Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Hiking Poles: Long-Term Review

Summary

  • The Distance Carbon FLZ is a premium lightweight, semi-adjustable, z-fold trekking pole with carbon shaft.
  • The clever hybrid design combines aspects of z-fold fixed length and telescoping adjustable poles for the best of both worlds.
  • It’s perfect for hikers, runners, climbers, and others who move fast and light and sometimes stash poles in their pack.
  • I’ve tested these poles over 800 miles of backpacking and love them. I prefer them over the fixed-length Distance Carbon Z poles, which I’ve also tested extensively.

Trekking poles may seem like a simple piece of gear, but Black Diamond takes things to the next level with their Distance Carbon line of ultralight z-fold poles. The premium Distance Carbon FLZ tops the lineup with a clever blend of tri-fold design and semi-adjustable length, managing to be both ultralight and extremely versatile.

The FLZ design is a hybrid between two trekking pole designs. Fixed-length z-fold poles are great because they pack down small, but their length can’t be adjusted. Telescoping poles, on the other hand, are fully adjustable in height but don’t pack down as small. The Distance FLZ poles fold down as short as fixed-length poles but come in three sizes, each of which is adjustable over a short 15 cm range. The best of both worlds!

I’ve been using the Distance Carbon FLZ poles for over 800 miles of lightweight backpacking, and I’ve also used their fixed-length cousin, the Distance Carbon Z, extensively. In this long-term review I share how these two models compare, what makes the FLZ special, and who will get their money’s worth out of these spendy premium trekking poles.

Related: How to Choose and Use Hiking Poles

Excited to hike across the Grand Canyon on the Arizona Trail, with the help of my Distance Carbon FLZ poles

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Distance Carbon FLZ Overview

Price: $210
Weight: 11, 12, or 13oz per pair depending on size
Shaft: carbon fiber
Grip: EVA foam
Sizes: 95-110, 110-125, 125-140 cm
Packed length: 13, 15, or 16 inches depending on size
Best uses: ultralight backpacking, fastpacking, peak bagging, trail running, travel
My rating: 4.6 / 5 stars, love them and would buy again

Shop Distance Carbon FLZ at:

My conclusion: Black Diamond’s Distance Carbon FLZ are a premium hiking pole with an innovative design. If you value light weight, small folded length, and adjustable height — an especially good fit for ultralight backpackers using pole-supported shelters — these poles are the obvious winner. They’re also comfortable, well-made, and as durable as carbon fiber poles get.

Reasons to buy:

  • Compact Z-fold design easily stows in pack, running vest, or travel luggage
  • Very lightweight
  • Just-right amount of length adjustment is helpful for long climbs and descents, pole-supported shelters, and people between pole sizes
  • Comfortable and supportive straps take pressure off hands and wrists
  • Carbon fiber shaft helps absorb impact for comfort on long days
  • Shorter hikers (under 5′ 4″) enjoy the biggest savings in weight and packed length relative to a telescoping pole
  • Best balance of packability, light weight, and adjustability on the market currently

Reasons not to buy:

  • Expensive
  • Not compatible with all trekking pole supported shelters (though better than fixed-length poles)
  • Carbon fiber shafts can snap under sideways or torsional stress
  • Sold as pairs (a negative only for the minority of folks who use a single pole)

How I Tested the Distance Carbon FLZ

I’ve been using the Distance Carbon FLZ poles for the last two years, most significantly during a 7-week Arizona Trail thru hike and many shorter backpacking trips. My husband also uses the FLZ poles, and has been for at least 1200 miles (he bought his before I did after an unfortunate postholing incident killed his Carbon Z poles).

Since we bought our poles, Black Diamond has made a few small changes. The shafts are even lighter, the size ranges have been adjusted (my 105 – 125 cm model is now 110 – 125 cm), and the colors and pattern have changed slightly. But the basic design, functionality, and value proposition are unchanged.

Charging uphill on the Arizona Trail with my Distance Carbon FLZ poles

Distance Carbon FLZ vs. Z

Black Diamond’s naming conventions can be confusing, so let’s start by clarifying which poles this review is actually about.

Distance Z” refers to Black Diamond’s fixed-length z-fold poles, available with either carbon fiber or aluminum shaft. They’re the pinnacle of lightweight and packable design but can only be used at one fixed length (available in 10 cm increments).

