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Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Black Diamond Distance FL Z poles > Test Report by Cheryl McMurray

BLACK DIAMOND DISTANCE FL TREKKING POLE
TEST SERIES BY CHERYL MCMURRAY
INITIAL REPORT:  May 30, 2011
FIELD REPORT:  August 16, 2011
LONG TERM REPORT:
  October 11, 2011

TESTER INFORMATION

Name: Cheryl McMurray
Age: 52
Gender: Female
Height: 5 ft 8 in (173 cm)
Weight: 145 lb (66.6 kg)
Email Address: cherylmcmurray2ATgmailDOTcom
City, State, Country: Garden Grove, California, U.S.

BACKPACKING BACKGROUND

I've been backpacking and hiking for four years, mostly on weekends year around.  Overnight trips are usually long weekend trips in the Eastern Sierras with 32 lb to 40 lb (15 kg to 18 kg) loads depending on the season. One class two rock climb with a day pack is common. Day hikes are 10-15 mi (16 km to 24 km) in the San Gabriel Mountains with loads of 15 lb to 20 lb (7 kg to 9 kg). I'm a tent style camper and have experienced snow, freezing temperatures, high winds, light rain, thunderstorms, but mostly fair weather.



INITIAL REPORT
May 30, 2011

PRODUCT INFORMATION

Manufacturer:  Black Diamond
Year of manufacture:  2011
URL:  www.blackdiamondequipment.com
Product:  Distance FL Trekking Pole
Color:  Aspen Gold (only color offered)
Listed weight of test pair:  41-49 in [105-125 cm] 15.7 oz (445 g)
Actual weight of test pair:  15.4 oz (437 g) with rubber tips, 15.5 oz (439 g) with carbide tips
Listed weight of other available sizes:  37-43 in [95-110 cm] 15.2 oz (430 g); 47-55 in [120-140 cm] 16 oz (460 g)
Individual weights:
    Poles without tips:  15 oz (425 g)
    Carbide tips:  .5 oz (14 g)
    Rubber tips:  .4 oz (11 g)
    Stow bag:  .5 oz (14 g)
    Total weight:  16.25 oz (461 g) poles w/rubber tips, stow bag, spare carbide tips
Usable length specs of test pair:  41-49 in (105-125 cm)
Usable length specs of other available sizes:  37-43 in (95-110 cm); 47-55 in (120-140 cm)
Collapsed length specs of test pair:  [105-125 cm] 14.7 in (37 cm)
Collapsed length specs of other available sizes:  [95-110 cm] 13.2 in (33.5 cm); [120-140 cm] 16.5 in (42 cm)
MSRP:  $119.95 US
Warranty:  Limited 1 year warranty for original owner

Poles extended (from website)
As packaged
What's included
Extended (from website)
As packaged
What's included: poles with rubber tips installed, instructions, stow bag with optional carbide tips inside small pocket

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

The Distance FL trekking pole is Black Diamond's new compactable Z-Pole technology that uses their Rapid Deployment System which links a push-button to a concealed inner cord and speed cone inside each shaft.  The shaft is made of aluminum with a lightweight EVA grip that extends down for the quick ability to choke-up on terrain changes.  The poles have a 20 cm range of adjustability due to their exclusive FlickLock technology and interchangeable rubber or carbide tips for varied terrain surfaces.  The shaft has a coated inner cord that enables the poles to be aligned quickly and fold compactly. 

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

When the poles arrived I was anxious to see just how they worked.  The included instructions were comprehensive but I wanted to see if I could extend and collapse them without using the manual.  These poles are really unlike any trekking poles I've used in the past but I was able to get them set up fairly quickly with minimal effort.  They feel solid when locked into place and I immediately noticed the lightweight feel of each pole.  There is an absence of finger contours on the EVA grips and I'm curious if this will affect my grip and overall comfort.  I do like the extended grip on the upper shaft as I like to choke up on the steep uphills without changing the length of my poles.  I've never used rubber tips like the ones that come pre-installed on the poles so that will be a new experience for me.  I'm interested in seeing what type of terrain they work best on, not to mention how long the rubber lasts after repeated use.  The poles really fold up small and the clip on the scree basket is nice to keep them together, however they do still flop a little as there is no clip that secures them to the upper shaft section.  The scree basket is permanent so installing a snow basket for winter is not an option.  I like the included stash bag that has a small pocket for the optional carbide tips but I most likely will not use that while hiking, opting to just stash the poles in a side pocket.  The wrist straps are attached to the grip with a fairly thin cord, have an L or R on each to indicate left hand or right hand and are adjustable with a hook and loop closure.  I have small wrists but the straps seem to adjust enough to accommodate me but barely.  I usually use fingerless gloves when hiking and the addition of the gloves makes the strap size perfect.

