UKC

Black Diamond Distance Z and Distance Carbon Z Poles Review

© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Black Diamond make a lot of different products in a lot of different categories, and nowhere is this more noticeable than in their range of poles. This review looks at two poles that feature the same design (Distance Z), but different materials (Alloy vs Carbon), and goes into some detail on the different types of locking mechanism that they're available in (fixed or adjustable). 

Intended Use

The Distance 'range' is designed with fast-n-light walking and running in mind, and sits at the lighter weight end of the spectrum. Ideal uses include running for 24hrs in the mountains (as I did recetly with them), or lightly-loaded day-walks. These aren't the poles you would realistically be looking at for long, hard multi-day treks, or tough winter hillwalking, because quite frankly they wouldn't be up to it. If you're doing something more severe you'd be beter off with a more substantial model. The alloy poles are naturally the more durable of the two, while the payoff for the carbon version is a substantial weight saving.

Poles have as much a place on track and trail  © UKC Gear
Poles have as much a place on track and trail
© UKC Gear

as they do on exceptionally rough, awkward ground  © UKC Gear
as they do on exceptionally rough, awkward ground
© UKC Gear

Locking Mechanism - Adjustable vs. Fixed

There are two options of locking mechanism - Adjustable and Fixed. Each option has its strengths and weaknesses, but which is best for you largely depends what you're going to use it for. 

Fixed

One of the major benefits of a fixed length pole is that it's lighter. If you've got a 120cm pole, this equates to the following:

  • Distance Z: 370g vs. 445g
  • Distance Carbon Z: 298g vs. 360g

n.b. all weights and prices are per pair

Different people have different tolerances as far as weight saving is concerned. I suspect that some will read this and say "what's the fuss, that's only 75g/62g" whereas others will say "wow, that's 75g/62g!". Irrespective of which camp you sit in, there is another potential factor that will influence your decision, and that is price…

Due to the fact that a fixed pole is a lot simpler in terms of its construction it also comes at a cheaper price point:

  • Distance Z: £100 vs. £120
  • Distance Carbon Z: £130 vs. £150

This is potentially one of the only circumstances I can think of where something lightweight actually costs you less, because more often than not it goes the opposite way, with a reduction in weight generally equating to an increase in price.

Weight and price aside, there is another massive benefit, which is the main reason I prefer the fixed length, and that's the ease of deployment. With a fixed length pole you've simply got to extend the pole to full length and it's ready to use. With an adjustable pole you've got to do this, then adjust it. Whilst this only takes a few seconds you have to do it each and every time you use it and if - like me - you find yourself in and out of environments that sometimes require poles, but sometimes don't, then those few (unnecessary) seconds start to feel like a bit of a faff.

So where's the downside? Well, the clue is kind of in the name, because they are - after all - fixed, hence there's no adjustment, and adjustment is undeniably convenient. I'll go more into the benefits of adjustability below, but will end this one by saying that whilst I expected to notice this whilst out and about, I didn't, which really surprised me.

In terms of use, the fixed length is of most immediate interest to runners, where speed and weight are of paramount importance. For walkers, adjustable poles tend to be the best-sellers, but there's absolutely no reason why this should be the case other than that they're what most shops tend to stock (partly because they're much easier to fit and you don't have to stock as many).

Adjustable

So with that in mind, what's the point having an adjustable pole?

Adjustable, but maybe not THAT adjustable...  © UKC Gear
Adjustable, but maybe not THAT adjustable...
© UKC Gear

As a sweeping generalisation, when you're going uphill you tend to want a slightly shorter length pole, whereas when you're going downhill a slightly longer length is ideal [this depends partly on your pole use style, since some - right- people prefer to push down on  poles when climbing, rather than reaching forward with them - Ed.]. With an adjustable pole you tweak the length to suit the situation. Whilst I didn't particularly miss this whilst using the fixed length pole, I did use it whilst I had the adjustable poles. I tend to favour the adjustable poles whilst walking, where the pace is that bit slower, and I have a bit more weight on my back - hence taking the extra time to make those beneficial adjustments.

Interestingly the adjustable poles have a smaller pack size than the fixed length, making them particularly compact in storage  © UKC Gear
Interestingly the adjustable poles have a smaller pack size than the fixed length, making them particularly compact in storage
© UKC Gear

Another benefit is that if you do happen to share your poles with other people (as I often do with my partner), then a fixed pole isn't an overly social investment - unless they happen to be the same height (not so in my case). The adjustability means that you can have a household set that's usable by more than one person.

