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Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Black Diamond Distance FL Z poles > Test Report by John Waters

BLACK DIAMOND DISTANCE FL Z TREKKING POLES
TEST SERIES BY JOHN R. WATERS
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - June 07, 2011
FIELD REPORT - August 28, 2011
LONG TERM REPORT - October 11, 2011

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: John R. Waters
EMAIL: jrw@backpackgeartest.org
AGE: 62
LOCATION: Canon City, CO USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 170 lb (77.10 kg)

My backpacking began in 1999. I have hiked rainforests in Hawaii, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, glaciers in New Zealand and Iceland, 14ers in Colorado and Death Valley's deserts. I hike or snowshoe 6-8 miles (10 km-13 km) 2-3 times weekly in the Cooper Mountain range, with other day-long hikes on various other southwest and central Colorado trails. I frequently hike the mountains and deserts of Utah and Arizona as well. My daypack is 18 lb (8 kg); overnights' weigh over 25 lb (11 kg). I'm aiming to reduce my weight load by 40% or more.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Black Diamond, Inc.
Model: Z SERIES
Year of Manufacture: 2001
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.blackdiamondequipment.com
MSRP: US $119.95

Listed Weight Per Pair : [95-110 cm] 430 g, 15.2 oz; [105-125 cm] 445 g, 15.7 oz; [120-140 cm] 460 g, 16 oz
Measured Weight Per Pair: 16 oz (454 g)

Sizes Available: 95-110 cm (37-43 in), 105-125 cm (41-49 in), and 120-140 cm (47-55 in)
Size Tested: 105-125 cm (41-49 in)

Colors Available: Aspen Gold
Color Tested: Aspen Gold
Z-Poles
Picture Courtesy of Black Diamond

Other details:

Usable Length : [95-110 cm] 95-110 cm, 37-43 in; [105-125 cm] 105-125 cm, 41-49 in; [120-140 cm] 120-140 cm, 47-55 in
Collapsed Length : [95-110 cm] 33.5 in, 13.2 in; [105-125 cm] 37 cm, 14.7 in; [120-140 cm] 42 cm, 16.5 in
Aluminum shafts
3-section folding design w/speed cone deployment & FlickLock adjustment
Lightweight EVA foam grip & breathable, moisture-wicking strap
Non-slip foam mini grip extension for secure choke ups
Includes interchangeable, non-marking Rubber Tips, Carbide Tips & stow bag
Stopper basket w/shaft catcher secures folded sections

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

I had seen the Black Diamond Distance FL Z Poles in January at the Outdoor Retail Show in Salt Lake City, so I had a good idea of what the poles were all about. However, while I was waiting for the delivery of the trekking poles, I checked out the Black Diamond website to refresh my memory and when the poles arrived, I found them to be exactly what I expected from the website pictures and description.

The Black Diamond website provides the below chart so I could determine what size poles to order. For walking, hiking and backpacking (where stability and support matter most): Black Diamond advises to "size up" if right on a size cusp. For running (where uphill propulsion matters most): "size down". I'm 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m), so there was no need to debate. I chose the 120 cm length.

Z-Pole Sizing Chart
HEIGHT RANGESUGGESTED Z-POLE LENGTH
100 cm
154 - 171 cm5 ft 1 in - 5 ft 7 in110 cm
172 - 182 cm5 ft 8 in - 5 ft 11 in120 cm
183 cm +6 ft +130 cm


Right off, I noticed that not all of the 4 sections have the same finish. The 3rd one down from the top seems to go from gold-ish to silvery and the bottom section appears gold again, so there is not a continuous flow of color down the shaft. Of course that will not affect performance. I'm just curious as to why. Otherwise, I think the color Black Diamond chose is great.

The grips are black EVA foam which has a very plush feel and are much longer (down the shaft) than any of my other trekking poles. Eight inches (20 cm) long to be exact. According the Black Diamond, the "non-slip foam mini grip extension: will allow for secure "choke ups" when on the trail.

A plastic-like cord between each section connects them together and is flexible enough to bend thereby make the "Z".

The poles are shipped with rubber tips installed. Carbide tips are also supplied and are stored in the included stow bag in a convenient pocket tucked inside the top of the bag. I'll explain more about how these are changed and if and how they wear in future reports.

The standard basket is 1.25 in x 1.12 in square (3.17 cm x 2.84 cm) with a 3/4 moon shaped cutout.

