The Best Splitboard Climbing Skins
Best Overall Splitboard Climbing Skins
G3 Splitboard+ Universal
The G3 Splitboard+ Universal skin constantly impressed our testers. This skin is a high performing, versatile player that is thoughtfully designed to provide a streamlined and efficient experience, whether in your hands or on your feet. Setting up your skins and getting out on the snow is as easy as it gets. The camming tail clips provide exceptional security when sized correctly, and the word universal says it all. These skins work well for most riders in most conditions.
The more complex tail clip and bulky tip clip prevent this skin from folding or rolling as small as its simpler competitors. That being said, the skin will still be packable enough to be shoved into a jacket pocket or stuffed in your backpack.
Read review: G3 Splitboard+ Universal
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond GlideLite Splitboard Mix STS
The Black Diamond Glidelite STS Splitboard Skin offers great bang for your buck due to its grip to glide ratio and packability. This skin features a 70% to 30% blend of mohair to nylon which increases glide, especially in drier snow conditions, yet maintains plenty of grip and durability for intermediate skinners. The simple tip and tail attachment systems minimize bulk and fit in small packs for quick, light, fast missions. The Glidelite takes home our Best Buy Award for its performance on the skin track and no frills approach that results in a solid skin for big and small objectives.
When compared to other skins in the category, some assembly is required. The skin needs to be trimmed to fit length and width before the tail clip can be attached. The STS tail clip has a small adjustment range and its feet are best suited for traditionally shaped tails. This limits the skin's versatility among a different sizes and tail shapes; but, when all is said and done, the Glidelite doesn't disappoint.
Read review: Black Diamond GlideLite Splitboard Mix STS
Best Buy on a Budget
Voile Skins with Tail Clip
When first unwrapping the Voile Skins with Tail Clip skins, we were a bit shocked at how burly they were. These skins are noticeably stiffer than the others in our review, especially when new. The G3 Splitboard+ Grip skins are the closest. The Voile Skins became more supple with use; although the tail clip is new, these skins are similar to earlier versions that have demonstrated impressive durability both of glue and of fur. The tail clip is light, easy to operate, and secures confidently. They grip very well on the ascent, though like many grippy skins, they sacrifice glide (and they are fairly heavy and bulky).
Out of the package, they only require trimming to the width of your splitboard. These skins make for a solid choice, especially for folks just getting into splitboarding who will likely appreciate the strong grip and stout construction, and for riders who climb especially steep skin tracks.
Read review: Voile Skins with Tail Clip
Why You Should Trust Us
Our splitboarding experts are long-time snow lovers David Reichel and Isaac Laredo, and their friends in the Sierra. David is a full-time avalanche expert and spends his winter months digging snowpits and gathering snowpack data. Isaac is an avalanche educator and avid go-getter on his personal backcountry days. In short, that means they get to splitboard…a lot! When they are not splitboarding, they guiding or riding all over the world, including the USA and Japan. As avalanche experts that get out almost every day there's snow, they provide us with pivotal and important feedback on the best splitboard skins out there.
While testing these skins, we got out into the backcountry as much as possible. Venturing to places all over the world, we got to test in all climates ranging from heavy wet snow to dry and light. We primarily evaluated the glide and grip in addition to the ease of use and attachment systems. We compared each one through an unbiased lens to provide you with the best and most honest recommendations you'll find out there.
Related: How We Tested Splitboard Skins
Analysis and Test Results
Skins are physical contradictions. We ask them to provide claw-like grip but also glide like sliding on a freshly oiled wooden floor. We ask that they adhere to our bases like duct tape but come off like brownies from a greased baking pan. Additionally, we require our skins to be light as feathers but durable as granite. As adventurers, we ask a lot from our gear, but few categories have such polarized requirements as skins. We reviewed six different splitboard skins, ranging from the burliest climbers to some of the most efficient gliding splitboard skins on the market. In this review, we will help you find the best performing oxymoron to support your backcountry adventures.
