Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Super lightweight, packable, and surprisingly durable
Cons: Not adjustable, not very versatile
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
With a fixed length and carbon construction, the Distance Carbon Z is the lightest and smallest in our review. Unsurprisingly, they don't score well in adjustability, but they are decently durable, versatile, and comfortable.
The Carbon Z features lightly-contoured foam handles, which are accentuated with ribbed cutouts to add friction and save weight. The result is a fairly comfortable grip that we didn't mind using time and time again, even though other grips on the market are much more comfortable. And considering the weight savings that the grip design provides, the handle is adequately comfortable. The unique ribbed foam design also allows airflow and moisture absorption for high-output activities like running.
Carbon fiber provides a decent amount of shock absorption compared to aluminum shafts, and although the difference is barely noticeable with each step, over time, we noticed the improved comfort of using these poles mile after mile. The wrist straps are made of thin fabric and aren't as comfortable as thicker padded straps, but again, for the weight, they are just fine. That said, these straps are not ideal for users expecting to carry a heavy pack.
This product is designed primarily to save weight, and in that regard, it performs excellently, weighing in at 10.4 ounces per pair. Carbon fiber shaft construction provides the bulk of the weight savings compared to other trekking poles. The shafts are thin enough to shave ounces off the final weight, but surprisingly, also thick enough to take a beating. We wouldn't go smashing these poles through talus fields with heavy backpacks, but for most on-trail uses and normal pack sizes, they are surprisingly durable for the weight.
Other features that save weight include the streamlined grip, narrow wrist strap, small trail basket, and lack of any length adjustment mechanism. Many hikers and trekkers will miss these components, and won't feel the heavier weight of other, more versatile, options. But for the dedicated few who count grams, or for mountain runners who don't want any extra weight to swing forward each step, these poles are the ticket.
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 a pole's length. That said, once we sized the pole correctly, we enjoyed the weight savings 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. Black Diamond offers four sizes (100 cm, 110 cm, 120 cm, and 130 cm) to fit a variety of users, so be sure to research this before you buy.
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 folds into a compact unit that is barely noticeable when stuffed inside a pack or strapped on the outside. Tiny trail baskets and a low-profile grip design make these the most packable poles on the market. That said, 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. But the svelte grip design of the Carbon Z makes it slightly more packable than other options.
The Carbon Z packs 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 air 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. Gram-counting users generally accept durability sacrifices to achieve the lightest possible construction.
Although we still don't think you should use these poles for heavy-duty trekking and bushwhacking through talus fields, they will hold up to most on-trail usage, making them great for the average user. 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 will be plenty durable.
The Distance Carbon Z is a decently versatile pole. It is compatible with Black Diamond'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 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 they are worth the money. Black Diamond 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 the Distance Carbon Z 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