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Long-term Review: Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles

Descending a massive sand dune to Utah's Escalante River, near Scorpion Gulch. Photo: Don Wilson.

Descending a massive sand dune to Utah’s Escalante River, near Scorpion Gulch. Photo: Don Wilson.

Since purchasing the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles (buy from AmazonBackcountry, or REI) in spring 2011, I have used them for about 300 days of backpacking and another 50 days of day-hiking. Some of this use has been mild (e.g. short days, on-trail) but a considerable portion has not, with hundreds of miles on talus, across spring snowfields, down remote Utah canyons, and through heinous vegetation. Given this extensive and hard use, I feel very confident in offering a long-term review of the product.

The upper shafts of the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles. The cork grips are wonderful, and the foam extension grips below are a near must-have for me.

The upper shafts of the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles. The cork grips are wonderful, and the foam extension grips below are a near must-have for me.

The poles extend to 130 cm, which makes them usable for all but the tallest of backpackers, over about 6'6" or so. For context, I'm 6' and prefer 120cm length.

The poles extend to 130 cm, which makes them usable for all but the tallest of backpackers, those around 6’6″ or so. For context, I’m 6′ and prefer 120cm length.

As far as I can tell, there have been only two updates to the Alpine Carbon Cork Poles in the last five years. First, the color scheme is different. Second, and more functionally, the locking mechanism has been updated: the new FlickLock Pro is made of stainless steel (not plastic), which allows for a lower profile and an even more solid closure. A new set of poles also comes with hand straps and small tip baskets, both of which I recommend be removed immediately.

Screenshot from BD's website, explaining the new FlickLock Pro

Screenshot from BD’s website, explaining the new FlickLock Pro

Not the lightest

At 17.2 oz for the pair (or 16 oz sans straps and baskets, as I prefer) these poles do not win any weight awards. And especially with poles — which, like footwear, move relatively more than a backpacker’s body and backpack — weight matters: heavy poles are difficult to swing quickly and place where desired, and consume multiples more energy than lighter poles. Thankfully, the weight of the Alpine Cork Cork Poles is still manageable, and it’s not without just cause, as I’ll discuss.

And not inexpensive, either

$160 retail, ouch. The Alpine Carbon Cork Poles are $30 less than Black Diamond’s most expensive model, the Alpine Carbon Z, and about twice the price of their entry models. But for a pole with comparable build quality and specs (3-piece, telescoping, lever-style locks, cork grips + extensions, carbon fiber shafts), I’m unaware of any models from Leki, Komperdell, or MSR that are considerably more economical.

But they are very stiff, durable, and secure

I’m hard on poles. While I don’t weigh much (155-160 lbs), I regularly push 200 lbs including my backpack when guiding. I’m constantly off-trail, where more forceful use of poles is customary. And I backpack for 2-3 months each year.

For these reasons, I want shafts that are steady under load (no vibration or bending) and that break only due to extreme abuse. I want locks that do not slip, wiggle, or corrode. And I want poles that will last years, not a season. To a degree that no lighter weight pole does, the Alpine Carbon Cork Poles fulfill all of these requirements.

Flyin' Brian Robinson in upper Enchanted Gorge, where there is endless small talus. In such terrain, tough poles are well worth the extra weight. Brian broke both of his UL fixed-length poles by the time we exited.

Flyin’ Brian Robinson in upper Enchanted Gorge, where there is endless small talus. In such terrain, tough poles are well worth the extra weight. Brian broke both of his UL fixed-length poles by the time we exited.

They are collapsible

All things being equal, fixed-length poles like the Gossamer Gear LT3C will be lighter and less expensive than collapsible poles — they do not overlapping shafts or locks, and there is less material and design cost. But if you regularly travel to your backpacking destinations like I do, the extra weight and expense is worth it: you need not check your poles separately, or risk having them broken by baggage handlers.

Plus, fixed-length poles are unwieldy when attached to a backpack, like during scrambles or extended talus. And there is a much greater selection of collapsible models from which to choose.

