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Black Diamond Distance Z Review

Durable and short collapsed length, this is the best value in a lightweight pole
Black Diamond Distance Z
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $100 List | $99.95 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, short collapsed length, surprisingly durable
Cons:  No length adjustability, average grip comfort
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Jeff Dobronyi, Ian Nicholson, & Ben Skach  ⋅  May 4, 2020
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 10
  • Comfort - 20% 6
  • Weight - 20% 9
  • Locking and Adjustability - 15% 3
  • Packed Size - 15% 10
  • Durability - 15% 8
  • Versatility - 15% 6

Our Verdict

The Distance Z is a lightweight and surprisingly durable pole that packs down extremely small. It also is the most affordable of the lightweight poles in our review, earning an esteemed Best Buy Award for a Lightweight Pole. Our overall Best Buy winner is more adjustable, but weighs significantly more, while the Distance Z is geared more towards the lightweight mountain running and technical climbing crowd. This is the aluminum version of the Distance Carbon Z, a carbon version that is two ounces lighter but costs almost twice as much. The Distance Z is best for most people — it isn't a "niche" pole but is ideal for backpackers, hikers, and climbers who aren't carrying the heaviest of packs.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Distance Z scores in the middle of the pack amongst the best poles on the market. While it isn't adjustable, or nearly as comfortable or featured as other poles out there, it accomplishes lightweight durability and packable strength, at a reasonable price.

Performance Comparison


These poles are lightweight  compact  and impressively durable.
These poles are lightweight, compact, and impressively durable.

Comfort


The grip on the Distance Z is okay — not great, not bad, just average. Black Diamond understandably pairs the Distance Z with a fairly no-frills, low weight, foam grip. If you are looking for an extremely comfortable handle, go with a more ergonomic cork handle. This one, on the other hand, sacrifices a degree of comfort to save weight. After more than 20 days of testing, we are impressed by how they hold up to abuse. If anything wears down first, it's a foam handle, which acquires small nicks and cuts over time after being thrown around rocky campsites.


Carbon fiber pole construction offers more shock absorption than aluminum, but these poles are light enough that they don't generate much momentum, and thus don't strike the ground as hard. The wrist strap is made of relatively thin fabric that could be more comfortable, but considering that this pole is designed to be light, a thicker strap would defeat the purpose. Overall, we find the comfort to be adequate in a pole that is designed with other performance attributes in mind.

The foam handles and straps are designed for minimum weight.
The foam handles and straps are designed for minimum weight.

Weight


At 12 ounces per pair for the 110 cm length, the Distance Z is one of the lightest poles on the market and feels shockingly lightweight in the hands. It's not quite as light as the carbon fiber version, but shaving those extra 2 ounces will double the cost of your poles.


These are light enough for most uses, including long-distance thru-hiking — only alpine climbers or the fastest mountain runners will want to splurge for more weight savings. For 99 percent of users, these poles provide the best weight-per-dollar ratio of any pole we have ever tested. Usually, lower weights and prices mean a sacrifice in durability was made somewhere along the line, but in this case, we couldn't find one.

The lightweight foam handle on the Black Diamond Distance Z trekking pole.
The lightweight foam handle on the Black Diamond Distance Z trekking pole.

Locking and Adjustability


The Distance Z pole locks with a spring-loaded slider, which is easy to undo with gloved hands. The most significant negative aspect of this pole is that its length is not adjustable. As with most foldable poles, increased packability comes with decreased adjustability. If you are between sizes and you want a perfect fit, or if you like to adjust your poles when the terrain changes, consider looking at other z-style options that include a small amount of adjustment. If you can cope with a fixed-length pole, then you'll have no issue with these.


While we think not being able to adjust a pole's overall length is a small disadvantage, we don't think it should be a deal-breaker for most folks. Tester Ian Nicholson, who typically adjusts the lengths of his poles depending on whether he is going up or downhill, said that while he was testing several of BD's non-adjustable poles over 50 days, he hardly noticed not having it once it was no longer an option. It all depends on your preference; this shouldn't be the deciding factor unless you value that extra adjustability above all else.

The updated locking mechanisms on the 2018 model. The improvement is nice  and they are significantly easier to use with gloves on
The updated locking mechanisms on the 2018 model. The improvement is nice, and they are significantly easier to use with gloves on

Packed Size


Along with all the other foldable poles we tested, the Distance Z also crushes the traditional telescoping poles in the packed size category. These poles are awesome for any application when you might need to stow them on your backpack, such as alpine climbing or technical scrambling. They also disappear into packed luggage when traveling. The Distance Z collapses down to a best-in-class 14 inches (35 cm).


Foldable construction results in the smallest packed size, but also eliminates any overlap in pole sections, increasing the tendency of a pole to wobble or bend when weighted. Considering that these poles are designed for lighter uses, they will serve most activities well, although larger folks and those carrying big backpacks might want to choose a heavier, telescoping pole.

Telescoping poles compared to z-style poles.
Telescoping poles compared to z-style poles.

Durability


Despite the lightweight construction (12 ounces for the 110 cm size) and noticeably lighter-than-average swing weight, our testers were surprised by the durability of the Distance Z. For its first field test, we took it on a six-day mountaineering adventure that was nearly entirely on cross-country terrain. Two other poles broke, but the Distance Z handled it fantastically. Still, these poles aren't as tough as many of the heavier aluminum telescoping poles, but we think they're plenty durable for all but the hardest users with the biggest backpacks.


Aluminum is more durable than carbon fiber because it can bend without snapping. It also resists chipping and cracking, problems that can plague carbon poles and cause catastrophic failures. The Distance Z aluminum poles are continually durable enough for everything we've thrown at them thus far.

Versatility


The Distance Z is great for most uses, but trekkers on the gnarliest trails and carrying the most weight would want to use a heavier pole. For everything else, these poles excel. They are compatible with a snow basket (sold separately) that provides some floatation in summer snow, but they are not burly enough for downhill skiing. The standard carbide tips are excellent, and the included rubber tips are perfect for gripping sandstone and pavement while keeping Moab's slickrock pristine.


Overall, we were surprised by the versatility of these poles. Upon first glance, it seems like they are designed purely for mountain running and lightweight hiking, but they are actually perfect for most applications. We prefer them over other poles for everything except heavy-duty backpacking and trekking to remote destinations.

The poles feature replaceable carbide tips and fixed baskets.
The poles feature replaceable carbide tips and fixed baskets.

Value


These are the cheapest foldable poles in our review and one of the least expensive non-telescoping poles on the market. At such a reasonable price, the low weight and high durability of this pole offer excellent value, earning it the award of Best Value in a Lightweight Pole.

Conclusion


While not quite a do-everything pole, the Black Diamond Distance Z does most things fantastically and is best appreciated by folks looking for a light and very collapsible pole. For most users, this pole is a great option at a relatively low price. For the performance and weight, this is a clear winner.

Jeff Dobronyi, Ian Nicholson, & Ben Skach