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Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z Review
Cons: No range of length adjustment, expensive, light, but not super light
The Alpine Carbon Z is one of the most versatile of Black Diamond's Z-series of trekking poles and was a strong contender for an award winner. It remains one of our highest scoring poles because of its comfortable grip, extremely packable size, respectable weight and overall durability. Its smaller-than-average diameter cork grip was also a favorite among smaller handed users. What also sets it apart among the Z-series of poles is that it features interchangeable baskets allowing it to be more effectively used in snowy, more wintry conditions. Its only downside is that at 17 ounces it's heavy for a Z-series style pole, but it is still slightly lighter among the poles tested in our review.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Alpine Carbon Z (shown in blue) performed well across the board, landing in the top five overall of the products we reviewed, as seen in the chart below.
The Alpine Carbon Z poles have an identical handle to our Editors' Choice the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork which aren't as articulated quite as much as the Leki Corklite or the Leki Micro Vario Ti COR-TEC which we thought were every-so-slightly better. The Carbon Z's handle is marginally narrower than most something that all, but especially our smaller handed testers preferred.
Our testers did think the Alpine Carbon Z 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.
While we really liked the feel of the cork handle, our testers also really appreciated the texture and design on the lower foam grip featured below the main handle that helped facilitate "choking down" on the pole.
Locking Mechanism and Range of Adjustment
The pin pop locking mechanism is basic but extremely durable and effective. The downside of some of BD's Z style poles compared to telescoping models is that they offer no range of adjustment for length. Black Diamond does offer some of their Z poles with a FLZ or Flicklock adjustment which has enough range of adjustment for a single user (around 20 cm of adjustment).
While we think not having any adjustment is a small pitfall; tester Ian Nicholson, who is someone who constantly tweaks the lengths of his poles slightly for travel up, down and on flat terrain, said that he hardly noticed not having the slight length changes after testing several of Black Diamond's non-adjustable Z-poles over 50 days.
At 17 ounces a pair the Alpine Carbon Z's are only slightly lighter-than-average among poles in our review, and despite being fairly expensive and made of carbon-fiber we wouldn't consider them super light. They are the same weight as our Editors' Choice award winner, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork; though because of their more evenly distributed weight they "feel lighter" to every tester who uses them. The Carbon Z's are not as light as most of the other "tent pole-style/Z-Series poles like the BD Distance (12 ounces) or the Carbon Distance Z (10 ounces), nor are they as light as some of the lighter telescoping poles like the Komperdell C3 Carbon Compact, but they are much lighter (4-8 ounces lighter) than most of the aluminum telescoping poles on the market.
The Alpine Carbon Z packs down to nearly the review low of 15 inches (38 cm). This is only an inch longer than Back Diamonds Distance Z and Distance Carbon Z (both 14 inches). The Alpine Carbon Z is six inches shorter than the shortest telescoping poles the Komperdell C3 Carbon Compact (21.5") and 8-10" shorter than a majority of trekking poles on the market.
Another small feature we really like regardless if we were strapping the pole to our pack, packing it in our pack, or packing it in a duffel, is the basket that holds the other sections of the pole tightly in place, and when used with the included Velcro strap makes for an exceptionally tight little package.
We must say that this pole has proven more durable than we first anticipated. After using it extensively for more than two dozen days that included a fair amount of cross-country travel in Washington's North Cascades, they are still holding up quite well. We don't think they are as tough as most aluminum telescoping poles nor as tough as the carbon telescoping BD Alpine Carbon Cork, but they aren't far behind. We think they are around as durable as the Distance Z and likely a little tougher than the Carbon Distance Z.
In the end, we think it is durable enough for all on-trail trips whether day hiking or heavy duty backpacking. While they wouldn't be our first choice for extensive off-trail travel, after having tested them thoroughly we think they are tough enough for folks who need them for occasional off-trail use.
Versatility and Best Applications
What sets this pole apart from other Distance Z poles is its versatility and handle comfort. You can change out the baskets to larger ones for wintertime use or on glaciers while climbing. We don't think they are quite strong enough for heavy downhill or backcountry skiing, but will serve nearly any climber or hiker well. They aren't as crazy light as the Carbon Distance Z but they are more versatile and certainly a little beefier.
Value and the Bottom Line
At a $190 the Alpine Carbon Z is one of the most expensive poles on the market and is the most expensive pole in our review. Though the Leki Carbonlite Aergon XL does cost $219. While the Carbon Z has a review-high price they do offer some unique performance features, and decent versatility in a surprisingly durable package. If nearly $200 seems like too much to swallow, check out the very similar telescoping version, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork or the lighter, aluminum and more basic grip handled Distance Z ($100).
— Ian Nicholson
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