Kohla Vacuum Base ZERO Review
Cons: Unique adhesive causes more-than-usual field problems
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Kohla's Vacuum Base Zero climbing skins are made without "traditional" skin glue, which certainly sets them apart from the masses. They aren't the first or the only skins to use silicone base "adhesive", but are currently the most widely available. This design is appealing because it theoretically does better with wet conditions and is, in the long run, easier to maintain. In our experience, the silicone base has its pros and cons.
In our head to head glide testing, we were able to agree across the test team pretty closely. The fabric side of the Vacuum Base Zero is right in the middle of the pack. Whether the snow is dry or wet, you won't notice great amounts of resistance to forward progress.
Comparatively, the glide is virtually indistinguishable from that of the current Best Buy. Glide is easy to underestimate, for beginning skinners. The energy required to slide your skins forward can add up to a considerable amount. Weight your choices in favor of glide, given the option. We approve of the glide characteristics of the Kohla.
Grip is what skins do. The reason we use skins is to grip the snow. That being said, all skins grip "enough", given good technique. Since grip and glide are, in terms of design criteria, somewhat oppositional, we weight glide more heavily and discount the importance of grip. Only beginner skinners or those in real tough conditions will discern important differences between the grip of different skins.
As with glide, the Kohla Vacuum comes out in the middle of the pack, in terms of grip. This is great.
In this category, the Vacuum Base Zero really stands out, and the silicone adhesive is truly unique within our test roster. We used one other set of silicone skins in an earlier review cycle, and liked them then too, overall. As compared to "regular" skin glue, the silicone base of these is more durable and requires less maintenance, in the long run. On any given tour, though, you are more likely to need to perform some sort of adjustment or reapplication. You can literally wash these skins in your sink at home. If your kid wraps the cat in your Kohla skins, you simply rinse off the hair with soap and water. You definitely cannot do that with traditional glued skins. On the other hand, almost regardless of temperatures and moisture content, you are more likely to experience ski/skin delamination out in the backcountry with the siliconed Kohla Vacuum. This is annoying and time consuming but is easily resolved with a ski-off, skin cleaning rest break.
The adhesive design informs the ease of use. Like we mention above, you have a choice to make. Do you want in-field fiddling in exchange for toss-it-in-the-corner at home ease? Or would you rather take some care and put in some work at home and get better field performance? With other minor usability concerns, this seems to be the question informing ones choice of the Kohla or not.
We tested long enough to discover that, if you lose a traditionally glued skin once about every five days of skinning, you will lose your Kohla Vacuum skin once about every one day of skinning. Essentially, you are going to remount your Kohla skins about five times more frequently than your regular glued skins, all else equal. Now, regular glued skins degrade with time and use, while the silicone base of the Kohla basically does not. If you are sloppy with maintenance and replacement of your regular glued skins, you will kick them off more frequently, while skin adhesion failure of the Kohla will not appreciably change with clumsy maintenance. Our test team went "'round and 'round" on the question of "well, is the silicone better than regular glue?" We didn't heartily agree, but the consensus is that regular glue is a little better. We'd rather, overall, deal with the glue maintenance at home than in the field.
It is for the truly different adhesion that the Kohla Vacuum earns our Top Pick award. For that subset of the skiing population that doesn't mind some field fiddling in exchange for worry-free long-term maintenance, the Kohla is a valuable addition to the market. The majority of users will be better served by "traditional" glue, but the silicone adhesion of these is going to appeal to some.
Choose the Kohla Vacuum Base Zero if you want skins that will last a long time with absolutely no at-home maintenance. You will pay for that ease with more frequent in-field issues, but those in-field issues are easily resolved. Traditional glued skins require some love at home but work better in the wild.
All skins collect ice and snow, on the fabric side, in some conditions. The biggest variable that informs this, over the long term, is waxing of your skins. Waxed skins resist icing better than nonwaxed skins, by far. There are more subtle differences, mainly in the balance and presence of nylon vs. mohair and the factory pretreatment of the skins, that inform icing proclivity.
With all this in mind, the mohair/nylon blend of the Kohla Vacuum seems to resist icing as well as most will need. Fully nylon skins and all plastic skins resist icing the best, but that comes with other significant drawbacks.
Because skins are cut to the length and width of your skis, comparing exact dimensions and mass is problematic. We do indeed weigh and measure the skins but calibrate that, informally, against surface area to deduce actual relative weight and bulk. When we do that, the Kohla skins are among the more packable skins we assessed.
Pretty much all the mohair/nylon blend skins are the same weight and bulk.
This metric is easy to report on. Basically, the Vacuum Base Zero skins can be cut for use with any skis. We dig this.
Only a couple of skins are available only for use on certain skis. This is an important thing to mention and note, but it doesn't really inform your choices too much.
Since they will last a long time with little to no maintenance, these are an ok value. The field performance suffers, as compared to others, but the low maintenance costs (in terms of dollars and time) can tip the balance.
Every few years some new "technology" promises to disrupt the climbing skin business. We follow the trends and hold on for the ride, but these "upgrades" rarely exceed the performance of the "tried and true" formula. The silicone adhesive of the Kohla can be seen either way. For a very small subset of users, this is exactly what you've been looking for. For most, though, the regular glue technology is still preferred. In overall scoring, there is nothing special about the Kohla. By far, their most discerning characteristic is the silicone adhesive. The plush (fabric) side strikes a great balance of grip and glide, fitting right in with the best in our review. If the pros and cons of the non-traditional adhesive balance out on the plus side for you, these are excellent skins. Basically, the adhesive is indeed more durable and lower maintenance in the long run. However, while "on tour" in the field, these skins require a little more fiddling than skins with regular glue.
— Jediah Porter