Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles Review

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles Review

Black Diamond’s Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles are three-piece, lever-lock, carbon-fiber hiking poles with cork grips that include removable 38 mm trekking baskets and 100 mm powder baskets for skiing or snowshoeing. They come in a unisex green version, a women’s magenta version, and a unisex blue version with whippet-ready compatibility. The unisex green and blue whippet-ready poles expand to 130 cm whereas the women’s version expands to 125 cm and weighs a few grams less.

Specs at a Glance

  • Best use: Hiking, backpacking
  • Weight (pair): 17.1 oz (486 g)
  • Usable length: 61-130 cm (24-51 in)
  • Collapsed length: 61 cm (24 in)
  • Grip: Cork
  • Shaft construction; Carbon fiber
  • Locking mechanism: Lever lock
  • Basket type: Trekking

The following is a review of the unisex green Alpine Carbon Cork Poles but is generally applicable to the women’s and whippet-ready versions. Most observations also carry over to older versions of this pole which are almost identical with the exception of the upgrade FlickLock level lock, which I will explain below.

The Versatility of a Three-Piece Pole

Three-piece collapsible poles are better than two-piece or one-piece poles for a few reasons. First, they allow the user to dial in the fit perfectly. Most people adjust their trekking poles so that their elbow is close to a 90-degree right angle before leaving the trailhead. This is very easy to do with the Alpine Carbon Cork.

The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles is a three-piece carbon fiber pole with cork grips
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles is a three-piece carbon fiber pole with cork grips

Three-piece poles also have the advantage of being easier to repair than single-piece poles. If you break one section you can easily order a replacement from Black Diamond without having to buy an entirely new set of poles. If you break a section within the one-year warranty window, they may even send you a new section free of charge.

Three-piece poles are also ideal for dialing in the pitch-height of a trekking pole tent or pyramid tarp.  They can also be lashed together with a pair of Voile Straps to accommodate taller tarps, as well. They’re great for packrafting because you can fold them up and stash them so they’re out of the way and you can disassemble them so you can pack them in checked luggage for air travel. Single-piece or two-piece trekking poles are much harder to use in all of these circumstances.

Lever-style vs Twist-style Locks

In my experience, adjustable trekking poles with lever-style locking mechanisms are more reliable than ones with twist-style locks, which have a tendency to slip over time with use.

If you take apart multi-piece trekking poles, you’ll find that they have a telescoping style construction, with thinner segments sliding into the thicker ones, located closer to your hands and higher up on the pole.

A lever-style lock is anchored on the thicker segment and squeezes a thinner segment so it can’t slide up or down inside the thicker segment. It works remarkably well and can usually be manually adjusted if the clamping action loosens up over time.

Dead twist lock trekking pole expanders
Dead twist lock trekking pole expanders

Twist style locks rely on an internal plastic expander which is screwed onto the top of the thinner pole before it is inserted into a thicker pole. When twisted, the expander widens and prevents the thinner pole from moving up or down inside the thicker one. However, the plastic expander can fatigue with use, or become compromised by dirt and dust, that adheres to the thinner poles and is tracked inside the thicker poles when the pole is collapsed. Both lead to slippage, which can be difficult to fix even if the original expander is replaced. While you can prolong the lifetime of the plastic expander by carefully cleaning and drying your poles after each use, most people don’t have the discipline to do it.

Flick-Locks are lightweight but durably made and easy to adjust even if you wear hiking gloves.
Flick-Locks are lightweight but durably made and easy to adjust even if you wear hiking gloves.

Black Diamond calls the lever-style lock on the Alpine Carbon Corks the “Flick-Lock Pro” and it is durable, reliable, isn’t affected by dirt, and rarely requires any maintenance to use. The latest version of the Alpine Carbon Corks reviewed here uses a new version of the Flick-Lock Pro that is made with aluminum and is more durable than the previous model which was made with plastic and steel. They function identically to the older model but are more robust.

Carbon Fiber Construction

Carbon fiber is an excellent material for trekking poles because it’s very stiff and reduces the amount of vibration you’ll feel in your arms when hiking, compared to aluminum poles. Vibration translates in loss of energy and faster fatigue, so eliminating it is a great benefit.