The stow bag is mesh and well designed and quite a neat accessory. Of course, being as type A as I can be at times, I am not sure if I will take the time to use the stow bag all the time and will probably just fold the poles and stuff them in my pack somewhere. Still, the stow bag is a nice touch.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

Black Diamond thoughtfully supplies a PDF instruction guide on their website as well as the printed instructions enclosed with the retail packaging.

The PDF was clearer to me with better (sized) images than that of the printed instruction guide.

From the printed instructions, initially, I was a little confused about where the release button to allow the poles to fold was located. The printed instructions indicated the release button was right below the grip, which it is not. However the Web PDF clarified that "Flicklock version [poles] have the button below the first section" with the length markings. Once I found the release button, following the rest of the instructions was easy.

TRYING IT OUT

On first try I found that yes, the Trekking poles "pop" in line quite easily. Not quite like the walking canes that people toss out in front of them that magically come together, but pretty darn close. I do have to make sure the sections are aligned so they fit together, but the process is quite simple.

The top FlickLock mechanism just under the grip on the top section squeezes the shaft to make a firm adjustment to the length. The top section locks really tight and I doubt if I will see any collapsing of the poles, but I shall give them a workout to stress them out.

The poles fold up just great. Unfolding is pretty simple. I just push the release button, pull them apart and Z fold them together. I have discovered that the sections must be pulled apart before I start fold them or they won't come apart. Once they are all pulled apart in a straight line, then I can fold them up. The 3/4 moon cut-out in the basket is there to lock the lower section to the middle section when folded. The FlickLock system almost doubles as a locking bar to hold all the collapsed sections together, but they don't stay together as tightly as I would like them to. Maybe I am doing something wrong and need to work on this, but it doesn't take much to separate the sections so they flop around. Right now that doesn't appear like a problem to me, but time in the field will tell. I may decide to use an elastic hair-band to hold them more tightly together.

I have had the poles out in the field on several hikes already and I am happy so far. There is no shock absorbing system on these poles which I have gotten use to on my other poles, so it'll be interesting to see how these perform on technical hikes up and down steep slopes and over rocky terrain.

I definitely like that I can easily fold them and put them in the outside mesh pocket of almost any of my backpacks.

SUMMARY

I'm heading off for a few days to the Avon/Vail Colorado area where I plan to get in some hiking in the mud. It's been snowing and raining for days now so I don't know what I'll find.

Things should clear up soon and I'll be hiking in really dry desert conditions at high temperatures for several weeks. In early July, I'll be hiking up the Shelf Road Trail to Cripple Creek, Colorado where I plan to get in some longer distance hiking. In any event, I'm hoping the BD Distance trekking poles will get a work-out and keep me upright on the slippery slopes. Just got the Z-Poles packed into my backpack and they fit nicely.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I used these poles on rocky terrain, grassy fields, packed road fill, blacktop roads and sandy soil, over flat and sloped terrain. But, the real test came over the weekend of July 4th, when my wife and I decided to hike along the Shelf Road between Canon City, Colorado and Cripple Creek, Colorado, going both up and down the road; a 32 mile (52 km) round-trip trek.

The 16 mile (26 km) northbound trek starts at the Sand Gulch campground about 7 miles (11 km) north of Canon City on Red Canyon Road. We parked the car at the parking lot there and started our trek carrying backpacks filled with stuff for a 2 day stay at a resort in Cripple Creek, which is an old west casino town. My backpack was also stuffed with my 6 lb (1 kg) laptop. So I was carrying about 35 lbs (16 kg) on my back.

The Shelf Road is absolutely beautiful. Rugged cliffs of various colors, looking hundreds of feet down into a canyon for a majority of the road. The gravel road is just a little wider than a full sized truck most of the way, with occasional narrow pullouts to allow traffic to pass in the opposite direction. The sheer drop-offs with no guard rails frighten most people when driving.
Gold Belt Tour

Going northbound it is also absolutely all up, going from 5600 ft to 9200 ft (1700 to 2800 m) above sea level at a constant upward slope all the way. A 3600 ft (1100 m) elevation gain, with some upward sections sloping at 45 degrees for sometimes a 1/2 mile (0.8 km) or more. It took us about 8 hours to make the entire northbound distance heading up.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

On Cripple Creek Trail This is where the poles got a great workout. I was not gentle at all with them. Picture the telemark skiers pounding their poles into the ground as they race up steep hills ... that was me. Pound. Pound. Pound. It got to be as high as 92 F (33 C) in bright sunlight, which is quite intense at these altitudes. Couple that with us only bringing 3 liters of water each and using most of it along the way so that we had to ration for the last hour. We wanted to get through this more quickly. So along some stretches it was head down, use the poles to push ahead and pound, pound, pound into the ground to push myself up some of the steeper inclines. Since the road makes a lot of "S" curves, just imagine going a few miles at a 30% incline and then coming around a bend and seeing another 1/2 mile (0.8 km) of something steeper. "What .... UP still?"