And they have cork grips + foam extensions

Plastic grips are uncomfortable and slippery. Rubber grips are abrasive on bare hands. Foam grips are nice, but not very durable. Cork grips are the best: they are soft, durable, and slightly absorbent, and they have sufficient friction.

I regularly choke up on my poles for improved balance and leverage, mostly when hiking steeply uphill or side-hilling. The foam extension grips below the primary cork grip on the Alpine Carbon Cork Poles offers a much more secure grip than a slick and narrow pole shaft. In fact, I would consider this feature a must-have for the type of backpacking I do.

Early-season conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park, another situation where tough poles are desirable.

Early-season conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park, another situation where tough poles are desirable.

Recommendations and alternatives

I highly recommend the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles for backpackers who need or want full-featured and robust trekking poles and who can justify the upfront expense with extensive use. You will not regret this purchase.

For backpackers who want to a lot less for slightly less performance, buy the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock Trekking Poles (read my short-term review and long-term review)

Avoid entirely “foldable” models like the Black Diamond Distance Z Poles. Besides collapsing to a smaller size, they are equal or inferior to telescoping models in every other regard. Notably, they have less adjustability (for different users, activities, and shelter pitches); I’ve never handled a pair that didn’t nervously wiggle due to extra play at the shaft intersections; and the design is not inherently lighter (any weight savings are at the expense of shaft durability and stiffness). They make sense for ultra running, but not for backpacking.


Disclosure: Personal funds were used to purchase the Carbon Cork Poles. This post contains affiliate links, whereby I may receive a small commission from sales that helps to support this content.

42 Responses to Long-term Review: Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles

  1. Dan June 30, 2015 at 10:27 am #

    The BD ACC poles are a nice product, but I find the weight quite noticeable so I only use them when conditions warrant. My picks are:

    On Trail: Gossamer Gear LT4
    Mixed On-Off Trail: Locus Gear CP3
    Pure Off-Trail/Skiing: BD ACC

    The Locus Gear CP3 poles don’t get nearly enough attention in N. America. They’re only a little bit heavier than the GG poles (~10oz vs 8oz) yet far more robust. They are 3 piece, with flick locks. I have thousands of miles on mine. I’ve broken them doing stuff like stepping on them or crashing on skis, but they remain the best poles for all around usage.

    • Andrew Skurka June 30, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

      I saw the Locus poles for the first time a few weeks ago — a client on one of my trips had them. Indeed, they are very nice poles. I’d probably put them in the same category as the REI Carbon Power Lock Poles: they lack the stoutness and extension grips of the Alpine Carbon Cork Poles, but they’d be a good pick for most users. They’re lighter than the REI poles, but purchasing them is not as easy and the warranty is not as good.

  2. DkPond June 30, 2015 at 10:31 am #

    I agree completely. I have been on four 400+ mile Caminos with these poles and they are still going strong. They have saved me from falling numerous times. And at 6’6″ they adjust to a good length for me with no loss in stability. The only thing I would add is that the Leki rubber tips fit nicely over the metal tips — on the Camino, you are often on roads or in cities or villages, and the noise reduction of the tap, tap, tap is almost mandatory.

    Thanks for the review.
    DkPond

  3. Katherine June 30, 2015 at 10:58 am #

    great poles. one small annoyance: the edge of the inlet where the strap used to go rubs against my hand. In a perfect world that would be completely smooth. probably an issue for any pole that comes with straps.

    my friend just got the Cascades—she thanks you for the recommendation! great value for when you’re doing that initial gear spend to get started.

  4. Stuart June 30, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

    My wife and I own the 2nd and 3rd generation ACCs between us. The consensus is we prefer the older model. Gen 2 are slightly lighter, not that it makes a real difference when we’re talking ~16-17oz for a pair. The main gripe we have about Gen 3 is that the redesigned flicklocks are the trekking pole equivalent of the Gurkha’s kukri. Every use demands the sacrifice of skin and blood.

    • Andrew Skurka June 30, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

      If you back off on their tightness, will the FlickLocks be easier to operate but still secure?

