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Reviews > Shelters > Tents > Black Diamond Distance Tent and Poles > Test Report by Kurt Papke

Black Diamond Distance Tent with Carbon AR Poles

Test Series by Kurt Papke

Initial Report - September 29, 2019

Field Report January 7, 2020

Long Term Report March 2020

Tester Information

Name: Kurt Papke
Age: 66
Gender: Male
Height: 6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight: 230 lbs (105 kg)
Email address: kwpapke (at) gmail (dot) com
City, State, Country: Tucson, Arizona USA

I do most of my hiking in the desert Southwest, but occasionally get up into the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and my old stomping grounds in Northern Minnesota.  I am a comfort-weight guy when it comes to most gear, trying to stay as light as possible but I don't go to extremes.  I typically use double-wall tents or hammocks as shelters when camping.

Initial Report

Product Description and Facts

The Black Diamond (BD) Distance tent with Z poles is a single-walled shelter supported by bundled carbon fiber trekking poles that have female sockets in the handles to interlock with the tent support/spreader bar.  BD uses the "AR" label with these poles to stand for Accessory Ready, i.e. they are expressly designed to mate with accessory components.

Substituting trekking poles for tent poles can save weight for backpackers like me who commonly use trekking poles.  Single wall tents like the Distance can save weight over double wall designs, but proper ventilation to prevent condensation can be a challenge.

Di01

Photo 1 shows the system in its packaging as it arrived from the manufacturer.  Photos 2-5 show the product feature documentation on the cardboard packaging.

Product Information
Manufacturer
Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd.
Manufacturer website
http://www.blackdiamondequipment.com/
Products tested
Distance Tent with Z Poles
Country of manufacture
China
Warranty
"We warrant for one year from purchase date and only to the original retail buyer (Buyer) that our products (Products) are free from defects in material and workmanship."
List price
USD $399.95
Season rating
Three (not designed for winter use)
Capacity
Two people (2P)
Materials
30D polyester
Doors
One
Seam sealing
Yes, taped


Manufacturer's spec
Measured
Weight with stuff sac and poles
820 g (28.9 oz) + 380 g (13.4 oz) = 1200 g (42.3 oz)
1251 g (44.1 oz)
Tent weight w/o poles
820 g (1 lb 13 oz)
856 g (1 lb 14.2 oz)
Pole (pair) weight
380 g (13.4 oz)
395 g (13.95 oz)
Dimensions (tent only)
147x241x104 cm (58x95x41 in)
137x224x104 cm
(54x88x41 in)
Head Width: 24 in
(61 cm)
Foot width: 28 in
(71 cm)
Floor area
2.4m2 (26 sq ft)
Not calculated
Packed size (tent only)
13x30 cm (512 in)
Gets smaller every time I pack it

The measured pole weight is just a little more than the manufacturer's spec, but that might be accounted for by the weight of the rubber versus carbide tips.  The measured weight of the tent is a fair amount over spec, but that could be due to the extra stakes and guy lines which I included in my numbers.

Perhaps I did not stretch it taut enough, but my measurements of length and width are a bit smaller than the manufacturer's numbers. The manufacturer's numbers above are from their website.  The tent length indicated on the packaging is only 90 inches (229 cm), which is much closer to my measured length.

The geometry of the floor area is a bit complicated, and I did not take the time to figure out the result from my measurements.  I am getting better repacking the tent, having done it a few times, but I still cannot manage to get it completely back into the stuff sack with the poles and stakes inside the way it was originally packaged, so I did not report a measured packed size in the above table.  Part of the challenge of compactly rolling or folding up the tent is the presence of the sewn-in hoop and two poles that have to be accommodated in the stowing process.

As reported in the table above, the tent width at the head end is only 24 inches (61 cm), which is too narrow for two people, unless one or both are substantially shorter than I am!

Salient Features

The tent provides four stakeout points, one for each corner with reflective guylines for the two foot end stakeouts.  A DAC crosspole hooks on to the two trekking pole handles and the top of the tent is clipped to the crosspole.  There are no tieouts for the poles - the tent roof tension should keep them in place, and the tips of the poles are inserted into a loop attached to the tent floor.

