Climbing skins are both the most exciting and most boring piece of backcountry ski gear. For 2020, we reviewed the 13 best options on the market. We've been at this for over four years, drawing on decades of experience and a dialed, diverse test team. Through millions of vertical feet of ascending we have tested and assessed this special piece of equipment. Climbing skins are largely invisible, poorly understood, and used only for what most consider to be the least cool part of your day. On the other hand, they make the amazing descents possible. Good ones can smooth out your experience while poor ones can literally leave you stranded. We assess for glide, grip, glue integrity, portability, icing resistance, and compatibility.Related: Best Backcountry Skis of 2020
Best Climbing Skins of 2020 for Backcountry Skiing
Best Overall Ski Climbing Skins
Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide
The best climbing skin we've tested so far is the 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 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 actual, actionable 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.
Read review: Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Glidelite Mix STS
The Black Diamond Glidelite Mix offers many of the same attributes of our highest scorers, but comes at an amazing 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. Its 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 glue as well as our top rated contenders. 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 as its value, availability, and all-around function make this an easy choice despite the minor caveats.
Read review: Black Diamond Glidelite Mix
Best for Maximum Glide
Pomoca Race Back Fix
Pomoca's Race Back Fix is their highly regarded "skimo race" skin material, sold in bigger chunks. Skimo racers need no-compromise glide and portability and they use it in narrow, short strips. For the most part, race skin formulations are sold to work only with 160cm x 65mm skis. This isn't much use to the rest of us. Pomoca bucks that convention and sells their hot rod formulation in bigger pieces. The result is the tested and award-winning Pomoca Race Back Fix.
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 and the full mohair plush will wear out sooner, 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 or something to learn skinning with, look elsewhere. If you seek all-around skins or skins for narrower skis, look elsewhere (these work just fine on narrower skis. However, the weight and bulk savings aren't as significant with skins cut for smaller skis).
Read review: Pomoca Race Back Fix
Best Ultra Light and Compact
Colltex Combin Mohair
The Colltex Combin Mohair is an innovative and clever option. Its tacky silicone-like adhesive truly sets it apart. Colltex isn't readily forthcoming about exactly what their sticky side is made of, but it sure seems like silicone to us. Whatever it is, it is low maintenance and reliable enough. Further, it allows these skins to be ridiculously light and compact. These are easily the lightest and most compact skins we have ever used. They are a fraction of the size of the next largest. Same with weight.
The plush and adhesive work well enough, but aren't quite as reliable as more "traditional" options. With care, balance, and attention our testers were able to use the Combin Mohair skins across the whole array of backcountry ski conditions, from super cold powder laps to high volume spring touring. The mohair plush will wear out with time, just like any full mohair product.
Read review: Colltex Combin 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, professional 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 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.
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 stick, 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 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 as it offers the performance of a high performer 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 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 Fischer Profoil (no longer available in the US, unfortunately) 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. Glide is that important to us and should be to you. After the Profoil, there is a pretty big step to the next best gliders. The Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair and Pomoca Race Back Fix glide better than any fabric option, 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 favorites and a few others. The blended skins, like the Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide, Colltex Combin Mohair and 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 and about the same as the all mohair G3 Alpinist+ Speed. Unfortunately, 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 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. Virtually tied are the award-winning Pomoca Race Back Fix and Colltex Combin Mohair.
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, Race Back Fix, 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 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 Kohla Vacuum Base Zero and Colltex Combin Mohair are unique for its silicone (or, in the case of the Colltex, apparent silicone) construction. These two do not have "glue" in the traditional sense, and the adhesion is provided by a tacky surface layer. This is low maintenance, but fails more frequently, in the field, than regular glue.
In comparing the Kohla and Colltex non-glue options, we definitely like the adhesive of the Colltex better. As we've said, all skin adhesion will fail in certain conditions. The Kohla fails about twice as frequently as the Colltex Combin, while the Colltex Combin fails about twice as frequently as regular glue formulations. These are rough, anecdotal observations from multiple seasons of rigorous testing.
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, traditionally glued skins work better with a tail kit. The silicone adhesion of the Kohla Vacuum Base Zero and Colltex Combin Mohair requires tip and tail attachments and tension between them 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 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.
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 and Race Back Fix being the worst. 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. The heaviest and bulkiest skins in our review were the Black Diamond Ascension Nylon. Some light and packable skins include the BD Glidelite Mix and the Pomoca skins. The Pomoca Climb Pro S Glide and Kohla Vacuum 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 skins are both award winners. The Pomoca Race Back Fix is more compact than any of the other traditional glued skins. You'll suffer some durability, but pack smaller and lighter. Fully breaking the mold, in terms of portability
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, 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