      • Stuart June 30, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

        Gen 2 have more leeway in adjustments than Gen 3. The latter can go from overly tight to no longer secure in 1/4 turn of the screw. The original flicklocks were mostly plastic, but the new ones have too many metal edges that fingers and thumbs come into contact with, mostly when opening rather than closing the device.

        That being said, the poles are otherwise excellent. Twistlocks always infuriated us over time, BD’s Z poles flexed too much for confidence, and I broke a Gossamer Gear LT4s the first time out. The ACCs are sturdy and this is one piece of gear I don’t expect to have to replace for several more years. We tend to just leave the poles at a fixed length for the duration of our trip, regardless of the terrain.

  5. Matthew Youngberg June 30, 2015 at 4:05 pm #

    Just wondering what your reasoning is for not using the straps. I use mine just below my wrists so that it takes the pressure off my hands doing all the work. Thanks in advance for your reply.

    • Andrew Skurka June 30, 2015 at 4:13 pm #

      Two reasons. Generally speaking, IMHO they add fuss and offer little in return.

      First, they get in the way when I want to move my hands to other parts of my poles. Like when I want to choke up on one or both poles. Also, when on unstable ground I often hold both poles in one hand (mid-shaft) so that I have one free hand to grab onto things.

      Second, they get in the way when I want to do anything else with my hands: take a photo, get calories or water out of side pockets, check my map, go to the bathroom.

      I like straps when skiing, since grips are difficult to hold onto when wearing big mitts, but for backpacking I cut them off before I even get to the trailhead. I have helped many of my clients remove their straps too, and none of them have regretted it.

      • Matthew Youngberg July 1, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

        Thanks again for the response and spreading your knowledge and experience. I’ll try it out, hopefully I don’t drop one down the side of a mountain 🙂

  6. Aidan B July 1, 2015 at 6:31 am #

    Andrew, do you have a suggested trekking pole for use as the primary supporting poles in A frame tarp shelter systems?

    • Andrew Skurka July 1, 2015 at 11:54 am #

      Any trekking pole should be strong enough to support the loads of an A-frame tarp.

      However, collapsible poles are easiest to use. First, they are widely adjustable (folding poles are not, or have very little adjustment, 5cm or so; and fixed-length poles obviously are not). Second, the shaft intersections serve as convenient stoppers for guylines. On a smooth shafts, guylines will slide up or down, messing up the pitch. As a simple and lightweight solution, you can wrap some electrical tape around the shaft at the height you regularly use. Alternatively, have a really long guyline for the foot end.

  7. Erik Halfacre July 1, 2015 at 7:13 pm #

    I’ve had this exact set of poles since the beginning of summer 2009. I still use them, and like them better than most other sets that I’ve had the chance to handle. I opted to leave my straps on, but they are now in shreds and I don’t really need them so I may, per your recommendation, just remove them.

    The biggest thing I love about these poles is just how stiff and strong they really are. I weigh 275, and frequently carry loads over forty pounds now that we’re packing two kids around in addition to our backpacking gear, and these poles always feel firm and show no sign of wear from the abuse I put them through.

    If they ever do break I will likely replace them with another set of the same thing.

    • Erik Halfacre July 1, 2015 at 7:15 pm #

      Also, now that we have switched from a traditional tent to the Big Agnes Scout Plus, the fact that these poles are adustable has been a huge benefit. I almost ‘upgraded’ to a pair of foldable poles a couple years ago, but decided against it, because I wouldn’t be able to use them as part of my shelter system.

  8. John Hulburd July 31, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

    Andrew- My Mom bought some BD Distance (folding) poles to help her balance (Parkinsons). When she died I inherited them. I’ve used every kind of pole for all kinds of activities over decades, and I’ve found these poles to be the best combo of lightness, rigidity, strength and versatility of all. No; they do not wiggle or rattle (after being severely used). Yes; I have to wrap tape lower down the shaft to have a lower tie point for the tarp in harsh conditions, but I’ve found adjustability to be the great weakness of poles, and unnecessary. I’ve seen several Carbon poles break in downhill or rocky conditions, but never broken an aluminum one, so was surprised to see your love of carbon poles.
    To each their own! As for straps; chipmunks just ate the straps off our poles up in the San Juan’s the other night, and it turns out they did us a favor! Now I completely agree about going strapless.

