Best Climbing Skins of 2020 for Backcountry Skiing
Best Overall Ski Climbing Skins
Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide
Top performing climbing skins are decidedly unexciting. Because literally every attribute of a backcountry climbing skin is balanced by a competing attribute, the best are the best compromises. The Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide is the best compromise we've used. It grips and glides just right. It sticks and lets go just right. It is just the right size, weight, and sturdiness. The tip and tail kit is optimized and as universal as we can expect. The trim tool that Pomoca includes is excellent.
There aren't many drawbacks, overall, to this Pomoca. Of course, they could grip better, glide better, pack smaller, and have glue that required less care and maintenance. But those are pipe dreams on down the road, for now. One of our test pairs came with a slight issue in the fabric "nap". This happens, very rarely, with all fabric skin models we know of. It is a construction issue and usually handled as a warranty issue by the manufacturer. Because it can and has happened for us with essentially all companies' skins, we don't hold it against Pomoca.
Read full review: Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Glidelite Mix STS
The Black Diamond Glidelite Mix matches the description of the Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide, but equal or a little less in each way. The Best Buy, as compared to the Editors' Choice, grips about the same, packs about the same, and is also universally compatible. The Glidelite Mix is less expensive and more widely available than the Contour.
On the flip side, the Pomoca glides better, glues better, and is a little more resistant to icing than the Best Buy. These upgrades cost you only dollars. To frame things for you, when we equip OGL backcountry skis for testing, and we don't have skins we also want to test, we have historically chosen the Black Diamond Glidelite Mix for these tester skis. The value and availability and all-around function make this an easy choice. On the other hand, our women's ski tester chooses the Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide for testing skis with. These two are close competitors, but the BD is a little less expensive.
Read review: Black Diamond Glidelite Mix
Best for Maximum Glide
Fischer PROFOIL Hannibal
Not since the funny "Voile Snake Skins" of the 1990s has there been such a unique climbing skin on the market (don't worry if you don't remember "Snake Skins"… you missed nothing special). Fischer shakes things up with the Profoil, and this might be something you want to consider. First, there is no better gliding product we have ever tried. In some conditions, these vastly exceed the performance of even race-tuned full mohair skimo skins. You can nearly "kick and glide" as on nordic skis when the snow has undergone melt-freeze metamorphosis. This enhanced glide is a very welcome treat. Also, the plastic construction absorbs no water. They won't get heavier in warm conditions, stowing them at the end of the climb or slog is easy, and they are far less prone to icing than the fabric options.
The cons are real, though. The grip of the Fischers, especially on icy snow, is frightening. Even in powder snow, the grip is compromised, compared to others. It is "good enough" in those looser snow conditions, but you have no margin for error on normal skin track angles. These skins pack to a really bulky size, and the glue is prone to delaminating, but the real limiting factor is the grip. We can heartily recommend these for extended, low-angle skinning, but not for much more than that. If you do a lot of this sort of travel in your backcountry skiing, these are worth considering.
Read review: Fischer ProFoil
Best for Low Maintenance
Kohla Vacuum Base ZERO
Like the Fischer Profoil, the Kohla Vacuum Base Zero "breaks the mold" of the traditional skin recipe. Instead of liquid glue, the back of the Vacuum is a sheet of silicone. Silicone is inert, stable, and resistant to water. It is tacky to the touch but doesn't have true adhesion properties. This means that dirt and hair can be rinsed off readily, but it means that they don't stick to your skis with the same tenacity of regular skins. The snow-facing side of the Kohla Vacuum Base Zero is right in line with our other fabric award winners. The silicone adhesive will last a long time with nothing more than occasional brushes. Glued skins require periodic at home and field maintenance to work well while the Kohla does not. These are not the first silicone skins we've tried, but they are the most widely available and the most universal in fit.
The drawback is that they come off your skis, out in action, more frequently than regular glued skins. All skins delaminate in use, from time to time. In our experience, the Kohla ones seem to come off five times more frequently than regular glued skins, all else equal. This is a lot, and will likely affect you almost every ski touring day. The upshot, though, is that performance stays steady for years and regardless of your at-home maintenance regime. If you only ski occasionally, are patient with failures in the field, and don't want to treat your climbing skins like a member of the family the rest of the year, the Kohla Vacuum Base Zero is the choice for you.