One final advantage is that due to their increased adjustability they also pack down to a smaller size than their fixed cousins, which is great when packing them down the side of daypacks or running vests, or stashing them in a pack when climbing.

Distance Z Poles - £100-£120

Poles are often essential for me; from carrying heavy loads of camera equipment up and down the hill, to longer outings with just food and water, they help take the load off my chicken legs. The Distance Z Poles are designed as an all-rounder; they are a decent option for both walking and running. In the Distance range, this is the model you'd choose for more regular rough treatment (though it's still not a kockaround workhorse), whereas the carbon version is probably better saved for special weight-critical occasions. 

Black Diamond Distance Z Poles  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Black Diamond Distance Z Poles
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Nick: Made from lightweight aluminium, the Distance Z pole probably isn't what maniacal weight savers would choose, however these can't exactly be described as heavyweight. They're barely noticeable. Where they perhaps fall short is as a four-season pole for rigorous winter use, although that's something they don't claim to be.

The poles come in a range of sizes: from 100cm to 130cm on the fixed poles, and 95-110cm, 105-125cm, and 120-140cm on the variable version. This six foot reviewer found the 125cm versions perfectly adequate and there's also the option for resting a hand on the top of the poles.

The mechanisms on the pole are remarkably simple. They collapse into a standard Z shape (hence the name) with the bottom sections connected by durable plastic and the top section a telescopic mechanism that you just pull into place. Going from folded to deployed is simple, quick, and easy to operate with gloves. There's no arduous and breakable 'twist to tighten' mechanism on these poles, something I've never been a fan of. The FLZ model has a locking clip to adjust the height.

The alloy Distance Z Poles will take a bit more abuse than the carbon versions  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
The alloy Distance Z Poles will take a bit more abuse than the carbon versions
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

These aluminium versions feel robust for their weight, and there's very little give when resting all your weight (and more) on them. The poles come with rubber tips and there's the option to change to a more durable carbide version. The small rubber baskets are fixed, presumably in order to keep weight and pack size to a minimum. They're fine on dry ground, but not much use on snow (or peat bogs). According to the product spec, separate snow baskets are available, but these would be an additional price (whereas some brands include extra baskets); from a quick look at the BD website, we're not actually clear which basket you'd want to buy in any case.

The handle itself is a moulded EVA foam that fits my hand shape nicely. There's also a large section of foam beneath the grip which gives another option of where to hold. My main gripe with the poles is the slightly uncomfortable leashes. They are made from an abrasive material that I've not found a comfortable way of holding yet - perhaps some padding is needed. It seems slightly out of place considering how well designed the rest of the pole is. Of course many pole users don't bother with leashes at all, since they're of  debatable benefit at best. You may just want to remove them.

Black Diamond say:

Designed for everyday use by trail runners and day hikers, the Distance Z is our most affordable Z-Pole with a lightweight aluminum construction. Now improved with our SlideLock technology and increased joint durability, the Distance Z provides reliable three-season support for a wide array of mountain adventures.

  • 7075 Aluminum shafts
  • Z-pole fixed length construction with speed-cone deployment
  • Lightweight EVA foam grip and grip extension with breathable, moisture-wicking strap
  • Optimized joint support and stiffness for increased durability
  • SlideLock technology improves ease-of-use when collapsing your pole
  • Interchangeable tech tip compatible with both carbide and rubber tech tips included
  • Z-Pole Snow Basket compatible

Distance Carbon Z Poles - £130-£150

The Distance Carbon Z is identical to the Distance Z but for one key factor - carbon. Whereas the Distance Z is constructed from 7075 alloy, the Distance Z is constructed of carbon fibre. Why? The answer is simple - weight. Of course this also comes with a drawback, since carbon poles tend to be more easily snapped than alloy - and this brings us back to their intended use: weight conscious days, not regular hammering. 

Distance Carbon Z

Fixed: 298g
Adjustable: 360g

Distance Z

Fixed: 370g
Adjustable: 445g 

Rob: Perhaps unsurprisingly these are a very light set of poles, with some serious weight savings to be made when compared to both their alloy cousins and others on the market. Whilst there are some that might be cynical of such savings, the one thing I would add is that these are something you have in your arms, swinging back and forth over and over again - often for hours (potentially even days) on end. As such, it's a weight that can be felt more that  you may imagine.

What makes this weight saving all the more remarkable is that BD haven't scrimped on certain features such as the handle or leash, with each being full size and functional. Whilst I have the same reservations as Nick about the leash, insofar as it doesn't - compared to the rest of the pole - feel quite as slick, I can see how BD have opted for a more minimalist, and therefore less comfortable, style.

