Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Mountain King vs. Black Diamond Trekking Poles

In my last post, I discussed why you should use trekking poles.  Now I am going to review two different trekking poles.  The Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z is one of the most popular trekking poles for elite ultra-runners.  I will also review the lighter Mountain King Trail Blaze poles.  In this post, I will compare the two poles and what makes them so good. 

Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z (and FLZ)

If you have researched trekking poles or have seen videos of the elite runners, most of them tend to use Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles.    

The Distance Carbon Z also comes in a version that you can adjust (FLZ) for an additional $20.  Other than the adjustment option and some weight differences because of that option, the poles are identical. 

The Distance Carbon Z is made with 100% carbon constriction and weighs in at a mere 9 ounces per pole (10 ounces for the 120 cm version that I tested).  That is really light, especially in comparison to aluminum poles.    The poles extend very easy and lock into place with ease thanks to Black Diamond’s Z-Pole Rapid Development System (see video demonstration below).  The cord is made with Kevlar and has a blue flexible cone shaped coating that helps guide the poles into place. 

The grip is made of a lightweight, breathable EVA foam that wicks moisture.  It’s comfortable and is molded to comfortably fit your hand.  The wrist strap that is attached to the grip is comfortable and adjustable so you can have the right fit for the size of your wrist and preference.

The Distance Carbon Z comes in three sections which folds up to 16” for my sized poles of 120 cm’s.  There are four sizes; 100 cm, 110 cm, 120 cm, and 130 cm.  The poles come with interchangeable, non-scaring rubber Tech Tips as well as carbide Tech Tips and stopper baskets that don’t detach from the poles.

Most of the reviews that I have seen online are for the Distance Carbon Z.  I tested the Distance Carbon FLZ, which is almost identical with the exception of the FlickLock®.  That basically lets you adjust your pole height a little while out are out on a run.  You might prefer to have your poles shorter on uphill climbs or longer on descents.  The Distance Carbon FLZ gives you that choice at a very small price difference.

Black Diamond made an amazing set of poles in the Distance Carbon Z and the Distance Carbon FLZ.  The Z-Pole Rapid Deployment System is awesome.  My one issue is that if you break a section of the pole, which can happen, you have to send it back to Black Diamond for repair.  I also wish they came with a carrying bag.  It does come with a Velcro strap to bundle them up, but a bag would be nice.  You can pick up a pair of either the Distance Carbon Z for $159.95 or Distance Carbon FLZ for $179.95 at the Black Diamond website.  The poles are covered under warranty for one year for any defects in materials and workmanship.  That does not include pole breakage from use though.

Decent price at $159.95/179.95
Awesome grip and wrist strap
Durable and lightweight
100% Carbon Fiber construction
Z-Pole Rapid Deployment System is awesome

Mountain King Trail Blaze

The other poles I tested were the Mountain King Trail Blaze poles.  The first thing you notice is that they are thinner than the Distance Carbon Z and a bit lighter.  In fact, they weigh in at 3.74 ounces for a 120 cm pole, which is less than a third the weight of the Distance Carbon Z.  That might not seem like much, but you are talking about an extra ¼ pound of extra weight per arm for an extended amount of time while you are running.  It can add up and I could really tell in my testing.  The Trail Blaze is simply less complex, which is why it weighs less.  Therein lies the reason why many runners like these poles.  They just work well at a really light weight.

The grip is made of an airfoam with an open mesh type of a cover.  It allowed your hand to comfortably grip the poles and also allowed them to remain dry.    The wrist strap was also very comfortable and adjustable so no complaints there. 

The Trail Blaze comes in five different lengths in 5 cm increments from 110 cm’s to 130 cm’s.  They range from 3.63 ounces to 3.84 ounces depending on the length.  Unlike the Distance Carbon Z, the Trail Blaze comes in 4 sections, not three which means that it can break down into a smaller folded footprint.  The 120 cm poles fold down to 13.78” which is over 2” shorter than the Distance Carbon Z.  It helps when trying to store them in your pack.

Similar to the Distance Carbon Z, the Trail Blaze comes with a carbide wear tip and has rubber tips that you can put over the carbide wear tips.  It also comes with a mesh bag to store your poles in when not in use (which the Distance Carbon Z do not come with).  The basket on the Trail Blaze can come off, which I typically do not run with, so I just don’t put it on. 

The Trail Blaze comes a one year warranty, which excludes breakage from use, but is great to have.  Mountain King makes their poles in the UK where they can closely control production to make sure that their methods and quality is adhered to.  Most other brands make their poles in China where manufacturing quality can be somewhat questionable. 

Durable and lightweight
You can get replacement sections of the poles.
Great price at $132 plus shipping from the UK.
Comfortable wrist strap
Easy pole deployment
4-section poles are smaller when folded

It’s hard to find a US dealer

Comparison (120 cm versions tested)

10.23 oz
12.52 oz
3.74 oz
Folded Length
More stiff
More stiff
Less stiff
100% Carbon Fiber
Adjustable Poles
$132 + Int. Ship

While I love both poles, I feel that the weight savings of the Trail Blaze is a huge benefit.  With that being said, The Black Diamond poles have their Z-Pole Rapid Deployment System, which I feel is superior.  That superior deployment comes at a cost though, which is the fact that it weighs 3 times as much as the Trail Blaze.  That is not to say that the Trail Blaze is difficult to deploy, but the Distance Carbon Z is just easier in my opinion.  Both pole deployment systems work well though and should not cause any problems once you have practiced a few times (which I strongly suggest doing before race day).

Each person will gravitate toward a specific pole based on their personal preferences.  I honestly think that you would be happy with any of the poles I talked about here.  If you have specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask and I will do my best to answer them. 

Note:  I received this product in exchange for a review.  The review is my personal opinion of the product and I was not required to give a particular opinion of it.  I am not a doctor, so please use all of the products that I review at your own risk.


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  3. Thanks for the post, I've actually been considering both these models, for the same reasons... Mountain Kings, because of weight, and the black diamond because of the slight adjustability.

    Also did look at the Leki, but seemed a lot pricier and weight was even more.

    Just wanted to say thanks for the review, I'm still stuck on a decision, but I'll decide soon.


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    Thanks for the post, I've actually been considering both these models, for the same reasons... Mountain Kings, because of weight, and the black diamond because of the slight adjustability.

    Also did look at the Leki, but seemed a lot pricier and weight was even more.

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  11. My preference was for the Trail Blaze mainly because of the fold up size and stowing it on the front of my hydration pack was no problem. I did however experience problems with the locking the string, the Velcro didn't last long. Until I figured out to tie a knot in the string and hook the string into the groove at the top! Would have been nice to know that from the start! :-)