What goes down must go up. Climbing skins are a critical piece of movement gear to accomplish our uphill travel. Most of our time is actually spent touring uphill, so our skins need to perform consistently and efficiently. There are a lot of skins on the market; each offering does its basic function of griping and gliding, but not all are the same. Skins have become a niche based category to suit the various needs of backcountry travel. Often times, this can lead to confusion in the category and can be even harder to select the best one. Here is the advice we give our students and friends to help them make the best decision possible.
The primary function of our skins is to ascend and give us traction on the snowy slopes we wish to descend. Our priorities are different from what we often select with our snowboarding gear; efficiency shifts to at the forefront of the mind, which is funny to think about from a snowboarder perspective. The running joke in the ski community of "always waiting on the snowboarder". Snowboarding is inherently slower than skiing, especially in a backcountry setting, so we have to think about it even more. Efficiency in our skins comes from three key design components: the carpet, the attachment system, and the glue.
Each one of these components has a distinct job. In their most basic sense, the carpet must slide forward on the snow while maintaining a downward grip to prevent you from sliding. The attachment system must allow for a secure and easy to use interface with your snowboard tip and tail. The glue must stick to the base of your board but remain easy to pull off the board and apart from its self.
Types of Skins
The easiest way to differentiate skins is by their materials that make up the carpet. Below is a pros and cons list of each material.
- Pros: Durable, excellent grip, lower cost
- Cons: Less glide, bulky, heavy
Mohair is processed wool from the Angora Goat.
- Pros: Excellent glide(especially in dry snow), lighter, packable
- Cons: Less durable, more expensive, less grip
Mixing the materials hopes to blend mostly the benefits of the materials and manage the trade-offs associated with either one. The aim to find a compromise between every attribute. The level of behavior that they exhibit between nylon and mohair is dependent on the blend of materials.
How to Choose a Splitboard Skin
The Bell Curve
Everything has a bell curve. The left side of this curve has beginners that favor the grip of full nylon skins; the middle is intermediate to professional athletes using blended skins, while the far-right holds elite endurance athletes touring in low angle terrain for long distances. Most splitboarders will require something in the middle; a 70/30 (mohair to nylon) blended skin. Skins are inherently polarized; we need them to be grip and glide.
This requires that we are clear with what we want from them. If you prioritize grip, the Voile Skins are a good option. If you're looking for versatility, we prefer the G3 Splitboard + Universal. Glide. If that word appeals to you, the Black Diamond Glidelite is worth looking into. The carpet type is really the main decision to make, and then you can fine-tune your product selection from there.
After deciding what type of carpet suits you best, then you can investigate the nuances of the skin offerings. Here we can begin to factor in the attachment system. Just like the carpet, they all work, but some are more user-friendly and secure. The G3 Splitboard+ Glide and the rest of the series has our favorite attachment system. If you own a Jones Splitboard, consider getting a pre-sized offering for your board. Now that we're talking about user-friendliness, take note that some skins require installing your tail clip, which takes a little more effort.
The bulkier attachment system, the less packable the skins will be. If you're looking for packability, a simple attachment blended skin like the Jones Nomad Pro will provide the most packable offering.
Glue and waterproofing is another component to skin consider here. If you're environmentally conscious, this is an opportunity to vote with your dollar. Some compounds are more environmentally friendly than others. G3 uses non-toxic glue and a PFOA free waterproofing. Every reputable skin manufacturer will have a strong glue and waterproof coating. Some skins have rip-strips. Rip strips are pieces of material that run all or some of the length of the skin. This often makes the skins come apart and off the base easier than those without.
Know Your Priorities
It's important to know where you fall in these categories and how much you really need. Beginners take note that with the proper technique, you can find plenty of grip on any skin. The technique will continue to enhance your experience while the benefits of a full nylon skin begin to dwindle as you gain technique. Every tour has thousands of steps, and you improve with every tour; that is thousands of opportunities to fine-tune your technique. The times where you require full grip will occur but happen less than instances where good glide is preferred. Look at your current aspirations and those 1-3 years down the road. Select a carpet category that fits your needs, and then fine-tune your selection regarding features such as attachment system, glue, and packability.