  9. Paul February 16, 2016 at 9:13 pm #

    Why remove the small baskets? Do you find they aren’t necessary when in loose soil?

    • Andrew Skurka February 17, 2016 at 8:03 am #

      There are three instances in which it makes sense to have baskets:

      1. Soft, winter snow
      2. Arctic sponga, which is capped with a web-like vegetation structure that poles punch through
      3. Beach sand

      Otherwise, in my experience the ground is always firm enough that the pole does not sink so deeply into the ground that baskets are warranted. Plus, sometimes I want the option of sinking my pole into the ground, like to check the strength of a rotting snow bridge, confirm that some quicksand-looking sand is indeed quicksand, or to use my pole as a semi-ice axe in early-season conditions on lingering snowfields.

  10. Dan March 4, 2016 at 5:25 am #

    Hi Andrew, I was hoping you could explain your preference for carbon fiber poles over aluminum. Thank you.

    • Andrew Skurka March 4, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

      Carbon:
      * Stronger for its weight
      * Thermo-nuetral, so not cold to the touch in cold temps
      * Better vibration damping
      * Because it is considered better than aluminum, the other features on a CF pole (e.g. grips) will usually be better

      Aluminum:
      * Less expensive
      * If torqued, it only bends (CF snaps) and thus may remain usable for the duration of the trip

      • Dan March 5, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

        So I’m assuming there isn’t a situation in which you would accept the drawbacks of aluminum just for the added security of knowing the poles won’t snap?

        • Andrew Skurka March 5, 2016 at 5:40 pm #

          I’ve snapped aluminum and CF poles. It’s always been user error, not an issue with the pole. As long as you know when NOT to use your poles, both materials will last thousands of miles, probably more. More specifically, when a fall is somewhat likely (e.g. while scrambling, rock-hopping, or descending a steep, hard-packed slope covered in small gravel that acts like ball bearings) put both poles in one hand (or stow them away) and use the other to grab onto secure fixtures and to catch yourself if you fall.

          • dan March 6, 2016 at 2:53 pm #

            Ok cool. Thanks a lot for clearing that up for me.

  11. JimmyW March 16, 2016 at 4:11 pm #

    This really is a great blog! After many years of hiking without them, a friend urged me to try poles, and I’m hooked! For a starter set, I bought a pair of Alps spring loaded poles. After my first summer, I found that I didn’t care for the “bounce” that the poles presented. I don’t think there’s much of an advantage when it comes to shock absorption, either. I, too, was interested in your dislike of straps, as I’ve found that they’re key to sparing some stress on my knees although transferring it to my forearms. Using the straps for leverage allows me to have a minimal grasp of grips. Otherwise, I’d have to squeeze them to get leverage when ascending. One thing that I found, is that I’d want a pole that holds the straps securely in place. The friction fit on my Alps seems to allow the straps to lengthen from my setting.

  12. Drew May 16, 2016 at 10:34 am #

    Do you know if Black Diamond is officially getting rid of (or seriously reducing the use of) the Flicklock Pro? It appears many of the new season poles, the Alpine Carbon Cork included, have gone back to the original plastic Flicklock. I was under the impression that the metal Pros were a worthwhile upgrade, so I’m a bit surprised that BD seems to be going back a generation.

    • Andrew Skurka May 16, 2016 at 1:57 pm #

      Uncertain. The plastic seemed fine to me, and cheap and light. I know the metal ones were more engineered, but I’ve heard complaints about them being too hard to use, too.

    • Tristan May 31, 2016 at 8:59 pm #

      Hey Drew,

      I was wondering the same thing so I called up Black Diamond this afternoon. They explained that it was due to an issue with their FlickLock Pro supplier not manufacturing enough of them in time to ship, so they’ve discounted the model $10 given that they had to revert. However, I was told that the supplier was able to manufacture enough to fulfill the REI order which has the FlickLock Pro on the 2016 model so you can look there (ended up where I bought mine).

      Black Diamond said by Fall 2016 all of them will again be shipping with the Pros.

