower so if you like drinking with them in place then extension straws will make this easier. Whilst completing the Running Up For Air challenge I also used the Distance 8 with a 1.5 litre bladder and it performed well in that configuration with the ease of entry to the main pack making refills a breeze, there are guide loops on the shoulder harness for the tube and I just tucked the bite valve into the top of one of the zippered pockets). With a mostly empty pack the bladder did tend to bounce a little but really cinching down the compression straps and stuffing my windproof in solved it.
Fit and comfort wise the Distance 8 was superb, I opted for the Medium (to fit a lower rib of 31.5″ to 39.4″) with my lower rib measurement being smack in the middle at 35″. The adjustable shock corded side panels help finesse the fit and aid in mobility.
With normal mandatory kit the Distance 8 carries pretty much like a race vest, no bounce, exceptional comfort/fit and good accessibility to liquids and nutrition. Poles aren’t stow-able on the fly but they are securely carried and easily stowed within seconds of unslinging the pack. Where the Distance 8 shines is on more adventurous days where you may carry more safety kit or cloths for winter warmth. Having room for butties (even a mini flask!) alongside a lightweight synthetic puffy can add a whole new level to long mountain runs! On a serious note and especially if you’re running solo in the mountains it’s worth imagining what would happen if you were immobilised due to injury and unable to summon help quickly – would you have enough gear to get through? The tragedy in China earlier this year showed just how vulnerable even fit athletes are when the proverbial hits the fan – having a bit extra with you on those long training runs could quite literally be a life saver The durability of the Distance 8 is exceptional and to be honest it has been shown little kindness having been scrapped on scrambles in Wales (along Crib Goch), the Lakes and Scotland including racing the Ring of Steall over the last 3 months but looking at it now it is nigh on impossible to see any evidence of wear. BD’s choice of materials, design and workmanship are spot on with this pack. Could it be improved? Well I’d like the soft flask pockets designed to allow easier stowing and removal and this is my only real criticism to be honest. The Blitz style drawcord cinch would benefit from a colourful tab to make it immediately obvious what you’re pulling on (I’ve attached a bit of bright cord) and the black internal colour makes seeing stuff inside a challenge especially a dawn/dusk if you’ve not got your headtorch out. These are minor refinements though and if you’re looking for a running vest/pack the Distance 8 should be at the top of your list, doubly so if you want to use it scrambling or in winter.
- Comfortable no bounce carry
- Ease of use
- Softflasks tight to access
Disclaimer – CGR reviewers are never paid to provide a review and the website does not take advertising. We are a bunch of keen climbers and travellers that accept sample products and offer an honest and independent review of the item. The reviewer will often keep the sample after reviewing it for both hygiene reasons and more often they’re in no fit state to return!