Running the rugged approach to Mt. Emerson, a granite massif set deep into the crown of the High Sierra, the last thing I wanted to be worrying about was my pack awkwardly bucking around. At over 13,000 feet, the easiest route up Emerson is a class three scramble. Negotiating the off-camber moves required focus — and not on my bag.
Thankfully, clinging tightly to my back was Black Diamond’s new Pursuit 15 Pack. The running-vest-inspired bag was designed for light and fast pursuits in the mountains. It’s one of the most comfortable daypacks I’ve ever tested. I love the popular Distance 15 pack for its ultra-lightweight and runner’s vest-like fit. But the Pursuit is a fantastic alternative for mountain adventures that require more pockets, faster trekking pole access, and the support provided by the incredibly comfortable waistband.
This bag came to me just in time for the beginning of the High Sierra alpine season in California. I took it on as many hikes and scrambles as I could jam in to test its capabilities. Those whose mountain pursuits toe the line between running and scrambling might prefer the lighter, simpler design of the Distance version. But the Pursuit 15 is perfect for all-day hiking, scrambles, and summit tagging, and is more comfortable when carrying more weight. Fast or slow, the Pursuit is after it.
In short: The Black Diamond Pursuit 15 brings an agile running vest suspension to a technical pack design but doesn’t go so far down the rabbit hole to forget about comfort. A large and cushioned hipbelt was a standout feature in my review and makes this hybrid pack ready for taking on all parts of the mountain, from the bottom to the top.
To see what else differentiates a good daypack from a great daypack, check out GearJunkie’s Best Daypacks category.
- Material 100% recycled polyester
- Pockets 1 zippered and 3 stretch pockets on the shoulder straps; 1 large stretch-woven front pocket; 2 quick-access side pockets; 1 interior zippered pocket with key clip
- Suspension style Frameless foam back panel
- Hydration-compatible Yes
- Ideal use Scrambling or summit pack
- Weight 1 lb., 8 oz.
- Comfortable suspension system with seamless wing construction that hugs your body
- Lots of pockets
- Easy access trekking pole storage
- No ice axe loop
Black Diamond Pursuit 15 Daypack: Review
First, a look at what exactly the Pursuit 15 is. Taking heavily from the body-swaddling designs of running vests and fastpacks, the Pursuit is a daypack with a dialed-in suspension that is made to move with you.
At 15 L of internal space, fast-paced day trips are more on the menu compared to overnights. But I was still impressed by just how much I could jam into this pack. Stretchy mesh pockets on the exterior make for great storage of things like jackets, trekking poles, and bottles.
While the Black Diamond Distance Collection lands further on the trail running side of the spectrum, the Pursuit Series kicks it into a lower gear to get to the high country, going places that require an extra layer or two, as well as any additional equipment to get there. It’s also for this reason that you won’t find a hipbelt on any Distance pack, while every Pursuit pack sports a comfy and adjustable example.
Available in 15L and 30L capacities, as well as men’s and women’s sizing, I recently tested the 15L version. I found that compared to other daypacks, the Pursuit decidedly has a mission, and it’s pretty specialized. More do-it-all daypacks can be used for more activities, but in its mountainous niche, I found the Pursuit excelled.
It’s All in the Hips
Let’s start with that hipbelt. It’s easily one of the defining features of the bag. Running vests and fastpacks are typically equal parts chest harness and pack. But the Pursuit piles on the support with the addition of a wide and breathable waist belt.
Many daypacks come with a hipbelt that is a mere piece of webbing with a plastic buckle. They typically don’t get heavy enough to require a more robust suspension. But I found that having one and moving all day in the mountains was very comfortable. More than supporting weight, the hipbelt also kept the pack closer to my body. That improved my mobility and tracking, without having something swinging around on my back.
I was a bit worried the large waistband might feel like it restricted my mobility while running. But when I went and climbed Mt. Emerson in the High Sierra with this pack, I barely noticed it was there. It felt completely at home with third- and fourth-class scrambling, in an environment that demanded a lot of twisting, pulling, high-stepping, and running down long scree fields. This pack moves with the demands of a mountain athlete.
The Pursuit 15 will also fit a variety of bodies as comes in three sizes: small, medium, and large. It will jive with waist circumferences of between 24 and 51 inches (depending on the version). Many daypacks only come in one size, or the hybrid sizes of small/medium, or medium/large. Often, that makes it hard to find one that fits best.
