Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review

Lightweight, collapsible, fixed-length poles that use avalanche pole technology to lock the sections.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

The Ultra Distance pole is innovative, lightweight, adequately stiff, and durable. Its collapsibility definitely fills a niche for a truly compact trekking pole that can be carried inside a backpack or travel bag. However, its non-removable wrist straps, heavier weight per pole, and higher cost compared to other fixed-length poles make it fall short of our highest rating.

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by Will Rietveld |

Introduction

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.

Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review - 1
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?

Description

Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review - 2
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.

Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review - 3
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.

Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review - 4
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.

Performance

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.

Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review - 5
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.

Comparisons

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...

Assessment

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
MSRP US$150
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge and is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/black_diamond_ultra_distance_trekking_pole_review.html, 2011-01-25 00:00:00-07.

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Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review on 01/25/2011 13:28:25 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - M

Locale: Cascadia
Poles on 01/25/2011 17:31:11 MST Print View

Nicely designed poles. They look well engineered. It would be cool if they somehow added one adjustable section, so you at least had 10cm or so, of adjustment.

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Ya, me too. on 01/26/2011 00:16:33 MST Print View

Thought it'd be nice to have some adjustability with these poles. We aren't all the same height and neither are our shelters. Nice looking product.

Martin RJ Carpenter
(MartinCarpenter) - F
Lengths on 01/26/2011 05:16:08 MST Print View

Well at least they're seemingly doing these in 4 fixed lengths, as opposed to a single fixed length as often seems to be the case.

The adjustable thing - there is one in the range if you see the top of the article - seems to add a fair bit of weight. Makes you wonder why it isn't possible to do adjustment the 'traditional' (from wooden poles!) way: just extend the grip to cover the top third of the pole and make it so you can slide your hands up and down it. Very effective with wood.

Thomas Burns
(nerdboy52) - MLife

Locale: "Alas, poor Yogi.I knew him well."
Lighttreks vs. Black Diamond on 01/26/2011 06:28:54 MST Print View

Well, shoot. I want one of each. Most of the time, I use one pole to walk. An adjustable pole is useful for setting up my shelter and on those rare occasions that I have to do a big uphill climb.

Thus, the second pole spends a lot of time in the BP. But because it sticks up so far, it invariably gets caught on some branch and ends up flying out of my backpack. The Black Diamond pole wouldn't do that.

Perhaps someone would like to buy the BD poles and trade one of them for one of my well-used but otherwise very nice LT's?

Stargazer

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
review on 01/26/2011 18:46:48 MST Print View

thanks for the review. I've been eyeballing these since they were announced at the winter outdoor show. I've been wanting to get into a light pair of poles, but have been reluctant to give up the robustness of my BD Alpine Corks.

I've read through most of the reviews I could find on lightweight adj poles and seems like there are some issues routinely brought up about adjusters giving out/not working etc

While adjustability is definitely useful, I don't find myself adj mine often and my new shelter (duomid) needs pole jacks so not going to be an issue w/ shelter

I'll probably have to wait a bit though and see how the new CAMP poles are received :)

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
CAMP Xenon on 01/27/2011 08:15:36 MST Print View

^ little update on their poles (from their site)- pricing is $79.95 for ONE pole! only available in two sizes

this pretty much eliminates them

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - M

Locale: Cascadia
Camp Poles on 01/28/2011 18:14:54 MST Print View

Nice eye for detail Mike. That makes these poles seem a lot more reasonable.

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
thx for BD Trekking Pole Review on 02/06/2011 10:56:40 MST Print View

Thanks for the nice review. I ordered a pair and they just arrived. They look great. I'm lucky I needed exactly a size they offer.
For trips that involve flying and bus rides, these will be the cat's meow. I can't speak to durability, but for weight and function, they are beautiful.

