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Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Review

This is one of the top ranked poles in our review thanks to strong, durable construction, and its comfortable cork grips.
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles
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Price:  $180 List | $179.95 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Tough, comfortable, FlickLock mechanism is stellar, and long lasting
Cons:  Not as light or packable as other poles
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Graham Williams & Ian Nicholson  ⋅  May 10, 2019
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89
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 17
  • Comfort - 20% 10
  • Weight - 20% 8
  • Locking and Adjustability - 15% 8
  • Packed Size - 15% 7
  • Durability - 15% 10
  • Versatility - 15% 10

Our Verdict

The Alpine Carbon Cork poles are relatively lightweight, strong, and durable. Although we think that other poles are better suited for specialized uses, the Carbon Cork is much more of an all-rounder. From three-mile day hikes to approaching alpine climbs to 200-mile treks, the Alpine Carbon cork excels in all areas. Due to their thicker than average carbon fiber construction, they're much lighter than an aluminum pole, and although not as strong, definitely comparable. One of our testers reported on having this particular set of poles for over seven years and they're still going strong. They aren't the lightest or most packable of our pole selection this year, but more than make up for these shortcomings in comfort, durability, and versatility.

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.

Product Updates

Black Diamond updated the Alpine Carbon Cork since our testing period. Check out the details to follow.

May 2019


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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Tough, comfortable, FlickLock mechanism is stellar, and long lastingLightweight, packs compactly, comfortable grip, easily disassembledComfortable, easy to adjust, small packed size, light, versatileVery durable, versatile, comfortable, and lightweightSuper lightweight, packable, and is surprisingly durable
Cons Not as light or packable as other polesExpensive, may be less durable than some aluminum modelsExpensiveNot as small in packed size as the Leki Micro VarioOnly one basket and tip type, non-adjustable
Bottom Line This is one of the top ranked poles in our review thanks to strong, durable construction, and its comfortable cork grips.This pole made of lightweight carbon is our top-ranked trekking pole.This pole is the shortest to pack, is lightweight, the most comfortable, and easy to adjust.These poles are among the most durable tested. They are also comfortable, versatile, and easy to adjust.The Distance Carbon Z is built for through hikers and trail runners who need a lightweight pole that they can pull out when needed.
Rating Categories Alpine Carbon Cork Leki Micro Vario Carbon Women's Micro Vario Carbon Alpine Carbon Cork Distance Carbon Z
Comfort (20%)
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
7
Weight (20%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
10
Locking And Adjustability (15%)
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
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5
Packed Size (15%)
10
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7
10
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10
10
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10
10
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7
10
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10
Durability (15%)
10
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10
10
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9
10
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9
10
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10
10
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7
Versatility (15%)
10
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10
10
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9
10
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9
10
0
10
10
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6
Specs Alpine Carbon Cork Leki Micro Vario... Women's Micro... Alpine Carbon Cork Distance Carbon Z
Measured Weight Per Pair (Ounces) 17.0 oz 16.4 oz 16.0 oz 17.0 oz 10.4 oz
Shaft Material Carbon Fiber Carbon Carbon Carbon Carbon Fiber
Min Length (inches) 24 in 15.5 in 15.5 in 25 in 13/14/16/17 in
Max Length (inches) 51 in 47 in 51 in 51 in 39/43/47/51 in
Pole Design Collapsible Foldable Foldable Collapsible Foldable
Grip Material EVA foam Foam Foam Cork EVA foam
Locking Mechanism Dual FlickLock Pro Speed​​Lock 2 Speed​​Lock 2 External Lever Lock Speed Cone deployment
Shock absorbing? No No No No No
Baskets? Tip Attachments? Yes, Only Baskets Yes, tips and baskets Yes, tips and baskets Yes, rubber tips, trekking baskets, powder baskets No

Our Analysis and Test Results

2019 Updates


These high-scoring poles have some renovations this year, including refinements to the Flicklock technology and the cork grips. The comparison images below show the new version on the left, followed by the version we most recently tested.

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles
  • FlickLock Pro Updates — This season's pole has newly updated FlickLock Pro mechanisms, now constructed of forged aluminum, which is lighter weight than the previous mechanism. Enhancements have also been made in how the pole retracts and extends.
  • Grips and Straps — The cork hand grips have been updated with what BD calls a "soft touch grip top" in order to provide a more comfortable feel. There is also a new strap which borrows from Black Diamond's harness technology and is designed to provide better security around the user's wrists. You simply pull on the strap to tighten, and pull on the loop to loosen. No fiddling with a strap buckle!
  • Price Increase — These poles now retail for $180, up $10 from last year's version.

As we haven't tested these new poles just yet, the following text still refers to the previous model. However, we're excited about these upgrades and hope that they'll only improve upon one of our favorite hiking poles. We link to the new version above.

Hands-On Review of the Alpine Carbon Cork


We got our hands on a new and improved set of Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles, and we also tested the women-specific model, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork - Women's. We analyzed the new metal locking mechanism and were impressed with the sweet new colors in person. These are a top ranking pole in our review. Wondering why?

Comfort


The Alpine Carbon Cork features a cork handle that we found only got better with time, as it gently molded to our hands.


It has a simple design, unlike the Leki poles, which have a much more advanced looking grip (which we found initially more comfortable). However, just like your Birkenstock's cork footbed, the Alpine Carbon Cork molded to our hands (give it 20 or so miles, and they'll break right in), and performed comparably to the Leki grips. Although the old Alpine Carbon Cork pole from a couple of years ago had a much more articulated design, we found this new model performed similarly.