Related: Buying Advice for Splitboard Skins
How climbing skins work for you on and off your splitboard is a matter of balance. Does the glue hold tight while skinning but release when it's time to clamp the halves back together? Do they glide and grip just right for an efficient stride? Another balancing game is to consider the performance for the cost. In general, nylon skins provide more durability. Most performance skins feature a mix of mohair and nylon to fine-tune their balancing act.
Many splitboarders started as snowboarders with zero ski experience. Therefore, most snowboarders' first forays in the backcountry are often on snowshoes. Even the worst gliding skins glide forward much better than snowshoes and thus often feel great. In reality, not all skins slide forward as easily, and this resistance adds significantly to the amount of energy required to move the skins. Over the course of a big day, relatively small increases in gliding efficiency result in traveling further, faster, and arriving with more energy to enjoy the down. To sus out these details of efficiency, we were often touring with two different skins over flat and rolling terrain or straight-lining down the hill in ski mode.
Every splitboarder has different needs in this metric. The intermediate to advanced skinner will most likely favor a skin with more glide than grip, while an experienced backcountry skier or splitboarder with good skinning technique can climb extremely well using skins that compromise some grip for improved glide. Examples of this include the G3 Splitboard + Glide or Black Diamond Glidelite Split STS. These two skins offered the best glide of our review fleet due to their strategic hair length and mix of nylon and mohair.
In contrast, a beginner is likely to favor a skin that provides the upmost grip but at the expense of glide such as the full nylon G3 Splitboard Grip. The difference between these user's needs is technique. Good technique can make up for skins that provide less grip, but it can't overcome skins that have less glide. While some experienced backcountry skiers and splitboarders are content to stick with nylon skins that grip exceptionally well, many experiment with nylon/mohair mixes that provide for more efficient travel. The G3 Splitboard+ Universal might be the bridge between the gap as they provided comparable glide to the Glidelite and G3 Glide.
Take a look at your backcountry goals and aspirations. Are they close to the trailhead laps that you can fit in between classes or work? Perhaps multi-day ski touring in California's Backcountry? Either way, the length of your tours is also worth considering here. On shorter days, the inefficiency of the extra grip doesn't matter as much as it does on longer full-day tours.
Remember five seconds ago when you were reading about frictionless glide. It's reasonable if you had to double take at this metric title. Yes, it says grip. What we ask of our skins is inherently polarized; skins need to grip the snow as you climb up, and do it with security so you can focus on conversation, observation, and navigation rather than staying on your feet.
Many beginner splitboarders will likely value grip over any other quality, as strong performance in grip will likely improve their learning experience over the other qualities (even tiny back slips can be terrifying to new skinners). Grip was tested in the field predominantly through daily touring, and our reviewers would routinely step off the skin track to climb the steepest hill in whatever conditions. This resulted in many dropped conversations and finding and exceeding the grip and technical capabilities of our fleet and testers.
The full nylon skins Voile with Tail Clips and the G3 Splitboard+ Grip provided the best grip when touring up the skin track or hill climbing. The G3 Universal Skin was a strong performer in the means of grip, providing marginally less grip than the two mentioned above. The Universal deserves an honorable mention here for its well-rounded performance in polarized categories. Its performance makes it an excellent choice for a first of fifth skin. As splitboarders refine their technique and route-finding, we often climb lower angle skin tracks with no switchbacks. Here grip becomes less important, and we can favor glide, weight, packability, and other metrics.
Ease of Use
We like as much riding and touring as possible. To do that, we need to minimize our time in transition and set up. It's critical that our skins are easy to use all of the time. If you have ever fought to rip your skin apart in a blizzard, you can appreciate a user-friendly product. As you might expect, we based our evaluations on how easy it was to set up and handle our skins.
All skins in our review require that they're trimmed to fit a splitboard; they all included trim tools, but a couple of the tools were nicer than others. The G3 trim tool, in particular, is simple to use and has an ergonomic design, which results in a well-cut skin that accurately matches the splitboard without too much fuss and measuring. The Black Diamond Glidelite and Jones skins all require physically attaching a clip. The Glidelite required us to attach a tip clip with some breakaway screws. The process required some time and three tools. Black Diamond also recommends tapering the tip of the skin to maximize glide. Both of these steps are something most manufacturers have done out of the box.
