We've tested for over 6 years and summarize the 11 best available today. Our testing is thorough and balances super high volume "real world" use with formal examinations of as many attributes as possible. Our test team collectively logs well over a million vertical feet of backcountry skiing every season, and then articulates their findings in terms of grip, glide, portability, icing resistance, glue integrity, and compatibility. With a wide range of testers (from rank beginners to the best ski mountaineers on the planet) and OutdoorGearLab's focus on objectivity and usability of review data, we are quite confident in our skin test conclusions. As you read through, you will quickly see that backcountry skiing climbing skins are inherently compromised. Literally every attribute is balanced by another competing attribute. Climbing skins are the least sexy of your backcountry kit. We want you to choose more wisely.If you're in the market for a new pair of backcountry skis or poles, our write-ups can help. We've also tested ski jackets and hardshells, as well as the safety gear you need for the backcountry, like avalanche beacons, avalanche airbags, and a trusty helmet.
|Price||$132.96 at Backcountry|
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|$143.93 at REI|
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$199.95 at Amazon
|Pros||Light, fast gliding, enough grip, optimized glue, universal tip and tail||Well balanced in all attributes, great glue||Light, fast gliding||Light, fast, compact||Super light and compact, sticky glue, good grip/glide balance|
|Cons||Mohair blend will wear out faster than all nylon, harder to find than other brands||Expensive, require ongoing periodic maintenance||Durability concerns, limited grip||Compromised grip, compromised durability||Moody tail clip, sticky glue|
|Bottom Line||The best climbing skins on the market, they strike all the right balances||These walk a tightrope, yielding a product that is fully balanced right at the performance point that our experience suggests is ideal||On the balance sheet of climbing skins, they lean in the fast and light direction, with associated compromises in grip and durability||Fast gliding skins for cold snow and accomplished skinners, the super compact, light form makes your huge skis more manageable||Tenacious glue on flexible and light fabric backing, with a snow-side that is tuned to balance grip and glide in a way that most ski tourers should appreciate|
|Rating Categories||Pomoca Climb Pro S...||Contour Hybrid Mix||Pomoca Climb Pro Mo...||Pomoca Free Pro 2.0||Colltex Mohair Mix|
|Glue Integrity (20%)|
|Icing Resistance (10%)|
|Specs||Pomoca Climb Pro S...||Contour Hybrid Mix||Pomoca Climb Pro Mo...||Pomoca Free Pro 2.0||Colltex Mohair Mix|
|Measured Weight||1.23 lbs||1.21 lbs||1 lb||1.09 lbs||0.87 lbs|
|Material||70% mohair and 30% nylon||70% Mohair, 30% Synthetic||100% Mohair||100% mohair||65% mohair and 35% nylon|
|Weight Per Pair||558g for Salomon MTN Explore 95. 587g for 183 Black Crows Corvus Freebird||551 for Blizzard Zero G, 654g for 178 Voile Hyperdrifter||452g for Atomic Backland||496g for 180cm Kastle TX 103||393g for K2 WayBack 80|
|Glue||Traditional||Hybrid glue technology||Traditional||Traditional||Traditional|
|Tip Attachment||Rigid tip loop||Rigid tip loop||Rigid tip loop||Rigid tip loop||Rigid tip loop|
|Tail Attachment||Rubber strap and cam hook||Vinyl strap and cam hook||Rubber strap and cam hook||Rubber strap and cam hook||Camming clip on rigid strap|
|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 length and approximate width, cut to lateral shape||Order for length and approximate width, cut to lateral shape|
Another Best Overall Ski Climbing Skins
Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide
The Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide is, overall, tied for the top of the heap in our skin testing. There are pros and cons of these vs. the *Contour Hybrid Mix. Top-performing climbing skins are decidedly unexciting. Because literally every attribute of a backcountry climbing skin is balanced by a competing attribute, the best skins are the best compromises. This Pomoca balances most of the testing metrics, which gives it our top accolades. 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 actualactionable drawbacks of this skin model. Of course, they could grip better, glide better, pack smaller, and have glue that requires 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. If you are trying to choose between these and the Contour Hybrid Mix, think of it this way; initial performance is tied. The difference emerges with time and is in the glue integrity. The Contour will maintain that performance for an amount of time (depending on your usage circumstances) and then require a cleaning regimen that will extend function to 5x. The Pomoca will maintain that performance for 2x but, at that time, require a full reglue procedure that will never quite match the initial performance.