EVA grip
Left hand strap
EVA grip
Left hand strap

INSTRUCTIONS

The poles came with detailed instructions in six different languages.  The instruction booklet is a comprehensive manual that covers Black Diamonds complete Z Series poles. 

TO DEPLOY

To deploy the poles, I unclipped the basket from the shaft.  I then held the grip and the shaft section below the FlickLock section, pulling them away from each other.  The push-button then snapped and locked into place.  With the FlickLock in the open position, I moved the shaft with the length indicators to the desired length and then pushed the FlickLock in towards the shaft until is snapped closed.

Basket clip
push-button with FlickLock
Basket clip
Push-button and FlickLock (closed)

Inner cord
FlickLock open (photo above, closed)
Adjustment markings
Inner cord
FlickLock open
Adjustment markings

TO COLLAPSE

To collapse the poles, I pressed the push-button in and slid the grip toward the tips.  I then pulled the shafts apart at each seam joint and folded the poles up into a Z shape snapping the basket to the middle shaft.  If I want to make the poles as short as possible I can open the FlickLock and compress them all the way, however I don't have the length adjusted very long so I just leave them as they are to make the deployment and collapse much quicker.

CHANGING THE TIPS

The tips are designed with a wave-shaped locking system so when I tried to unscrew (counter clockwise) the rubber tips, I found it too difficult with my bare fingers.  The instructions indicate that pliers may be necessary so I decided to pull out the tools.  I felt the wave-shape as I began to unscrew the tip with the pliers and after the first turn, I was able to unscrew it the rest of it all the way with my fingers.  To screw them back in, the instructions indicate 4-5 clicks for them to fit snugly which is what I found to be the case.  After loosening the rubber tips the first time with pliers, I was able to use my fingers any time after that.   The carbide tips are much harder for me to loosen and tighten with just my fingers so the pliers will be necessary if I need to switch tips on an outing.

Tips
Optional carbide tips in stow bag pocket
Tips
Optional carbide tips in stow bag inner pocket

TRYING THEM OUT

I met some friends for a 3 mi (5 km) walk/hike that involved sidewalks and trail that was a mix of flat and hilly terrain.  The lightness of the poles was immediately felt and enjoyed throughout the complete hike.  I usually wear fingerless cycling gloves with my trekking poles to offset sweat and pinching from my ring but decided to see how they did without them.  It was a short hike but I didn't seem to have any issues with my hands sliding due to sweat or even my ring pinching my hand.  The EVA grips felt comfortable but slightly small in diameter as I have long fingers.  The poles are fun to deploy and collapse and that worked flawlessly.  I used the rubber tips and had no issues on either the sidewalk or dirt with them slipping and in fact found them fairly quiet when walking on the pavement. 

SUMMARY

So far, I really like the whole package of the poles.  They feel noticeably lightweight, comfortable and extremely compact for quick storage.  I look forward to giving them a good test on my backpacking and hiking outings. 

FIELD TEST REPORT
August 16, 2011

TESTING LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

Mt Baldy, San Gabriel Mts, Southern California
Distance:  8 mi (13 km) day hike
Elevation gain/loss:  3,800 ft (1,150 m)
Conditions:  Winds up to 35 mph (56 km/h) near summit, sunny, cool
Terrain:  Steep dirt and scree trail
Tips:  Rubber (hike #1), carbide (other 3 hikes)

