If I remember, this past March we were sitting at Vivace across Yale Ave from the downtown REI sipping White Velvets and reading through the big Backpacker gear guide when I came across the new Black Diamond Ultra Distance (read: carbon fiber) Z-Poles (think tent poles with a handle). After skimming a paragraph-long description just to zero in on the weight of the pair (a staggering nine ounces), I instantly added them to my ‘must have new gear for 2011’ list.

Well I got them a month or so ago and had the chance to finally use them for the first time on a climb of Eldorado last weekend. I figured if these things could put up with the rigors of a glacier climb that involved a trail blazed straight up from the Cascade River for two thousand feet, an enormous talus field and – well – a glacier, they’d have proven themselves in my book.

© Thom Schroeder


So the short of it is: they did, with room to spare.

The thing about über-light gear is they make me skeptical of them, which is somewhat funny since the weight of every piece of gear I consider is pretty much the first thing I check. But these poles were no exception: I second-guessed their sturdiness since it didn’t really feel like I was carrying anything in my hands.

But from the get-go – up the mightily-true-to-the-North-Cascades approach straight up alongside Eldorado Creek and then onto the talus field they worked perfectly. Talus is tricky – but the included carbide tips held fast to the rocks without slipping.

I was mostly interested though in seeing how they’d do on snow since BD doesn’t offer snow baskets for them and the ones that are built into the pole are maybe an inch or so in diameter. And I have to say – given the decent snow conditions (pretty firm) and not really putting my full weight on them too often, they performed perfectly well. So much so I’m thinking huge snow baskets are just a big ol’ marketing ploy …

©Thom Schroeder

So – along with the lack of bigger baskets – another thing to consider before you rush out and spend a hundred-and-fifty clams on a pair of poles: they are not extendible. I’m not yet sure if that will prove a hindrance when it comes time to think about tarping it under anything whose specs call for adjustable poles – I’ll have to cross that bridge soon (I think a workaround could be to only use 1 or 2 of the pole sections).

But on the flip-side – since they don’t extend – there’s no camming or flick-lock to have to worry about breaking or collapsing unexpectedly. Seriously, this is huge for me – I even had to remind myself several times not to have to worry about them coming apart or collapsing.

So then – bottom line: if you’re an ounce-counter and tired of poles that break or come apart, these are probably worth it. The good news is you don’t have to opt for the one-fifty carbon model. BD makes a couple of different options – starting at a hundred bucks (and an additional four ounces). And for one-twenty they make a flick-lock hybrid version that gives you 20cm of adjustment combined with the Z-pole construction (but at twice the weight of the Ultra Distance pair) – this might be good for those tarps and also allow for some adjustment between uphill and downhill.

All things considered – I’m stoked about them and for any ounce-counter these should seriously be considered. The Z-pole idea is a revolutionary step ahead for trekking poles!


–  über-lightweight – for the pair about equal to one camming carbon pole

–  no cam or flick lock to break!

–  über-compact – easily would fit inside a small daypack


–  expensive (although there are more affordable options, but still a minimum of $100)

–   lack of adjustment – have to order the right size (although the $120 version includes 20cm of adjustment paired with a flick lock)

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