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Hands-on Gear Review

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Review

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles
Editors' Choice Award
Price:   $170 List | $169.94 at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Very strong and durable for a carbon fiber pole, excellent locking mechanism, cork grips among the most comfortable in the review, work well for lots of activities
Cons:  Not as compact or as lightweight as "tent-style" trekking poles
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Black Diamond

Our Verdict

The Alpine Carbon Cork are lightweight, versatile, and strong. They effortlessly earn our top marks and win the Editors' Choice award. They feature comfortable cork handles, ensuring that backpackers and hikers alike will appreciate them on both rough approaches and breezy day hikes. They're on the lighter side for telescoping poles, however, if you're an ounce counter, this contender is far from the lightest. What they do provide is superior durability, comfort, and versatility, for just a few extra ounces more than their competition.

New Version — April 2017
The Alpine Carbon Cork was recently updated. The above photo is a representation of the most recent version. Read on below to find out what's new!

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.


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Score Product Price Weight (Pair) Min Length Max Length
88
$170
Editors' Choice Award
17 oz 62.5cm, 25 in 130cm, 51 in
87
$200
14.5 oz 38 cm, 15 in 135cm (53in)
87
$200
Top Pick Award
15 oz 67cm, 26.5 in 135cm (53in)
85
$140
Top Pick Award
18.5 oz 39 cm, 15.5 in 135cm, 53 in
85
$190
Top Pick Award
17 oz (110cm) 38 cm, 15 in Optional
84
$100
12 oz (110cm) 36 cm, 14 in Optional
83
$120
18 oz 74cm, 29 in 140cm, 55 in
83
$140
19 oz 67cm, 26.5 in 135cm, 53 in
83
$160
17. 5 oz 39cm, 15.5 in
83
$160
Top Pick Award
10 oz (110cm) 36 cm, 14 in Optional
82
$120
18 oz 68cm, 27 in 135cm, 53 in
82
$130
16 oz (105-125cm) 37 cm, 15 in Optional
79
$80
Best Buy Award
20 oz 64cm, 25 in 140cm, 55 in
78
$140
20 oz 68cm, 27 in 140cm, 55 in
72
$70
17. 5 oz 69cm, 27 in 140cm, 55 in
70
$90
18.5 oz 74cm, 28 in 140cm, 55 in

Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Ian Nicholson
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Thursday
April 13, 2017

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The New Alpine Carbon Cork Vs. the Old Version


The BD Alpine Carbon Cork has undergone a few minor updates since we reviewed it. In addition to a minor color change, which you can note in the comparison photos below, this trekking pole now has a metal FlickLock mechanism, instead of the plastic FlickLock used on the previous version.

See the photo comparison below, which shows the updated version on the left and the older version on the right.

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking pole
 

The key differences between the updated 2017 version and the version we tested are outlined below.
  • Metal FlickLock Mechanism The FlickLock mechanism, which allows for the height adjustment of the poles, is now made of metal; the old version's FlickLock was plastic.
  • Color change The new version has more black than white; the extendable area of the pole is now black, whereas on the old version this portion of the pole was white.

While we haven't tested the latest version of the Alpine Carbon Cork, and we never had any problems with the plastic locking mechanism, we expect these poles to perform similarly (if not better) than the version we tested.

Hands-On Review


The chart below displays the overall scores of the combined and weighted metrics. The Alpine Carbon Cork (highlighted in blue) came out on top.


Read on to see how this model performed in the individual metrics.

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork

Comfort


These poles feature a simple cork grip that is identical to the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z. During real world testing, our review team appreciated its smaller diameter handle, with just enough ergonomics to keep it in the upper echelon for comfort (in our review). While this newer grip doesn't appear as ergonomic nor as articulated as the old model, we found that both smaller and larger handed reviewers liked this newer grip better than the older version, which had a very large diameter handle. Overall, we thought this model was one of the most comfortable pairs of poles in our review, with only the Leki Corklite and the Leki Micro Vario Ti COR-TEC being just slightly more comfortable. Our testers did think this competitor 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.


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 on rougher terrain.

