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Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles > Test Report by Kurt Papke

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles

Test Series by Kurt Papke

Initial Report - June 19, 2016

Field Report - August 13, 2016

Long Term Report - October, 2016

Tester Information

Name: Kurt Papke
Age: 62
Gender: Male
Height: 6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight: 225 lbs (102 kg)
Email address: kwpapke at gmail dot com
City, State, Country: Tucson, Arizona USA

My backpacking venues have mostly been a combination of Minnesota, where I have lived most of my adult life, and Arizona where I moved to in 2009.  I have always been a "comfort-weight" backpacker, never counting grams, but still keeping my pack as light as easily attained.  I have been using trekking poles for backpacking since I began over a decade ago.

Initial Report

The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork are lightweight telescoping trekking poles with a cork handle for comfort.  Length is adjusted without tools using the "Flicklock" mechanism, a cam-driven tightening lock.  They are designed for four season use, with the provided snow baskets.

Note that I have previously tested a different model of Black Diamond poles.  See the BackpackGearTest.org website for my review of the Black Diamond Trail Shock poles.

Product Information

ac01
Photos of the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles

The poles are show fully extended and contracted with the snow baskets in the upper-left photo with the adjustment measurement marks shown in the middle shaft section of the extended pole.  The two upper-right photos show the front and back side of the open Flicklock mechanisms.  The latter shows the set screw used to adjust tension when closed.  The lower-right photo shows the cork handle, handle extensions for choking up on the poles, and the padded wrist strap.

Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd.
Manufacturer website: http://blackdiamondequipment.com/
Model:
Alpine Carbon Cork
Year of manufacture: 2016
Country of origin:
Not provided/labeled
MSRP:
$119.96 USD
Color tested:
Only one color is available, black and white
Weight:
Listed: 1 lb, 1 oz (475 g)
Measured: 16.4 oz (466 g)
Dimensions:
25 in (63 cm) collapsed
Usable: 25-51 in (63-130 cm)
Warranty:
One year from purchase date and only to the original retail buyer that the product is free from defects in material and workmanship.
Materials:
Shafts: 100% carbon fiber
Grip: cork
Grip extension: EVA foam
Tips: carbide

The features listed by the manufacturer include:
  • Replaceable carbide tips.  This is important to me as I've had to replace tips in the past due to wear.  The key is availability of the replacement units.
  • Cork grip.  A dual-density top is listed, but what that actually means is not clear to me.
  • Non-slip EVA foam grip extension.  This is a useful feature for me as I often choke up on the handles on steep climbs.
  • Dual FlickLock adjustability which means there are two adjustment points for the length, and these can be released or locked without tools.

Initial Inspection

After removal from the packaging I visually inspected the unit for manufacturing defects and found none.  No scratches from shipping, no paint flaws.  The Flicklock mechanisms worked easily, and the pole shafts telescoped smoothly.

As soon as I picked them up the uncanny lightness of the poles was apparent.  A quick measurement showed that they weigh in at about 25% less than the aluminum poles I have been using.  Since poles are lifted and swung on each step, this should be quite noticeable on the trail.

Summary

I am looking forward to getting the poles into the backcountry and seeing how they perform under field conditions.  I am excited about how lightweight they are.

Things I Like So Far:

  • Lightweight
  • Length is easy to adjust

Things That Concern Me Upfront:

  • Durability of carbon fiber shafts.  I occasionally use my trekking poles to break a fall on steep descents, and have bent and broken a few pairs.  I look forward to seeing how the carbon fiber shafts do under such stressful situations, though I am not looking forward to falling!
  • I have had issues with adjustable length poles with the tension mechanism loosening up.  The set screw can be difficult to adjust in the field without a screwdriver.  I look forward to seeing how well these poles hold their set.

Field Report

Test Conditions

Date
Location
Trail
Distance
Altitude
Weather
June 26 - July 1, 2016
Yosemite National Park in California
Tuolumne Meadows to Cloud's Rest
40 miles
(64 km)
7000-9900 ft
(2300-3250 m)
40-80 F
(4-27 C)
Mostly sunny
August 6-12, 2016 High Uintas mountains in northern Utah Highline
30 miles
(48 km)
10,500-12,600 ft
(3445-4130 m)
28-70 F
(-2-21 C)
Sunny mornings,
rain, snow, sleet and hail in the afternoons
August 13-20, 2016 Snowmass Wilderness in the Colorado Rockies near Aspen Four Pass Loop
35 miles
(56 km)
10,000-12,800 ft
(3280-4200 m)
30-70 F
(-1-21 C)
Some sun in the mornings, otherwise cloudy and wet
August 29-30, 2016
Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington State
Goat Rocks Loop
14 miles
(23 km)
4500-6670 ft
(1475-2190 m)
50-70 F
(10-21 C)
Mix of sun and clouds

Yosemite - Tuolumne Meadows

ac02This was a 6-day, 5-night backpack trip done in conjunction with the Tucson backpacking Meetup group.  I used the poles for 100% of the hiking miles.  They even carried me up Cloud's Rest as shown in the photo at left, with Half Dome in the background to the right.

