Top performing climbing skins, even more than other categories, are not all that flashy. After all, they spend all their relevant time underfoot, literally ground into the dreary up-tracks of our otherwise gravity-fueled fun fests. Even when we truly dive into all the ins and outs of climbing skins, we find that the best products are simply middle of the road. Most outdoor equipment strikes compromises. Skins, though, are the ultimate in compromise. We want them to grip well and glide well. That alone is the ultimate in contradiction. The need to balance contradicting needs leads to an inherent bias to absolute middle of the road products. In the case of our Best Buy, we picked a product that is a literal blend. The Black Diamond Glidelite Mix STS combines two very different materials - nylon and natural mohair - to create a high scoring product at a reasonable price.
Black Diamond Glidelite Mix STS Review
Cons: Floppy material rolls and peels, allowing some snow between ski and skin
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
Compare to Similar Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
The GlideLite Mix skins are a widely available, widely compatible product that strikes one balance after another in favor of ultimate performance. When we consider cost, others come very close, but the Black Diamond edges just ahead.
Overall, other products take a handy lead. However, when we consider cost and availability, these are an easy choice for our Best Buy award. Anyone on a budget will do well to find these, either at retail or on sale, for their backcountry skis. With proper care they will last many seasons, further enhancing the value.
We want skins that glide well. At first glance, and to the uninitiated, this seems unimportant. The uphill portion of a backcountry ski day is simply plodding along slowly. Gliding is the last thing we envision. Sure, we often scoot down short hills on the way up without removing our skins, but the bulk of uphill travel is slow and cumbersome. Gliding isn't a word we'd use to describe the overall travel. Look more closely at truly efficient uphill travel, however, and you will see that each step taken by an accomplished skinner has a gliding portion. The best climbers all slide their skins ahead rather than lifting them. This slide is crucial to efficiency. We can't quite put our fingers on exactly why, but we know it to be true.
If glide is vital to each step, it is important to your whole climb. If it is important to the entire climb, it is essential to 80% of your backcountry ski day. On the other hand, we need skins that stay put on the ski, and that grip the snow well enough to keep forward progress rolling along, and that last through multiple seasons. Some attributes that contribute to good glide compromise in other ways. Gliding is indeed very important, but these top scoring skins are not the best gliders. But the combination of nylon and mohair allows for the best balance of glide and grip, which is why we find them to be exceptional. Full mohair skins like the Top Pick Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair definitely glide better. Our Editors' Choice Contour Hybrid Mix glide a little better. Top Pick Fischer Profoil glides much better than all these. The remainder of the climbers we assessed glide similarly or more poorly than the Best Buy.
The grip is why we use skins. Skis are slippery on their own; we need to add traction for uphill travel. That being said, as noted above, we also need the skis to glide forward. Grip and glide are, logically, at odds. The best gliding skins are not the best grippers and vice versa. With glide, more is better. With grip, we only need so much. We need our skis to grab the snow at an angle that suits the most efficient rate of ascent. The steepest track, even if our skins would stick, is inefficient on our legs. Tilting the angle back is better for the rest of our bodies.
We only need skins that stick to moderate slopes. The Mo-Mix skins, used with good technique, stick just fine in any terrain you will encounter in typical backcountry skiing. Sure, you can get better grabbers. Notably, the Black Diamond Ascension offers truly enhanced grip. To climb the steepest terrain possible, in a straight, plumb line, choose the Ascension. The G3 Alpinist+ Glide is a blended skin that grips nearly as well as Black Diamond's full nylon option and better than this Best Buy.
Black Diamond makes excellent, magical skin glue, and plasters it onto all of their skins. It sticks when you want it to (to your skis), and lets go when you need it to (in deployment when pulling skin from skin after storage and skin from after use). Among our tested Black Diamond skins, though, we found variation in actual glue integrity.
It turns out that, no matter how strong the glue is, the stiffness of the backing material matters. Supple skin material rolls and peels more readily than stiff. This is true across the board, but is most apparent when comparing Black Diamond skins, as we can correct for tip attachment and for glue strength. Nylon skins are stiffer, and Mohair is softer, with the blend - no surprise here - falling in the middle. The Glidelite Mix skins did not stay on quite as well as the full nylon. Overall, these skins stayed stuck well enough. The Glidelite Ultralight Mix is made with an even softer backing, but the same glue. As could be predicted, the Ultralight peels and fails more readily than the Best Buy Glidelite Mix.
What would a review be without some nitpicking? In other rating categories like grip or glide, where the Glidelite Mix skins make clear compromises, we can forgive and justify these compromises in the interest of balancing performance attributes. With glue integrity, as it relates to the fabric stiffness, we see no reason the fabric couldn't be stiffer. Other skins in our review, like the Dynafit Speedskin, Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair, and Editors Choice Contour Hybrid Mix are just as light and packable, but stiffer and therefore stay stuck on skis better.
