Black Diamond’s Distance 4 Hydration Vest is a streamlined trail running vest for long-distance, fast-paced efforts. After months of testing, GearJunkie approves the pack for lengthy mountain runs and scrambles. Read on for a review of the Distance 4 Hydration Vest.
Black Diamond is a forerunner in climb and ski equipment, but the brand is expanding gear for trail running adventures. Introduced in the spring, the 2020 Distance 4 Hydration Vest is a comfortable pack for trails and scrambles in mountainous terrain. The 4L pack is an extension of the 2019 Distance collection, which includes 8L and 15L backpacks for mountain running.
In short: The Distance 4 Hydration Vest is a lightweight, stretchy, and durable pack with innovative storage solutions. The airy vest offers ample space to tow apparel, nutrition, hydration, and gear. The vest worked well for short, daily trail runs and also for ventures with stout mileage in a single push.
Distance 4 Hydration Vest Review
Typically, I favor women’s-specific trail running packs due to the tailored fit and shape. I was surprised that this gender-neutral vest hit the mark.
I tested a size medium, which has a torso circumference of 80-100 cm. (Note: Measure around the lower ribs.) I liked a roomier size. Due to strap adjustments, the pack never felt too tight and never swung around. The vest offers four size options:
- XS: 60-75 cm
- S: 68-85 cm
- M: 80-100 cm
- L: 90-122 cm
For several months, I tested the vest on high-altitude adventures in Colorado’s Elk Mountains. It felt secure while climbing on granite formations between trails in Hartman Rocks Recreation Area. I also took it on a scramble up the iconic Avery Red Diamond: a 2,000-foot sheer, solid rock face. The 6.5-mile route features a 3,200-foot ascent that reaches 12,600 feet, so I needed extra gear despite the relatively short distance.
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Overall, the pack worked well as a daily grinder for 5- to 20-mile trail runs. The ergonomic, broad compartments were easy for me to store my basic supplies. In the high alpine, I at least carry my phone/camera, gloves, water, windbreaker, and Buff — even on short runs.
Unique Pole-Carry System
The Distance 4 Hydration Vest debuts Black Diamond’s On-The-Fly Z-pole carry system. The over-the-shoulder design is one of my favorite attributes of the pack. The concept is simple yet revolutionary. With it, runners no longer need to remove their running vests to stash their poles. The poles are held diagonally via elastic-and-static straps at the lower-left and upper-right corners of the pack.
Here’s how the setup works: First, the runner slides an elastic circlet around each end of the poles, which are disassembled and folded. (The elastic circlets are attached to the straps.) Then, the runner lifts the poles over her left shoulder and head, like a jump rope. The poles rest across the pack’s main load. On the runner’s right shoulder, a sliding elastic adjuster can be pulled to tighten down the poles.
The system was smooth to operate when I cached or retrieved my poles. I needed to stop running to do both but did not need to remove my pack, which I liked. The best part? The carry system is slim, lightweight, and stashable. The straps were inconspicuous when they weren’t in use. For runners who never use poles, this carry system would go unnoticed, but it’s also removable.
The Distance 4 Hydration Vest’s well-designed compartments allowed me to evenly distribute gear and weight. The front of the pack has two 500mL flask pockets. (Note: The flask pockets are only compatible with the Black Diamond 500mL Soft Flasks. My other soft flasks fell out as I ran.)
Usually, the front pockets on other running packs aren’t large enough to hold my phone/camera. But, my phone slid freely into this vest’s flask pocket and was completely encased, which was awesome.
The vest has another two mesh pockets and two small zip-closure chest pockets. The latter are great for an emergency rescue card, ID, or key fob. Be aware: Those two zippered pockets aren’t waterproof. Three expandable mesh compartments are situated along the lumbar, where I typically stored a wind/rain layer and extra snacks.
Then, the pack’s center has a large zip-closure compartment and bladder sleeve, where I kept extra soft flasks and apparel.
This 4L pack comfortably toted everything I needed for most long-distance outings (10 to 25 miles). That gear list included snacks, 1 L of hydration, a wind/rain layer, gloves, headlamp, hat, Buff, and phone/camera. When I needed a helmet, I could snugly strap it to the outside of the vest.
However, I found the Distance 4 Hydration Vest was not roomy enough for multiday, slower-paced trips. For instance, I needed to carry additional supplies on a hut-to-hut mountain running retreat in British Columbia, Canada. That daily list included a lunch, long-sleeve shirt, toothbrush, cosmetics, bathing suit, bug spray, and external batteries.
Instead, I used the vest’s sister Distance 8L Backpack ($140), which accommodated everything without becoming uncomfortable or cumbersome. For that type of trip, I prefer wiggle room in my pack so that I can efficiently grab stuff.
Comfort & Adjustability
I never experienced hotspots or pressure points in the Distance 4 Hydration Vest. The pack is made out of nylon ripstop material and four-way-stretch mesh, so it’s tenacious and stretchy. The seams are soft against the skin due to a stitch-less design that’s reinforced through a proprietary taping technology.
A running pack’s adjustability equates to comfort for me, especially for long distances when I carry more supplies. I’m a woman with muscular shoulders, narrow rib cage, and chest. When a vest is loaded with gear, the profile can shift, and strap placement — if poorly designed — can become awkward or afflictive.
Fortunately, the Distance 4 Hydration Vest’s fit was easily modified. The vest has two thin chest buckles with seven different attachment points, so the pack is very customizable. Without trouble, I could quickly relocate either chest strap.
When the chest straps were buckled, they effortlessly tightened down with getting caught. Negative: I only chafed once, when I had the upper chest strap too tight on a 20-mile run.
Distance 4 Hydration Vest: The Bottom Line
Overall, the Distance 4 Hydration Vest was quick-drying and malleable yet sturdy. The material and seams were not abrasive, regardless of the cargo quantity. I could comfortably layer up or down beneath the vest. The vest didn’t sway with one item or swing with a full load. Over time, the seams and fabric showed no signs of deterioration.
The vest is streamlined and one of the lighter sub-5L packs on the market at 7 ounces. For instance, the women’s 4L Nathan Quickstart Hydration Vest ($70) is 9.5 ounces. And the Nathan VaporKrar 2.0 Hydration Vest ($165) is 7.3 ounces. But the Distance 4 Hydration Vest isn’t the lightest vest on the market. To point, the 5L Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 5 Set ($160) is 6.7 ounces.
Chiefly, the Distance 4 Hydration Vest is adaptable and breathable with an inventive pole-carry system. From a price standpoint, the Distance 4 Hydration Vest is $150, which is more expensive than an average trail running vest. But the cost is on par with high-end competitors. (The Nathan VaporKrar and VaporHowe 4L Hydration Vests are $165. And the Salomon Advanced Skin 5 Set Hydration Vest is $145.)
If you need a long-lasting, lightweight hydration vest for trail running, this one is an excellent option. And if you always carry collapsible trail running poles, this vest could be your absolute dream choice.
Want to see other great running vests? Check out the best hydration vests of 2020 here.