The Distance Z is a super light and surprisingly durable pole that packs down extremely short. It is our Best Buy for a Lightweight optiib. Our other Best Buy winner, the Montem Ultra Strong, costs half the price, is much more adjustable but weighs over six more ounces. However, it's also 35% heavier. The Distance Z is the aluminum version of the Distance Carbon Z. The carbon version is a few ounces lighter but adds $70 to the price. The carbon version is also less durable, as is usually the case with carbon fiber. The Distance Z is best for most people, but through hikers and ultralight aficionados will appreciate the Carbon version.
The Distance Z is the non-adjustable version of the Black Diamond Distance FLZ, which is the same pole with a FlickLock (hence the name FLZ: Flick Lock Z-pole) that adds 20 cm of length adjustment, 4 ounces, and $30. The Distance Z is one of the lightest poles in our review (12 ounces) that packs down to the shortest length (14 in). The Distance Z isn't a "niche" pole. It's ideal for backpackers, hikers, and climbers who don't need their poles for wintertime on-snow use — because its baskets are not interchangeable.
Black Diamond Distance Z ReviewPrice: $100 List | $99.95 at REI
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Super light, very short collapsed length, surprisingly durable
Cons: No length adjustability, average grip comfort, no snow basket option
Bottom line: This is the best value in a lightweight pole.
Shaft Material: Aluminum
Min Length (inches): 13/14/16/17 in
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Distance Z's grip 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. The Distance Z, on the other hand, sacrifices a degree of comfort to save weight. The poles were still comfortable enough for all of our tests, so BD didn't sacrifice too much. Our testing team did find the handles to be more comfortable than most rubber options. After more than 20 days of testing, we were impressed with how they held up to a fair amount of abuse acquiring only a minimal amount of nicks and scratches in the foam.
Locking Mechanism and Range of Adjustment
The most significant negative aspect of the Distance Z is that they are not adjustable. As with most z-style poles, the 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 the Black Diamond Distance FLZ. This pole is still in the BD z-series, but it also features a FlickLock adjustment mechanism, allowing 20cm of adjustment.
While we think not being able to tweak a poles 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 this summer, he hardly noticed not having it once it was no longer an option. So it all depends on your preference; this shouldn't be the deciding factor unless you value that extra adjustability.
The 2018 model of the Distance Z updated the locking mechanism, making it a bit easier to use. It's not a significant change, but it's a notable change that we feel improved the pole. The only reason that this might be especially useful is if you plan on using these poles in cold weather. The new locking mechanism is significantly easier to use with gloves on, making the update useful for mountaineering and other low-temp outings.
At 12 ounces for the 110 cm length, the Distance Z is one of the lighter poles on the market and feels shockingly lightweight in our hands. It's not quite as light as the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z (10 ounces for the 110 cm) size but remains lighter than all but a handful of poles in our review.
Along with all the other "tent-pole" style collapsing poles we tested, the Distance Z also crushes the more traditional telescoping poles for packed size; making them awesome for any application for folks who need to carry or pack their poles. The Distance Z packs down to nearly a review low at 14 inches (36 cm).
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 the Distance Z's first field test we took it on a six-day mountaineering adventure that was nearly entirely on cross-country, trail-less terrain where two other poles were broken, but the Distance Z handled it fantastically. The new 2018 version also features reinforced joints. Since we had no problem with the old model, it was hard to compare this update. However, Black Diamond says the joints are now 30% stronger without adding weight so that you won't hear any complaints from us! Still, these poles aren't as tough as many of the heavier aluminum telescoping poles like the Leki Corklite, but we think it's plenty durable enough for all but the hardest users.
The Distance Z cannot be fitted with snow baskets and is thus limited to more three-season use. This makes the Distance Z is a poor choice for snowshoeing or other wintry adventures, but it had enough of a basket for summertime compact snow.
These poles come with both a rubber and a carbide tip, which is great. We tested out the rubber while approaching climbs in Joshua Tree. We didn't notice any real advantage, so we promptly switched to carbide (pliers not required but helpful to make the change) for all other testing. These tips might be useful, however, if you plan on using them on a lot of paved paths.
The Distance Z is comfortable and durable enough for all trekking, hiking and backpacking applications. The below average weight and super packable size mean they're great for climbers as long as they don't need to walk on too much snow. They aren't great for folks who want to be able to adjust the length of their poles or any wintry type use on snow where the Distance Z's inability to be fitted with larger snow baskets are a major downfall.
At $100, they are the cheapest "Z" style pole 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.
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 lighter or very collapsible pole.
— Ben Skach & Ian Nicholson
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