      Tristan

      • Drew June 5, 2016 at 9:41 am #

        Ah, thanks! After the tips on my Cascade Mountain Tech poles fell off only the second time out, I decided I didn’t trust them to hold up for my full AT thru next year, so I was looking at upgrading to BD. I ended up getting a killer deal on the Trail Ergo Cork poles with the non-pro FlickLocks that was just way too good to pass up (like 13 bucks out-of-pocket) — looking forward to getting them out on the trail!

  13. Selma June 13, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

    When will they make a lighter weight version of this designed for women? I’m looking for lightweight carbon, with natural cork grip designed for women. I can’t seem to find it? Their women’s designed versions are lighter weight, but don’t have the cork grip—is there someone that designs what I would think would be a high demand item for women hikers?

    • Andrew Skurka June 13, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

      I think the weight difference between men’s and women’s would be minor — maybe a half-ounce per pole, since the only difference would be shorter shafts, and the CF shafts barely weight anything. Most of the weight is in the grips, locks, and tips.

      Plus, shorter shafts aren’t a pure win. Suppose that your shelter requires a 125 cm length, or that you want to use your poles for XC skiing and need them at 130 cm.

  14. Aditya October 13, 2016 at 11:14 am #

    Hello Andrew,

    Thanks for the great review. It means a lot coming from someone as experienced as you. Do you have any thoughts about 2- vs 3-section poles? Also, do you have any experience with carbon fiber offerings from Komperdell? Like the C3 Carbon Powerlock? For some reason, I’m gravitated more toward them (maybe it’s the price?)
    I’m concerned that the cork grips in the Alpine Carbon Cork poles will start falling apart due to weather and general use, although your pictures do not seem to indicate that, though, so that’s very reassuring.

    • Andrew Skurka October 13, 2016 at 3:28 pm #

      Re 2- v 3-section shafts. How portable do you need them? Three-section shafts will collapse down more. This is useful when you want to stash them away (e.g. to scramble on extended talus) or fly with them. Two-section shafts will be lighter and less expensive.

      I wouldn’t worry about the cork grips. You have to put a lot of miles on them to wear them down. By then, you’ll feel like you got your money out of them.

      The Komperdell Powerlocks are lighter (at the cost of durability), but they lack the extension grips, which for me are critical. I would buy the Cascade Mountain Tech Quick Lock Poles before I bought the C3’s.

      • Aditya October 13, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

        I completely understand your point about the extension grips, and now that I’ve seen them, I can understand their value. I really like the lower weight of the Komperdells, but your arguments have gotten me thinking.
        Thank you!

  15. Boyan January 2, 2017 at 4:50 am #

    What about the BD Pro Trail? I can get them for around $80 new vs &45 for the Cascade? Still Fliplock pro, but unclear on how else they compare to the Alpine. The BD website is not much help.

    • Andrew Skurka January 2, 2017 at 9:02 am #

      Two big differences between the Alpine and Pro Trail: carbon fiber shafts versus aluminum, and cork grips versus foam. So the Carbon Corks are a little bit lighter, and nicer in the hand. Durability is probably about the same, though you can be even less gentle with the aluminum shafts.

      I generally recommend that if you don’t go with the Carbon Corks, then go with the Cascade poles.

  16. Steve Cosner March 20, 2017 at 6:49 pm #

    Andrew, if weight is a high priority, like it is for me, the 9 oz Black Diamond Carbon-Z poles are especially good. Not adjustable, which is the biggest drawback, but once I settled on the right length, my Carbon-Z poles can’t be beat. The snow baskets are tiny, so when I go on snow, I’ll likely attach some baskets.

    • Andrew Skurka March 21, 2017 at 3:31 pm #

      I have the same pair. I’m willing to use them for long mountain runs and trail hiking. But for regular use, which often involves some amount of off-trail travel, I don’t trust them — the shafts are too thin and the connection points have too much wiggle. If I were a bigger backpacker, I probably would not trust them for on-trail hiking either. For a few ounces more I think the Alpine Carbon Corks (or Cascade Mtn Tech Quick Lock Poles) are better suited for most backpackers.