Alpine Carbon Cork Comparison  from left to right  the old carbon cork  new carbon cork  and Leki Corklite DSS Anti Shock
Alpine Carbon Cork Comparison, from left to right, the old carbon cork, new carbon cork, and Leki Corklite DSS Anti Shock

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 rougher terrain. On the women's model, the lower foam grip extension is somewhat slippery, as it's made of a smooth foam with no ridges. The Leki Micro Vario Lady pole had a lower foam extension with ridges built into the foam, that we found slightly grippier when wearing thick gloves in winter.

Alpine Carbon Cork 2017 Grips.
Alpine Carbon Cork 2017 Grips.
The Alpine Carbon Cork Women's pole has a cork grip and a foam lower grip extension.
The Alpine Carbon Cork Women's pole has a cork grip and a foam lower grip extension.

Locking Mechanism


The new Carbon Cork's locking mechanism is 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 found no reason to have a problem with this model of FlickLock and if anything, we think it's easier to adjust. As a result, 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), it has never failed us.

Alpine Carbon Cork locking mechanisms
Alpine Carbon Cork locking mechanisms

Weight


This model weighs in at 17.8 ounces, and the women's model, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Women's, weighs 16.8 ounces. That was super light a few years ago, but not now, with the newer "tentpole 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 one of the lightest traditional telescoping style trekking poles, with a few styles this year being lighter; most notably, the REI Co-Op Flash Carbon at 14.6 ounces, and the women-specific model, the REI Co-op Flash Carbon Women's, weighs even less at 13.2 ounces.


What exactly do you get for the extra weight?

This pair of poles is undoubtedly beefier and more durable than other carbon poles that we've seen, and it has cork handles. They are also about four ounces lighter than the majority of similarly designed aluminum poles.

Packability


Although the Alpine Carbon Cork isn't the most packable models around, especially with the onset of "tent-style" poles, they come in at about 25 inches fully compacted, versus the 16 inches of a tent style pole like the Alpine FLZ. They were the shortest of all the telescoping style poles tested this year, but only by about a half inch. The women's model, the Alpine Carbon Cork Women's, packs down to 23 inches.


If you like this pole but wished it packed down to a smaller size, check out the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ - a similar pole that packs down 9 inches shorter, though we feel 25 inches is short enough for most backpackers, trekkers, or climbers. The Alpine FLZ also comes in a carbon version, the Alpine Carbon Z, that we were not able to test this year. Among the women-specific poles, the tent-style Leki Micro Vario Carbon Lady DSS poles pack down to 15.5 inches, making them the smallest in packable size of the women-specific poles that we tested.

Black Diamond Line up from bottom to top  Alpine Carbon Cork  Alpine FLZ  Distance Carbon Z. The traditional telescoping design of the Alpine Carbon Cork is significantly longer when compared to the Black Diamond Z style poles.
Black Diamond Line up from bottom to top, Alpine Carbon Cork, Alpine FLZ, Distance Carbon Z. The traditional telescoping design of the Alpine Carbon Cork is significantly longer when compared to the Black Diamond Z style poles.

Durability


These poles are easily the most durable carbon fiber pair of trekking poles we tested, being noticeably stronger and tougher than any of the "tentpole style" folding poles.


Although not as light as the REI Co-Op Flash Carbon, the REI Co-op Flash Carbon Women's, or Hiker Hunger poles, they indeed were much more robust. 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, more substantial diameter carbon shafts that Black Diamond uses might be a little heavier (1-3 ounces more), but are noticeably more durable. The FlickLock closure mechanism is as sturdy as they come and should last most users several years. These poles are about as durable as many of the other 20-ounce aluminum poles in our fleet.

One of our friends went on a trek on the Manaslu circuit through Tsum and Nubri in the Gorkha district. Her trekking pole broke on the first day of the trip (they were mid-range in cost). One of their horsemen welded it back together! It snapped again a few weeks later but he was able to fix it. When she got home she bought a pair of Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles, which she's relied on since that trip in 2014.

Versatility


Versatility is where the Alpine Carbon Cork truly shines, as it is an incredibly versatile pole. From short day hikes, 100-mile treks, steep and rocky alpine approaches, to pitching your tarp tent in the evening, the Alpine Carbon Cork can do it all. It manages all this in a relatively lightweight and extremely comfortable package. Although certainly not a full-service ski pole, they could be used for backcountry skiing in a pinch, and used for a splitboarder's ascent, thanks to the wide powder baskets.


Value


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, which is lighter and more packable.

The Alpine Carbon Cork poles collapsed.
The Alpine Carbon Cork poles collapsed.

Best Applications


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 dedicated two section ski pole for serious backcountry skiers. If you don't want to buy two pairs of poles, then these would be one of our top choices because of their stiffness and durability.

OutdoorGearLab tester Rebecca Schroeder feels out the BD Alpine Carbon Corks near the Liberty Bell Group  Washington Pass.
OutdoorGearLab tester Rebecca Schroeder feels out the BD Alpine Carbon Corks near the Liberty Bell Group, Washington Pass.

Conclusion


The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is one of the best poles in our review. This pair of trekking poles is extremely comfortable, durable, and versatile. Although we think that other poles have more specialized uses, this competitor will serve you better in more diverse situations. With a slightly pricey hangtag, they're bound to last you for years to come if you make the investment. Although the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z are lighter, we still don't think you'll find a more complete package.


Graham Williams & Ian Nicholson