The poles took a lot of abuse this week: hiking over granite surfaces, through streams, and getting bashed on trail rocks.  They worked reliably, comfortably, and with no issues.

I did have to tighten the set screws on the FlickLocks twice.  I was seeing a bit of slippage from time-to-time, so I incrementally tightened them down until they refused to budge.  This is an inherent downside of the FlickLock mechanism: it takes a few tweaks to get the tension in the set screws dialed in where they are still easy to use, yet do not slip.  I suspect that they will need no further adjustment from here on out though.

I was really pleased with the lightness of the poles.  They are *so* much lighter than my aluminum poles.  The cork is also very comfortable on my hands for all-day use - my palms did not feel sweaty against the surface.

I did adjust the length of the poles a few times when we were doing some extended climbing/descents.  I am a big fan of adjustable poles, as I like to lengthen them substantially on steep downhills.

Highline Trail

This was an exploratory trip to a new area for me, so I was not aggressive with the mileage.  Also, this was a high-altitude Alpine hike with a high pass I had to cross twice, so I huffed and puffed a lot.  I really appreciated the light weight of the poles when doing the climbs, and they saved my knees on the descents.  The trails were very rocky in places, but the pole tips dug in nicely and I had no traction issues.  I did not need to adjust the FlickLock set screw during this week-long trip; I think I now have the tension spot-on. In the following photo the poles are leaning up against a monster cairn - these are to be found along the higher altitudes of the trail, most likely to be visible in the snow:

AC03

Four Pass Loop

AC04After a one-day break from the Highline trail, I headed up into the Rockies for a week-long trip around the Maroon Bells.  Altitude was about the same as the Highline.

The poles are shown along the trail at left, propped up against a trail sign.  As can be seen, this is rugged terrain.  The trails became very steep right near the summit of the passes, and I really appreciated the toughness of these poles to power me up the final stretch.  I also had to rely on them to support much of my weight as I began my descent on the far side, picking my way down the slopes.

Overall, the poles performed flawlessly on this trip.  Once again I did not have to adjust the FlickLock set screw.

Goat Rocks Loop

This was a one-night jaunt located several hours drive from my daughter's home in Portland, Oregon.  I've been wanting to visit this for a while, and had my Jeep on this trip so got the chance to make the excursion.

The trail was fairly foot-friendly, so I didn't utilize the poles as extensively on this trip as on some of the prior outings.

Summary

During this test period I hiked over three weeks with the poles, so I feel like I've given them a pretty good workout.  My main concern that I had upfront about the durability so far has been unfounded - the poles are holding up perfectly.

Good Things:

  1. Lightweight
  2. Comfortable grip
  3. Extension locks did not slip
  4. Reliable - no bends or breaks
  5. Tips "bit" the trail well - didn't have a problem with slipping

Areas for improvement:

  1. I never quite figured out the Left/Right pole labeling.  Half the time I probably used the wrong hand.  Perhaps they need to upgrade their labeling to explain what the difference is so I have a motivation to use them correctly.

Long Term Report

Test Conditions

Date
Location
Trail
Distance
Altitude
Weather
August 29-30, 2016
Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington State
Goat Rocks Loop
14 miles
(23 km)
4500-6670 ft
(1480-2190 m)
50-70 F
(10-21 C)
sunny, windy
October 4-6, 2016
Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness Aravaipa Canyon
21 miles
(34 km)
2550-3400 ft
(840-1115 m)
43-80 F
(6-27 C)
sunny

Summary

I did only two outings with a total of five backpacking days during the second test period, not enough trail miles to see anything significant above beyond what I experienced during the heavy hiking volume I did this summer.

I have been VERY happy with the performance of these poles.  I enjoyed the lightweight heft in my hands while trekking, particularly in the alpine areas I was hiking in this summer when I was doing a lot of altitude, and I was impressed by their durability.  I am really hard on poles, they normally don't last too long before I bend them, typically in a minor tumble when I use them to break my fall.  These poles did not get subjected to any serious impacts like a fall, but they still are in great shape after four months and about 150 miles (240 km) of use.


Thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and Black Diamond for the opportunity to contribute to this test.



Read more reviews of Black Diamond gear
Read more gear reviews by Kurt Papke

Reviews > Trekking Poles > Poles > Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles > Test Report by Kurt Papke



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