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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
Photo: Black Diamond
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Price:  $185 List | $177.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Light, good glue
Cons:  Durability concerns, soft fabric rolls off ski
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 11, 2020
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51
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 13
  • Glide - 30% 5
  • Grip - 15% 4
  • Glue Integrity - 20% 4
  • Portability - 20% 7
  • Icing Resistance - 10% 4
  • Compatibility - 5% 7

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 BD UltraLite Mix STS, we have learned that perhaps they've gone too light. Notable issues include full skin tears, broken attachment hardware, and regular skin glue failures initiated by very flexible fabric backing. If lightweight is critical to you, and you know you prefer nylon/mohair blends, these are the best skins available.

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Pros Light, good glueLight, fast gliding, enough grip, optimized glue, universal tip and tailLight, fast, compactLight, fast glidingLight and versatile
Cons Durability concerns, soft fabric rolls off skiMohair blend will wear out faster than all nylon, harder to find than other brandsCompromised grip, compromised durabilityDurability concerns, limited gripFloppy material rolls and peels, allowing some snow between ski and skin
Bottom Line In most important ways, these have average performance; the grip and glide is right in the middleThe best climbing skins on the market, they strike all the right balancesFast gliding skins for cold snow and accomplished skinnersOn the balance sheet of climbing skins, they lean in the fast and light direction, with associated compromises in grip and durabilityUniversally compatible and high performing, these are some of the best skins on the market for whatever sticks you take into the backcountry
Rating Categories Black Diamond Ultra... Pomoca Climb Pro S... Pomoca Race Back Fix Pomoca Climb Pro Mo... Black Diamond Glide...
Glide (30%)
5.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
5.0
Grip (15%)
4.0
8.0
4.0
4.0
5.0
Glue Integrity (20%)
4.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Portability (20%)
7.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
Icing Resistance (10%)
4.0
7.0
5.0
5.0
5.0
Compatibility (5%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Specs Black Diamond Ultra... Pomoca Climb Pro S... Pomoca Race Back Fix Pomoca Climb Pro Mo... Black Diamond Glide...
Measured Weight 1.01 lbs 1.23 lbs 1.09 lbs 1 lb 1.25 lbs
Material 65% Mohair, 35% Nylon 70% mohair and 30% nylon 100% mohair 100% Mohair 65% Mohair, 35% Nylon
Weight Per Pair 457g for G3 Findr 558g for Salomon MTN Explore 95 496g for Kastle TX 103 452g for Atomic Backland 569g for Kastle TX98, 563g for Hannibal, 570g for Vta, 600g for Black Crows
Glue Traditional Traditional Traditional Traditional Traditional
Tip Attachment Cable tip loop Rigid tip loop Rigid tip loop Rigid tip loop Cable tip loop
Tail Attachment Rubber strap and metal hook Rubber strap and cam hook Rubber strap and cam hook Rubber strap and cam hook Rubber strap and metal hook
Ski Compatibility Universal Universal Universal Universal Universal
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 length and approximate width, cut to lateral shape Order for approximate width, cut to length and lateral shape

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


The Glidelight Ultralight is indeed light and compact, which is good...
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.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Glide


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.

Powder skinning in a clearing storm high in Wyoming's Tetons.
Powder skinning in a clearing storm high in Wyoming's Tetons.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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 scaled plastic options 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.

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 adds 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...
The tip loop and shape of the skins allows for the inclusion of snow between base and skin.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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.

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 plush side of the Ultralight skins, on a beautiful, sunny powder...
The plush side of the Ultralight skins, on a beautiful, sunny powder day.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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

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.

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 (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.

Lightweight gear is less durable gear. Here, complete ski tear of...
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.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Conclusion


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.

Jediah Porter