Olancha Pass, Eastern Sierras near Olancha, California
Distance:  12 mi (19 km) backpack, 8 mi (13 km) day hike
Elevation gain/loss:  Backpack, 3.450 ft (1,050 m); day hike, 1,200 ft (360 m)
Conditions:  Morning snow, cool, breezy
Terrain:  Dirt trail, mild to steep; some cross country over mild terrain
Tips:  Rubber

Halfway Camp, San Gorgonio Wilderness, Southern California
Distance:  6 mi (10 km) backpack, 8 mi (13 km) day hike
Elevation gain/loss:  3,700 ft (1,100 m)
Conditions:  Sunny and warm
Terrain:  Steep to moderate trail, some cross country
Tips:  Rubber

Cedar Glen, San Gabriel Mts, Southern California
Distance:  5 mi (8 km) backpack, 12 mi (19 km) day hike
Elevation gain/loss:  4,200 ft (1,300 m)
Conditions:  Sunny and warm
Terrain:  Moderate to steep dirt and scree trail
Tips:  Rubber (worn to the metal)

Muah Mt, Eastern Sierras near Lone Pine California
Distance:  12 mi (19 km) backpack, 7 mi (11 km) day hike cross country
Elevation gain/loss:  3,000 ft (900 m)
Conditions:  Moderate, sunny
Terrain:  Moderate to steep trail with some cross country
Tips:  Carbide

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

I've used the poles with both tips for a total of 14 days on mixed terrain.  Overall, I really like these poles, especially how light they feel and how small they fold up.  In fact on the first day hike I had some high winds at the summit of Mt Baldy and on the way down when the wind was to my back, the poles took on air lift a few times but I had a good grip so they never took flight.  I find that the grips work well as long as I wear fingerless gloves with them otherwise they feel a bit too small in diameter for my hands (I have long fingers).  I wear the gloves anyway when I use poles, as it keeps my hands from sweating and my ring from pinching, so the diameter of the grips have not been an issue for me.  I'm not one to use straps while using poles as they tend to keep me from being able to quickly grab something or choke down on the poles if the terrain steepens.  I have used the straps, however, just to see how they are and have found them to work as designed, enabling me to loosen my grip on the poles and transfer the load more to my wrists.  They are easily adjustable for my wrists whether I'm wearing gloves or not and are comfortable.  I've tried the left side on the right wrist and vice versa and I really can't tell that they are supposed to be side specific.  The fact that I don't care much for using the straps are of no fault to the poles.  It's just my preference. 

All of the outings have really tested how well these poles hold up but the hikes to Mt Baldy have been the best test due to the steepness of the terrain.  I have stressed these poles both on the uphill and especially on the downhill and they have never spontaneously shortened or collapsed on me, no matter how much pressure I put on them.  Once I had the tension adjusted properly on the FlickLock, I have never had to touch it again.  I'm very impressed with this.

I've found that the poles collapse short enough without ever having to loosen the FlickLock and because of the extended grip, I've never had to shorten them when the terrain gets really steep.  I just move my hands down to the lower portion of the grip and I'm good to go. 

One thing that I've noticed is that it can be difficult to deploy the poles if there is any dirt or trail dust on the cord or silver section that inserts into the shaft.  Once I've wiped them clean, they usually deploy just fine. 

used on Mt Baldy
Stored in my side mesh pocket
Used on a day hike
Stored in my side mesh pocket

CARBIDE/RUBBER TIPS

Although I have used both sets of tips on the poles, I have not changed nor have I needed to change them in the field.  Both tips have functioned well for any terrain that I've been on.  I've found, for me, it does require pliers to loosen them so that would just be one extra item that I'd have to carry since I prefer a muli-tool with scissors instead of pliers.  I really like the feel of the rubber tips.  They have a cushioned feeling and are a lot quieter than the carbide.  They also grip just a little better on rocky surfaces than the carbide tips.  I did have durability issues, however, with the rubber tips (see durability/customer service below).