Throughout the review process I used the Fixed Distance Carbon Z Poles for a lot of the longer distance running I was doing, the most notable example being a Charlie Ramsay Round back in July. I ran the majority of the round solo, so had to be quite particular about the amount of kit I was carrying. Perhaps poles could be considered something of a luxury; however, the decision was made that bit easier because of their light weight, small pack-size, and the massive benefit of using them - particularly whilst heading up rough terrain (of which there's a lot on the Ramsay!).

The Distance Carbon Z on easy ground  © UKC Gear
The Distance Carbon Z on easy ground
© UKC Gear

The Distance Carbon Z in deep heather  © UKC Gear
The Distance Carbon Z in deep heather
© UKC Gear

Penny: Because Rob was keen to used the fixed length poles for an upcoming run, I took the adjustable length, although given that this is probably what I'd have bought anyway it wasn't really a problem. That said, beyond initially sizing them up I never actually adjusted them any further, which made me question why that was the model I was after. The adjustable are Black Diamond's best sellers too. Is it possible many people are buying on a preconceived idea of what they want, as opposed to what they actually need? Dare I say it, but if I could choose again I'd probably have fought harder for the fixed (sorry Rob).

Black Diamond say:

Our lightest Z-Pole built for mountain athletes and weight conscious adventurers, the Distance Carbon Z is now stronger with improved joint support and durability, making it the ultimate in folding-pole performance.

  • 100% carbon fiber shafts
  • Z-pole fixed length construction with speed-cone deployment
  • Incredibly lightweight collapsible pole: 150 grams/pole (120cm)
  • Lightweight EVA foam grip and grip extension with breathable, moisture-wicking strap
  • Optimized joint support and stiffness for increased durability
  • Interchangeable tech tip compatible with both carbide and rubber tech tips included
  • Z-Pole Snow Basket compatible


Support UKC

As climbers we strive to make UKClimbing the kind of website we would love to visit, with the most up-to-date news, diverse and interesting articles, comprehensive gear reviews, breathtaking photographs and a vast and useful logbook system. As a result, an incredible community has formed around the site - we’ve provided the framework but it’s you who make the website what it is today. If you appreciate the content we offer then you can help us by becoming an official UKC Supporter. This can be a one-off single annual payment or a more substantial payment paid monthly or yearly which includes full access to Rockfax Digital and discounts on Rockfax print publications.

If you appreciate UKClimbing then please help us by becoming a UKC Supporter.

UKC Supporter

  • Support the website we all know and love
  • Access to a year's subscription to Rockfax Digital.
  • Plus 30% off Rockfax guidebooks
  • Plus Show your support UKC porter badge on your profile and forum posts
UKC/UKH/Rockfax logo

4 Jan

I had BD fixed length in carbon, much used and really pleased with them. The internal connecting cord snapped. BD said not repairable so for the sake of a 30p bit of cord the poles were scrap. Not really acceptable IMHO.

That's certainly a shame, as you'd hope that a repair service was available. You'd want something similar if a section broke too. I'll see if I can get an official word on this. Whilst I'm aware it'd likely be logistically complex (these things always are), but in the modern day and age you'd hope to hear that this is the gold standard brands are striving for...

Whilst it isn't necessarily the same, the one thing we hoped to achieve within writing this review was to encourage people to look beyond getting the lightest. Whilst carbon poles are great in this regard, alloy poles are massively underrated. They're still really light, but offer significantly more support and durability. As such, are arguably a better long term purchase.

That said, if the string snaps you're still stuffed, so bear with whilst I get an answer on that!

4 Jan

I've had a set of the Alu. Distance Z for four years now, can't fault them. Work well, definitely take quite a bit of abuse. Used for running and walking.

4 Jan

I'm still regularly using the Distance Carbon FLZ-AR Trekking Poles that came with the BD Distance tent that I reviewed in 2020. It's now nearly two years since I got them and they are still going strong. If I'm not using the tent, I often think I should take my old z folding Alpkit poles instead but being a bit lazy, I love how light the BD ones are - particularly when popped in my pack when climbing.

https://www.ukclimbing.com/gear/camping/tents+bivvys/black_diamond_distance_tent_with_z-poles-12967

4 Jan

Thanks for replying Rob.

The carbon fibre was pretty strong, I once stumbled sideways and whipped the pole in beside me, I saw it flex mightily and the save me from a fall unscathed.

The handles appear to be glued to the poles so no access is possible to the upper end of the cord to replace it. It just seems a poor design, other outdoor companies are trying hard to make things repairable or serviceable. These are not cheap bits of kit.

More Comments

Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email LinkedIn Pinterest