Gear Review: A Trio of Trail Running Goods from Black Diamond

FasterSkierDecember 3, 2019
Bernie Nelson (l) wearing the BD Distance 8L and Aidan Whitelaw the Distance 15L running/adventure packs while descending the “bowling alley” on the North Sister during an attempt of the Three Sister’s Traverse in Oregon. (Photo: Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess)

Black Diamond has been around in several iterations for decades. First, there was Chouinard Equipment. Yup, that Chouinard. The emerging alpine climbing gear powerhouse was sold to employees and became Black Diamond Equipment. A few bumps on the proverbial road to growth and prosperity and now Black Diamond is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. But, the Salt Lake City based company has remained true to their core users: alpinist and rock climbers, backcountry skiers and mountaineers. And now trail runners.

Within that adventure tribe, there’s room for cross-country skiers. A scant glance at Instagram, and you’d know that many cross-country skiers trail run for fitness and solace. FasterSkier reviewed some pieces from Black Diamond’s new trail running line that might be functional for those desiring gear with big-mission capacity but also fits in closer to home.

Bernie Nelson wearing the 15L BD Distance pack in the Swiss Alps. (Photo: Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess).

BD Distance Packs:

Think out of the box on this. The packs come in  15L and 8L versions. Beyond the volume, they are identical. These running packs are a hybrid: definitely running vest DNA, but some serious alpinism genes expressed in the final product. For example, if the terrain calls for it, you can carry two lightweight axes.

I’ve been ever so slowly growing my pack collection since I started running ultras in the mountains. Each new pack was an attempt to find “the one.” I felt like every pack I tried left me disappointed, they were all trying too hard. A million pockets and quick ties had me fumbling with frustration … Then I met the Distance 15L and 8L. They had me at their first embrace. The Distance packs move when you move — hugging all the right places. There’s no sloshing of water or fumbling around with 17 different pockets and ties looking for your last bar. Either size compresses down to mimic a smaller pack on your shorter, lighter missions and has plenty of room for longer adventures turned unexpected mountain epics.

The 15L was my go-to on a multi-week trail running trip in the Swiss Alps. Enough volume to go hut-to-hut, which means I could pack a few extra layers, a light windbreaker, and enough food and water to last many hours without resupply. The 8L, a slimmer close-cousin to the 15L, would be perfect for those bent on minimalism, or for shorter missions. In fact, the 8L would be a great companion for coaches needing to pack extra food or water for kids. Both packs come with a water-resistant zippered pocket for quick phone access.


There are two pockets for soft water flasks and a hydration sleeve for those desiring a water bladder. Like many running vests, the chest pockets allow for easy access to nutrition, hats/gloves, or sunblock.

Depending on my adventure, I found this duo of packs ideal. And with its durable outer and rugged stitching, I know we will be the perfect match for years to come. 

Lastly, and this brings us to the next review item, these packs sport clever side pockets that house BD’s collapsible running/trekking poles.

BD Distance 8L Pack with Z-poles stashed.

Costs can vary for the packs. The 15L retails for $149.95, the 8L for $139.95. Both packs can be found for just over $100.00.


BD Carbon Z Poles:

Ultra-lightweight, durable and comfortable.  The poles turned my partner from a non-pole believer into a Carbon Z preacher. It also turned him into an absolute animal on the uphills. Our favorite feature? Super quick linking segments made for fast and easy transitions on the fly. Think mid-stride and your poles go from pack to in-hand. We ran 176 miles with 72,000 feet of gain in 12 days, can’t imagine a step without these. Up, up and away – Carbon Z poles for the win.

The z pole series also comes in a slightly heavier aluminum version. For comparison, the 110cm Carbon Z pole weighs 10oz, whereas the 110cm aluminum version comes in at 12.5oz. If you are finicky about swing weight, go with the carbon. If you’re super hard on gear and don’t mind the modest weight penalty, go the aluminum route. The carbon poles will ding a bit from those scree infested downhill miles – which amount to small blemishes on the enamel coating. But remember, these are mountain travel tools — things get dinged in the hills.

The poles can be purchased in four different “fixed” lengths, meaning the length is not adjustable. BD does sell a model with an adjustable length. (Here’s a recommended sizing chart for the fixed poles.)

The poles collapse to roughly a third of their deployed length. The Carbon Z poles retail for $169.95, but are on sale for about 25% off at several outlets.

Rhythm T:

BD Wmn’s Rhythm T

I’ve read a hundreds product descriptions for shirts advertising the fastest drying, wicking, performance material on planet earth…until I had the pleasure of testing BD’s Rythym T I just didn’t get the hype! But this shirt really does what it says its going to do! It dries faster, breathes better and even stretches to accommodate that long run bonk burger when you make it to town. They’ll even let you sit inside because unlike other wool products, this merino goodness doesn’t trap the stink. So if the question is $75 for a T shirt? YES. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your waitress. Now get after it!