Crazy lightweight, fully-featured poles that withstand a surprising amount of abuse and fold up nicely when not in use
Excellent grips that extend down the shaft for different hand positions
Easy to quickly deploy or store
Sizing is unforgiving for fixed length
Folded-up storage with basket notch is hit or miss
Very small amount of adjustment in the wrist straps
273-315g per pair, depending on size
Black Diamond, available at rei.com
Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
If you’re doing super steep and technical offroad mountain running or big hikes with a pack, there are two types of people: those who have poles and those who haven’t tried them yet. There’s a reason most serious hikers and ultrarunners have poles, and no, it’s not just because they like gear. A good set of (properly sized) poles will help you stabilize when your little stabilizer muscles are fried from uneven/steep ground or when you’re carrying a big pack; they’ll also help propel you uphill. TL;DR: Distance Carbon Zs, which are featured in our holiday gift guide, are a good set of poles.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles Review: The Basics
By design running/hiking poles are meant to be pretty simple, so there won’t be a huge list of features, but this set has about as many as you can get: A very cool, three-part, foldable design with rubber protection around the connecting string, breathable wrist straps with a very small amount of adjustment, breathable and extended no-slip grips, and both carbide and rubber tips included. Bear in mind these are fixed-length poles, so if you’d like to adjust the size (and we recommend this for runners who will hike), spend another $20 and get the Distance Carbon FLZ version.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles Review: The Good
Aside from the obvious fact that these are super lightweight poles, we love the three-part breakdown feature because unlike some telescoping poles, there’s literally no chance of slipping. We put a TON of backpack-weighted stress on these poles, and they barely blinked. The grips are super comfortable, and the fact that they extend far below the end of the pole (lower grips for ascending/running, higher grips for descending/hiking) give them more use, even as a fixed pole. Even as seasoned runners who have never used poles before, the fact that these are so nimble and easy to use had us adapted in minutes; we found them perfectly suited for serious backpacking trips as well.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles Review: The Ok
Though none of these notes are dealbreakers on the Distance Carbon Zs, they’re still worth noting to help you make an informed purchase. First, we’d strongly recommend you check these out in a store to make sure you get the length right. Black Diamond’s size chart is decent, but a little too general for a fixed pole. For sure, like they recommend, be sure to size down if you’re going to be running more often, and size up if you’re on the edge and will be hiking more often. Bear in mind the lower grip extension will help some if you go too big, but won’t do you an ounce of good if you go too small. Also, while there is some adjustability on the wrist straps, it’s very very limited.
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles Review: The Conclusions
These are a great pair of poles, but just make sure you have a good grasp on what size you want, or invest a few more bucks in the adjustable version that weighs a few more grams (and has more moving parts…). Functionally these poles will do just about everything you’d need for even advanced trail running or backpacking, so do yourself a favor and splurge a little bit, and you’ll be surprised how much you use these things once you finally get some poles under you.