DURABILITY/CUSTOMER SERVICE

After 5 days of use with the rubber tips, I noticed a noise on the pavement at the start of the Cedar Glen backpacking trip.  When I looked at the tips, they had worn down to the metal.  I must say that I expected a lot longer life out of them so I was a little disappointed to see this.  They still functioned fine on the trip and the only thing I noticed was that they didn't have quite the grip on rocky surfaces that they used to and the cushioned feeling was gone.  When I got home I contacted (via e-mail) Black Diamond to see if this was normal for them to wear so quickly.  I did not indicate that I was a tester.  I got a response within an hour with their recommendation for the use of these tips.  They said that "the rubber tips on the Z-Pole line are made for any type of terrain but best suited for well groomed trails and some urban walking as they are a little softer rubber.  If I am off trail on rough or rocky terrain the carbide tips are the way to go for durability in the rougher terrain".  They then asked for my mailing address and I had a new pair of rubber tips in my hands within 2 days.  Their customer service, in my opinion, is excellent.

The other feature on the poles that have worn a bit are the basket clips.  Originally they clipped to the silver part of the center shaft.  After a few trips, I noticed that they would no longer hold to that area and would only clip to a larger diameter section of the upper shaft.  That actually worked out better as it kept the poles from flopping when folded and clipped.  After a few more outings, I've noticed that the hold of the clip is not as tight on the upper shaft anymore and can only conclude that the wear is continuing during use.  I don't really see this as much of an issue, though, since the poles are stored either in a side pocket or the mesh bag that came with them.

The grips have held up very well and show no signs of wear along with the FlickLock and pole shafts.  The inner cord still looks like new and the poles have held strong, never shortening or collapsing on their own.

Worn rubber tips

Worn rubber tips



WHAT I LIKE

Lightweight
Folds up very small
Wrist straps are comfortable and adjust easily
FlickLock adjustability
Rubber/Carbide tip options
Rubber tips have a cushioning feel and are fairly quiet
Easy deployment and collapse
Excellent customer service

WHAT I DISLIKE

Diameter of the grips seem a little small for my bare hands
Rubber tips wear too quickly
Pliers needed for changing tips
Basket clips wear after use
No ability to change baskets for snow conditions
Dust or dirt from the trail on inner cord can make deployment difficult



LONG TERM REPORT
October 11, 2011

TESTING LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

Lower Desolation Lake, Eastern Sierras near Bishop, California
Distance:  15 mi (24 km)  backpack
Elevation gain/loss:  2,000 ft (600 m)
Conditions:  Moderate, sunny
Terrain:  Moderate trail with some tall rock steps
Tips:  Carbide

Pilot Knob/Lower Desolation Lake, Eastern Sierras near Bishop, California
Distance:  15 mi (24 km)  backpack, 7.5 mi (12 km) cross county day hike
Elevation gain/loss:  2,000 ft (600 m) backpack, 2,000 ft (600 m) day hike
Conditions:  Moderate, sunny
Terrain:  Moderate trail with some tall rock steps
Tips:  Carbide

Hungry Packer Lake/Mt Wallace, Eastern Sierras near Bishop, California
Distance:  14 mi (23 km) backpack, 7.5 mi 12 km) cross country day hike
Elevation gain/loss:  2,700 ft (825 m) backpack, 3,100 ft (950 m) day hiking
Conditions:  Sunny, partly cloudy
Terrain:  Trail, rock slabs, consolidated snow, rock scrambling.  Moderate to steep
Tips:  Carbide

Icehouse Canyon, San Gabriel Mts, Southern California
Distance:  7 mi (11 km)
Elevation gain/loss:  2,500 ft (750 m)
Conditions:  Cloudy, thunder
Terrain:  rocky and dirt trail
Tips:  One rubber (on new pole), one carbide

Dry Lake, San Gorgonio Wilderness, Southern California
Distance:  12 mi (19 km) backpack, 12 mi (19 km) day hike on trail
Elevation gain/loss:  5,600 ft (1,700 m)
Conditions:  Sunny
Terrain: all trail, minimal rocks
Tips:  One rubber (on new pole), one carbide

LONG TERM PERFORMANCE

The hiking poles have served me well over the testing period.  I continue to enjoy the lightweight feel of the poles and the easy, quick deployment and collapsing/folding feature.  The Flicklock continues to securely hold the poles at the adjusted length and the extended grips have been very useful for quickly adjusting my grip position when the steepness of the trail changes.  I still rarely have used the straps (due to my own personal preference) but the few occasions that I have used them, they were comfortable and easy to adjust.  I had to store the poles in my summit pack on two of the trips as I was rock scrambling up to the peaks.  I was able to fit them completely inside of my small pack which made it nice for people climbing behind me as they were not sticking out of the pack, risking possible injury from getting poked.  When the peak was finished and it was time to get the poles out again, I amazed those watching when I quickly deployed them again.

