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Black Diamond UltraLite Mix STS Review

In most important ways, these have average performance; the grip and glide is right in the middle.
Black Diamond Ultralite Mix STS Climbing Skins
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Price:  $180 List | $167.35 at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Light, good glue
Cons:  Durability concerns, soft fabric rolls off ski
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 12, 2018
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75
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 9
  • Glide - 30% 7
  • Grip - 15% 6
  • Glue integrity - 20% 7
  • Portability - 20% 9
  • Icing Resistance - 10% 8
  • Compatibility - 5% 9

Our Verdict

We've always like the reliability and function of Black Diamond skins. The glue is the best in the business, and their proven products are widely available and reliable. This new offering, therefore, was exciting. However, in testing and watching others use the UltraLite Mix STS, we have learned that perhaps they've gone too light. Notable issues include full skin tears, broken attachment hardwear, and regular skin glue failures initiated by very flexible fabric backing.


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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Light, good glueWell balanced in all attributes, great glueLight, fast glidingLight and versatileLight, well balanced performance, and an excellent tip attachment
Cons Durability concerns, soft fabric rolls off skiExpensive, largest and heaviest messengerDurability concerns, limited gripFloppy material rolls and peels, allowing some snow between ski and skinExclusive to Dynafit skis
Bottom Line In most important ways, these have average performance; the grip and glide is right in the middle.Virtually every aspect of skin design and construction is balanced by another competing demand; the Contour Hybrid Mix walks that tightrope, creating a product that is fully balanced.On the balance sheet of climbing skins, the Pomoca’s lean in the fast and light direction, with associated compromises in grip and durability.Universally compatible and high performing, these are some of the best skins on the market for whatever sticks you take into the backcountry.Limited to being compatible with Dynafit skis, these lightweight skins strike a great balance between glide and grip.
Rating Categories UltraLite Mix STS Contour Hybrid Mix Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair Glidelite Mix STS Dynafit Speedskin
Glide (30%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
Grip (15%)
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
7
Glue Integrity (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
7
Portability (20%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
9
Icing Resistance (10%)
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
Compatibility (5%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
3
Specs UltraLite Mix STS Contour Hybrid Mix Pomoca Climb Pro... Glidelite Mix STS Dynafit Speedskin
Weight per pair (grams) 457g for G3 Findr 551 for Blizzard Zero G 452g for Atomic Backland 569g for Kastle, 563g for Hannibal, 570g for Vta, 600g for Black Crows 550g
Weight (pounds) 1.01 1.21 1 1.25 1.21
Material 65% Mohair, 35% Nylon 70% Mohair, 30% Synthetic 100% Mohair 65% Mohair, 35% Nylon Mohair and Nylon mix
Glue Traditional Hybrid glue technology Traditional Traditional Traditional
Tip Attachment Adjustable tip loop Rigid tip loop Rigid tip loop Cable tip loop Proprietary rubber knob into ski notch
Tail Attachment Rubber strap Rubber strap Rubber strap Rubber strap Metal hook
Ski Compatibility Universal Universal Universal Universal Compatible with Dynafit skis only
Precut Option? Order for approximate width, cut to length and lateral shape Order for length and approximate width, cut to lateral shape Order for length and approximate width, cut to lateral shape Order for approximate width, cut to length and lateral shape Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

Black Diamond makes and sells a dizzying array of climbing skins. This is their latest model, leaning in the light and fast direction. To get them more compact and lighter, the tip and tail attachments were stripped down, and the backing fabric is super thin. Is this worth it? What are the performance costs of such lightening tactics? Are they actually any lighter than the alternatives?

Performance Comparison


As it turns out, maybe Black Diamond has gone "too light". We observed durability, grip, glide, and glue integrity issues with these skins through our first season with them; they are indeed super light, but not appreciably lighter or more compact than the competition. In fact, we have used and tested skins that perform better and are actually lighter and more compact.

The Glidelight Ultralight is indeed light and compact  which is good for getting deep in the wild. Here  the high Illecillewaet Glacier of Canada. Note  though  performance issues that are almost directly correlated to the light weight.
The Glidelight Ultralight is indeed light and compact, which is good for getting deep in the wild. Here, the high Illecillewaet Glacier of Canada. Note, though, performance issues that are almost directly correlated to the light weight.

Glide


In extensive head to head testing, we found that the Black Diamond Glidelight Ultralight skins glide about in the middle of the pack. They glide well enough for discerning users, but one can also eek out a few more calories of energy savings from other products on the market.

All our award winners glide as well or better than the BD Ultralight. The glide of the Top Pick Kohla Vacuum and the Best Buy Black Diamond Mohair Mix is indistinguishable from that of the Ultralights. The Editors Choice Contour Hybrid Mix glides noticeably better, but the real jump in gliding performance comes with two Top Pick winners. Both the Fischer ProFoil and Pomocca Climb Pro Mohair slide a long way, way better than the Black Diamond Glidelight Ultralight.