The carbon fiber used in the Alpine Carbon Corks is exceptionally strong, in part due to the poles’ telescoping design, where the thicker segments shield the thinner ones from being broken by steering forces. This is another benefit of a three-piece trekking pole over two-piece or fixed-length carbon fiber poles which are easily broken if they get caught between rocks or you fall on them.

There are long foam grips under the cork handles that you can “choke up on” when climbing hills. This helps eliminate the need to constantly adjust pole length as the terrain changes.
There are long foam grips under the cork handles that you can “choke up on” when climbing hills. This helps eliminate the need to constantly adjust pole length as the terrain changes.

Cork, Foam Grips, and Straps

The cork handles on the Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles absorb sweat while maintaining a comfortable feel. I’d say the main benefit of cork handles is that they help me forget that I have poles in my hands. And that’s what good gear does best, it allows the user to not think about it. To turn one’s attention instead to the rocky trail ahead, the shifting clouds, the emerging penstemon, the swirling thoughts.

There is a foam extension grip under the cork which you can grasp when climbing hills, so you don’t have to stop and adjust the poles to make them shorter.

Most people rest their hands in the pole straps, which are fully adjustable but can also be removed. I like how the straps allow me to let the poles dangle from my arms whenever I stop to take a photo or when I have to scramble and need to keep my hands free. I also find that my hands tire faster if I don’t use the straps because I can loosen my grip and still control the poles, without having to grip them tightly.

I find the straps to be very comfortable and useful, but some people remove them.
I find the straps to be very comfortable and useful, but some people remove them.

Weight

At just over 17 oz, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles are not the lightest trekking poles in the world, but they’re not the heaviest either, and they don’t feel cumbersome or heavy at all to me. I think the weight makes sense considering their features and exceptional durability. Yes, you can buy lighter weight trekking poles, but ask around. I think you’ll find that thinner carbon fiber poles break much more frequently than you’d expect. That’s not a big concern with the Alpine Carbon Corks.

Comparable Lever Lock Trekking Poles

Make / ModelMaterialLock TypeGripPrice
Black Diamond Trail Ergo CorkAluminumLever LockCork$130
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon CorkCarbon FiberLever LockCork$180
Montem Ultra-Strong CorkAluminumLever LockCork$70
Paria Outdoor Tri-Fold Carbon FiberCarbon FiberLever LockCork$59
REI Traverse Power Lock CorkAluminumLever LockCork$99
Cascade Mountain Cork Carbon FiberCarbon FiberLever LockCork$41
Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber 2.0Carbon FiberLever LockCork$80
Pacerpole Dual LockCarbon FiberLever Lock & PinPlastic$130
Black Diamond Trail Pro ShockAluminumLever LockFoam$150

Recommendation

I’ve been using Black Diamond’s Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles for five years and subjected them to incredible abuse, all over the deserts and mountains of the west. I’ve expanded and collapsed them hundreds of times, I’ve clicked and clacked over scree piles in the Uintas, the weight of my entire body and my pack often supported by a single pole when I start to lose my balance. I’ve crossed countless creeks, relying on them to keep my balance and packrafted with them with salty, silty water pouring over them, and the relentless sun drying them out again.

While on Alpine Carbon Corks are expensive, I think their durability, reliability, and cork grips make them worth a premium price. I never worry about them breaking, slipping, or becoming uncomfortable. In fact, every member of my family, including my mother, father, sister, and myself own and use the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles!

I would recommend these poles for all uses including thru-hiking, high routes, desert slogging, packrafting, day hikes, splitboarding, backcountry skiing, and snowshoeing.  For adventures requiring the crossing of snow-fields, Black Diamond is now also offering a Whippet-Ready version of the Alpine Carbon Corks. If you need even more stow-ability, consider the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Z Trekking Poles which fold up easily for air travel.

Disclosure: The author owns this product.

Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

About the author

Ben Kilbourne has been backpacking at least once a month every month for the last twelve years. His explorations have taken him all over the west, but especially the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau. The geography of the west has become familiar to him. He has developed a rudimentary understanding of its geology, and an awareness of the subtle changes in flora and fauna due to soil, elevation, aspect, and precipitation and how these elemental things interact with both ancient and modern humans. His experiences on the land, whether triumphant or thwarted by events either in or out of his control, have provided the foundation for the work he does. Find Ben’s paintings, songs, and essays here http://theirsecretnames.com/.