Venting: there are vents at the peak and foot end, and a mesh door can be partially or fully exposed by unzipping the door.  The user instruction hieroglyphics seem to indicate that the tent should be set up with the head end pointing into the wind to allow the breeze to flow in through the peak vent and out the foot vent.

Storage: there is a headlamp pocket in the peak, but no vestibule of any kind for storage protected from rain.

Flooring: there is a bathtub floor.  BD does not offer a footprint, but a piece of Tyvek would do the trick if needed.

Initial Inspection

The first thing I tried out was the user instructions.  This was somewhat helpful, but in their attempt to internationalize the document and avoid a lot of text translation much of the content is in the form of diagrams, which I had some problems interpreting.  Hieroglyphics were never my strong point.  There is one paragraph with 8 instruction items for setup.

My first effort was to assemble the trekking poles, as they are required to pitch the tent.  Wow, they are really light.  They snap together quite easily, and lock into place when the top two sections are pulled apart.  The accessory sockets are easily exposed by flicking off the top cover.  The poles come with rubber tips installed, but metal tips are supplied and require a pliers to install.

The top spreader pole and stakes were rolled up in the tent.  Six stakes are supplied, and two additional tieout cords are in the packaging.  With two extra stakes and two extra guylines, I would expect that there are optional tieout points, but I didn't see anything mentioned in the product literature or user guide.

Trying it Out

Of course I had to try it out.  Photo 6 shows all the pieces laid out on the ground, photo 7 the pitched tent.  I am awestruck by how easy and fast this tent is put up.  I think it took me all of two minutes to go from photo 6 to 7 doing my very first setup.

Di02

Photos 8 and 10 show the vents at the top and foot end respectively.  There are three sewn-in poles for these vents, one hoop for the apex, and two short/straight poles for the foot vent.  Photos 9 and 11 show the storage pockets.  Photo 11 is the apex headlamp storage described in the product documentation, but I don't recall mention of the side pocket in photo 9.  The latter will be handy for my cell phone, etc.  I'm going to have to cut off the annoying fire warnings attached to that side pocket.

The apex vent looks like it will let in a fair amount of ventilation, the foot vent not so much.

Di03

I was reasonably pleased with the length of the tent as shown in photos 12 and 13.  If I center myself well, my head should not touch the tent wall but my feet may when the length and loft of my sleeping bag are added in.  Head room is good as shown in photo 14.  If I scoot up so that when sitting up my head is at the peak I don't touch the tent - that is unusual for me as I am both tall and long-waisted.

Given how narrow the head and foot end of the tent are, it's not clear I could fit a second occupant in the tent with me.  This is not unusual with my encounters with 2P tents.   Since I never have a companion in my tent, this will not be a problem for me.  I will have some room on each side for clothing and other gear, but not enough room to store my pack inside the tent out of the elements.

Photo 15 shows the details of the spreader pole insertion into the accessory holes in the poles, and also shows the hooks that hold the tent onto the spreader pole.  This all worked easily and smoothly.  The pole does not "click" into the socket in any way, it is held in by the clips and tent pulling down on the pole.

Photos 16 and 17 show the details of the mesh door vent.  It has its own zipper independent of the door zip, and there is a tiedown to hold the rolled up inner door in place.

The tent comes down even quicker than it goes up: telescope the poles down and pull them out of the spreader pole and the whole thing collapses.  Pull out the stakes and its ready to be stuffed.

Getting it back in the stuff sac was not as easy as taking it out (is it ever?!)  Problem is, the tent walls are airtight, and act like balloons when rolling or folding up the tent, kinda like an air mattress.  It's going to take me a few tries before I figure out the easiest way to get all the air out before stuffing.

Summary

I am really excited to get the tent out into the field packed in my smallest backpack, and hike up the trail with these lightweight poles!

