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Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Review
Cons: Not as light or packable as other poles
Bottom line: The Alpine Carbon Cork pole is our choice for the best overall trekking pole thanks to strong, durable construction, and its comfortable cork grips.
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 like our comfort oriented poles, the Leki Corklite DSS Anti-Shock, 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.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Trekking Poles for Hiking and Backpacking
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
For 2017, OutdoorGearLab got their hands on a new and improved set of Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles. We analyzed the new metal locking mechanism and were impressed with the sweet new colors in person. Unsurprisingly, they took our Editors' Choice award yet again. Wondering why?
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.
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.
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.
This model weighs in at 17.8 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 our top choice because of their stiffness and durability.
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is OutdoorGearLab's Editors' Choice award winner. 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 poles like the Leki Corklite DSS Antishock are more comfortable, and the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z are lighter, we still don't think you'll find a more complete package.
— Graham Williams & Ian Nicholson
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