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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Expensive, not as compact or as lightweight as "tent-style" trekking poles, grip is good but not the best
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork wins our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice award. They are light, strong, versatile poles with very 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, 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 these poles didn't have an anti-shock. The Alpine Carbon corks are strong enough for the roughest trails 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 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. They're only downside, while they are light (17 ounces) there are now far more options that are 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 the Alpine Carbon Cork but wished it packed down smaller, make sure to check out the Alpine Carbon Z.
RELATED: Our complete review of trekking poles
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork has 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 like 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 to 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. We thought the cork grip on the Leki Corklite was nearly as as good with its ergonomics but it's smaller diameter handle was preferred by those with smaller hands.
Black Diamond and the Alpine Carbon Cork use the newest iteration of 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 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" 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 do you get for the extra weight? The Alpine Carbon Cork is certainly beefier and more durable than either of the above poles, especially the C3 Carbon Powerlock, and it 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" longer than the longest one and 10-11" longer than most of the Z-style poles. 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" being beaten out by only the Komperdell C3 Carbon Powerlock Compact (21.5 inches) and 25" is short enough for most backpackers, trekkers, or climbers. If you really like this pole but wished it packed smaller check out the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z which is a very similar pole that packs down 10" shorter.
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 counterparts, 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 uses, 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 anything a trekker or climber 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, spring mountaineering or winter camping. 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 would 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 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).
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.
Black Diamond Trail Back
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork
Black Diamond Distance FL
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice award winner because it's relatively lightweight, versatile, has good grip comfort and surprising durability for its construction. We do think lighter to medium duty trekkers might appreciate the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z (also $160) because of its noticeable lighter weight and superior compactness, though these aren't nearly as tough, as comfortable nor as versatile.
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: November 13, 2015
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