Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Tough, comfortable, great locking, several tips and baskets
Cons: Not as light or packable as other poles
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
These poles perform well across the board, only coming up short for their packed size and weight. In the era of Z-style, collapsable, thin carbon poles, these stand out for their strength and durability.
The Alpine Carbon Cork uses a cork handle that molds to the user's hands over time. It is minimally contoured out of the box, but still provides immediate comfort that only improves with use. Cork is our favorite grip material. In addition, the thick carbon fiber shafts absorb impacts with solid rock, and there is a foam grip extension below the main grip that is useful for climbing steep hills or for crossing unstable slopes. The wrist straps are wide and comfortable and are even labeled with right and left hand-specific lettering for better wrist comfort.
Weighing in at 17.0 ounces, the Carbon Cork is not the lightest pole in our review, but it is much lighter than the aluminum three-section telescoping poles. Metal level locks and a cork grip add weight compared to other options, but over the course of the review, we appreciated these touches. As a result, these poles scored higher than many lighter poles in comfort and durability.
Locking and Adjustability
We used the Black Diamond FlickLock mechanism for over 500 days, and other than occasional tightening (which nearly all lever-lock style closures need), it never failed. The metal lever locks feel solid and close with a hearty snap that inspires confidence. We used these poles on heavy-duty backpacking trips and never felt like the length adjustment would slip on us.
Adjusting the FlickLock lever tension requires a small Allen wrench, which is included with your purchase. Other poles feature tightening systems that can be adjusted in the field, without a tool. Luckily, the tool is very small and lightweight, so be sure to bring one with you before heading to a faraway destination like Nepal or Patagonia. You can throw it in a small pocket in your pack and never feel the weight of this tiny tool.
The Alpine Carbon Cork packs down to 24 inches, which is about average in our test, and slightly better than average compared to other three-section telescoping poles. The smallest packing poles in our review feature a tent pole-style Z-design that packs down to around 15 inches long. The packed size of the Carbon Cork isn't a problem for most hikers and backpackers, but if you plan on stowing the poles in a backpack for a technical climb, other poles are better suited to the task.
These poles are the some of the strongest in our review, despite their carbon construction. Thick shafts and metal lever locks, along with a sturdy grip design, make them bombproof. Over the course of our heavy-duty testing, we weren't able to break or tweak these poles in the slightest. Of course, carbon chips easier than aluminum, so if you deliberately smack them against rocks, they'll wear out quickly. That said, we stuck them in between talus boulders and pulled back and forth, and couldn't get these poles to fail.
The Alpine Carbon Cork is a relatively versatile pole. We have used it for day hikes, 100-mile treks, rocky alpine approaches, pitching our tarp tent in the evening, and, on a desperate day of rock climbing, as an emergency 'stick clip' to clip the bolt that was too far above the ground. It can also be used for backcountry skiing or splitboarding. For climbers and technical scramblers, we recommend foldable poles that are lighter and that collapse smaller. These poles are compatible with rubber tips for better traction and to leave no trace on desert sandstone. They are also compatible with BD's trekking pole snow baskets. Both the rubber tips and snow baskets are sold separately.
These poles are among the more expensive trekking poles out there, but their durability and comfort are worth the high price. There are lighter and smaller-packing poles on the market, but if you are looking for the strongest and most reliable option for heavy-duty hiking and trekking, this pole is a great investment. Black Diamond has an excellent warranty program if anything should go wrong.
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is comfortable, durable, and versatile. Other poles may be better for trips that include technical climbing and scrambling, but if those activities aren't on the agenda, these poles are the best you can buy. They will last for many years and are well worth the investment.
— Jeff Dobronyi, Ian Nicholson, & Graham Williams