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.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Why you should use trekking poles on the trail!

So as most of you already know, I have been really focusing on trail running for about the last year.  Honestly, my drive to do road races has dwindled and most of the reasoning has to do with my love for trail running.  When I run on the road, it is the same repetitive movement step after step.  It really takes a toll on my body (I’m not a young buck anymore).   The views are incredible on the trails, the sounds and wildlife are amazing, and I am much less injury prone when I run trails.  This can due in large part to change your stride when going up and down hills as well as running on uneven terrain.  You are essentially strengthening your legs, ankles, and feet while you are trail running, much more than when you run on the road.  It is no wonder why so many elite road runners spend at least 30% of their time on trails.

I started looking into trekking poles after seeing many elite trail runners using them on their hill climbs.  I wanted to understand why people would use trekking poles, what benefits there were and any disadvantages.


The biggest reason to use trekking poles is actually to help you keep good form, especially going up hills.  If you don’t run with poles, many runners tend to hunch over.  Some people even use techniques where you push down on your knees with your hands to give a little extra help going up the hill.  The problem of not running erect is that you put a lot of stress on your back, hip flexors, neck, and glutes. 

You also are reducing the amount of oxygen you can take in (by as much as 30%) because your lungs can’t fully expand.  That in turn reduces your efficiency.  By using poles, you are using the poles to help you stay upright, especially on the up hills.

Another advantage of trekking poles is that you are using the poles to take some of the load (weight) while you are running.  This in turn makes you more efficient over longer distances and reduces overall stress on your body.  Your arms are not exactly light.  While it not be a big deal over very short distances, it will take a toll, in longer distances.  Here is a quote that explains this in more detail. 

If you simply take the weight of your arms off your feet, over the day's hike, you can save substantially on what is normally being moved along by your lower body. Once you get good at it, and well-coordinated (as well as a fit upper body), you can press down with just 20 pounds on each stride (left and right step) for a fairly long distance. This is maybe over twice the weight of a big arm. Over the length of a mile you will transfer 40,000 pounds to the poles instead of your legs and feet. This assumes you have something near a left to left foot pace of about five and a quarter feet. This gives you about 2000 strides a mile (times 20 pounds each stride). Trail Space, Seth Levy, May 2010

Trekking poles can also add power to your stride.  If you have power-hiked any steep hills, it is easy to lose steam in a hurry.  Using trekking poles can add power, using your arms to help propel you forward, taking some of the stress off your legs.  This can also be a benefit on the relatively flat or rolling hill sections of runs and races.

The last advantage I will discuss is stability.  When you get tired or are running over technical terrain, you can lose your grip or just focus less on your balance.  Trekking poles can really help provide a more stable gait and even catch you when your foot slips a little.  I have noticed that running downhill, which is my arch nemesis, has become much easier.  I have huge confidence issues when running downhill.  I hate to fall and am terrified of landing on a huge rock and breaking a rib or cracking my head open on the way down hills.  With trekking poles, I can use them kind of like when I ski, planting a pole for stability, especially on more technical trails. 


Many people think that the weight is a disadvantage, but many of the poles now are made out of thin (strong) carbon fiber.  They are extremely light weight and really negate this concern.
Another perceived disadvantage is that they are hard to use or take more effort than running without poles.  While this is true at first, you will quickly learn how to use the poles and you get used to pushing of with your arms after a few uses.  With that being said, it is vital that you practice with your trekking poles prior to a race.  I will share the proper way to hold poles and proper technique later.

If you are using poles in muddy or soft conditions, the poles might stick in the ground it pulls out of your hand.  This does happen on occasion, but the strap around your wrist will help so you don’t have to run back for it.

Different Types of Poles

There are poles that fold and some that do not.  The folded ones usually come in 3-4 sections with a string or some other material inside them so they all stay together (kind of like a tent pole).  Some poles are made out of aluminum and some are made with carbon fiber.  The aluminum is thought of as being stronger, but that is not always the case.  IT really depends on how the carbon fiber is used to make the poles.  Aluminum weighs more and once it is bent, there is no fixing them.  With carbon fiber, they are more flexible and lighter, but in general break more easily than aluminum. 

How to Hold Trekking Poles

You should use the strap on your trekking poles.  The reality is that you should not have to grip the handles very tightly.  If you do, your hands will fatigue and become sore.  You want to put your hand up through the strap and then grip the pole.  This will put some of the strap between your hand and the handle.  You really want to allow the pole to pivot and the pressure to be on the strap, underneath your wrist. See the below video at about 2:15 minute in.  The video also shows how to properly use the poles.  With that being said, the runner is actually using poles that are a little shorter than they should be.  Your arms should be at roughly a 90 degree angle when standing in your running shoes.

I will be comparing two popular trekking poles later this week, the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Poles and the Mountain King Trail Blaze.  I hope you enjoyed this blog post and please let me know if you have any questions in the comments.