Black Diamond are one of the first names many will think of when considering hiking poles, and these are their top-end telescopic offering. They are beautifully made and well featured, but they do come with a high price.
Pros / Reasons to Buy
- Spare parts are readily available
- Whippet attachment will appeal to certain users
Cons / Reasons to Avoid
- Tool required to adjust tension on flip locks
Folding poles seem to increasingly dominate the higher-end choices in the market when choosing hiking poles, but if you’re looking for a premium quality pair of telescopic poles, then these Alpine Carbon Corks from Black Diamond are a great option. With all the build quality and the great specification you’d expect from a high-end product from Black Diamond, plus easy availability of spare parts should something ever wear out or get damaged, these poles don’t disappoint. Beyond the basic specs, these poles are also compatible with Black Diamond’s Whippet attachment which can make the poles much more useful in a situation where you need to self-arrest on a fall. For some buyers, this could be a deal-making feature.
Compare to Similar Products
Looking for more inspiration? Be sure to check out our overall guide to the 12 Best Trekking Poles of 2023
Analysis and Test Results
The Alpine Carbon Cork is Black Diamond’s range-topping telescopic hiking pole and from the outset, it’s clear to see it’s a top-end product, from its use of premium materials such as carbon fiber and cork, through to it’s beautiful fit and finish. But this pole is not just about top-grade materials. This product also show-cases Black Diamond’s experience and expertise in creating top-notch outdoors equipment. These are solid, well-built poles and whilst some buyers will surely prefer the idea of a more compact set of folding poles over the more conventional telescopic design these poles employ, they are still a fantastic choice if you want a quality set of poles that will surely last a very long time. We should also mention the ‘Whippet Ready’ feature, which allows you to add something similar to an ice axe head to the top of the pole. Whilst Black Diamond make it clear that this does not replace an actual ice axe, Black Diamond suggest that it make the poles more useful in the event you need to self-arrest during a fall.
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork makes use of carbon fiber in its shafts and natural cork in its upper grip sections. Both of these materials are considered to improve comfort on hiking poles with carbon doing a great job of absorbing impact vibrations whilst hiking and the cork on the grip gradually molding to the owner’s hand shape over time. The ergonomic grips on these poles are not as heavily sculpted or shaped as some competitors are, but none the less, they offer a comfortable grip surface and are more than suitable for long days on the trail.
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles weigh in at 500g/1lb 1.6oz for a pair. Despite their use of carbon fiber, these are not super-lightweight poles, and there are other, lighter options out there if saving every last possible gram or fraction of an ounce is important to you. However, we don’t think achieving ultra light weight is the intended purpose of these poles and we think that most buyers will happily trade their comfort and good range of extension for absolute lowest weight.
In common with most other high end hiking poles we’ve assessed, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork uses carbon fiber for its shaft sections. Carbon fiber now dominates the high-end of the hiking pole market aside from a few specialized models targeting the expedition market such as the Leki Sherpa. Compared to aluminum, the other main material used in hiking poles, carbon fiber is lighter and can be said to have better vibration dampening abilities. However, it’s also more prone to damage – it can chip and crack from impacts whereas aluminum bends. This is not to say that carbon fiber is a delicate material: it’s well established and proven as a material for hiking poles and can be expected to offer many long years of service.
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork utilizes a telescopic design and they collapse down to a length of 63cm/24.8in. Whilst they are not as compact when packed as any of the folding poles we’ve assessed, they are at the shorter end of the scale for telescopic poles. Telescopic poles certainly seem to be at a disadvantage relative to folding poles when it comes to packed size, but many buyers will none the less still favor a telescopic pole design as it has a simpler mechanism – so there’s less to go wrong and therefore the poles are potentially more durable – and also because telescopic poles typically have a wider adjustment range, which can be handy if you either share your poles or prefer to lengthen them for descents, crossing deep snow and stream etc.
Pole Adjustment Mechanism
The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork is a three-section telescopic design. It has a marked length scale on the leg sections to help with rapid setup. It uses flip locks to control the overall length of the pole. We typically favor flip locks over the increasingly uncommon twist locks as they have a more ‘positive’ locking action and we think they are easier to operate with cold fingers (even if we sometimes catch a finger in them). In common with all other flip locks we’ve encountered, Black Diamond’s locks have a small screw that can be used to adjust the tension of the lock. However, one massive negative point of Black Diamond’s design is that you must use a small allen key to make this adjustment. The tool is provided with poles, and it’s a very small and virtually weight-free item to carry, but, it’s also one other thing to have to remember to bring along and to potentially loose. In our experience, if you need to adjust flip lock tension, you’ll need to do so on the trail and it seems like a great shame that this operation relies on a tool especially when other manufacturers have tool-free adjustment on their flip locks.
The Black Diamon Alpine Carbon Cork is provided with standard trekking baskets. Black Diamond sells a wide range of accessory baskets including wider snow baskets. The pole is also provided with a hard carbide tips fitted, but these can be unscrewed and replaced with provided rubber covered tips if desired.
Grip Ergonomics and Material
As the name suggests, the Alpine Carbon Cork features an ergonomic natural cork section to the upper section of its grip. The lower section, which you might grip on steep ascents is covered with high density foam. The advantage of cork as a grip material is that it will mold to the user’s hand with time and, whilst it’s a very personal choice, some users will absolutely prefer it for this reason. Whilst the grip on these black Diamond poles is anatomic, it’s not as heavily shaped or contoured as the grips on some other poles. As you’d expect, there’s a wrist strap provided. One other unique feature of the Alpine Carbon Cork’s grip is that it’s ‘Whippet Ready’. ‘Whippet’ is an accessory system Black Diamond have developed that allows you to remove the top cover of the grip and securely install something very close to an ice axe head (there are a few different variants of this accessory offered). Black Diamond go to great lengths to explain that a hiking pole with a Whippet head attached is not a replacement for an ice axe when mountaineering, and is absolutely unsuitable for climbing, but, with the accessory fitted, the poles may be more easily used for self-arresting if you suffer a fall in snowy or icy conditions.
At the time of writing, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles retail for $219.95 or £189.00, putting them at the pricier end of Black Diamond’s hiking pole range and squarely at the higher end cost-wise of the poles we’ve assessed in this round up. Some buyers may question the worth of spending so much money on a set of hiking pokes, but these are clearly a high-end product with a beautiful level of fit and finish with top quality materials used throughout. Alongside Leki, Black Diamond is probably the name most people would associate with hiking poles and indeed Black Diamond have a tremendous and well-earned reputation for making quality products. Spare parts and accessories are readily available for these poles – that’s something that cannot be said for many of the budget options we’ve assessed – so should something eventually wear out or get damaged, then there’s a good chance these poles will be repairable.
This is a flagship pole from one of the key big-name players in the hiking pole market. The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork shows exactly how well Black Diamond can make a product if costs are not the main concern. With service and spare parts readily available, these are beautifully made and finished poles with a well thought out design that are bound to provide the user with many long years – perhaps even a lifetime – of use. The optional Whippet attachment, allowing the user to turn these poles into a device that can more easily be used for self-arresting could well be a decisive feature for some buyers whose hiking takes them up to and beyond the limits of where mountaineering starts. Indeed, this attachment could, in some circumstances, actually save your life. However, this isn’t the only reason to consider these poles and if you’re interested in a premium pair of general purpose telescopic hiking poles that use the highest end materials, then these are a great choice too. Now, if only Black Diamond could offer tool-free adjustment on their flip locks!
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