Black Diamond UltraLite Mix STS Review
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 it worth it? What are the performance costs of such lightening tactics? Are they actually any lighter than the alternatives?
In extensive head to head testing, we found that the 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 many others is indistinguishable from that of the Ultralights.
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 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 grip the best and are best suited for beginner skinners.
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 adds drag to your stride and leads to total skin glue failure. The fabric of the Glidelite Ultralight is just too flexy for good, reliable adhesion, despite the glue's best efforts.
Even as compared to the other Black Diamond products, products using presumably the same glue composition, the Glidelite Ultralight is more prone to skin failure. Other brands' light skins are actually stiffer in the fabric backing but less tacky in terms of glue. The result 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.
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.
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 hardware is svelte and low profile.
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.
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 (not the OGL test pair). 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.
We like lightweight equipment for human-powered adventures. This product is indeed lightweight, but perhaps it has been pushed too far. 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.
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