Powder skinning in a clearing storm high in Wyoming's Tetons.
Powder skinning in a clearing storm high in Wyoming's Tetons.

Grip


Similarly, the Glidelight Ultralight skins grip well enough, but nothing special. Beginners might notice some slip in these, but intermediate to expert practitioners will have all the traction they need for all kinds of terrain and conditions.

Grip characteristics of the products we tested don't vary as much as other characteristics. All but the Fischer ProFoil grab well enough for basically all intermediate to advanced backcountry skiers. That being said, there are subtle differences. The BD Ultralights grab the snow about as well as our main award winners. The full nylon fabric products, like the Black Diamond Ascensiom grip the best and are best suited for beginner skinners.

Glue Integrity


The glue itself on the Glidelight Ultralight is excellent. The formulation that Black Diamond uses is highly regarded and well proven. It sticks when and where it needs to, and lets go when and where it is necessary. However, the Glidelight Ultralight skins peel off skis more dramatically than others. As best we can tell, this peeling is a function not of the glue alone but of the soft nature of the backing fabric. The flexible fabric more easily rolls away under the influence of sliding along the snow. Once a bit of glue is exposed, it becomes coated in snow and will not stick back down. In this case, more rolling is encouraged, and the problem spreads. Unchecked this rolling both add drag to your stride and leads to total skin glue failure. The fabric of the Glidelite Ultralight is just too flimsy for good, reliable adhesion, despite the glue's best efforts.

The tip loop and shape of the skins allows for the inclusion of snow between base and skin.
The tip loop and shape of the skins allows for the inclusion of snow between base and skin.

Even as compared to the other Black Diamond products, products using presumably the same glue composition, the Black Diamond Glidelite Ultralight is more prone to skin failure. The other light skins, like the Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair, are actually stiffer in the fabric backing but less tacky in terms of glue. The result, with the Pomoca at least, is better overall adhesion. Skin glue integrity isn't just a function of skin glue adhesion; one must consider all the variables, and fabric stiffness is an important variable.

Icing/Glopping Resistance


We noticed little notable about the icing resistance of the GlideLite Ultralight. They ice up about average, and icing problems can be addressed with scraping and waxing, at least in the short term.

The other lightweight skins, the Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair, are more prone to icing. The full mohair construction of these Pomocas absorbs more water and therefore ices up more. In the other direction, the Top Pick Fischer Profoil is virtually immune to the sorts of icing that plague fabric skins like the BD Ultralight. The Fischer can certainly ice up, but it is far rarer than on the fabric versions.

The plush side of the Ultralight skins  on a beautiful  sunny powder day.
The plush side of the Ultralight skins, on a beautiful, sunny powder day.

Packability and Weight


This is where these skins shine. They are certainly the lightest widely available skins. The super soft fabric stuffs down real small. The attachment hardwear is svelte and low profile.

A colorful capture of some of the tested skins  2018. Left to right  BD Ultralight  Kohla Vacuum  and two sets of the Best Buy Black Diamond Glidelight Mix.
A colorful capture of some of the tested skins, 2018. Left to right, BD Ultralight, Kohla Vacuum, and two sets of the Best Buy Black Diamond Glidelight Mix.

Only the Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair is in this same league. The next echelon of packability includes the Editors Choice Contour Hybrid Mix and the Best Buy Black Diamond Glidelite Mix.

Compatibility


These skins are available in a few different universal arrangements. Only a select few skins are not universal in their compatibility. All the Black Diamond skins can be purchased for universal trim and mount. Of those we tested, only the Dynafit Speedskins are built to only work with one set of skis. The Fischer Profoil are certainly best used on Fischer skins, but they can also be purchased for universal compatibility.

Best Applications


If lightweight is critical to you, and you know you prefer nylon/mohair blends, these are the best skins available. For the weight and performance, full mohair like on the Top Pick Pomoca Climb Pro might be a better choice.

Value


These are widely available, and regularly available on sale, making them a good value. In our testing, though, we observed various failures. None of our tested skins failed, but we saw BD Ultralight tip loops fail and we were on one tour where a BD Ultralight skin tore entirely in half. This lattermost failure was interesting. In the hundreds of years of accumulated experience on our test team, no one had ever seen a skin completely tear in half. These durability concerns are value concerns. Gear that breaks isn't much of a good deal.

Lightweight gear is less durable gear. Here  complete ski tear of the BD Ultralight skins. In the collective experience of this ski touring group  we'd never seen anything like this happen. This was not an OGL pair of skins  so we don't know how Black Diamond handled this failure.
Lightweight gear is less durable gear. Here, complete ski tear of the BD Ultralight skins. In the collective experience of this ski touring group, we'd never seen anything like this happen. This was not an OGL pair of skins, so we don't know how Black Diamond handled this failure.

Conclusion


We like lightweight equipment for human-powered adventures. This product is indeed lightweight, but perhaps it has been pushed too far.


Jediah Porter