Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Super lightweight, packable, and is surprisingly durable
Cons: Only one basket and tip type, non-adjustable
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
With a fixed length and carbon construction, this pole is the lightest and smallest in our review. Unsurprisingly, they don't score well in adjustability but to make up for it they are highly durable, versatile, and comfortable.
The Distance Carbon Z features ribbed foam grips that are shared by other lightweight BD poles. We found these grips to be relatively comfortable, but nothing special. The foam wicks away sweat and the ribbed construction allows some airflow. In general, we prefer cork grips, but foam is lighter and allows these poles to keep their weight to a minimum. Carbon fiber shafts absorb more shock than aluminum shafts, and although the difference isn't always obvious, we noticed it over time.
We find the grips on the Distance Carbon Z to be slightly more comfortable than the traditional foam grips found on many trekking poles. Although they aren't as comfortable as cork grips, we appreciate how comfortable they are after many days of use, especially considering their weight. The wrist strap is made of thin fabric and isn't as comfortable as a thicker padded strap, but again, for the weight, they are just fine. Just keep in mind, these straps are not comfortable for users expecting to carry a heavy pack.
Weight is the metric where this product really shines. The pair comes in at 10 ounces, which is one of the lightest poles we've ever tested. Every feature of the Carbon Z is designed to shave grams, but somehow, none of the other metrics suffer too much. This pole is lighter than other options by at least two ounces, which might not be important to most hikers, but to the dedicated few who cut the tags off their clothes to save weight, it matters. For alpine climbers and long-distance runners, whose performance is directly related to the weight they carry into the mountains, these poles are a godsend.
Ultralight hikers and backpackers rejoice, this pole is the answer to your prayers. If you are dubious about the lightweight revolution but are interested in the energy savings (and the resulting increase in enjoyment) that lightweight gear might provide, we highly recommend these. And, if you ever plan on carrying your poles on your pack instead of in your hands, you will immediately appreciate the extra weight savings.
Locking and Adjustability
The length of the Distance Carbon Z is not adjustable, which will immediately dissuade some hikers who prefer the option to change the pole's length. That said, once we sized the pole correctly, we enjoyed the light weight afforded by leaving out an adjustment mechanism. For light use like mountain running and ultralight backpacking, the lack of length adjustability is not a problem. BD offers four sizes (100 cm, 110 cm, 120 cm, and 130 cm) to fit a variety of hikers.
The locking mechanism is a very secure push-button near the top of the pole. This makes it easy to extend and provides a secure lock, but it is slightly trickier to disassemble if you are wearing gloves. Furthermore, the velcro wrist strap adjustment is limited by a very thin and short section of velcro that prevents a wide range of adjustment. For most hand sizes, it will be fine. On the whole, these poles lock well, but their adjustability is the only major downside.
The Distance Carbon Z, like most of the foldable poles, dominates the packability metric. However, there isn't a massive difference in the overall packed length of the z-style poles that we tested. They all pack down to within a couple inches of each other.
The Carbon Z pack down to 13, 14, 16, or 17 inches, depending on the length you choose. This is plenty small to disappear onto the side of a day pack or into a climbing pack after a long approach. They will also fit effortlessly into luggage, and are a great option for intercontinental travelers and backpackers wandering from country to country.
Generally speaking, when cutting weight, durability is sacrificed. However, the Distance Carbon Z is surprisingly durable and stood up to our tests with ease. We had no durability issues during our testing, other than some light chipping in the foam grip. Based on our experience with carbon poles, we would expect some chipping if they are roughly treated or thrown around in rocky areas.
Although we still don't think you should use these for heavy-duty trekking and bushwhacking through talus fields, these poles will hold up to most on-trail usage. If you are particularly hard on your poles, plan on carrying a heavy backpack, or expect to encounter rough terrain, we would suggest a beefier pole. Even the aluminum version of this pole feels a little stronger. That said, for most uses, these poles are plenty durable.
The Distance Carbon Z is a decently versatile pole. It is compatible with BD's snow baskets and comes with both rubber and carbide tips. Those features make these poles versatile enough for mountain running and fast hiking through most of the year, as well as summer mountaineering and glacier travel. They are not strong enough for the heaviest backpacking and trekking, however, and shouldn't be used for skiing or splitboarding.
The majority of users need poles that will perform well on the trail, for both day hikes and overnight missions. These poles perform well in those uses. They are also perfectly geared towards the ultralight and long-distance mountain runner, and many alpine climbers use them when carrying up and over technical climbing routes.
As you may have suspected, these poles aren't cheap. They cost the same as other high-performance heavy-duty trekking poles and yet provide less versatility. However, if lightweight construction or packability are important to you, then these poles are worth the money. BD has a great warranty policy, making them a safe investment. That said, if you like these poles but don't need to save the extra few ounces, there are other less expensive and more durable options out there.
Without a doubt, our testers believe that these are the best ultralight poles on the market. They weigh 10 ounces, are surprisingly durable, and will serve most 3 season on-trail hikers well. If you fall into the niche user groups of ultralight backpacker, mountain runner, or alpine climber, these poles should be at the top of your list. They easily win our Top Pick award for Lightweight Poles.
Dream Backpacking Gear List
The Distance Carbon Z Poles are one of many items featured in our Dream Backpacking Gear List. Check it out to see other top-tier "dream" backpacking items.
— Jeff Dobronyi, Ian Nicholson, & Graham Williams