Distance FLZ” (with the added “FL”) refers to z-fold poles that adjust somewhat in length via a telescoping mechanism on the top segment. As with the fixed-length Distance Z, these are also available with either carbon fiber or aluminum shaft.

This review is about the Distance Carbon FLZ poles: tri-fold poles with adjustable length and carbon fiber shaft. To read my thoughts on how they compare to other options in the Distance family, continue below.

This review is about the Distance Carbon FLZ poles, though the Distance Carbon Z as well as the aluminum versions of both are worth considering.

Folded Size and Packability

Packability is the biggest advantage of Z-fold poles like the Distance Z and FLZ. Instead of a traditional telescoping mechanism, the Distance FLZ (and their fixed-length cousins, the Distance Z poles) separate into three segments that fold in a “Z” shape. The segments are joined by a flexible inner cord-like mechanism that Black Diamond calls a “speed cone.” It’s similar to the shock cord connecting tent pole segments, but more durable and with a shaped outer surface to guide the segments into place as tension is applied.

The poles separate into three segments and fold in a Z-shape for an impressively short collapsed length.

Why does this matter? For some styles of adventuring it’s common to stash poles in or on your backpack. Long stretches of road walking during a thru hike are one example. Freeing up hands for scrambling and climbing is another. Traditional telescoping poles typically don’t get any shorter than around 25 inches, which is a bit too long and awkward to comfortably stash on a running vest or small ultralight backpacking pack.

The FLZ poles are very compact when folded, which is great for stashing them on or in smaller packs.

When folded, the FLZ poles measure 13, 15, or 16 inches depending on size. Interestingly, their adjustable top segment (more detail on that below) allows for shorter packed length than the fixed-length Z poles at certain sizes. For example, if you need a 120 cm pole you can get a packed length of 15 cm with the 110 – 125 cm Distance FLZ, as opposed to 16 cm folded length for the 120 cm Distance Z.

For comparison from left to right: collapsed traditional telescoping pole, folded 120 cm fixed length Distance Carbon Z pole, folded 105 – 125 cm adjustable Distance Carbon FLZ pole, and 1 liter Nalgene bottle

Folding and Unfolding

Like everything else about the Distance Carbon FLZ poles, the folding and unfolding process is designed for moving fast. Unfolding is the most impressive: simply pull the top segment down from the grip and the segments magically snap into place.

To fold the poles you need to push a metal button inward. It can be a little sticky and I don’t love it when my hands are cold, but it’s extremely secure while the poles are extended.

Here’s a quick video showing how the Distance Carbon FLZ poles unfold:

To collapse the poles, push the metal button inward. It can get a little sticky but it’s not that bad.
The “speed cone” system is a cord encased in flexy material that guides the segments quickly into place.

Adjustability and Locking Mechanism

The Distance Carbon FLZ Poles are light, but there are a few other lightweight carbon fiber poles on the market. What really sets the Distance Carbon FLZ apart is its combination of light and compact foldable design and length adjustability.

The Distance Carbon FLZ poles are available in three sizes, each with a 15 cm adjustable range using a short telescoping section on the top segment. This clever design offers just enough adjustability for most common needs — steep climbs and descents, trekking-pole-supported shelters, hikers between sizes — while keeping weight as light as possible.

I’ve also put serious miles on the non-adjustable Carbon Distance Z poles, and the FLZ’s partial adjustability is the reason I would choose them again over the Z. I adjust the length often, especially for steep and rocky ascents and descents, and to tighten up the pitch on my trekking pole supported tarp.

The FLZ’s top segment adjusts and locks using Black Diamond’s FlickLock mechanism, a common feature of most Black Diamond poles. The shaft is marked with length measurements so you know exactly where to set the lock. It’s an easy system to use, even with gloves on, and it’s very secure.

Here’s a quick video showing how the length adjusts and how the poles fold up:

FlickLock mechanism in the open position while adjusting the length.
FlickLock mechanism in the closed position

Weight

The Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles are extremely light, especially considering their full-featured design. A pair weighs between 11 – 13 ounces depending on the size. This is roughly 1.8 ounces heavier than the non-adjustable Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z, and 2.8 ounces lighter than the aluminum Distance FLZ.