Read review: Kohla Vacuum Base Zero
Best for Fast Gliding
Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair
Yeah, we granted two Top Pick awards for skins that glide well. First, that points to how our test team ranks the various attributes of climbing skins. Glide is paramount. Next, it happens to be where the excitement is, right now, in "the business". If the Fischer Profoil has "maximum glide" but scary grip, the Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair has "excellent glide" and "just enough" grip.
The Pomoca skins compromise durability and wet performance for maximum efficiency. They grab well enough for any excellent skin practitioner to travel anywhere he or she wants to go, and the glide enables significant energy savings. Expert backcountry skiers are choosing, more and more, full mohair skins. The Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair are the best universally compatible full mohair skins any of our test team has used.
Read review: Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair
Why You Should Trust Us
Our test team is made up of a handful of dedicated backcountry skiers. The team has newbies that have dived in hard and seasoned veterans. The team has multiple testers somewhere in between. Overall, the climbing skin review is coordinated by IFMGA Mountain Guide Jed Porter. Jed brings decades of skiing, piles of certifications and accolades, speed records, first descents, and wide geographic experience to the head of the team. His colleagues, friends, and co-reviewers only supplement and complement his experience and authoritative voice.
We watch the climbing skin market year-round. We see what is in use in the field, what is available at retailers, and what the manufacturers are developing and offering. Each season we determine what is available and what has changed, and select the best of the best for addition to the existing roster. Existing reviewed skins, especially award winners, are tested on an ongoing basis. New skins get at least a dozen big ski tours and are compared head-to-head with the other skins we have on hand. In short, we test thoroughly and keep that testing going. Remember, too, that we purchase all the equipment we test and compensate our reviewers for their time and expertise. Doing this is complicated and costly, but the result is content that is unbiased and thorough. Few if any of the other reviews you encounter online or in print, use this approach.
Related: How We Tested Climbing Skins
Analysis and Test Results
We report here on our analysis of climbing skins for uphill skiing. For the most part, these are pieces of fabric that glue, temporarily, to the bottom of skis for ascending snow. You need the skis for "flotation", and you need the skins for traction.
Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Skins
For what they do, and what we ask them to do, climbing skins are a great deal. They usually cost less than some one-day resort lift tickets, for instance. There isn't a wide range of cost on the skin market; a few tens of dollars can separate the top from the better values. The most expensive products are discerned by only iterative and balanced improvements. Finally, comparing costs is tricky as different size skis require different size skins, which are different in price. Outside of our Best Buy Award, we don't have much to say about the cost and value of skins; they are all similar enough in price that performance comparisons are easier. More widely available skins are more often on deep sale, which also factors into our Best Buy Award.
In our estimation and experience, this is the most important single attribute of climbing skins. Just like the weight of your skis is the primary thing that will affect uphill travel, and therefore the bulk of your day, the glide characteristics of your skins are the biggest determinant of their uphill efficiency. Good skinning technique slides the skis and skins rather than lifts them. Skins that slide easily climb easily. Two things seem to affect the glide characteristic of the skins.
The first, and biggest, is the type of fiber used. Mohair, made from the hair of the Angora goat, has the smoothest and least resistant glide. Nylon is slower to glide. Mixes of the two split the difference. Interestingly, the differences in glide characteristics depend a little on the nature of the snow. While mohair skins always glide at least a little better, the difference is far more pronounced on dry, wintry snow than it is on wet or melt/freeze snow. On fresh and dry snow, mohair is considerably faster than nylon, while on corn type snow, the difference is there but marginal.
Secondly, the length of the hairs that protrude on the fabric side effects glide. Those that glide better are lower profile and more closely shorn. While it is virtually impossible to assess and compare, it is conceivable that the angle at which the fibers protrude from the backing fabric would affect glide characteristics.
The absolute best gliding skins completely upend the above summary. The Top Pick Fischer Profoil is not made with any sort of fabric, blended or otherwise. The "running surface" is patterned plastic. These glide, especially on melt-freeze snow, far better than any other in our fleet. The next best gliders in our test also got a Top Pick award; glide is that important to us and should be to you. The Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair glide nearly as well as the Fischer, especially in powder snow, and work better than the Fischer in all the other ways. The third echelon of gliding performance holds the remainder of our award winners and a few others. The blended skins, like the Editors Choice Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide and Top Pick Kohla Vacuum Base Zero have virtually indistinguishable glide characteristics.