Good stuff:

  1. Both the poles and the tent are very lightweight and compact
  2. Easy and fast to pitch and tear down
  3. Roomy for one person

Worries:

  1. Ventilation looks modest
  2. No door protection from rainfall - when the door is opened it seems like rain would hit the floor
  3. Some learning required to stuff back in the sac - not easy to get all the air out

Field Report

Poles - Setup for Use

Before using the poles for the first time I needed to adjust the wrist strap and replace the rubber tip with the supplied carbide tips.  Adjusting the strap is easy to figure out and do: just undo the hook-and-loop adjustment and loosen or tighten the strap.  I consulted the supplied user guide that was packaged with the tips (turns out this is the user guide for the poles as a whole), and it appeared pretty easy: just turn the existing tips counter clockwise a few times with pliers and unscrew the current tip, then hand-screw the new tips on and tighten with the pliers.  I followed the clear instructions and the job was complete in about two minutes.  The new tips seemed snugly mounted and I have no concerns about them falling off.

I adjusted the lengths of the poles to the maximum amount, and they are just barely long enough.  If I was any taller they would be too short.

Field Conditions

Date
Location
Trail
Distance Hiked
Altitude
Weather
Base Weight
Total Pack Weight
October 17-18, 2019
Santa Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson, Arizona
Romero Canyon
12 miles
(19 km)
2700-5100 ft
(820-1550 m)
Sunny, warm, windy at night, 60-85 F
(16-29 C)
13.8 lbs
(6.3 kg)
22.7 lbs
(10.3 kg)
December 6-8, 2019
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Hermit
18 miles
(29 km)
6630-2400 ft
(2020-730 m)

Partly cloudy, one night of rain, 38-65F
(3-18 C)

about 15 lbs
(6.8 kg)
about 25 lbs
(11.3 kg)

Since this product is useful for ultralight backpackers to reduce their pack weight, I am recording my base (no food or water included) and total pack weights in the table above.

Di04

Romero Canyon

I was pretty pleased with my base weight on this short trip - I didn't even come close to using all the room in my backpack.  My total pack weight might seem a bit high, but I was carrying a lot of extra food that I was using to get some footage for a backcountry cooking video I am working on.  It was a joy to sling my pack over my shoulders and not have it feel heavy.

During the climb to my campsite I noticed just how light these trekking poles are.  A few times the tips of the poles missed the ground completely - they are so light that they don't fall back down to the ground easily at the end of a stride.  I am not complaining, I really like how light the poles are, but they will take a little getting used to.

The photo in the above set at upper left shows my campsite - it was beneath a grove of oak trees with lots of leafy loam soil beneath.  The stakes went easily into the ground, yet they held well.  It is a testament to the design that the tent is so sturdy, yet puts little stress on the stakes.  It was pretty breezy, so I thought it might be a good idea to tether the two tabs to the trekking poles as shown in the photos above at upper and lower right.  These tabs look like they are there more for nighttime visibility, as they reflect the light of a headlamp, but it worked out quite well to have the sides of the tent pulled toward the poles so they wouldn't flap in the breeze.  No need to stake them out, as they can't go any further than the poles anyway.  I used some hook-and-loop ties that were part of the packaging to do the attachments, and they held all night long.  The red arrow shows where the tab is located on the tent & poles on the right side of the shelter.

What really struck me as I was pitching the tent, and later taking it down, is just how fast and easy this tent goes up and down.  It's literally a matter of a few minutes: stake out the corners, put up the trekking and cross-poles, extend the poles as high as possible and I was pretty much done.  Plus I don't have to worry about pitching in the rain, the interior is never exposed.  Pretty sweet for a tent that uses trekking poles for support, with no tie-outs for the poles

It was fairly warm when I retired, but I noticed a palpable warmth when I entered the tent.  The airtight polyester tent fabric really keeps the warmth in, so warm that I lay on top of my sleeping bag for the first hour or so.  I used the apex headlamp storage pocket to hold my lit lamp both when changing into my sleeping clothing at night and changing out of them the next morning.  This is a nice feature, as it allows me to pull shirts on/off over my head and not have my headlamp caught up in my clothing.

I slept all night with the window flap unzipped for maximum ventilation.  It got a little drafty from time-to-time when the wind blew from just the right direction, but there was zero chance of rain so I had no concerns about getting wet.  When I awoke in the morning I had zero condensation on the tent, inside or outside.  The tent made a few noises when the wind gusted, but overall it had almost no annoying flapping.

