Since purchasing the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles (buy from Amazon, Backcountry, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.