The mohair blend Colltex Mohair Mix and Contour Hybrid Mix both glide similar to one another, a little poorer than the award winners and about the same as the all mohair G3 Alpinist+ Speed.
It might surprise you that none of the least gliding skins won any awards. The full nylon construction of the Black Diamond Ascension is super durable and grippy, but doesn't glide well enough for anything but beginner or rental use, in our opinion. The blended construction of the G3 Alpinist+ Glide is more similar to the all nylon Ascension than it is to the other blended skins.
Skins are made to grip. That is their initial purpose; to make your skis grippier than they would be otherwise. This is an important attribute, clearly. However, skins differ in this regard less dramatically than they do in glide. The biggest determinant of one's skinning security is technique. A good skinner can climb more steeply on the most slippery skins than a newer skinner could on the grippiest. Good skinning is a magic art of balance, faith, and reading terrain. All that said, skins do differ a little. We found noticeable differences in the grip characteristics, generally inversely proportional to the product's glide. Better gliding skins grip less, while the slower gliders grip better. We did find, however, that some products hedge their bets better, while others throw all compromise to the wind.
The Black Diamond Ascension is a no-holds-barred grip machine. If you absolutely must climb straight up 35 deg ice slopes, the Ascension skins will do that. That said, most of the other skins were not far behind. All blended skins, including the Editors' Choice-winning Pomoca S Glide, grip well enough for solid skinners to follow even the steepest, iciest skin tracks. The G3 Alpinist+ Glide grab slightly better than the other blends, often enough better to make up for less developed technique.
The least grippy skins are also the best gliders. The Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair grips well enough that expert skinners might only use these, even for the gnarliest of missions. The Fisher Profoil, especially when the travel includes melt-freeze snow, do not grip well enough for anything but low- to moderate-angled tours. Their other attributes may justify, for you, the grip compromises, but we can't recommend them as all-around skins, if only for the grip limitations.
Your skins have to stay on your skis. Mainly, but not exclusively, it is the glue's job to do that. Considering the demands placed on skin glue (wet conditions, high shear forces, poor care, repeated use), all products work marvelously. None of the skins we tested suffered complete, otherwise unexplainable skin failure (cold enough or wet enough, and all skins will fail to some degree), but some stayed put better than others. The actual glue on all the Black Diamond options seems remarkably robust. The Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair, Editors' Choice Climb Pro S Glide, and Dynafit Speedskin, all made by Pomoca, seem to have the same glue as one another. Its stickiness is among the least of all we tested, but its overall performance is more than adequate. The Contour Hybrid Mix is the least sticky of those with "traditional" glue formulations. G3 recently adjusted their glue formulation. We tested their G3 Alpinist+ Glide and the Alpinist Speed. After an initial glue snafu, the Alpinist skin glue is robust, if not a little too strong. As with the CollTex Mohair Mix, the G3 glue requires more strength than the others to pull from itself and from your skis.
The Top Pick Kohla Vacuum Base Zero is unique. It doesn't have "glue" in the traditional sense, and the adhesion is provided by a silicone layer. This is low maintenance, but fails more frequently, in the field, than regular glue. Note that all skin glue will fail in certain conditions. Snow, water, and gravity will disrupt the glue/ski base bond. Don't dispose of your skins because they came off. Clean them off, dry them out, and stick them back on. If they fail when they are dry and clean and being pressed onto your skis, consider regluing them.
Augmenting a glue's characteristics, to keep skins on, are a couple of other factors. All skins must attach to the tip of your ski such that forward sliding doesn't peel the skin back or push snow between the skin and ski, and products accomplish this in a variety of ways. Some use a simple cable loop, while others employ toggles in holes or hooks over edges. Some skins are cut to stay full width all the way to the tip, while others taper gently back to their full width. The tapered strategy seems to work better. Some skins' backing material is stiffer than others. Soft skins seem to peel back more readily than stiffer ones. While the glue on the mohair BD skins is the same as on the full nylon ones, the soft, flexible fabric allows far more rolling action. As a result, the skin glue fails more often on the blends than the full nylon.