  17. Dave Bubser March 26, 2017 at 5:56 pm #

    Can you help compare the BD Trail Ergo Corks v the 2016 BD Alpine Ergo Corks (w/ plastic locks)? They apparently weigh the same (1lb2oz) even though the Trail Ergo’s are 100% aluminum. And now the Alpine Ergo’s are discounted so cost slightly less than the Trail Ergo’s. I was just ready to pull the trigger on the Trail Ergo;s when I saw the Alpine Ergo’s on sale, and now a bit conflicted and confused by the weight equivalence.

    • Andrew Skurka March 26, 2017 at 6:08 pm #

      The Alpine Ergo Cork are the same as the Alpine Carbon Cork, except the grip is angled at 15 degrees. Aluminum upper shaft, carbon lower shafts.

      The Trail Ergo Cork is the same as the Trail, except the grip angled at 15 degrees and it’s cork. All-aluminum shafts.

      The equal weight of the Alpine Ergo Cork and Trail Ergo Cork has two possible explanations:

      1. The difference in shaft weight of CF and aluminum is not substantial enough to show up if only two of the shafts are made of different material. The Alpine Carbon should be lighter, but it might be at 1 lbs 1.6 oz and the Trail might weigh 1 lb 1.4 oz, and both of those get rounded to 1 lb 2 oz.

      2. The Alpine Carbon have thicker diameter shafts, and thus the increase in material offsets the weight-savings of the carbon.

      Either way, the Alpine are the better pole. And if they are lower in price, get ’em. I’m not sure about the “Ergo” part but I assume you know what you’re doing there.

      • Dave Bubser March 27, 2017 at 9:58 pm #

        So what is it that makes the Alpine a better pole in your opinion? I’ve never used them before and am a bit concerned about possibly breaking a carbon pole in the Sierra due to ‘operator error’. I have it in my head that CF is more delicate/prone to breakage than alum. So whats the difference between the two in terms of performance and durability between Alpine CF and Trail Alum? I was all ready to go Trail but your informed opinion has me pausing on that decision, especially with the Alpine Ergos now on sale at $10 less than the Trails.

        • Andrew Skurka March 27, 2017 at 10:04 pm #

          I’ve broken CF and aluminum poles. It’s always been user error: using the poles when a fall was likely, and then subjecting the pole to massive torque that it could simply not withstand, e.g. wedged between two talus rocks, jammed underneath a tree root as I was falling down an embankment, etc.

          Poles are useful up to a point. But on semi-technical terrain (e.g. talus fields, hard and steep slope covered with “ball bearing” gravel) you are better served to use your hands — they will get more reliable purchase and more quickly, and you’ll be closer to something (e.g. the ground or a big rock) if you slip or fall.

          So, in terms of CF or aluminum, I don’t think it matters. I’ve used CF poles for thousands and thousands of miles with no problem, until I used them when I shouldn’t have.

  18. Maria April 22, 2017 at 1:50 pm #

    Hi Andrew, thanks for the review ( and all your other resources btw, we loved your guide for the SHR when we did it). Do you have any issue with the flick locks allowing the pole to shorted over time? Every adjustable pole I’ve owned has had slip in the locks, leading me to try the z-poles. However, the aluminum z-pole bent while hiking off trail.

    My other concern was: if I put enough pressure to bend the aluminum, would the carbon have snapped? I’d rather have a bent but usable pile than a snapped unusable one for the remainder of a long trip

    Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka April 22, 2017 at 9:40 pm #

      The Flick Locks have proven extremely reliable. If they are slipping, you may need to tighten the screw, but so long as that’s done they will not slip.

      The Z-Poles and the Carbon Corks are different beasts. The Carbon Cork shafts are thicker in diameter, and therefore stronger.

      In my experience, breaking a pole is normally a function of user error, not the pole material. I have broken aluminum and CF, and always because I put too much torque on the pole, normally by using it when I should not have, like in a talus field or while descending a steep creek bank that was loose and had ball bearings on it. I have also used aluminum and CF poles for thousands of miles and multiple months.

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