Although these poles are mainly 3 season poles, our Sierras had so much snowfall this winter that I had to cross consolidated snow fields in early September.  They worked well on the consolidated snow but these poles would not work well on fresh deeper snow.

DURABILITY/CUSTOMER SERVICE

The poles have held up very well under all but one freak incident.  The only wear that they show are some scratches to the aluminum shaft sections, the small clip baskets are scuffed up quite a bit but still very functional and the original rubber tips lasted 4 days before needing to be replaced (see Durability/Customer Service in Field Test Report).  The carbide tips have minimal wear (a slightly smoother feel to the bottom) after 22 days of use and look to have many more outings in their future. 

Now on to the incident that affected one of the poles.  First of all, I'd like to state how much I have used and stressed these poles on some very steep and rocky terrain without any failure of any kind.  On the way down from Mt Wallace, while I was crossing one of the slippery snow fields, one pole got stuck between a rock and the consolidated snow when I slipped and fell.  The pole bent and began to flop around.  It was clearly one of those fluke things that would have bent any aluminum pole due to way I fell and the position that the pole was stuck into.  The bend was at the second (middle) section.  I folded the pole up and stored it until I got back to camp and proceeded to hike back down with only the good pole.  The next morning I decided that I needed to fix the pole somehow to backpack out to the car.  I proceeded to bend the pole straight and at that point it broke which is what I expected would happen.  I was able to duct tape two V-shaped tent stakes over the broken part and use it quite well to backpack out the next day.  I was bummed, however, to now have this pole damaged but wanted to see if Black Diamond could repair it.  When I got home I gave them a call (never mentioning my name or that I was reviewing their pole) and they said that only the lower section of the pole could be replaced so I would need a new pole sent to me.  The cost of one new pole was $51 US but he asked which pole was damaged (remember that one strap is labeled right and one is labeled left) and when he checked, he had the correct pole that I needed as a spare and only charged me $20 US.  That was more than worth it for the ability to continue using these poles.  I had the new pole in my hands in two days and didn't even miss a beat for my hike over the next weekend.  The customer service from Black Diamond has been excellent in my opinion on both occasions. 

Upon checking the pole, although the pole bent and then broke when I attempted to straighten it, the cord inside was never affected.  I did play with the pole a little to see, if indeed, the lower section could be replaced and it does detach by unscrewing the cord tensioner and screwing in a new lower section.  Speaking of the cord tensioner, if over time the poles develop some play in them, they can be adjusted by simply adjusting the screw on the cord tensioner.  That has not happened during my testing period so I have not needed to make any adjustment that way.

The rubber tip, which came on the replacement pole was for 5 days before the rubber wore down to the metal.  This was consistent with my experience using the original rubber tips in the field test.

CONCLUSION

I have used these poles for 26 days on terrain ranging from dirt trail and rock to consolidated snow fields, some easier rock scrambling, and a number of creek crossings.  They have performed very well and have remained durable despite my heavy use and dependency on them at times.  The incident that caused the bend in the one pole, in my opinion, was of no fault to the pole but was caused by the pole getting stuck between a rock and hard place while I proceeded to slip and fall on snow.  I feel that the customer service of Black Diamond from my two experiences with them is nothing short of excellent.  My list of likes and dislikes from the field testing section have stayed the same.  I love the size that these poles fold up to, the lightweight feel of them and the Flicklock adjustability the most.  The rubber tips are nice for use on sidewalks and maybe groomed trails but the carbide tips were the most durable on all terrain.

I want to thank Black Diamond and BGT for the opportunity to test this unique and innovative trekking pole design. 

This concludes my test series of the Black Diamond Distance FL Trekking Poles.




Read more reviews of Black Diamond gear
Read more gear reviews by Cheryl McMurray

Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Black Diamond Distance FL Z poles > Test Report by Cheryl McMurray



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