Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: Varies from $131 - $160 | Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros: Lightweight, very strong for a carbon fiber pole, excellent locking mechanism, most compact telescoping pole
Cons: Expensive, not as compact or as lightweight as "tent-style" trekking poles, Grip is good but not the best.
Best Uses: Hiking, backpacking, climbing.
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
This wins our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice award. They are light, strong, versatile poles with comfortable cork handles. Climbers and hikers alike will enjoy using these poles on everything from the roughest of approaches to simple day hikes. The Alpine Carbon Cork is on the light side for telescoping poles, but if you're an ounce counting hiker the Alpine Carbon Cork is far from the lightest, but you do get superior durability, comfort and versatility for a few extra ounces. While these poles don't have an anti-shock mechanism, the carbon fiber shafts absorb a fair amount of vibration. After extensive testing during off trail travel we actually appreciated the fact that these poles didn't have an anti-shock. The Alpine Carbon corks are strong enough for ski touring and get 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.
If you are looking for a light versatile pole and you don't desire a shock mechanism then the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork should be on your list. Even if you are looking for a pole with a shock mechanism you should consider these poles because the carbon fiber shafts offer some dampening. They are tied for being the lightest pole in the review and are one of the lightest poles in the market. They pack down nearly the shortest and they are some of the strongest. Plus after breaking the grips in, we dreaded using other pole grips. So if you are willing to spend $150 or more on your poles then the Carbon Corks should be on your list.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork have one of the more comfortable grips in our review, with the only grip that we thought was better being the Leki Corklite, mainly because the ergonomics were marginally better and it was a little smaller in diameter. We did really liked the general shape and ergonomics of the Alpine Carbon Cork and thought it wore exceptionally well even after several years of use. The cork handle, like a Birkenstock, breaks into the shape of your hand with time and feels better after some use compared with when it was brand new. The Alpine Carbon Corks chafed our users hands much less than all the rubber grips and most of the foam gripped handles and we never thought these grips felt hot, even during late spring desert hikes and liked the lower section of the grip for choking down during cross country hill traverses. For palming users (folks who hold the pole by the top) we thought the Alpine Carbon Cork was at or very near the top of our review, depending on the user. While we thought the straps were less of a big deal than grip, shape and material, the Alpine Carbon Cork straps were our favorite in the review so if you are a strap oriented person, these poles are a good one to check out. The Alpine Carbon Cork uses a very similar handle to the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork and if you don't quite want to spend the $160 bucks, the Trail Ergo is a good option that's only three ounces heavier and $40 bucks less.
Black Diamond and the Alpine Carbon Cork use the FlickLock system to lock the sections of the poles into place and was the first major company to popularize an external lever style closure system instead of the traditional internal twist lock. Just over a couple years ago Black Diamond's FlickLock was by far and away the best locking mechanism on the market, now especially with Leki's SpeedLock system, (which we thought was almost as good) the FlickLock remains the most durable, easiest to use and easiest to adjust, though now only by a slight margin. We like the update to the lower profile metal FlickLock's now feature on the Carbon Cork and thought these were an improvement over the previous all plastic version. As a whole the FlickLock is vastly superior, more durable and easier to use than all twist lock systems. We thought the FlickLock was a step up and easier to use than Komperdells PowerLock system, but only marginally better than Leki's SpeedLock.
The Alpine Carbon Corks weigh in at 16 ounces. That was super light a few years ago but not now, with the newer "tent pole style" trekking poles which weigh inbetween 6-16 ounces, so the Alpine Cork now checks in toward the middle of the pack among all of the poles we tested but it is among the lightest of the traditional telescoping style trekking poles with only the Leki Carbonlite (15 ounces) and the Komperdell C3 Carbon Powerlock Compact (13 ounces) being lighter. What do you get for the weight? The Alpine Carbon Cork is certainly beefier and more durable than either of the above poles, especially the C3 Carbon Powerlock and has nicer handles. The Alpine Carbon Cork is about 4 ounces lighter than the majority of similarly designed aluminum poles.
Similar to our weight category, the Alpine Carbon Cork just can't compete as far as packability with the "tent pole style" trekking poles and is 7 inches longer than the longest one. Compared with other, stronger and more versatile telescoping style trekking poles, the Alpine Carbon Cork was the second most compact, shrinking down to 62.5cm/25 inches being beaten out by only the Komperdell C3 Carbon Powerlock Compact and 25 inches is short enough for most backpackers, trekkers, or climbers.
The Alpine Carbon Cork is easily the most durable carbon fiber trekking pole we tested, being noticeably stronger and tougher than any of the "tent pole style" folding poles and as we stated above, more solid than either the Komperdell C3 Carbon Powerlock Compact or the Leki Carbonlite and despite our general opinion that aluminum poles are more durable than their carbon counter parts, the Alpine Carbon Cork is a slight exception. After several years of testing we feel that the slightly thicker, larger diameter carbon shafts that Black Diamond use, might be a little heavier (1-3 ounces heavier) but are noticeably more durable and we feel that the Alpine Carbon Cork is around as durable as many of the other 20 ounce Aluminum poles. The FlickLock closure mechanism is as tough as they come and should last most users several years.
The Alpine Carbon Corks are a pretty versatile pole, especially considering their carbon fiber construction. They can handle any trekker or climbers needs no matter how rough the trail or rocky the cross country travel. You can put bigger baskets on the Alpine Carbon Cork and easily take them snowshoeing. Like all the 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 could be one of them.
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Corks are among the most expensive poles in our review, but you do get what you pay for. They are tied for being the lightest poles in the review, with super 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.
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 can. But we'd still recommend a two section pole like the Black Diamond Razor Carbon 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 Trail Back trekking poles, $80, win our Best Buy award because they have many of the same features as poles that are $40 to $60 more expensive but are close to as good. If you are looking for a solid pole without having to spend a lot of money, look no further.
The Black Diamond Ultra Distance, $160, was the clear winner for the Best Lightweight Trekking Pole and gets our Top Pick award.
The Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork, $120, was one of our Top Picks for general trekking, hiking and backpacking because it has one of the nicest overall grips in our review.
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice because of it's relatively light weight, versatility, grip comfort and surprising durability for its construction. We do think lighter duty trekkers might appreciate the Black Diamond Ultra Distance (also $160) because of its noticeable lighter weight and superior compactness, though these aren't nearly as tough.
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
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: June 4, 2013
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