Overall I would rate this a very successful outing.  I did have ideal conditions, warm and dry, and a near-perfect campsite where I was sheltered from the wind and had tree cover to minimize tent fabric cooling and condensation, but I think this outing showed how successful this tent can be.

Hermit Trail to Rapids

I led a group of four (we started with five...) hikers from the Tucson Backpacking Meetup group on what I advertised as "Beach Camping in the Grand Canyon".  On day one we hiked down from the Hermit trailhead to Hermit Rapids and set up camp on the beach.  Day two was pretty relaxed, we didn't get going until after lunch and only had a short hike up to the Hermit Creek campsite.  Day three we got up early after a night of rain and hiked out.

Di05

The Hermit Rapids campsite was close to the Colorado River.  See photo above upper left.  The camera lens makes the distance look even closer to the river, but we were on high ground and actually a bit of a distance.

I was very pleased once again with how quickly and easy this tent pitches.  It is a camper's dream, just drive in four stakes, place the trekking poles with crossbar, extend the poles and I'm done!  The flip side is that I experienced severe condensation problems that night, despite leaving the side window open all night long.  See the photo above left of it dripping from the tent ceiling.  The moisture dripped down onto my sleeping bag (see photo top right).  Fortunately my bag has a waterproof breathable fabric on the outside, so the down didn't get too soaked.  I swabbed down the ceiling and walls twice during the night with a bandanna, which I had to wring out several times during the process because it was saturated with water.  The weather that night was cool and clear, the stars were out all night long.  I believe the severe condensation was due to the humid, yet cold air on the outside of the tent, with very calm air, so there was no breeze to flow through the tent.

When I got up during the night to water the trees I again noticed how warm this tent is on the inside.  The fabric really keeps the heat in.

I really like the dimensions of this tent.  On night one I felt I had plenty of room to change clothes, etc.  It could be a little longer or higher on the foot end though, as my toes touch the tent ceiling with the loft of the sleeping bag on top of them, causing a lot of wetness near the foot area.

My camp mates also reported condensation on the inside of their rain flies, but they did not get wet because they all had double-walled tents.

On night two we camped at Hermit Creek.  I selected a site that was well above the creek, and had some tree cover to keep the tent from dissipating so much heat into space - see the photo at lower right.  It rained most of the night, sometimes very heavily.  The good news was no leaks, no spray blowing through the vents, though I had to keep the side window zipped tight all night long.  There was almost no wind during the night.  Once again I had condensation, but less than the night before.  I had to wipe it down several times, but it did not drip.

We knew it was supposed to rain that night, so I stowed my backpack horizontally on the left side of the tent.  The width of this tent makes up somewhat for not having a vestibule, allowing some gear to be stored inside out of the rain.

I broke camp in total darkness, and I was pleased with how easy the tent sheds water when shaken out.  The rain really beads up nicely on the tent fabric.

I learned better how to stuff the tent on this trip.  If I fold it several times along its length, then roll it up starting at the head end, the air escapes from the foot end vent.  Now that I have the hang of it, I find I can get the tent in the stuff sac in just a few minutes.

I liked using the carbon poles on this trip, though a few times I "missed" the ground with them because they are so light.

Summary

Good things:

  1. Lightweight, leverages the trekking poles for even less weight.
  2. Easy/fast pitching and tear down.
  3. Roomy for one person.
  4. Waterproof, no leaks, no blow-in through the vents.
  5. Easy to shake rainwater off when breaking camp, rain beads up on the fabric.
  6. View of the stars through the window on clear nights.
  7. Warm tent on cold nights.
  8. Headlamp storage near the top of the tent is convenient for doing chores inside the tent.
  9. Trekking poles were comfortable to carry and performed reliably.

Not so good things:

  1. Condensation.  In all my years of camping I have never experienced as severe condensation as I had with this tent.
  2. Toes touch the ceiling at the foot end, making the condensation issues even worse.
Check back for my Long Term Report in about two months when I'll tell you my final conclusions.

Many thanks to Black Diamond and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.


Read more reviews of Black Diamond gear
Read more gear reviews by Kurt Papke

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