Preview: Black Diamond Distance Tent || Got ventilation?

The BD Distance Tent is new for spring 2019, and the first BD tent that uses trekking poles for support. It’s full sided, fully enclosed, and weighs about 1.5 pounds.

Nearly all backpacking shelters from cottage manufacturers use trekking poles for support, e.g. MLD SoloMid, TarpTent Notch, and ZPacks Duplex.

The explanation is simple: This saves weight over geometries that require dedicated pole sets, e.g. Big Agnes Copper Spur, REI Quarter Dome. Some of the weight must be given back to achieve a minimum of interior space — extra fabric or lightweight struts help to counter sloping walls and near-useless perimeter space — but the savings are still considerable.

In the brick-and-mortar and online retail channel, however, shelters supported with trekking poles have gained little traction. Big Agnes offers just one model; MSR, three; Nemo, one; REI, none; Sierra Designs, one. Is this a reflection of consumer preferences or the result of slow innovation? I think it’s probably both.

Preview: Black Diamond Distance Tent

So I was pleased to find the new Black Diamond Distance Tent at Outdoor Retailer. It’s a full sided, fully enclosed single-wall design that uses two trekking poles for support. It reminds me most of the LightHeart FireFly ($275, 1 lb 13 oz), which similarly uses a short ridge pole to increase interior volume in the peak area.

When paired with Black Diamond’s new Distance Carbon AR (“accessory ready”) trekking poles, the Distance Tent weighs 1 lb 7 oz. If you already own trekking poles, you will need two 1-oz pole grip adapters, bringing the total weight to 1 lb 9 oz. It will retail for $400 with the Distance Carbon AR poles, or a reasonable $250 with the adapters.

The Distance Tent is designed to work specifically with the new Distance Carbon AR trekking poles, which have a special female piece in the grip.

If you already own poles, BD will include two 1-oz adapters and knock $150 off the $400 MSRP.

The fly and floor are made of 30d coated polyester, which stretches less than silicone- and polyurethane-coated nylons.

The Distance is described as a 2-person shelter, but I think it’s more suitable for one: it has just 26 square feet of interior space, no vestibules, only one door, and sloping (not vertical) side panels. For context, the FireFly — which LightHeart describes as “a roomy 1-person” shelter — has dimensions of 105″ x 55″ x 45″ (length x max width x height), whereas the Distance is 95″ x 58″ x 41″.

My prediction: A sweat box

I want to like the Distance Tent, and I want Black Diamond (and other brands) to utilize trekking poles in more of their shelters. But on the showroom floor, the Distance Tent seemed fundamentally flawed. Why? Because its ventilation is woefully inadequate.

The Distance Tent has just two small vents, at the peak and at the foot. Both are covered with no-see-um bug mesh, the air permeability of which is shockingly low — without at least a moderate breeze, air does not push through. There are no vents along the bottom perimeter, and the side door does not have a separate mesh panel.

Peak vent

Foot vent

The Distance Tent does not have any vents along the bottom perimeter, and the door does not have a separate mesh screen.

So if it’s raining or buggy, the Distance Tent will need to be zipped tight. In most environments — where nights are generally calm and low temperatures approach the dew point — I think the two vents will be quickly overwhelmed. As configured, the Distance Tent may perform adequately in arid and bug-free areas.

Black Diamond has six months to remedy this design. A door awning and mesh door would go a long way. While they’re at it, I also hope they rearrange the door zipper so that the door does not fall in the dirt/sand when the shelter is opened, which will reduce the lifespan of the zipper.


  1. CJ on July 31, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    Great thoughts. And after looking at the pictures I think you are probably pretty correct in your assumptions on all fronts.

  2. Dan Durston on July 31, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Agree with all your comments here re. sweat box.

    Nice to see the polyester though. The no sag is great for trekking pole supported shelters. Once you emerge from a poly tent after an all night rain and find the fly still looks great instead of sagging and sticking to the inner, it’s hard to go back to nylon.

  3. Bill Brokob on July 31, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Seems like a tent that works best when you do not need a tent

  4. Walter Underwood on July 31, 2018 at 10:26 pm

    If they used a mesh with better airflow, heat convection might work. There might be some flow from the low vent at the feet to the tall vent at the head.

  5. Langleybackcountry on August 1, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Ugh. So much wrong with that door.

  6. richard on August 3, 2018 at 9:12 am

    I liked tents because that was all I knew. The problem, from a disaster recovery perspective, is there is so much more that can go wrong. Darwin broke 3 sets of poles during his PCT hike; so far. And a tarp can be replace at any hardware store.

    Seems like black diamond is just trying to sell more poles.

  7. Bob on March 10, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    One of the worst ideas the tent industry got was the rainbow style door. Seem to recall the MSR Missing Link was the first…but there may have been ones before. It is absolutely stupid to have to drag the door in the dirt when a D door will work just as well.

  8. Herbert on May 20, 2019 at 7:05 am

    Its a quality tent…doesn’t breath as well as most..but its completely waterproof….its serving me well!

  9. Lisa Brin (Erikson) on August 20, 2019 at 9:30 am

    So Skurksies- For those of us that are frugal (and our old shit wont break)….Is this Z Pole (circa 2012) compatible?

    Hemi (and my pocketbook) want to know.

    • Andrew Skurka on August 20, 2019 at 9:56 am

      No, the pole needs to be the “AR” version. If you don’t have AR poles, then you need the pole adapters.

  10. langleybackcountry on July 14, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    A friend of mine just used it. Sounds like you nailed it:
    “doesn’t breath at all. It got really damp inside…Ok for a night but that is about it.”

  11. Lawrence Constantino on September 13, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    Looks like the sixmoon skyscape trekker.

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