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Kohla Vacuum Base ZERO Review

Unique, “glueless” skins for the occasional backcountry skier or the very patient enthusiast.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $200 List
Pros:  Average to above average grip and glide, unique adhesive is low-maintenance, in the long run
Cons:  Unique adhesive causes more-than-usual field problems
Manufacturer:   Kohla
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Dec 12, 2018
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77
OVERALL
SCORE


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

Our Verdict

The Kohla Vacuum Base Zero skins offer solid and proven fabric side performance, with a unique "solution" to the adhesive side. The silicone material sticks to the base of your skis with a suction-like action. The result is field failures that appear more frequently than with "regular" glue, but a home maintenance regimen that is virtually nonexistent. We've tested these and others long enough to find that the differences, for most users, tip in favor of sticking with "regular" glued products. However, for some, the appeal of long-lasting and low-maintenance mediocre performance will outweigh the appeal of long-term replacement and maintenance costs and time in exchange for better field performance. Read on for our full summary.


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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $200 List$230 List$209.95 at Backcountry
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Pros Average to above average grip and glide, unique adhesive is low-maintenance, in the long runWell balanced in all attributes, great glueLight, fast glidingLight and versatileLight, well balanced performance, and an excellent tip attachment
Cons Unique adhesive causes more-than-usual field problemsExpensive, largest and heaviest messengerDurability concerns, limited gripFloppy material rolls and peels, allowing some snow between ski and skinExclusive to Dynafit skis
Bottom Line Unique, “glueless” skins for the occasional backcountry skier or the very patient enthusiast.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 Kohla Vacuum Base ZERO 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
7
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
9
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 Kohla Vacuum Base... Contour Hybrid Mix Pomoca Climb Pro... Glidelite Mix STS Dynafit Speedskin
Weight per pair (grams) 530g for BD Route 95 551 for Blizzard Zero G 452g for Atomic Backland 569g for Kastle, 563g for Hannibal, 570g for Vta, 600g for Black Crows 550g
Weight (pounds) 1.12 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 Silicone Hybrid glue technology Traditional Traditional Traditional
Tip Attachment Rigid 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 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 Yes

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 definitely has its pros and cons. Read the full review below for more information.

Performance Comparison


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.

For occasional skiers  the low maintenance of the Kohla may be worth the field fiddle factor.
For occasional skiers, the low maintenance of the Kohla may be worth the field fiddle factor.

Glide


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 Best Buy Black Diamond Glidelite Mix or the Black Diamond Ultralite Mix. The Editors' Choice Contour Hybrid Mix and the Top Pick Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair both glide quite a bit better than the Kohla skins. 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.

The plush side of the Kohla competes well with all the other main award winners  in terms of grip and glide.
The plush side of the Kohla competes well with all the other main award winners, in terms of grip and glide.

Grip


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 for beginner skinners or in real tough conditions can anyone discern 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. The Kohla, Dynafit Speedskins, and Editors Choice Contour Hybrid Mix skins all grip as well as you'll need them to.

Glue Integrity


In this category, the Kohla Vacuum Base Zero really stands out. That 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 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.

The silicone adhesive often fails entirely in the field. The fix takes a few minutes each time  and seems to work every time. This same issue is a problem with "regular" skins  but is less frequent.
The silicone adhesive often fails entirely in the field. The fix takes a few minutes each time, and seems to work every time. This same issue is a problem with "regular" skins, but is less frequent.

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, like the Editors' Choice Contour Hybrid Mix, require some love at home but work better in the wild.

Here a skin tester and avalanche instructor tests the field reliability of the Kohla by rubbing the "glue" side on wet snow. Regular skins fully fail this test  but all these needed was a quick pat dry and they were as good as new.
Here a skin tester and avalanche instructor tests the field reliability of the Kohla by rubbing the "glue" side on wet snow. Regular skins fully fail this test, but all these needed was a quick pat dry and they were as good as new.

Icing Resistance


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 like the Black Diamond Ascension resist icing the best, but that comes with other significant drawbacks. The Kohla Vacuum is right in line with the Editors' Choice Contour Hybrid and the Best Buy Black Diamond Mohair Mix, in terms of icing.

Portability


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.

Packing up the Kohla. For storage  the silicone adhesive is much lower maintenance than the other products on the market.
Packing up the Kohla. For storage, the silicone adhesive is much lower maintenance than the other products on the market.

Compatibility


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.

Best Applications


These are perhaps best for the very occasional backcountry skier who has patience and skill for the field side of things but doesn't want to treat their skins like another member of the family the other 363 days of the year.

Kohla skin testing in the Grand Targhee backcountry  May 2018.
Kohla skin testing in the Grand Targhee backcountry, May 2018.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.


Jediah Porter