All-Season Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Poles
$180, 1 lb. 1.5 oz. (with trekking baskets)
One men’s and one women’s size, adjustable
backcountry.com

For backcountry users who need poles that can handle hard use and any and all activities around the calendar, from backpacking on good trails to scrambling off-trail up mountains and backcountry skiing, Black Diamond’s Alpine Carbon Cork poles have been a tried-and-true performer at the high end of this category for years. So I tested the newly updated 2019 version of these poles on backpacking trips that would put them to the test: a 94-mile traverse of Glacier National Park on the Continental Divide Trail, and a rugged, 74-mile hike in the Grand Canyon, plus some days of local backcountry skiing, and discovered that this latest generation stays true to its lineage.

The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork shafts are 100 percent carbon—imbuing them with high strength and relatively low weight for poles designed for any use and season. For poles that are also not ultralight, at just over a pound, they have a nice, light swing when walking, and yet feel very sturdy when leaning hard on them, or when sliding your hands down the extended grips on the upper shafts when reaching and planting a pole above you, whether scrambling steep talus, as we did on the Grand Canyon’s Escalante Route, or skinning uphill on skis in deep snow.


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Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles.
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles.

The pole’s adjustable length range is 110cm to 130cm as marked on the shafts, but effectively can be used at a length nearly down to its completely collapsed length of 61cm (24 inches)—that’s a wider range of use than most poles, and functional for all but very tall hikers, backpackers, and climbers. That 61cm collapsed length makes them as packable as many telescoping, or collapsible poles, though not nearly as compact as the MSR Dynalock Ascent poles, which weigh the same but are $30 less.

The poles feature the new FlickLock Pro locking levers (made of aluminum), which never slipped (once I set the tension on them), however hard I leaned or fell onto them. The one serious complaint I have about the Alpine Carbon Cork poles is that adjusting the tension—which may be necessary when they’re new, or at some point during your ownership of them—requires a tiny Allen wrench, rather than using your fingers or a screwdriver head that would be found on many multi-tools or knives that people actually carry into the backcountry. Fortunately, in my experience, the tension on the FlickLock Pro levers does not slowly slip over time, so you can set it at home and will rarely need to reset it.

Tip: Adjust the tension on all four (per pair of poles) FlickLock Pro levers before you first use them. Note that you must set the tension for the upper and lower levers where each shaft is widest—otherwise, you may find it impossible to open or close the lever manually—and then check that the tension isn’t too soft for where each shaft is narrowest. And the widest spot differs for each shaft: Set the tension for the upper FlickLock Pro with the shaft in the collapsed position (below 100cm), and for the lower FlickLock Pro lever in the fully extended position (130cm).

The cork grips offer top comfort for bare hands, and the wrist straps adjust easily and tear a page from BD’s climbing harness technology in terms of ergonomic fit and comfort on long days. The poles come with interchangeable carbide and rubber tips and trekking and snow baskets.

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The Verdict

For backpackers, hikers, climbers, backcountry skiers, snowshoers, and others who want strong, four-season poles at a reasonable weight, the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles will stand up to hard use from rugged trails to mountain slopes and backcountry pow stashes—and at a competitive price for this quality.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles at backcountry.com, Moosejaw.com, ems.com, blackdiamondequipment.com, or rei.com.

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See my picks for “The Best Trekking Poles” and my stories “How to Choose Trekking Poles” and “10 Best Expert Tips for Hiking With Trekking Poles,” and all of my reviews of backpacking gear, ultralight backpacking gear, and hiking gear.

I almost never hike without poles. Read why in my “10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier.”

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Want to make your pack lighter and all of your backpacking trips more enjoyable? See my “10 Tricks for Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier” and “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of both stories for free, or download the e-guide versions of the 10 tricks here and the lightweight backpacking guide here without having a paid membership.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza