Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles
$170, 10 oz./pair (110 cm)
Sizes: 110, 120, 130, and 140 cm

With gear, exceptionally low weight often means compromising functionality, durability, or both. With Black Diamond’s Distance Carbon Z Poles, though, there’s little compromise. On a mostly off-trail, two-day backpacking trip to Quiet Lake in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains; another mostly off-trail, roughly 14-mile and 5,000-foot dayhike of 10,470-foot Horstman Peak and traverse of the Monolith Valley in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains; and a 6.4-mile, 1,400-foot, on-trail hike up 10,243-foot Mount Washburn in Yellowstone National Park, I found the strengths of these poles far outweighed the one shortcoming that helps make them so light.

Every hiker, backpacker, and climber should use trekking poles—in most circumstances, there’s no good reason to not use them—and lighter poles are easier on your wrists and arms over the course of many miles. One of the two lightest models of trekking poles I’ve reviewed at this blog, the Distance Carbon Z’s low weight is attributable to the 100 percent carbon fiber construction, the EVA foam grips, and the thin but strong, partly mesh nylon wrist straps, adjustable with a hook-and-loop strip. Despite each pole weighing barely more than a quarter-pound, they withstood much hard use ascending and descending a lot of wet, slick talus and loose scree in the White Clouds and Sawtooths.

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Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles

The three-section, foldable poles have an inner Kevlar cord, and deploy easily, in a few seconds, by simply pulling the first shaft section out of the grip until a pin pops out to lock the three sections in the assembled position (like assembling tent poles). Collapse the poles by depressing that pin and folding the sections together. The poles’ collapsed length varies depending on size from 33 cm/13 inches to 43 cm/17 inches, short enough to tuck into a daypack’s side pocket and/or compression straps without them protruding above or below the pack.

The extended grips let me hold the shafts lower when climbing steeply uphill, off-trail—which helps offset the one shortcoming of these poles, that they’re not adjustable. The poles come with interchangeable, non-scarring, rubber Tech Tips and carbide tips, and a smart notch in the basket to lock pole shafts together when folded. A hiking, climbing, and trail running partner of mine has gotten many miles out of his Carbon Z Poles for three years without any problems.

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The only ding against BD’s Z Poles is that they’re not adjustable; instead, they come in four lengths. But that’s a minor tradeoff, and really only a factor on steep descents (since the extended grip helps ease steep ascents). Plus, users like ultra-hikers, ultralight backpackers, and climbers attracted to the low weight and design of the Z Poles are least likely to be bothered by the lack of adjustability.

The Verdict

For dayhikers and ultra-hikers wanting to travel really light, backpackers and ultralight fastpackers, adventure athletes and endurance runners, BD’s Distance Carbon Z Poles set the gold standard for low weight, portability, and functionality.

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NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza


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