Further, other skins we used, the Dynafit in particular, have tip attachments that do a better job of locking the material down to work with the glue and fabric stiffness to keep the skin from rolling. The simple cable tip loop of the Black Diamond skins isn't the most secure attachment when it comes to slowing the penetration of snow between ski and skin. In the end, the Glidelite Mix skins stayed on our skis well enough, but they could be better. We tested them without the optional tail clip and had no significant problems in the rear. A perfect product, however, would do better regarding overall glue integrity.
We found nothing notable regarding icing resistance on the Black Diamond Glidelite Mix skins. All skins we have ever used ice up at least little in the right circumstances. The Best Buy winner is no exception. While it would be nice if there were a product that resisted icing, it seems unlikely. Even bare ski bases can ice up when the snow is variable, switching between cold and dry and moist and warm. The hard plastic base of the Top Pick Fischer Profoil is far more resistant to icing than any of the fabric products, but it isn't entirely immune. To achieve the traction necessary from skins, they need to be textured at least a little. Because of this inherent texture, they will always be even more vulnerable to icing than smooth, bare ski bases. There are tips and tricks to minimize skin icing, and mainly it involves waxing the skins.
Among the fabric products, there seems to be a pretty direct correlation between mohair content and icing proclivity. Full nylon plush, as in the Black Diamond Ascension, ices less than the blends, which in turn ice less than the full mohair of something like the Top Pick Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair. The Best Buy winner does about the same as the Editors Choice Contour Hybrid Mix and the Top Pick Kohla Vacuum Base Zero.
Making direct, quantitative comparisons of the weight of the skins we tested was difficult. Because each pair of skins is cut to a specific model (and size and dimensions) of ski, and because each skin has different tip and tail attachments (and in the case of Black Diamond skins, different options), there is no easy direct comparison of actual weight. That being said, we could make some rough comparisons and generalizations. Once again, the Glidelite Mix skins come out in the middle. The blend of materials hedges its bets with the heavier nylon and lighter mohair to find a spot in the center of the spectrum. The material itself is perhaps a little heavier than average blended skins.
The best way to get something lighter is to leave it off entirely. In the case of skin tail clips, they are often unnecessary. We had no problems with skin retention of clipless tested Glidelite Mix versions that we could attribute to the lack of a tail clip. We did appreciate the smaller and lighter form we ended up with when we eliminated the tail clip.
Overall, when we account for different ski sizes and clip arrangements, the Best Buy Glidelite Mix is about as packable as the other major blended products. They are right in the same realm as the Editors Choice Contour Hybrid Mix and the Dynafit Speedskins. They are more compact and lighter than the Black Diamond Ascension, much smaller packed than the Top Pick Fischer Profoil, and a little more bulky than the Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair.
Along with the other Black Diamond skins, the Glidelite Mix product is universally compatible. All Black Diamond skins are equal in this regard. The one catch is that the simple cable loop of the BD skins does not work very well, sometimes not at all, on the most broadly radiused ski tips.
We recommend the Black Diamond Glidelite Mohair Mix skins for basically all backcountry and ski mountaineering. Only the Contour Hybrid Mix is a better overall choice, at a noticeably higher price. As compared to most of the other skins we tested, the Mohair Mix is superior overall. Additionally, these skins are compatible with just about any ski you may have or want.
These are not the least expensive skins we tested, but they are close. As a top scoring product, they are priced very well. One caveat worth mentioning is that the mohair component of skins wears out with usage. Full mohair skins show wear in just a couple weeks of heavy use and start to suffer in performance after a heavy season or two. It is harder to assess wear on the mixed skins, but it is surely happening. Very few tour often and hard enough to wear out skins, even pure mohair skins, faster than they wish to upgrade skis, but it does affect the value. Pure nylon skins like the even less expensive Black Diamond Ascension will last longer than anything with any amount of mohair. That being said, the performance advantages of the Black Diamond Glidelite Mix skins is worth a few extra dollars and the minor durability compromise. For absolute value, the Ascension has to be a little better, but we aren't keen on the performance and portability compromises therein.
Even more than in other review categories, the dominating products are far from flashy. Climbing skins are decidedly unsexy on their own, and this top performer is outstanding for its middle-of-the-road performance across the board in our metrics. This, as outlined above, is a function of the inherent polarized attributes we ask of skins. If it has to both glide and grip, somewhere in the middle is going to be the sweet spot. If it has to drag along the ground for miles and miles but pack down small, durability and weight are going to be carefully tuned. If the glue has to both stick and not stick… well, that's just magic. The Glidelite Mohair Mix is a great compromise at a reasonable price.
— Jediah Porter