User Review: Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork
Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps (sample provided by Black Diamond for testing and review)
These poles are good for anyone needing a light, adjustable height pole for on-trail use. These are the most well balanced trekking poles I’ve used. They are fabulously light and I found the cork grip to be quite comfortable (and progressively so as the woody cork grips get to know my hands).
*In my opinion this product is not suited for use in thick bush as the updated FlickLock Pro locking mechanism can snag on brush or branches and open unexpectedly. My rating assumes use on generally maintained and open trekking trails. Read through to the extended summary for more details on this point.
- Very well balanced
- Comfortable grip
- Section joint easy to get gritty and dirty (inhibits smooth extension or retraction) requiring frequent cleaning
- Redesigned FlickLock Pro locking mechanism opens too easy (only a problem in heavy bush)
About me and my backpacking trips: I live in Knoxville, Tenn., USA and 99% of my trips are in the Southern Appalachian ranges. I usually go for short two-day, two-night trips, year round.
If you require further veracity regarding me you can register at Trailspace and see a list of the last two years of my posted trip reports in my user profile using this link.
This initial review is based on my experiences over five backing trips covering 10 nights and about 157 miles of backpacking in the Southern Appalachians.
About the Product:
The Black Diamond Alpine Cork Trekking Pole has carbon fiber shafts, cork grips, dual length adjustments, FlickLock Pro mechanisms, and adjustable wrist straps. The listed weight is 1 pound for the pair and my home scale agreed. I tested a 2013 model, which uses the redesigned FlickLock Pros.
The manufacturer's product page is here.
This is a really good looking set of poles. The cork grip felt fantastic in my hands. The lack of weight is surprising at first and quite noticeable.
*Beware: make sure you properly tension both of the FlickLock mechanisms on each pole. If you leave them too loose the poles will slip under pressure. These were quite loose out of the box and I had to turn the adjustment screw a little more than a quarter turn to achieve sufficient tension.
Regarding the FlickLock Mechanism:
Black Diamond describes this model as having a “redesigned locking mechanism,” the FlickLock Pro. I must say that I prefer the old design. (You can read about the new FlickLock design on Trailspace.)
In the picture below I’m comparing the lock of my older set of Black Diamond Trail Shock Compact trekking poles with this newer 2013 Alpine Cork pole. Notice that with the Shock Pole (the upper pole in the picture) the external cam button is set level with the immovable plastic lock assembly.
On the Alpine Cork pole the external cam button is prominent. If the design change was to make it easier to “flick” with your fingers it was a success; however it is also easier to “flick” when coming into contact with bushes.
Here are some points regarding the FlickLock Pro update from a previous Trailspace article:
"With the FlickLock Pro, Black Diamond aimed to reduce the overall volume, maintain an easy to close lever action, and produce the most secure pole locking mechanism on the market."
Below are BD's claims, as mentioned in the article above.
- Twice the holding strength of the original FlickLock:
My take: This may be true when considering downward pressure, but my Trail Shock Compact poles never slipped so I didn't notice a performance increase.
- 20 percent lower profile
My take: Well, the overall mechanism is certainly a lower profile but the button or lobe is far more prominent as seen in my photo, which I consider as an introduction of a new potential point of failure.
- stronger, more durable stainless-steel construction (versus plastic)
My take: Surely true, but to me this change was fixing something that wasn't broken.
- a slightly heavier weight (the FlickLock Pro is 20 g, FlickLock is 16 g).
My take: 4g is negligible weight gain and if you are comparing an aluminum pole to a carbon pole, the difference is made up for.
I don’t dispute that this newer mechanism is stronger…when closed.
The wrsit strap fit well. I have medium to small hands and the adjuster strap did get tight enough for proper support.
Tips and Baskets
The stock tip is carbide which worked well for the places I went (even on the rocks). A rubber set is sold seperately. The Powder Baskets worked quite well in snow and they screw on the threaded shaft; they were secure in motion.
Field Use Log:
1.) My first excursion with these poles was a 13.5 mile overnight to the Smokies. I used these poles as the tarp support poles for my shelter. I was quite impressed at the balance and smoothness of these poles within the first two miles of hiking.
I did however uncover one of my “cons” at the first night's camp: what had a been a smooth motion for extension and retraction of the shaft was much less so after dropping one of the poles in the dirt and then retracting it without cleaning it first. Dirt and grit traveled right up into the larger shaft “just like that”. I later discovered that best practice is to wipe down the lower shaft before retraction. This isn’t a huge deal but I don’t have to do that with my other adjustable poles.
2.) My second outing was a 90-mile section of the Appalachian Trail. This trip served as verification of the strength: there were many long section of super rocky trail and as usual I got these poles hung many times but they never bent. I also really enjoyed the light weight on the long mile days. Again I used the poles as part of my tarp-tent setup.
3.) My third experience was a 12-mile out-and-back trip to the Smokies to play in the snow. I was able to try out the Powder Baskets and they worked well. Although they call them Powder Baskets, they actually seemed more effective in the wetter snow for some reason.
4.) My fourth foray was into the Citico / Slick Rock wilderness area on a tough 20-mile loop. That trip uncovered a significant point of interest and requisite information about these poles: the new FlickLocks aren’t good in thick bush and bramble.
I unknowingly missed a switchback on a trail (walked right over a blocking stack of branches somehow) and went pretty far off trail before I realized it. Long story short I could not retrace my route and had to bushwhack first up then down a mountain side. These poles had me cursing before I made it back to a trail.
In the dense briars, rhododendron, dog hobble and bush the FlickLock mechanism kept snagging open and causing the poles to retract while I was hiking. Admittedly, I was tense from losing the trail and battling thoughts of being late to work the next day so it’s possible that colored my experience and subsequent impression. However, it was a noteworthy event.
5.) My fifth trip was to the Smokies while pushing a hard 20-mile loop. Again I really enjoyed using these poles on-trail. I got these poles hung up in rocks more than once with a fair bit of pressure and they didn’t bend (I’ve bent aluminum poles before on the same route).
These poles are good for anyone needing a light, adjustable height pole for on-trail use. These are the most well balanced trekking poles I’ve used. They are fabulously light and the cork grip is very comfortable. This product is not suited for off-trail or really any use in thick bush as the locking mechanism can snag on brush or branches and open very easily.
I experienced much internal debate on a rating for these poles. The big problem was how to deal with the off-trail experience. My first thought was that used on-trail this is a four star product. But used off trail in dense bush it is a one star product; I could have split the difference and given it a two star rating. However, after carefully reading the manufactures description (where there was no mention of going off-trail or bush whacking) and taking into account that it is marketed as an “Alpine” product I decided to rate it for use on-trail.
Another factor was that I’ve used these poles for 157 miles of total backpacking but only experienced issues on about 2 of those miles (less than 2% of the usage for me).