The Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ hiking poles are a premium option designed for folks who move fast and light and don’t always have their poles in their hands. The packable Z-fold shape, adjustable length, and lightweight carbon fiber shaft are especially loved by ultralight backpackers, peak baggers, trail runners, and travelers.
The FLZ design is a clever hybrid between two trekking pole designs. Fixed-length z-fold poles are great because they pack down small, but are sold in specific sizes and 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 shorter 15 cm range. The best of both worlds!
My Distance Carbon FLZ poles saw their biggest mileage during seven weeks on the Arizona Trail, among other shorter adventures. Prior to that I used Distance Carbon Z poles – similar design but without adjustable length – for many years. These poles are pricey to be sure, but for my mix of lightweight backpacking, scrambling, and traveling, they’re the perfect fit.
In this review I’ll cover all the features of the Distance Carbon FLZ hiking poles, how they’ve held up on the trail, how they compare to a few similar models from Black Diamond and other manufacturers, and what kind of adventures I think they’re best for.
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Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Poles
Weight: 11, 12, 13 oz 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 choose the same model again
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 an 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 available sizes of fixed length poles, while still retaining advantages of fixed length poles
- Comfortable and supportive straps take pressure off hands and wrists
- Shorter hikers (under 5′ 4″) enjoy the biggest savings in weight and packed length relative to a telescoping pole
- Carbon fiber shaft helps absorb impact for comfort on long days
- Best balance of packability, light weight, and adjustability on the market currently
Reasons not to buy:
- 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 for the minority of folks who only use a single pole)
Explaining the Model Name
Black Diamond’s naming conventions are a little confusing, so let’s start by clarifying which poles this review is actually about.
First, “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 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.
My Experience With the Black Diamond Carbon Distance FLZ Poles
I’ve been using the Distance Carbon FLZ poles for the last 1.5 years, most significantly during a 7-week Arizona Trail thru hike and a few shorter backpacking trips. My husband also used a pair on the AZT.
Prior to this we were both using Distance Carbon Z poles, Black Diamond’s even lighter fixed-length version. We liked them, but over years of use we eventually wore them out. When we went to replace them the adjustable FLZ model caught our attention.
We opted for the FLZ poles on the Arizona Trail and I’m glad we did. If we ever have to replace them – and hopefully we won’t, because they’re pricey – we would both buy the Carbon FLZ poles again for their adjustability.
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.
Folded Size and Packability
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 weight with compact foldable design and length adjustability.
Instead of the telescoping mechanism used in traditional trekking poles, the Distance FLZ poles (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 that guides the segments into place automatically when tension is applied.
When folded, the FLZ poles measure 13, 15, or 16 inches depending on the 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.
The more traditional Trail Trekking Poles, by contrast, don’t get any shorter than 25 inches. If you want to stash your poles in an ultralight backpack or running vest – maybe to free up hands for some scrambling, or on a long road walk into town for resupply – the shorter folded length of the Distance poles is a huge advantage. They’re also perfect for packing in minimalist luggage if your hiking adventures take you to faraway lands.
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 the 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 (perhaps more significantly) 3 inches of packed length compared to the largest size.
Folding and Unfolding
Like everything else about the Distance Carbon FLZ poles, the folding and unfolding process is designed for moving fast. Unfolding is definitely 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.
Adjustability and Locking Mechanism
The Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles are a unique hybrid design that balances the convenience of moderate adjustability with the weight savings of fixed length. They’re available in three different sizes, each with a 15 cm adjustable range. This clever design offers adjustability where it’s needed most – over a relatively short range – while keeping weight as low as possible.
The adjustability comes from a short telescoping section in the top segment of the pole. It 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. I’ve never once had it fail.
The adjustability is obviously great for mid-hike changes, for example to shorten the poles for a sustained steep climb. But it’s especially helpful if you backpack with one of the many popular trekking pole supported shelters. I can’t promise that every length of pole works with every shelter, but my medium (110 – 125 cm) Distance Carbon FLZ poles work perfectly with my Six Moon Designs Haven Tarp.
Folding and Adjusting Videos
I’m not the greatest videographer, but here are some quick and simple videos showing how the Distance Carbon FLZ poles fold and adjust.
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 which pole is right and left, but the indicator is only visible if you have the poles in the wrong hand – a clever little detail I’ve always appreciated.
Overall I find the grip and strap system pretty comfortable. With heavy use day after day I get a couple minor hot spots on my hands, but I prefer to do long hikes with sun sleeves anyway so this isn’t usually a problem.
While on the subject of comfort, it’s worth noting that carbon fiber does a good job – better than aluminum – of absorbing shock as the pole tip hits the ground, thus transmitting less of it to your hand. This also contributes to a sense of comfort when using these poles all day long, especially on hard or rocky ground.
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 damage. 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.
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 most 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 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.
Some shelters that won’t work smoothly with any tri-fold pole design, even the moderately adjustable FLZ. 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.
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 would 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 for the 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.
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.
I’m a big fan of 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:
- REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles: 13.6 oz, $149
- Zpacks Carbon Fiber Trekking poles, 14.4 oz, $120
- Gossamer Gear LT5: 9.8 oz, $195
If you’re still on the fence about the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles, here are my simplified 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.
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