When shopping for alpine touring gear, certain pieces of equipment are more exciting than others. It’s easy to become infatuated with carbon skis or the latest binding technology. Geeking out out on finding the touring boot with the perfect balance of stiffness, weight, and range of motion can be extremely fun. Yet an often overlooked piece of gear are your climbing skins.
These incredibly important and less-sophisticated items are an essential part of your setup. Without climbing skins, your flashy skis and bindings would be utterly useless. Folks new to backcountry skiing may find the choices in skin materials confusing. In addition, figuring out skin width can be difficult. Here is a quick run down of some key items to consider when making a purchase decision.
Originally, climbing skins were made from– you guessed it, animal skins. Luckily in 2018 and we have technology on our side. These days, there are three main types of climbing skins and finding the right material is important. While you can certainly get by with any of the three common materials, it helps to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each. This guide well help maximize your hard earned dollars.
- Nylon — Nylon climbing skins are the most affordable option for backcountry skiers. These nylon skins also offer the best grip. This can be enormously beneficial for beginners as it makes navigating difficult sections of the skin track a little less scary. However the quality of grip comes at the expense of the ability to glide. Nylon skins have more drag thus aren’t as energy efficient as other options. While they may not glide as well as their Mohair cousins, Nylon skins are also extremely tough, which is perfect for those who frequently experience “low-tide” conditions in their region. Nylon skins are also typically the heaviest.
Unofficial Pick: Black Diamond Ascension Nylon STS
2. Mohair: Mohair is a product of the noble Angora Goat. Mohair climbing skins offer significantly better glide compared to nylon ones. Superior glide can be important on longer tours where skiers want to maximize their energy with each step they take. In addition, mohair is significantly lighter than nylon. The downside of mohair skins is that they sacrifice significant grip compared to nylon. In addition, the material is a little bit more fragile and won’t stand up to rocks or stumps quite as well. They are also the most expensive option.
Example: G3 Alpinist LT Mohair
3. Mohair Mix — As the name suggests, these skins use a blend of mohair and nylon materials. They are approximately 70% mohair. As you might expect, these are a happy medium in performance and weight. They offer better grip and durability than mohair while gliding better than nylon. This middle-of-the-road approach makes these skins a very popular choice and are generally priced in between mohair and nylon.
Example: Pomoca Climb Pro S-Glide
Choosing skin width is relatively simple but can be confusing for those unfamiliar with the process. Manufacturers offer their products in different widths. For example, the G3 Alpinist skins are available in 100mm, 115mm, 130mm and 145mm widths. When sizing your skins, you want to focus on the width of your tips, which is the widest part of your ski. You want your skin to be the approximate width of your ski tips. A skin that is a few millimeters narrower than your ski tip can work too. You will trim your skins to fit the shape of your ski while leaving your edges exposed. Tip width is often printed on the ski, but it is also very easy to measure with a metric ruler or tape measure.
Skin length is a little more straightforward. That said it varies by manufacturer. Black Diamond skins come in a very generous length and you will cut them down before attaching your tip and tail clips. Other brands like G3 offer their skins in small, medium, and long. You will need to visit each manufacturer’s website to see what ski length that covers.
Tip and Tail Attachments/Proprietary Designs:
There are a few different systems for attaching the skins to your skis. There will always be an attachment on your tips and an attachment on your tails. Most skins like the Black Diamond Ascension Nylon or G3 Alpinist will work with any ski. They have loops or brackets that fit over your tip and a singular clamp that pulls over your tail.
Some skis like the Volkl VTA 98 or Dynafit DNA will have special attachment systems built into the ski. In this case, you will need to use the proprietary skins designed to work with that attachment system. These skis often come pre-cut to fit perfectly with your particular ski.
There you have it. We hope this helps alleviate any confusion surrounding the underappreciated climbing skins. This is by no means an exhaustive guide and, as you might imagine, you can get pretty nerdy on this topic.