The cork handle of the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork. While this handle looks basic in real world testing it was among our favorites in this review. This latest version of the Carbon Cork features a narrower diameter shaft which both our larger and smaller handed testers found to be an improvement along with the nicely textured lower foam grip perfect for rugged terrain or extended traverses.
The cork handle of the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork. While this handle looks basic in real world testing it was among our favorites in this review. This latest version of the Carbon Cork features a narrower diameter shaft which both our larger and smaller handed testers found to be an improvement along with the nicely textured lower foam grip perfect for rugged terrain or extended traverses.

Locking Mechanism


The new Carbon Cork's locking mechanism appears to be 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 actually 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, we think 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), we have found that it has never failed us.

The FlickLock closure mechanism featured on the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork. We have used this system well over 500 days and along with Leki's SpeedLock find it to most reliable and easiest to use in the review.
The FlickLock closure mechanism featured on the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork. We have used this system well over 500 days and along with Leki's SpeedLock find it to most reliable and easiest to use in the review.

Weight


This model weighs in at 17 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 Komperdell C3 Carbon Compact (13 ounces) being lighter.


What exactly do you get for the extra weight? This pair of poles is certainly beefier and more durable than either of the above poles, especially the C3 Carbon Powerlock, and it has nicer handles. They are also about 4 ounces lighter than the majority of similarly designed aluminum poles.

Packability


Similar to our weight category, this model just can't compete as far as packability with the "tent pole style" trekking poles; they are 7 inches longer than any of the other competitors and 10-11 inches longer than most of the Z-style poles. Compared with other, stronger, and more versatile telescoping style trekking poles, this model was the second most compact, shrinking down to 62.5cm/25", only being beaten out by the Komperdell C3 Carbon Powerlock Compact (21.5 inches).


If you really like this pole but wished it packed down to a smaller size, check out the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z - a similar pole that packs down 10" shorter, though we feel 25 inches is short enough for most backpackers, trekkers, or climbers.

A length comparison with the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork (far left)  the Leki Corklite (second from the left); both telescoping poles with three models of folding poles which are often 8-11 inches shorter when collasped.
A length comparison with the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork (far left), the Leki Corklite (second from the left); both telescoping poles with three models of folding poles which are often 8-11 inches shorter when collasped.

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 "tent pole style" folding poles and more solid than the Komperdell C3 Carbon Powerlock Compact. 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, larger diameter carbon shafts that Black Diamond uses might be a little heavier (1-3 ounces heavier), but are noticeably more durable. The FlickLock closure mechanism is as tough as they come and should last most users several years; we feel that these poles are about as durable as many of the other 20-ounce aluminum poles.


Versatility


These trekking poles are quite versatile, especially considering their carbon fiber construction. They can handle anything a trekker or climber needs, no matter how rough the trail, or how rocky the cross country travel. You can put bigger baskets on them and easily take them snowshoeing, spring mountaineering, or winter camping. Like all 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 our choice.


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.

Despite its 100% carbon fiber construction the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork has impressed us with its durability. We have used them on more than 70 days of mostly rugged off-trail travel and have yet to break them and as a whole we think they are among the most durable poles in our review.
Despite its 100% carbon fiber construction the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork has impressed us with its durability. We have used them on more than 70 days of mostly rugged off-trail travel and have yet to break them and as a whole we think they are among the most durable poles in our review.

Best Application


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 two section pole like the Black Diamond Traverse 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.

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

Bottom Line


The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice award winner; this pair of trekking poles is relatively lightweight and versatile and also have comfortable grips and surprising durability for their construction. Lighter to medium-duty trekkers might appreciate the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z (10 oz, also $160) because of their noticeable lighter weight and superior compactness, though these aren't nearly as tough or comfortable, nor as versatile.

If you are looking for a light versatile pole and you don't desire a shock mechanism, then this pair of trekking poles should be on your list. Even if you are looking for a pole with a shock mechanism, keep in mind that the carbon fiber shafts offer some dampening, they pack fairly small, and they are some of the strongest. Plus, after breaking the grips in, we borderline dreaded using some other poles' grips. If you are willing to spend $160 or more on your poles, this contender should be on your list. While they are on the lighter side (17 ounces), the only downside is that there are now more options that are way 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 this model but wished it packed down smaller, make sure to check out the Alpine Carbon Z, which we loved and found it to be pretty versatile, though they don't offer a length adjustment.

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: April 13, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (5.0)
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