Read review: Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide
Best Overall Ski Climbing Skins
Contour Hybrid Mix
We've had an "on-again, off-again" relationship with the Contour Hybrid Mix climbing skins. We loved them at first. They first held this award almost five years ago. Then, the performance of that pair rapidly degraded. We fell out of love. In that testing (and we aren't super proud of this), we ignored maintenance and manufacturer's maintenance recommendations, and our experience suffered. Essentially, the stickiness of Contour's Hybrid glue fails with time and without cleaning. Cleaning isn't the simplest task; other skin glue formulations fail with time and use. That part we were familiar with. Other skin glue formulations, though, require reconstruction to renew stick. As it turns out (and Contour makes this clear), Contour Hybrid skins can be cleaned briefly, and glue performance snaps back to nearly new. We neglected that, but now we've come around.
In our defense, Contour has also gotten smarter over these years. They now ship the skins with their cleaning product. That same cleaning product is now far more available for purchase, separate from the skins. The Contour cleaning product works better than anything else we tried, to the point that the performance we award requires the use of Contour cleaning product. Next, let us look at some branding matters. We discuss Contour Hybrid Mix skins here. This same exact configuration (as best we can tell) is available under other brands too. Notably, our latest test pair is actually sold as Backcountry Access Climbing Skins. Regardless of the branding or history of OGL skin maintenance, these are great climbing skins. Either of our top award-winning products will serve you well. These are the absolute best performance but require more and earlier maintenance than the Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide.
Read review: Contour Hybrid Mix
Best for Maximum Glide
Pomoca Free Pro 2.0
Pomoca's Free Pro 2.0 is their highly regarded blended skin material stuck to a thin and light backing and sold in bigger chunks. The result is a formulation that glides, grips, and sticks with minimal packed bulk. The size and weight savings are noticeable and valuable.
This is a super-fast, reliable skin product with Pomoca's excellent glue and tip and tail kit. It won't grip as well as most others, especially in hard, crusty, and high-volume skiing. We recommend these for discerning skiers on big boards in cold, soft snow conditions. If you seek a value, something to learn skinning with, or all-around skins for narrower skis, look elsewhere. (These work just fine on narrower skis, but the weight and bulk savings aren't as significant with skins cut for smaller skis). Think of these as a "Formula 1" sort of product. Save these for your big powder skis on those special, high-volume, cold missions.
Read review: Pomoca Free Pro 2.0
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Glidelite Mix STS
The Black Diamond Glidelite Mix offers many of the same attributes as our highest scorers but comes at a good price. It grips well enough on all snowpack, packs down to a manageable size, and is almost universally compatible across a wide variety of ski shapes and sizes. It is widely available, so you can typically get it when you need it with performance that does well on most terrain. If you seek a deal, this is it!
On the flip side, it doesn't glide as well, ices up faster, and doesn't grip as well as our top-rated contenders. The tradeoffs are generally worthwhile for the bargain hunter. To frame things for you, when we equip our backcountry skis for testing, we have historically chosen the Black Diamond Glidelite Mix for these tester skis — their value, availability, and all-around function make them an easy choice despite the minor caveats. The most recent version of the Glidelite Mix includes a much-improved tip connector. We like this.
Read review: Black Diamond Glidelite Mix
Why You Should Trust Us
Our test team is comprised of a handful of dedicated backcountry skiers. The team has newbies that have dived in hard and seasoned, professional veterans. The team also 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, clients, friends, and co-reviewers only supplement and complement his experience and authoritative voice. It is fair to say that few backcountry skiers see the range of partners that Jed skis with. Any given ski season week for Jed will likely include a tour or two with a "never ever" and a tour or two with those setting the standard at the upper echelon. His input on our ski testing is sensitive to these widely varying demographics.
We watch the climbing skin market and test year-round. Our review never stops. 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 products to add to the existing roster. Existing reviewed skins are tested on an ongoing basis. New skins get at least a dozen big ski tours before we reach any conclusions 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.
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 stick, temporarily, to the bottom of skis for ascending snow. You need the skis for "flotation", and you need the skins for traction. You pull the skins off at the top for your descent.
For what they do and what we ask them to do, climbing skins are a great deal. They 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 and best 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 highest value options, 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. However, if we had to choose, the Black Diamond Glidelite Mix STS is our favorite value as it offers high performance with a tiny drop in price. It's also important to note that more widely available skins are more often on deep sale, a pro tip that'll benefit anybody's wallet.
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 shorn 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 same differential is there but marginal in impact.