We all know weight is important for the stuff on our backs, but why does it matter for hiking poles? A few reasons:

Stashing poles: For some types of hiking it’s useful to stash our poles on our packs. Thru hikers sometimes stash poles during a long road walk, and peak baggers may stash them when scrambling requires use of hands. Ultrarunners might use poles to power hike a climb and then stash them to run the descent.

Hand and arm fatigue: Especially if hiking long days, a heavy pole can cause hand and arm fatigue. They’re not that heavy, but eventually the many small movements add up.

Fast cadence: Runners, fastpackers, and other speedy folks use a fast cadence that requires swinging poles quickly and easily. A heavier pole shaft is especially cumbersome for fast movements.

In summary, any hiker or backpacker will appreciate the light feeling of Distance Carbon FLZ poles, but it’s especially essential for fast-and-light adventures and long days.

Advantages for Smaller Hikers

Like all z-fold poles, the Distance Carbon FLZ offers its biggest benefits to the smallest hikers. Since adjustable telescoping poles only come in one size, shorter hikers are carrying around more material than they need. If you’re short enough to use the smallest size of the Distance Carbon FLZ, you’ll save 2 ounces of weight and 3 inches of packed length compared to the largest size.

Grips and Straps

EVA foam grips help keep the Distance Carbon FLZ poles light but don’t sacrifice much in the way of comfort. Some folks prefer cork grips for their comfort and the way they mold to your hand over time, but they are heavier. Personally I’m fine with the EVA foam.

I have small hands and my husband has larger hands, but we both find the Distance Carbon FLZ grips comfy enough. A series of slots in the foam helps with grip and ventilation; I can’t recall noticing a sweaty hands problem with these poles.

The grip extends a couple inches below the primary hand position, so you can choke up on the poles for a short climb without needing to adjust the length. I don’t use this feature much, as it requires quite a bit of grip strength to get full power from the pole without the support of the strap. But it’s nice to have the option, and I do use it occasionally for short periods.

The Distance straps are light, breathable, adjustable, and unusually supportive for such an ultralight pole. The Gossamer Gear LT5, for example, is fully adjustable and lighter than the FLZ but not everyone loves the flimsy straps.

I keep the FLZ’s straps adjusted snugly to take strain off my wrists, especially on downhills. Each strap has a “R” or “L” to indicate right or left hand, but the indicator is only visible if you have the poles in the wrong hand, a clever little detail I’ve always appreciated.

The straps are adjustable, soft, and durable.
The poles are right and left handed, and a label – visible only if you’ve got the poles switched – tells you which is which.
I find the grips and straps quite comfortable, especially with a layer of sun sleeve for back-to-back long days. (shown here on the Arizona trail)

Durability

Durability is always a concern with carbon hiking poles. Though carbon fiber is impressively strong for its light weight, it can snap under sudden strong sideways or torsional forces. I saw this first-hand when my husband’s Distance Carbon Z (which uses a very similar shaft design to the FLZ) snapped in half during an unfortunate postholing incident in the high Sierra.

Fortunately both our sets of Distance Carbon FLZ poles are still going strong, but I’ve learned to immediately stop moving when my pole tip catches on something. These aren’t poles that you can simply yank free and keep moving.

As for the rest of the poles, everything else is quite durable. I expected the “speed cone” system – the flexible part that connects the segments – to wear out first, but it’s still going strong. The shafts are thoroughly scratched but it’s only cosmetic. The straps, while dirty and a tad frayed, are still comfortable. The grips are as good as new, except where one was nibbled by a desert mouse with a salt craving.

One of my well-loved Distance Carbon FLZ poles from 2021, a bit worn but still going strong.

Pole-Supported Shelters

Trekking pole supported shelters have become really popular among lightweight backpackers, in part because they save weight by not requiring separate tent poles. If you want to use one of these tents or tarps with your trekking poles, you’ll need to consider compatibility.

A traditional telescoping pole is compatible with the widest range of shelters because it has the biggest length range. Fixed length poles like the Distance Carbon Z are trickiest because they only offer a single length option, which may or may not be compatible with a good pitch of your particular shelter.

The Distance Carbon FLZ poles offer a middle ground. Their small adjustable range is compatible with many (but not all) shelters and allows for easily tightening up the pitch in the middle of a stormy night. This is the number one reason I prefer the Distance Carbon FLZ over the fixed-length Z version for backpacking.