All the pounding was handled exceptionally well by these poles. Probably a shock absorber would have made it easier over the course, but I never thought that I was missing anything. I have other poles with great shock absorbers and I did not at any time along the way wish I had them rather than these Black Diamond poles.

The poles are solid and responsive with no wobble or flexing. Because of the way the sections lock together, there was never any problem with collapsing sections or the need to readjust pole length.

Because it was so hot, I did not use the pole straps. The material against my sweaty hands was uncomfortable and that is my experience with every pole strap I have ever used. Maybe the backs of my hands are too sensitive, but the strap starts to rub and make the back of my hands sore in high heat. In colder weather I would be wearing gloves, so rubbing would be a moot issue.

The poles always easily came apart and folded up. I had no problem at all with the sections sticking together or getting out of shape, which would cause them not to slide together easily.

I would like to see a way to hold the "Z" folded pole together better. The locking clip pretty much holds the top and middle section okay, but not all 3 sections stay together firmly when folded. If I use the included stuff bag, all is good, but I would prefer to not carry the bag around, even as light as it is.

There has been no discoloration after being exposed for weeks to high altitude sunshine and the associated extreme UV. Out here we use a lot of sunscreen on our exposed skin. Plastic items get brittle in a few months and crumble when touched. The poles show no sign of wear. Even the carbide tips are still in great shape after taking such a beating with all my pounding.

After extensive use (in addition to the Fourth of July weekend, I used the poles on a dozen day hikes), I can say that I am very pleased with these poles. They are durable and solid. They fold up nicely to pack well. I can leave them folded up in the back of the Subaru, ready to use when I find a trailhead. Just unfold and pop the sections together and go without readjusting lengths. They are very quick to put in service.

SUMMARY

We are headed to Yellowstone National Park in a few weeks. I'll be taking these along for sure and report on the results in the final report.

Please see below to read of my continuing adventures with the Black Diamond Distance FL Z-Poles.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

This September, 2011, we headed out to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and the Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Flaming Gorge in Utah and a lot of stuff in-between. Of course in the final weeks of this trial, I also used my Black Diamond Z Poles whenever I took off down trails on our ranch and locally around here in Fremont County, Colorado and in the Denver, Colorado area. These poles definitely got a lot of trail-time and a lot of miles (kilometers) put on them. I estimate a minimum of an additional 16-19 outings.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

As in my previous treks, these poles performed very well. They never failed to quickly and firmly unfold when setting them up for use. They never collapsed when in use, even when being roughly handled on tough upward or downward slopes.

The tips are still in great condition. The poles show no sign of abuse and look quite new.

The grips show no sign of wear either. Not even the inside of the straps look like they were used. No fraying or loose threads anywhere.

I did find that the poles do not stay together well when folded. The only thing I find minimally bothersome. The sections flop apart even when I tried to use the included clips. I suppose I could use a rubber band or hair band to wrap the sections tightly together, but I just always lose those things.

The folded poles fit well into my day pack and, if I have a water bladder and no need for the exterior bottle holders on my packs, they conveniently stash into those pouches as well.

As usual, these poles, or at least one, almost always go with me when I trek around, even on our ranch. Such poles are a great simple defense against small animals that decide they want to mess around with me. We have small black bears, mountain lions and coyotes that roam here. I don't always have my pistol and bear spray, but a solid hiking pole is one pretty good defensive tool. It at least makes me feel comfortable and I know that these poles will not collapse when called into service.

SUMMARY

In my experiences with other Black Diamond products, I've come to expect good performance and endurance from their gear. The Distance FL Z Series Trekking Poles did nothing to alter my opinion. After using these poles on some pretty tough treks, I have become a definite fan of this product.

Thank you to Black Diamond and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test out these poles.

John R. Waters

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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