In spring 2011, Black Diamond will be introducing their new Z-Pole series of trekking poles that collapse down to a small size so they can be stowed inside a backpack or travel bag. They use avalanche pole technology to connect the sections, so the poles virtually snap into place.
The series consists of three models: the Ultra Distance fixed length carbon fiber pole, the Distance FL aluminum adjustable length pole, and the Distance aluminum fixed length pole. The Distance and Distance FL are a bit lighter than conventional aluminum trekking poles; their primary advantage is their collapsibility. However, the Ultra Distance (reviewed here) is more remarkable because it is both lightweight and collapsible.
The Ultra Distance is the lightest member of Black Diamond’s new Z-Pole series. It’s a collapsible three-section carbon fiber pole that weighs just 4.85 ounces (137 g) per pole (120-cm length).
The Ultra Distance is a collapsible fixed length pole. It does not have any screw or flick-lock connectors to contend with, which saves weight and potential problems. The collapsibility feature is nice, but how do they compare with other lightweight carbon fiber trekking poles?
The 120 cm length Ultra Distance pole collapses down to 15.6 inches (39.5 cm), small enough to fit inside a backpack or travel bag.
The Z-Pole series employs avalanche pole technology to connect the pole sections. The technology consists of three components: a Kevlar cord threaded through the pole’s three sections (not shown), a protective plastic “speed cone” (left) at each joint that aligns the pole sections so they snap into place, and a push-button release (right) to collapse the poles.
This is one of those things that is much easier to show in a video than it is to explain in print, so the following video shows how they work.
The grips (left) are non-slip lightweight foam with a mini-extension for quick choke-ups. Interchangeable rubber and carbide tips (center, rubber tip shown) are provided with the poles. The Wavelock connection prevents the tips from working loose. The non-removable straps (right) are lightweight, moisture wicking, and left- and right-hand specific. They have cutouts for increased breathability and hook and loop adjustment.
The poles taper from a diameter of about 13 millimeters at the grips to 10 millimeters at the tip.
I tested the Ultra Distance pole on numerous summer backpacking trips over a wide variety of terrains, most of it very rugged. I used them off-trail a lot while crossing streams, ascending and descending steep slopes, dropping off of ledges, and crossing sliderock slopes.
I measured the poles’ stiffness by our standard BPL method: bridge a pole across a 110-cm (43.3-in) gap between two chairs, hang a shopping bag with 25 pounds (11.34 kg) of weight at the center of the pole, and measure the deflection from horizontal. The 120-cm Ultra Distance poles I tested bent 7.5 centimeters (3 in), which is moderately stiff for a carbon fiber pole. For comparison, the Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4 adjustable poles deflect only 5 centimeters (2 in), and a conventional aluminum trekking pole deflects about 3 to 3.5 centimeters (1.2 to 1.4 in).
My field testing of the Ultra Distance pole was positive; I am pleased with the poles’ lightweight, stiffness, durability, and collapsibility feature. I experienced no problems whatsoever.
I especially like the rubber tips that come with the poles. They grip well on rock, whereas a carbide tip will often slip. As shown in the photos above, the rubber tips are quite durable and last a long time. Replacement tips and stopper baskets are available from Black Diamond. Larger baskets are not available.
I carried the collapsed poles inside my backpack, or attached to the side of my pack, several times and found that feature useful and convenient. By comparison, when I tried attaching my Lightrek 4 poles to the outside of my pack, I found them unwieldy, and they got in the way while scrambling.
After using the poles on numerous trips without using the straps, I finally removed them. The straps are removed by inserting the point of a ball point pin into the hole where the cord enters the grip, then fishing out the plastic insert. Removing the straps lightens the poles by 0.8 ounce (22.7 g) and reduces the weight per pole (120-cm length) to 4.5 ounces (128 g). For comparison, the weight of the Gossamer Lightrek 4 is 3.4 ounces (96 g) per pole.
The fact that the poles are not length adjustable was a limitation for me. I often use shelters that require trekking poles set to a specified length, so I was out of luck with the Ultra Distance poles. Instead, I took the Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4 poles for that purpose.
The new Black Diamond Z-Poles are not the only kid on the block. Also coming out in spring 2011 are the CAMP Xenon 4 trekking poles (seen in our coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011), which are four-section and collapse down to 12.6 inches (32 cm). Weight is 5 ounces (142 g) per pole, about the same as the Ultra Distance pole. The stated MSRP is only US$70, which is less than half the cost of the Ultra Distance. Sounds too good to be true...
The collapsibility of the Ultra Distance poles is definitely a usable feature. When hiking where poles are not really needed, or when taking trekking poles on any public transportation, it is really nice to be able to put the poles inside my backpack or attach them securely to the outside. That is perhaps the most compelling reason for choosing these poles.
On the other hand, the lack of length adjustment is a major limitation. Many hikers like to adjust their pole length when hiking uphill, downhill, and on sidehills. That was not a problem for me personally, but it is definitely a bummer that I can’t use them for erecting a shelter, unless they happen to be just the right length.
Value-wise, the Ultra Distance poles cost almost the same as the Gossamer Gear Lightrek 4 poles (US$150 versus US$160), so the bottom line depends on which feature you value most. If collapsibility is more important, get the Ultra Distance poles; if adjustability is more important, get the Lightrek 4 poles.
Specifications and Features
|Manufacturer||Black Diamond (http://www.blackdiamondequipment.com)|
|Year/Model||Spring 2011 Ultra Distance Trekking Pole|
|Style||Three-section collapsible, fixed length|
|Shaft Material||Carbon fiber|
|Tips||Carbide and rubber|
|Grips and Straps||Grips are molded EVA foam with mini-extension; straps are moisture wicking, left and right hand specific|
|Pole Lengths Available||100, 110, 120, 130 cm|
|Weight per Pole||120 cm length tested, measured weight 4.85 oz (137 g), manufacturer specification 4.75 oz (135 g)|
|Features||Compact three-section collapsible poles using avalanche pole connector technology, interchangeable carbide and rubber tips, molded grips with right and left hand specific straps, carry sack included|