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13 comments

  1. One more thing. Replacement parts are available at reasonable prices from Black Diamond if you need them. I have.

  2. This is the absolute worst equipment review I’ve ever read. It reads like a high school assignment written by someone who has just been handed an advertising brochure to read before scribbling out something before the bell rings.

    Statement: “Three-piece collapsible poles are better than two-piece or one-piece poles for a few reasons. First, they allow the user to dial in the fit perfectly.”

    Reply: Two-piece poles are also adjustable, hey, and also allow the user to dial in the fit perfectly. Because adjustable, hey.

    Statement: “Three-piece poles also have the advantage of being easier to repair than single-piece poles. If you break one section you can easily order a replacement…”

    Reply: Well, yeah. But for two-piece poles, if you break one section you can easily order a replacement. I did it once. Worked just fine.

    Statement: “Three-piece poles are also ideal for dialing in the pitch-height of a trekking pole tent or pyramid tarp.”

    Reply: Unlike, of course, two-section poles, which allow for precise dialing in the pitch-height of a trekking pole tent or pyramid tarp. With less fiddling, because there are only two sections, and because at least some two-section poles extend farther than three-section poles.

    Statement: “Carbon fiber is an excellent material for trekking poles because it’s very stiff and reduces the amount of vibration you’ll feel in your arms when hiking, compared to aluminum poles. Vibration translates in loss of energy and faster fatigue, so eliminating it is a great benefit.”

    Reply: What? Vibration? Since when? Is this person nuts? I’ve been using totally adequately stiff aluminum trekking poles for 20 years and am still awaiting my first vibrations. And two-section poles are far stiffer than three-section poles. Try them. No comparison.

    Statement: “I’d say the main benefit of cork handles is that they help me forget that I have poles in my hands.”

    Reply: Which is an advantage how? I have used several types of handles, and I kind of like the dry feel of cork, but so what? Handles work as handles. As such, a comfortable, well-shaped, and secure grip is the most important thing, and then, maybe, uh…nothing else? But if those criteria are met, then “nothing” is the next consideration anyway. I would never want to forget that I was carrying a piece of vital equipment that I’m using every second. Rather, I’d want to be acutely aware of it, in order to apply it with expert effect. Else it wouldn’t be needed, would it?

    Statement: “Yes, you can buy lighter weight trekking poles, but ask around. I think you’ll find that thinner carbon fiber poles break much more frequently than you’d expect.”

    Reply: From what I’ve heard, all carbon fiber poles break much more frequently than you’d expect. Period. Which is one reason that I like aluminum. And specifically, two-section poles, which are far sturdier then three-section poles, which is exactly why I use them. Three-section poles are poorly designed, putting the the weakest, thinnest, section at the bottom, where it has to be extended the farthest, compromising the strength and usefulness of the entire pole, and making the pole much more susceptible to breakage, or only slippage if one is lucky. And probably susceptible to vibration too. If you have that, which I don’t with my two-section aluminum poles.

    • Actually, these CF poles break less frequently because they are so ungodly thick. UL CF poles, now they break all the time. I gave up using those myself since I averaged 7 hours between broken poles. You’ll have a much harder time breaking these. I also rarely break my CF Pacerpoles, because I don’t use hand straps and hike with snow baskets year-round. That helps avoid pole tip entrapment and breakages when you fall.

      • Now, when it comes to adjusting height for length, a three segment pole is actually better because the segments are shorter, not longer. I agree with you that they don’t make a difference for tents requiring taller poles, or poles that you lash together with ski straps, or extend with a pole jack, but I have some shaped tarps where having a shorter pole at the foot end is really necessary.

    • Sizzle. I think you’re being a bit harsh with Ben (the author) Dave and I agree with the points Philip has made. But it’s true some of the points he makes are hard to substantiate. He’s obviously been using the poles for a long time and seems to get out a lot, so his opinions are probably worth considering.

    • Two section and fixed length poles suck if you have to fly. I like being able to take mine apart to pack them in a suitcase.

    • Dave, I have only used aluminum poles, but I have a friend who has used both CF and aluminum. Their experience is that aluminum poles vibrate more than their CF poles, so I would have to say this is a truth for some users.