Cas Berentsen
(P9QX) - MLife
cheaper alternative on 02/17/2011 17:21:06 MST Print View

As a cheaper slightly heavier alternative one might consider the Fizan compact ultralite trekking poles made out of light 7001 alloy. Telescopic 3 parts, 158g per pole, pole length 58-132cm starting from 23 B-pounds or 31 dollar per pole. The grip is quite small though.

Samuel David Sinclair
(samsamsam) - F
I have the "Kohla EVO Lightning Alu Poles" bought. And they are lighter than indicated. Namely 6.56 oz (186g). on 03/10/2011 13:44:26 MST Print View

I have the "Kohla EVO Lightning Alu Poles" bought. And they are lighter than indicated. Namely 6.56 oz (186g). 80-140cm long. More information at
http://www.kohla.at/UserFiles/File/Download/catalogue_summer2010.pdf

The poles are just as stable as my Leki 300g poles. Unfortunately, not as stable as my Erbö ​​300g, the already 30 years old.
The lock system is the best thing there is on the market. Easy to open and close and it keeps my 90 kg. Only it bend itself strong, when I put 45 kg on one pol. If, however, always bend back to the origin. This locking system is also used in the Erbö ​​poles. The new Erbö ​​poles are very cheap.
The Leki pol inside closure will not last as well and it is difficult to close and open.

The strap is also very good and the grip is great. The handle is made of very solid EVA, which I like very much.

I'm writing this because everyone thinks the best is Leki or BD. They have only the best marketing and distribution. But in my opinion the old Erbö ​​(the new I don't know) and the current Kohla are better.
Unfortunately, Kohla has no real marketing. They sell more over mouth to mouth probaganda and retail stores in Austria.

A link to Erbö​​: http://www.dunlop-sport.at/ec2use/ArticleList.do?wgrCd=0920

Erbö has carbon and aluminum poles. Kohla has only Alu poles.
The company Kohla Tyrol since 1932. And produced in Tyrol, Austria.
http://www.kohla.atlightest 2-piece aluminum-pole in the world

cathryn robertson
(chicken) - F
Pseudo-adjustable on 07/07/2011 11:44:33 MDT Print View

I have these poles and find that by depressing the button and collapsing the upper portion of the pole, it shortens the pole and I can use it this way when going uphill. This provides about 10cm (not measured, estimated) of shortening adjustment. There is enough tension in the joints of the pole that it does not fall apart.

Also, because of the way that the sections slide together, it is easy to untension the pole then slide the sections slightly apart for use during shelter setup. This gives you an opportunity to clove hitch a guyline at about the 1 foot and two foot points on the pole if you wish.

Therefore, for shelter setup you have the options of fully extended, fully extended - 10cm, and 12 and 24 inches (approx).

Chicken

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Black Diamond Ultra Distance Trekking Pole Review on 07/07/2011 12:05:18 MDT Print View

I have never been a pole person, but these poles are making me reconsider.
They are very nice.

Karl Meltzer will be using them in the Hardrock 100 mountain race this weekend.

john hansford
(jhansford) - MLife
Durability? on 01/03/2012 15:10:26 MST Print View

My only concern with these poles is their long term durability. I took a pair of brand new Gossamergear Lightrek 4 adjustables on the John Muir Trail this summer : one pole snapped after 110 mls, the other snapped just after finishing ( they both snapped in the lower section 1 1/2 ins below the upper part). I only weigh 126 lbs , but do put all that weight on the poles, especially going down rock steps. The first failure happened when I tripped getting onto a log and probably overloaded the pole, but hey, who doesn't stumble once in a hundred miles? The second went for no apparent reason, just had had enough I guess. (I mended the first with a short piece of tent pole that had sat in my first aid kit for years, and it lasted out the trip).

So, I would like to ask Will whether , after a summer of further use, he thinks the poles are strong enough?

PS. I have ordered some lengths of 11mm aluminium pole to insert into the lower sections of the Gossamergear poles, which will hopefully both repair them and make them stronger.

Edited by jhansford on 01/03/2012 15:23:50 MST.