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Hands-on Gear Review
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Review
Cons: Not as compact or as lightweight as "tent-style" trekking poles
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork wins our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice award. They are light, strong and versatile poles; combined with the comfortable cork handles, climbers and hikers alike will enjoy using them on everything from the roughest of approaches, to simple day hikes. They on the lighter side for telescoping poles, but if you're an ounce counter, this contender is far from the lightest. What our Editors' Choice award winner does provide is superior durability, comfort, and versatility, for just a few extra ounces more than the other competitors.
While these poles don't have an anti-shock mechanism, nearly all of our testers felt they didn't need them and after extensive testing during off trail travel, we actually appreciated the fact that they didn't have an anti-shock component. This competitor is strong enough for the roughest of trails, yet short enough to be appreciated by splitboarders and snowshoers alike. All and all, if you are willing to throw down the coin on these poles, you won't be disappointed.
RELATED: Our complete review of trekking poles
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
These poles feature a simple cork grip that is identical to the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z. During real world testing, our review team appreciated its smaller diameter handle, with just enough ergonomics to keep it in the upper echelon for comfort (in our review). While this newer grip doesn't appear as ergonomic nor as articulated as the old model, we found that both smaller and larger handed reviewers liked this newer grip better than the older version, which had a very large diameter handle. Overall, we thought this model was one of the most comfortable pair of poles in our review, with only the Leki Corklite and the Leki Micro Vario Ti COR-TEC being only slightly more comfortable. Our testers did think this competitor featured a more comfortable handle than its lightweight cousins, the Black Diamond Distance Z and Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z, which featured a basic (but lighter) foam grip.
Our testers also really appreciated the lower foam grip that extended below the cork handle. We found this feature especially useful while "choking down" on steep traverses or on rougher terrain.
The new Carbon Cork's locking mechanism appears to be the same FlickLock Design that Black Diamond has been using for over a decade (rather than the "updated" version used on the last model). We actually found no reason to have a problem with this model of FlickLock and if anything, we think its easier to adjust. As a result, we think the FlickLock system, along with the Leki's SpeedLock, are the most reliable, durable, and easy to use on the market. We have used this version of BD's FlickLock locking mechanism for more than 500 days and other than the very occasional tightening (which nearly all leaver-lock style closure mechanisms require), we have found that it has never failed us.
This model weighs in at 17 ounces. That was super light a few years ago but not now, with the newer "tent pole style" like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z (10 ounces) and Distance Z, (12 ounces), it now checks in toward the middle of the pack among all of the poles we tested. It is still among the lightest of the traditional telescoping style trekking poles, with only the Leki Carbonlite (15 ounces) and the Komperdell C3 Carbon Compact (13 ounces) being lighter.
What exactly do you get for the extra weight? This pair of poles is certainly beefier and more durable than either of the above poles, especially the C3 Carbon Powerlock, and it has nicer handles. They are also about 4 ounces lighter than the majority of similarly designed aluminum poles.
Similar to our weight category, this model just can't compete as far as packability with the "tent pole style" trekking poles; they are 7 inches longer than any of the other competitors and 10-11 inches longer than most of the Z-style poles. Compared with other, stronger and more versatile telescoping style trekking poles, this model was the second most compact, shrinking down to 62.5cm/25', only being beaten out by the Komperdell C3 Carbon Powerlock Compact (21.5 inches). If you really like this pole but wished it packed down to a smaller size, check out the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z - a similar pole that packs down 10" shorter, though we feel 25 inches is short enough for most backpackers, trekkers, or climbers.
These poles are easily the most durable carbon fiber pair of trekking poles we tested, being noticeably stronger and tougher than any of the "tent pole style" folding poles and more solid than either the Komperdell C3 Carbon Powerlock Compact or the Leki Carbonlite. Despite our general opinion that aluminum poles are more durable than their carbon counterparts, these poles are a slight exception. After several years of testing, we feel that the slightly thicker, larger diameter carbon shafts that Black Diamond uses might be a little heavier (1-3 ounces heavier), but are noticeably more durable. The FlickLock closure mechanism is as tough as they come and should last most users several years; we feel that these poles are about as durable as many of the other 20 ounce aluminum poles.
These trekking poles are quite versatile, especially considering their carbon fiber construction. They can handle anything a trekker or climber needs, no matter how rough the trail, or how rocky the cross country travel. You can put bigger baskets on them and easily take them snowshoeing, spring mountaineering, or winter camping. Like all three section poles, we don't really recommend them for backcountry skiing; but, if there was a pole that was up to the task, this would be our choice.
These poles are among the most expensive poles in our review, but you do get what you pay for. They are a super durable pole with very comfortable grips and an easy-to-use closure system. If you are willing to spend $160 on trekking poles, then these should be on your list. They are still less expensive than the Z-style version of this pole, the Alpine Carbon Z, which costs $190, or the Leki Carbonlite ($180); both are lighter and more packable.
These poles will serve any hiker, backpacker, trekker, mountaineer, splitboarder, snowshoer or climber exceptionally well. For skiers, they work as well as any three section pole; but we'd still recommend a two section pole like the Black Diamond Traverse for serious backcountry skiers. If you don't want to buy two pairs of poles, then these would be our top choice because of their stiffness and durability.
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice award winner; this pair of trekking poles is relatively lightweight and versatile and also have comfortable grips and surprising durability for their construction. Lighter to medium-duty trekkers might appreciate the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z (10 oz, also $160) because of their noticeable lighter weight and superior compactness, though these aren't nearly as tough or comfortable, nor as versatile.
If you are looking for a light versatile pole and you don't desire a shock mechanism, then this pair of trekking poles should be on your list. Even if you are looking for a pole with a shock mechanism, keep in mind that the carbon fiber shafts offer some dampening, they pack fairly small, and they are some of the strongest. Plus, after breaking the grips in, we borderline dreaded using some other poles' grips. If you are willing to spend $160 or more on your poles, this contender should be on your list. While they are on the lighter side (17 ounces), the only downside is that there are now more options that are way lighter like the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z at a mere 10 ounces that packs down 11" shorter. If you like the durability and the cork handles of this model, but wished it packed down smaller, make sure to check out the Alpine Carbon Z, which we loved and found it to be pretty versatile, though they don't offer a length adjustment.
Black Diamond Trail Back
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork
Alpine Carbon Z
Tangential Note: Dream Backpacking Gear List
The Alpine Carbon Corks are one of many items featured in our Dream Backpacking Gear List. Check it out to see other top-tier "dream" backpacking items.
— Ian Nicholson
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: June 11, 2016
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