Secondly, the length and geometry 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 logical that the angle at which the fibers protrude from the backing fabric would affect glide characteristics.
The Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair skins glide better than any other tested option. The next echelon of gliding performance holds the remainder of our favorites and a few others. The blended skins, like the Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide, Pomoca Free Pro 2.0, and Contour Hybrid Mix have virtually indistinguishable glide characteristics. The all mohair G3 Alpinist+ Speed glides more like these aforementioned blended products than it does like other all mohair options.
The blended construction of the G3 Alpinist+ Glide is more similar to the all-nylon Ascension than it is to the other blended skins. Don't discount the impact of glide. Choose these slower gliding options with great skepticism.
Skins are made to grip. That is their only purpose; to make your skis grippier than they would be otherwise. This is an important attribute, clearly. However, skins differ less dramatically in this regard than they do in glide. Further, physiological efficiency limits your angle of ascent more than skin grip. The optimum angle of ascent is less than even the poorest grippers can grab on. Technique is the biggest determinant of one's skinning security when it gets steeper than your body likes. Not skin material or construction. 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, trust, 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. However, we found that some products hedge their bets better, while others throw all compromise to the wind.
All blended skins, including the award-winning Pomoca S Glide and Contour Hybrid Mix, 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 all mohair G3 Alpinist Speed grips more like a blended skin than like other all mohair options we have used.
The least grippy skins are also the best gliders. The Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair grips well enough that expert skinners might use these exclusively, even for the gnarliest of missions. Virtually tied for glide are the award-winning Pomoca Free Pro 2.0.
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, Climb Pro S Glide, Free Pro 2.0, 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. We've heard that Pomoca has different glue formulations they put on different skin models, but across the four models (with multiple iterations of most of those), we couldn't tell any difference. The Contour Hybrid Mix is the least sticky in recent comparisons. Contour's "Hybrid" glue is carefully tuned and requires periodic cleaning to maintain the excellent performance we report on. Neglect the Contour glue, and you could be literally stranded. Keep them clean with Contour cleaner, and you won't find better glue performance. The cleaning protocol is worth it with the Contour Hybrid skins.
G3 recently adjusted their glue formulation. Most recently, 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.
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 mix BD skins is the same as on the full nylon ones, the soft, flexible mohair mix fabric allows far more rolling action. As a result, the skin glue fails more often on the blends than the full nylon. G3' and Pomoca's different options all seem to have similar backing stiffness. As a result, their glue integrity is more consistent across the respective product lines.
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 or Mohair Mix, even though the actual glue of these BD skins 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 skins work better with a tail kit. 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 in many conditions and regions. The best use of tail clips in sunny, warmer climates and on shorter or "monolithic" (fewer transitions) tours is to help remove skins with gloves on. Wetter, stormier and colder climates, especially on huge, multi-transition days, require tail clips and careful glue care.
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. Further, and painfully, 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. Again, differences were marginal, and all skins require waxing so they won't ice up in warmer, fresh snow conditions. Good technique (waxing and sliding your skins forward with each step) are a greater equalizer than any difference in materials. All materials will ice up in the worst conditions, and a little prevention and technique will prevent icing on all materials in all but those worst conditions.
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 test 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. Some light and packable skins include the BD Glidelite Mix and the Pomoca skins. The Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide are similar in packability to the Glidelite Mix, with the Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair being the smallest and lightest. The CollTex Mohair Mix is similar in packability to the Pomoca Mohair.
The absolute most packable skin wins awards. The Pomoca Free Pro 2.0 is more compact than any of the other traditional glued skins. You'll suffer some durability, but pack smaller and lighter.
Not all the skins we tested are compatible with all skis on the market. Dynafit skins are compatible only with Dynafit 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. Thankfully, more and more manufacturers are moving away from wire tip loops. Black Diamond finally abandoned their wire tip loops. With that move, none of our tested skins have wire tip loops. Skin security benefits. 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 newest Black Diamond options are pretty secure and adaptable to different tip profiles. The cable tip loops of older generations from some companies, still on the market in places, are the least secure tip loop option we assessed.
Do not let your skin purchase be an afterthought. Sure, it isn't as flashy a choice as your boots, bindings, or skis. And the differences are relatively minor; all skins give you traction for the uphill and peel off for the downhill. But the subtle differences add up, and you can really move the needle on your ultimate experience with a skin choice that is careful and intentional. We are confident that our review and associated advice will steer you toward the best skins for your backcountry ski life.
— Jediah Porter
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