Breathing new life into cranky knees - Distance FL-Z Review

An insight into the merrits of Hiking & Running poles
August 20, 2023

By Kath Fourie

When I was 21, I went skiing for the first time in my life in Sweden. It was a showstopper event – and not in a good way. My impressive first day on the slopes ended with me cartwheeling through a spruce tree thicket and tearing my ACL, PCL, MCL – all the Ls really. In my naivety at the time, I remember saying “Well at least I didn’t break a bone…” – years of rehab and a couple of surgeries later I WISH I had only broken a bone!

Safely Crossing a river using a pole for group security

Fast-forward nearly twenty years down the line and the ‘ol knee is still going great guns but is ably assisted by the best mountaineering invention ever – the trekking pole. At first, I poo-pooed the use of trekking poles, seeing them as something for people who were older than me. Then one glorious day, while my knee was squeaking away, I took a set of old poles that had belonged to my brother along on a mountain walk. I was sold within twenty minutes.

In 2020 I bought a set of aluminium Black Diamond Distance FL Z Trekking poles – they were shiny silver and black. When I pulled them out their packaging I cradled them in my arms, marvelling at how light they were for a non-carbon product, about 445g. I bought them specifically because I was starting to train for a race called the X-Berg Challenge held in the Drakensberg which includes a lot of off-piste bundu bashing and tripping through spiky high grass and descending of dry, crumbling mountain passes. I also knew I had some sort of knee issue that needed to be sorted out, but I decided to park that until after the race. My shiny sticks of glory underwent every training hike and run with me, niftily folding up in a Z style to a length of +-40cm and clipping neatly on the sides of my running pack when I didn’t need them. My knees thanked me profusely by behaving and I successfully finished my 85km overnight race with a big fat smile on my face.

Those poles have endured a lot, clocking up near on a thousand kilometres of Drakensberg hikes and runs since I got them, and in the last year have become especially valuable when out paragliding, as I’ve entered the mule-pack sport of ‘hike and fly’, lugging my +-18km pack up steep mountain sides pretty much every week. Where my glider goes, my poles go – they fold up small enough to store in my harness while I fly, and I can whip them out and click them together in under 60 seconds and be ready to start the quad destroying treks to take-off.

Hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains

The other great thing about modern trekking poles is that many super light trekking tents are designed to use them as tent poles, which further lightens your load when out on big mountain hikes or fast-packing ventures. They can be used for safety when crossing rivers, locking poles together to brace as several people enter high water; they are perfect for pole-vault levering over small streams, muddy patches, smashing brambles out the way, and for ankle tapping the friend in front of you so they face plant when they need to be kept in check. They’re also especially good for whacking grass where you may or may not have seen a giant snake disappear just ahead of you, and for scooping dropped clothing items out of pools. Also, for prodding your hiking partner at 6am to make sure they’re getting up to make the coffee when it’s their turn.

Two years later, I haven’t had one issue with my poles – I haven’t tried out the carbide tips yet because the rubber tech tips are still in perfect working order, the locking system is hundreds, and the webbing straps are still as strong as can be despite my best efforts to melt them that one time against the jet boil ignition area.

Black Diamond FL-Z Hiking Poles

Trekking poles have breathed new life into the outdoor escapades of many people who thought their hiking days may be on the wind-down, because they relieve massive pressure off joints when you need them – but can be easily packed away when you don’t. If you’re umming and ah-ing over the investment, you can be rest assured – if my cranky knees and herniated discs are getting ready for my next X-Berg Challenge using the same poles, the Black Diamond FL Z Distance Trekking Poles are well worth the cash drop.

Those poles have endured a lot, clocking up near on a thousand kilometres of Drakensberg hikes and runs since I got them, and in the last year have become especially valuable when out paragliding