The Jones skins come with an adjustable tail, but require the purchaser to install it. Installation is not rocket science, but unless you have experience working with rivets, it can be a bit challenging. Jones does sell skins that come pre-fit to your Jones splitboard. If you are purchasing or already own a Jones Splitboard, buying the pre-cut Jones skins eliminates this pre-trip hassle. This is a nice feature and will speed up the process so you can get out the door and onto the snow.
We also considered weight and packability as part of ease of use. Weight is challenging to measure for skins since they arrive (when bought new) in significantly different lengths and widths. We folded, rolled, and stuffed the skins into our packs to measure how packable they are. In general, skins with less bulky attachment systems that have thin and supple carpets are the most packable. The Black Diamond Glidelite and Jones Nomad skins were the most packable of our review pool. They were able to roll and fold into compact packages.
Your skins are a critical movement tool in the backcountry, and an effective attachment system will serve two purposes: it first must be reliable, and secondly, it must be user-friendly. The attachment system is the foundation for avoiding skin failure. If the glue has been compromised, a good attachment system can prevent a total failure and allow you to limp back to the trailhead. We intentionally compromised our skins and used the skin on different lengths and shapes to test the reliability, versatility, and user-friendliness of each attachment system.
The time has finally come. G3 has brought a camming tail clip to the splitboard market, and it is offered on G3 Splitboard + Series, which provides incredible security when sized appropriately. In our testing, the tail clip of the G3's never unintentionally came off our splitboards. When the glue was intentionally compromised, we were able to travel and still had peace of mind that our skin would stay on.
Splitboards have begun to align with the shape movement unfolding in snowboarding, which results in a lot of unique tip and tail shapes. The G3 series attachment system has the ideal geometry to fit the increasingly common swallow, diamond, and blunted tails securely. On certain tail shapes, the horizontal sidearm can be off the board but posed no threat to security.
Glue and Glop
The glue provides the backbone of our skin's security. We expect our skins to seemingly be welded to our bases yet easy to pull apart in all conditions. Proactive paranoia regarding water and debris is the best thing to preserve your glue in the short term and long term. On the other side of the skin, it needs to avoid glop; glopping is when snow collects into a cohesive block on the bottom of your skins. Glopping increases the weight on your feet and has negative impacts on your efficiency and energy use. If you were to add one pound on your foot, it would be the equivalent of adding five pounds to your backpack.
The Black Diamond Glidelite boasted one of the strongest adhesives, and its full-length rip strip makes the skin easier to rip off the base and apart from each other. A rip strip reduces a bit of stickiness when the skins are brand new and the glue super strong, saving your arms from some straining. After several seasons of use when the glue begins to weaken, removing the rip strip reveals essentially brand new glue and extends the useful life of the skins. G3 and Voile also offer ripstrips. G3 has a thin coat of non-toxic glue that proved to be incredibly reliable.
Glopping is likely to occur on a powder day when a mix of warm above freezing temps (perhaps in the sun) and colder snow remaining in shady areas. Once the skins become a little wet from the above freezing sunny melting snow and then move back into the cold wintery below freezing snow, it sticks or glops to the skin. Skin such as the G3 series, Black Diamond, and Jones all have sophisticated waterproofing that aims to prevent glopping and carpet saturation. The carpets of the Jones Nomad Pro began to saturate over time as the coating began to wear off, which can result in increased glopping in the proper conditions.
What we ask of our climbing skins are polarized concepts. Balance and compromise are inherent requirements of this piece of gear to best serve our needs. The best thing we can do is understand what metrics we prioritize. Splitboard climbing skins are first and foremost meant to grip and glide. What sets them apart is the balance. The best splitboard skin will provide performance glide and a secure grip. In addition to the primary function of these skins, necessary factors such as weight, glue strength, and ease of attachment can set certain skins above the rest. Our goal in conducting and publishing this review is to help you identify the best splitboard skins for your board and your snowy adventures.
— Isaac Laredo & David Reichel