The most secure tip attachment we used is the rubbery dongle on the Dynafit Speedskin. This arrangement, combined with a long, gentle taper of the skin width and fairly rigid construction, make for an overall more secure skin fit than the otherwise less tacky glue would suggest. The overall glue integrity of the Speedskin is better than that of the Black Diamond Ultralight, even though the actual glue of this BD is tackier. Among the universally compatible skins, the G3 models have a better tip attachment than the Black Diamond, Pomoca, and CollTex. The G3 stiffened plastic tip is brilliant and serves to virtually eliminate skin roll at the tip.
Finally, most skins are equipped with a tail clip, ostensibly to help the skins stay glued on. In certain conditions, we found little to no difference in glue integrity with or without the tail kit. When cold and wet, traditionally glued skins work better with a tail kit. The silicone adhesion of the Kohla Vacuum Base Zero requires tip and tail attachments to work at all. On regular glued skins, many in our testing team have experimented for a long time with and without tail clips. While the manufacturers claim they keep skins on better and mark up the price of tail-clip equipped skins, we have found little to no difference. The best use of tail clips is to help remove skins with gloves on. On all but the Kohla skins, the tail clip can be cut off entirely.
All skins ice up. When the fabric gets wet from warmer snow, and is then subject to cold, dry snow, ice forms within the fabric. This, depending on exact snow conditions, can result in anything from mere annoyance to a full-on shut-down.
The worst glopping conditions lead to tens of pounds of snow stuck to each ski and require extensive scraping and waxing to address. And, it could just happen again within a few steps. All the skins we tested are treated from the factory with water-resistant coatings. These factory coatings work well but wear off eventually. We found that none seemed to last noticeably longer than the others. Nylon fiber initially absorbs marginally less water than mohair; once wet, though, all fibers ice up. With fabric skins, we found mostly similar performance across the board, with the Black Diamond Ascension Nylon icing up the least, and the Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair being the worst. Again, differences were marginal, and all skins require waxing so they won't ice up in warmer, fresh snow conditions.
A notable exception is the all-plastic construction of the Top Pick Fischer Profoil. Without fibers to absorb water, icing is a lot less likely with the Profoil. It is still possible in the toughest of conditions but is far less common than with any of the fabric skins.
Packability and Weight
We found a wide range of mass and sizes in our tested skins. Just like with grip and glide, packability and weight correlate to the material. Because we tested skis, and therefore skins, of different widths, we cannot directly compare the actual mass of our tested skins to one another.
However, we can state with confidence that nylon skins are heavier, and mohair skins are lighter; heavier skins are also bulkier. The heaviest and bulkiest skins in our review were the Black Diamond Ascension Nylon. Some light and packable skins include the Best Buy BD Glidelite Mix and the Pomoca skins. The Editors' Choice Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide and the Top Pick Kohla Vacuum are similar in packability to the Best Buy, with the Top Pick Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair being the smallest and lightest. The CollTex Mohair Mix is similar in packability to the Pomoca Mohair.
Not all the skins we tested are compatible with all skis on the market. Dynafit skins are compatible only with Dynafit skis. The Fischer Profoil is best used with Fischer skis, though they sell a universal fit option that can be roughly trimmed for your skis.
The remainder of the skis we tested are ostensibly universal in compatibility. Wire tip loops are tougher to use on fat and rounded ski tips, and not every "universal" skin comes in sizes large or small enough for outlier ski sizes. Generally, though, most of the skins we tested are universal in fit.
Among those universal in fit, tip attachments vary. The best and most versatile are the pivoting metal hooks of the G3 skins. Next, the offset and rigid wire slots of the Pomoca, Contour, Colltex, and Black Diamond Ultralight options are pretty secure and adaptable to different tip profiles. The cable tip loops of the Black Diamond Mohair mix and Ascension nylon are the least secure tip loop option we assessed.
Skins get you to where you want to be. It is a rare (but not extinct) beast that likes skinning for its own sake. Most of us skin up for the reward of the down. Skin selection, then, is often an afterthought. It shouldn't be that way. Even if you hate the up (or maybe especially if you hate the up), good skin choice will enhance your experience, leaving more patience, energy, and psyche for the coveted downhill portions of your day.
— Jediah Porter