A small amount of adjustable length makes it easier to get a tight pitch on a shelter like this (Six Moon Designs Haven tarp), and to tighten it up from inside on a stormy night.
A Distance Carbon FLZ pole tip in the Six Moon Designs Haven tarp

Unfortunately, some shelters won’t work smoothly with any tri-fold pole design, even the moderately adjustable FLZ. These tend to be shelters requiring a shorter pole in one or more spots. Tri-fold poles can’t adjust short enough, and once folded they’re too short and not rigid enough for a good pitch.

For example, when pitching a simple rectangular tarp I prefer a telescoping pole that adjusts shorter than my FLZ to get the tarp closer to the ground. For the ultimate flexibility in shelter pitching, a telescoping pole is the way to go.

The Distance Carbon FLZ poles are not ideal for this 6×9′ tarp. At their shortest length they’re still a bit too tall to bring the tarp close to the ground in bad weather. Telescoping poles would be better. Here I’ve compromised by using one FLZ pole and a sturdy stick at the other end.

Other Distance Poles from Black Diamond

Black Diamond offers several poles in its Distance line, all with the signature Z-fold design. Here’s how they compare to the Distance Carbon FLZ.

Distance Carbon FLZ Versus Distance FLZ

If you like the adjustable tri-fold design but the carbon price tag makes your eyes water, much of this review is equally applicable to the aluminum Distance FLZ poles. They’re 2.8 ounces heavier per pair and don’t have the shock absorbing properties of carbon fiber, but they cost $50 less and are more durable. They might be a better choice for someone who does a lot of off-trail backpacking on rugged terrain, where it’s easier to accidentally snap a carbon fiber shaft.

Distance Carbon FLZ Versus Distance Carbon Z

If you want the absolute lightest of the light, the fixed-length Distance Carbon Z poles are 2-3 ounces (depending on size) lighter per pair and don’t have the adjustable top segment.

I used a pair of Distance Carbon Z poles for many miles before switching to the Distance Carbon FLZ. For backpacking I prefer the FLZ’s adjustability. If you backpack with a trekking pole supported shelter, like to adjust your pole length based on terrain, are between sizes of the fixed-length Distance Z, or want to share poles between people of different heights, the partially adjustable Distance Carbon FLZ is the way to go.

For some uses though, the Distance Carbon Z is a great choice. If you don’t use a pole-supported shelter, aren’t fussy about precise pole length, and care about weight above all else, you might be happier with the Distance Carbon Z. If I were going to use these poles primarily for trail running or single-day peak bagging missions, I would go with the Distance Carbon Z over the FLZ.

Women’s Versions

Black Diamond offers women’s versions of the Distance Carbon Z and Distance Carbon FLZ poles, but their website doesn’t explain what makes them women-specific. They’re a different shade of blue and only come in small and medium lengths, otherwise the difference isn’t clear to me.

In Conclusion

I love my Distance Carbon FLZ Poles and would buy them again in hindsight. Their balance of light weight, packable design, and moderate adjustability is perfect for my use cases of lightweight backpacking, occasional peakbagging, intense day hikes, and outdoorsy travel.

If you don’t care about short packed length, you might be better off with an ultralight telescoping carbon pole. You’ll get a larger adjustable range (necessary for certain types of shelters) and competitive weight, often for less money. For example:

If you’re still on the fence about the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles, here are my recommendations:

  • Get the Distance Carbon FLZ if: You’re an ultralight or lightweight backpacker who values weight, packability, and shelter compatibility.
  • Get the Distance Carbon Z if: You’re a runner or fastpacker who values light weight above all else and aren’t concerned about shelter compatibility.
  • Get the Distance FLZ (aluminum) if: You need a durable and packable pole that can stand up to really rough off-trail terrain, postholing, etc. Or, you love the packability of the Z-fold design but can’t afford carbon fiber.
  • Get an ultralight telescoping pole like the REI Co-op Flash Carbon, Gossamer Gear LT5, or Zpacks Carbon Fiber if: You want an ultralight pole and ultimate flexibility for trekking pole supported tarps and shelters, and you don’t need to stash your poles in small spaces.

More Backpacking Resources

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About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking the Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and countless shorter amazing trails throughout the US and abroad. I love solitude, big views, and a good lightweight gear setup. Learn more here.

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