The Best Splitboard Climbing Skins for Backcountry Snowboarding
Which splitboard skin is the best? We beat up four pairs in our quest to find a winner. We broke trail in powder, tip-toed over rocks, struggled up steep icy skin tracks, ripped skins in the wind, jammed them in backpacks, and then pulled them apart to repeat the process. We monitored how well they gripped on the up and how well they glided on flat and down. In evaluating the ease of use, we measured how easy the skins pulled apart, how much they weighed, and how small they packed down when not in use. Our icing and glop resistance category rated the skins on how well the glue maintained its stickiness over the course of a long day and how well the skin resisted the snow from sticking to it. Our first impressions spun 180 degrees and we ended up a bit surprised, yet still confident in the review winners. Keep scrolling to find out how all contenders fared in our comparisons.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Splitboard Climbing Skins for Backcountry Snowboarding
Voile Skins with Tail Clip
Best for Specific Applications
While we liked many things about the G3 Alpinist and Alpinist High Traction skins, we experienced significant glue failures that caused us to lower their scores in the glue category and thus remove them from consideration for awards. Nonetheless, G3 deserves recognition for innovation in both the tip and tail clips on their skins. It is encouraging to see a manufacturer trying new solutions to improve how skins work and it is our hope that G3 can successfully address the durability of their glue and continue to move forward in the innovation of splitboard skin design.
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Analysis and Test Results
We reviewed four common splitboard specific skins. Three of the four were nylon skins and the fourth was a nylon/mohair mix. All the skins performed well initially but we did experience significant durability issues with the G3 skins, which was unfortunate since those skins also possessed some of the most innovative features in our review.
Selecting the Right Product
Skins are a primitive tool in many ways. While they are no longer made out of a dead animal skin that is stuck to the bottom of our skis, that basic DNA is still apparent in their design. The two primary materials replacing the animal fur are nylon and mohair (mohair is processed angora goat wool).
General characteristics of nylon are that it grips well, but doesn't glide as well. Mohair does not grip as well, but does glide better. Nylon is also more durable, but it does sacrifice weight, as it is heavier and bulkier than mohair.
The fur has two primary functions: it grips and it glides. The fur is slightly angled towards the tail of the skin; this allows it to slide forward, engaging the hairs when pushed backwards. In turn, this (in theory) stops the skin from slipping. A hypothetical ideal skin would glide forward with zero resistance and then grip like wolverine claws when pushed backwards. Spoiler Alert! This ideal skin does not exist.
In addition to the gripping and gliding qualities of a skin, there are other factors in evaluating a climbing skin. How much does it weigh? Weight is tremendously important when climbing mountains and the difference between skins can be significant. How packable is it? Skins live a portion of their lives folded or rolled up in our backpacks and it's nice if the skins take up a minimum amount of space during transport.
While the aforementioned qualities are important, if the skin doesn't stick to your splitboard, nothing else really matters. The motto "better living through chemistry" could easily apply to skin glue. Ideally, it grips perfectly to your skins while ascending, but pulls apart easily after being stored glue to glue and stuffed in your pack for the descent. The glue should also magically repel dog hair, pine needles, and any other contaminants, and should last for a decent amount of time. In the real world, glue collects contaminants about what you would expect from a sticky substance. In certain conditions, it can stick to itself and require significant muscle and time to pull apart.
Types of Skins
The range of available splitboard skins is currently less than that available for backcountry skiing skins. The offerings are dominated by nylon skins, although a few manufacturers are offering nylon/mohair mixes. None of the skins we reviewed are super lightweight 100 percent mohair. Up until the last few years it was difficult to find splitboard specific skins that have a dedicated tail attachment; all the skins in our review have one and it is found on most commercially available splitboard skins that are currently on the market.
Criteria for Evaluation
Many splitboarders started out as snowboarders and might not have any experience on skis. Even the worst gliding skins glide forward much better than snowshoes and thus often feel great. In reality, not all skins slide forward as easily and this resistance actually adds significantly to the amount of energy required to move the skins. Over the course of a big day, relatively small increases in gliding efficiency result in travelling further, faster, and arriving with more energy to enjoy the down. In general, nylon/mohair mix skins have better glide than straight nylon skins. The Jones Universal and G3 Alpinist had the best glide in our review.
Skins need to grip the snow as you climb up. The Voile splitboard skins and G3 High Traction skins provided the most grip in our review. Ideally we would all climb expertly low angle fresh skin tracks on powder days with no switchbacks, where grip is less critical. In reality we often climb overly steep, slick skin tracks and having the most grip possible feels great in these situations. Many beginner splitboarders will likely value grip over any other quality as strong performance in grip will likely improve their learning experience over the other qualities (even tiny back slips can be terrifying to new skinners). With time comes improved skinning technique and maximum grip is less critical. For more experienced splitters, it makes sense to consider how grip compromises glide and possibly increases weight and packability.