      Any time a person publishes an article for the public, they open themselves up to criticism, something most people aren’t willing to do. A helpful critique is one thing, a bashing criticism is altogether different and not usually necessary. It’s difficult to “hear” a person’s tone when reading however, your words, “It reads like a high school assignment…” conveyed your intent quite clearly.

  3. I never have understood why people go do gaga over cork handles. I still consider it a stupid fad.

  4. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the time and effort you put into your response.

    “Two-piece poles are also adjustable, hey, and also allow the user to dial in the fit perfectly. Because adjustable, hey.”

    -Yes I can see your point. Maybe it would have made more sense to compare directly to single-piece poles in this regard.

    “Well, yeah. But for two-piece poles, if you break one section you can easily order a replacement. I did it once. Worked just fine.”

    -Again, I probably should be comparing specifically to single-piece poles.

    “Unlike, of course, two-section poles, which allow for precise dialing in the pitch-height of a trekking pole tent or pyramid tarp. With less fiddling, because there are only two sections, and because at least some two-section poles extend farther than three-section poles.”

    Same response. Except that sometimes you need a really short pole for the foot end of a tarp or something.

    “What? Vibration? Since when? Is this person nuts? I’ve been using totally adequately stiff aluminum trekking poles for 20 years and am still awaiting my first vibrations. And two-section poles are far stiffer than three-section poles. Try them. No comparison.”

    – Here we really disagree, I’ve used a lot of aluminum poles and they wobble like crazy. Run the test. Put an Alpine Carbon Cork in one hand and a Trail Back in the other and walk around your neighborhood.

    Which is an advantage how? I have used several types of handles, and I kind of like the dry feel of cork, but so what? Handles work as handles. As such, a comfortable, well-shaped, and secure grip is the most important thing, and then, maybe, uh…nothing else? But if those criteria are met, then “nothing” is the next consideration anyway. I would never want to forget that I was carrying a piece of vital equipment that I’m using every second. Rather, I’d want to be acutely aware of it, in order to apply it with expert effect. Else it wouldn’t be needed, would it?

    – I’m referring to what I believe to be good gear’s best quality: that it allows to you focus on other things. The comfort of cork contributes to this.

    “From what I’ve heard, all carbon fiber poles break much more frequently than you’d expect. Period. Which is one reason that I like aluminum. And specifically, two-section poles, which are far sturdier then three-section poles, which is exactly why I use them. Three-section poles are poorly designed, putting the the weakest, thinnest, section at the bottom, where it has to be extended the farthest, compromising the strength and usefulness of the entire pole, and making the pole much more susceptible to breakage, or only slippage if one is lucky. And probably susceptible to vibration too. If you have that, which I don’t with my two-section aluminum poles.”

    -The Alpine Carbon Corks are just way thicker than most carbon, so while it may be true that some folks have experienced some broken carbon with lighter poles, it’s unlikely to happen with these. Also, 3-piece poles are probably LESS susceptible to vibration than two-piece or one-piece, due to the two areas of overlapping carbon.

  5. The material of the handle matters to me. Slippery handles does me no favours.

  6. I’ve had problems with the flip locks on these poles. They are not glued or fastened to the shafts, I had one lock slide off its shaft while hiking. I find it fussy to get the locks tight enough to stay on the shafts but loose enough to opened and closed without a lot of force. The locks are adjusted with a tiny Allen wrench which I feel I need to always carry and which I fear can be lost or misplaced on a long trip leaving me with useless poles. Anyone else have this issue? Great poles other wise. I agree that ultra light are just too fragile, I broke one just getting ready for its first hike.

  7. I really like these poles. I’ve had them for over 5 years and the only issue I’ve had are the locks will loosen. Simple fix at home but not on the trail. I put rubber caps on the end because I got tired of clacking and sliding on rocks. I also cut off the strap. It confined my hands and I move my hands up and down the poles constantly. I tried Pacer poles that Phillip uses but found the saber handles to be too restrictive and made my hand sweat.

  8. I have a pair of Black Diamond Ergo Cork Trail three piece poles that have lasted nine years so far. If one of them will ever die, I may move to the carbon version. The flip levers are easy to maintain, and don’t require much attention. The Swiss Army knife phillips head adjusts them. People are apparently quite emotional about their poles…

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