A Comfortable Suspension
The shoulder straps are also incredibly comfortable on this pack, with their light mesh padding and runner’s vest-like construction. These work in concert with that thick hip belt and foam back panel. Together they form a suspension that clings to your back and moves with you.
Two buckled straps cinch down between these shoulder pads to keep the pack snug. Three mesh pouches plus one zipper pouch can hold snacks, gels, chapstick, or water flasks. I found that the cinch straps on the Pursuit held tight compared to the similar Arc’teryx Aerios 15, which tended to loosen with time.
I tested the women’s version of the Pursuit. But the pack is also available in a men’s cut, with a broader vest suspension to fit wider chests.
Besides the incredible waistband and functional shoulder straps on this daypack, many other features make this bag stand out from the rest. Two large, deep mesh pockets complete the outer part of the seamless waistband. These can fit small water bottles with ease. They also make the perfect stash pockets for a pair of trekking poles.
I loved the ease of quickly stashing my trekking poles in these pockets without having to fuss with loops or straps. While out on Mt. Emerson, I played around with storing one pole on either side or two poles on one side. I wanted to see how it felt, as the pockets themselves are too big for just one pole. It can be nice to have two trekking poles in one pocket and a water bottle in the other for better weight distribution.
A quick-pull compression system on the front of the pack cinches the contents down so they don’t move around while you do. A large mesh front pouch makes this 15L bag feel much more ample in size and is a great place to store a windbreaker or more snacks. This pack is also hydration bladder-compatible to boot, with the hose routing coming out over the shoulder straps. Who could ask for more?
The only thing I found lacking in this technical mountain pack is an attachment for an ice axe. While many summer pursuits will only require trekking poles, some of our great mountainous backyards will require some snow travel even in the middle of July. Having an attachment for an ice tool seems like a no-brainer for a pack of this price and specificity. But it’s unfortunately not included. You’ll have to spring for the BD Distance pack for that.
The Pursuit 15 is made with 100% recycled materials, which is a nice bonus. Primarily constructed of polyester and breathable mesh, this pack wasn’t designed to be particularly waterproof. If you live in an environment that sees a lot of storms, then you might want to find something with better weatherproofing or that comes with a dedicated rain cover.
However, at 15 L, you will most likely not be carrying any overnight gear. Therefore, complete waterproofing isn’t that necessary for a daypack to be fortified with, anyway. The main zipper is waterproof, however, with a tight seal. That would at least protect the interior from a light shower or surprise dunk.
Room for Improvement
While the Pursuit pack takes some chances on some different functionalities, not all of them play out perfectly. Those side pockets on the exterior of the pack are a bit shallow and slope down toward the hip belt. So, while they’re stretchy, they are better suited to short and stout bottles such as Nalgenes and don’t play as nicely with tall Smartwater bottles. This won’t be as much of a concern for folks who use the hydration bladder sleeve, however.
The long zipper entrance to the main compartment is generous. But it is interfered with by the side compression cord system, which crosses the zip at about halfway up the pack. This can mean some awkward zipper pull shuffling if you want to really open up the bag to get in a full water bladder or other bulky kit, and it’s at least an annoyance you’ll have to get used to when using the pack.
Finally, while you can fit a good bit in the shoulder pockets, most modern phones in a case aren’t one of them. You’ll have to find somewhere else to stash this. It’s a bummer for a pack of this price, but likely not a deal breaker.
Black Diamond Pursuit 15 Daypack: Conclusion
While this isn’t the cheapest daypack on the market, the Pursuit 15 is a great tool for the avid mountain-goer. Both form and function come together in a great package. I felt that all the extra pockets and features make this well worth the $150 price tag.
Sized up next to similar fastpacks like the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 or Montane Trailblazer 18, the Pursuit still retains some daypack DNA in the form of its luxe hipbelt. That feature makes it much more amenable to slower-paced adventures like hikes. But it can also keep the pack following my movement on uneven terrain.
If you are a casual day hiker, then this pack may have more bells and whistles than you require. I’d recommend you take a look at our article featuring The Best Daypacks of 2023 to find one that might better suit your needs and budget.
But if you are into more technical day hikes that call for a pack that has enough space for the essentials, easy access to trekking poles, and can move with you comfortably all day while you scramble in the mountains, then look no further than the Black Diamond Pursuit 15.