Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review
July 30, 2014
The Ultra Distance trekking pole from Black Diamond Equipment is (as with all Black Diamond gear) an excellent piece of hardware. The lightweight design of these specific trekking poles is what makes them stand out from the pack and what peaked my interest around them. Through a combination of carbon fiber construction and Black Diamond’s Z-Pole design these trekking poles clock in a between 9.9 oz. and 10.4 oz. for the pair (depending on length ordered). Holy smokes that’s light! But do they handle what the trail can throw at them? That depends. Read on to determine if these are the right trekking poles for you!
The most striking difference between these trekking poles and traditional trekking poles becomes clear as soon as you decide to place an order or pick up a pair at your local store. They are not adjustable. You pick a length and stick with it. This presents several positives and negatives. From a positive perspective this does a few things. First, it reduces weight by not having unused, extra, length collapsed into your trekking pole and not needing to include any type of length adjustment hardware. Second, it simplifies things. I find that when I use these poles stop caring if my trekking poles are the perfect length. Rather than constantly adjusting I just choke up when needed. Finally, less moving parts should mean less things can break (more on that later).
From a negative perspective the fixed length of the Ultra Distance trekking poles can limit usability – specifically for the ultralight market these poles target. Many ultralight backpackers use shelters which employ trekking poles as tent pole substitutes to reduce overall weight. You might find these trekking poles the perfect length for your particular shelter but I wouldn’t count on it – especially because they must be locked in their full length to be structurally sound and support a shelter. This isn’t an issue for me since I don’t use tents that are not freestanding (I don’t like my shelters usability to depend on finding ground that stakes will work in – too many rocks in my local haunts) but it is something to consider. The fixed length of these trekking poles also force a decision on how long you want them to be. Personally, I went with the longest length (130 cm) so that I could get more value out of them on the downhill of a hike (when I most appreciate the knee saving abilities of trekking poles) and have a little extra length if I’m using them for stability while crossing rivers. Since I am 5′ 7″ tall going with the long length (rather than the 110 cm or 120 cm length recommended for my height) does make them slightly more awkward to use on the uphill – forcing me to choke up on the pole to compensate.
Something else to note about these trekking poles is that they are exclusively a 3 season trekking pole. They are not compatible with any kind of snow basket that I am aware of.
When it comes to my experiences using these on trail the majority have been positive. I love the quick setup and breakdown the Z-Pole design provides. Most of the time this makes stashing them for specific sections of your hike super easy and cuts down on transition time. But, if you have a specific, trekking pole stash spot built into a pack (such as is included on Osprey packs) you will probably be out of luck. The 3 section breakdown of these poles causes their length to be too SHORT for them to be compatible with the trekking pole specific storage options I’ve used. Other 3 section trekking poles have this same issue but, because they can be left slightly longer when packed rather than being either fully deployed or fully broken down, don’t experience this problem.
The major issue I have with these poles is the durability. After racking up several months of use I experienced pole failure! One of the joints cracked rendering the entire pole unusable. You wouldn’t expect such a little crack to be so devastating but because the Z-Pole design requires internal tension to provide structural integrity the wobble this damage introduced made the trekking poles unusable. This problem was temporarily fixable on trail using duct tape and a tent pole sleeve but it has caused me to question the long term durability of these trekking poles. If I’m going to spend $150 on trekking poles I expect them to not break. It is worth pointing out that Black Diamond has an excellent customer service department who shipped me a replacement pole without any questions or hassle. You can see the damage below.
Once my replacement pole arrived I went back to using these as my primary trekking poles but I now get nervous whenever I need to really put some weight on them.
If your primary concern is weight and you don’t need to pair the Black Diamond Equipment Ultra Distance trekking poles with a shelter go buy them! If you are worried about durability or want to use these as tent pole replacements then other offerings from Black Diamond are probably a better choice.
Black Diamond Equipment Ultra Distance Trekking Poles
UPDATE: It looks like Black Diamond has updated this trekking pole and is now calling it the Distance Carbon Z. Other than a slight change to the grip and some color updates it appears to me to be identical.