Ease of Use
As you might expect, we based our evaluations on how easy it was to set up our skins. All the skins in our review required that they be trimmed to fit a splitboard; they all included trim tools, but a couple of the tools were nicer than others. The G3 Alpinist and G3 Alpinist High Traction trim tool in particular is simple to use and results in a well-cut skin that accurately matches the splitboard without too much fuss and measuring. The Jones Universal tool is also interesting and fairly easy to use. All the skins except for the Jones skins came with attached adjustable tail clips. This means you just need to buy the skin that fits your board and adjust the tail clip so that it securely holds the tail of your splitboard. Both Jones splitboards, the Jones Solution and Jones Explorer, come with an adjustable tail, but require the purchaser to install it. Installation is not rocket science but unless you have experience working with rivets, it can be a bit challenging.
We also considered weight as part of ease of use. Weight is challenging to measure for skins since they arrive (when bought new) in significantly different lengths and widths. We did our best to measure how all the skins compare to each other. We folded, rolled and stuffed the skins into our packs to measure how packable they could be. At the bottom of our runs, we pulled the skins apart and evaluated how hard or difficult it was to do this.
All the splitboard skins in our review have nose and tail clips. When properly adjusted to your splitboard, they all work well at helping to keep the skins connected to your board. Until the last few years, splitboards did not often have tail clips. Truthfully this works fine with newer skins (with strong glue) and on shorter days. Not having a tail clip actually saves a little weight and allows the skins to pack even smaller. If you spend enough time in the backcountry, you will eventually have a day where the glue on skins starts to fail due to challenging environmental conditions, something contaminating your glue, or perhaps older glue that has deteriorated.
Tail clips can save your bacon when the glue starts to fail by providing enough connection to the board, which will help you limp back to the trailhead. If the glue totally fails, the tail clips are not enough to hold on your skins, but will help with a partial failure. The nose clips on the Jones and Voile Skins with Tail Clips are quite similar, with the G3 skins bringing some creativity to the market. The G3 uses more rubber in connecting their tip clip to the skin material and also moves the two clips further apart. While this might look odd, the performance was adequate.
Glue and Glop
Another one bites the dust; it is no fun when skin glue fails. If you are far from your car, you better have a bunch of ski traps, duct tape, and some patient friends to wait up for you. After many years of use and abuse, it is tough to blame skin glue for not being as fresh and reliable as it was when brand new. Our review consisted of testing over the course of one season; ideally, the skin glue should have been just fine, except perhaps for the odd super wet or bitterly cold day that challenges all skins. Unfortunately, we did experience near total skin failure towards the end of our testing with the G3 Alpinist High Traction skins and similar results with the G3 Alpinist skins. The glue on the Voile Skins and Jones Universal skins were functioning very similarly at the end of our review when compared to their performance in the very beginning.
On the other side of the skin, in specific conditions, snow can stick to the fur of the skin. Often this occurs on a powder day when a mix of warm above freezing temps (perhaps in the sun) and colder snow remaining in shady areas. Once the skins become a little wet from the above freezing sunny melting snow and then move back into the cold wintery below freezing snow, it sticks or glops to the skin. In what seems to be comparable to that of a speed record, this snow can accumulate and become very heavy. This is usually a stop and fix problem that requires scraping the glopping snow off the split ski and then applying skin wax to the skin to try and prevent this from re-occuring. Many skins come treated with some water-repellent finish to deter this glopping. In our experience this treatment works partially, but it is still necessary to carry skin wax just in case.
The Editors' Choice-winning Voile Splitboard skin would make a great first skin for novice splitboarders. The grip is tremendous and its durability will allow for plenty of operator error without much penalty. At $185, it is also tied for being the cheapest skin in our review.
The Top Pick Award-winning Jones Universal skin is recommended for more experienced splitboarders who are confident in their skinning ability and appreciate the benefit of improved glide, reduced weight, and smaller packed volume. For those who have honed their skinning skills, this tradeoff is totally worth it.
Splitboard climbing skins are first and foremost meant to grip and glide. In addition to the primary function of these skins, necessary factors such as weight, glue strength, and ease of attachment can set certain skins above the rest. Our goal in conducting and publishing this review is to help you identify the right skins for your board and your snowy adventures. To learn more about what to keep in mind when purchasing this product for your needs, check out our Buying Advice article.
— David Reichel
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