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How to Choose Splitboard Skins for Backcountry Snowboarding

Apprentice Ski Guide Will Sperry enjoying the benefits of glide in low...
Photo: Isaac Laredo
Wednesday January 20, 2021
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What goes down must go up. Climbing skins are a critical piece of movement gear to accomplish uphill travel, and most of our time is actually spent touring uphill. Therefore, we heavily rely on this piece of equipment, and our skins need to perform consistently and efficiently. There are a lot of skins on the market. Each product offering does its basic function of gripping on angled slopes and gliding on flatter pieces of terrain, but not all are the same. Skins have evolved to provide a variety of design to fill a variety of use based needs. Often, 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 that we wish to descend. Our priorities are different from what we often select with our snowboarding gear; efficiency shifts to 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's 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


These skins have similar design features, but have completely...
These skins have similar design features, but have completely experiences based on their carpet type. The G3 Universal pictured on the left is a 100% nylon plush, while the G3 Glide pictured on the right is a 70% mohair and 30% nylon blend.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

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.

Nylon

  • Pros: Durable, excellent grip, lower cost
  • Cons: Less glide, bulky, heavy

The G3 Universal offers a great grip to glide ratio; especially for...
The G3 Universal offers a great grip to glide ratio; especially for nylon skin.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

Mohair


Mohair is processed wool from an Angora Goat.
  • Pros: Excellent glide (especially in dry snow), lighter, packable, supple hand feel
  • Cons: Less durable, more expensive, less grip

The Black Diamond Glidelite offers a great value for a mohair...
The Black Diamond Glidelite offers a great value for a mohair blended skin. It finds a good balance between the pros and cons of each carpet type.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

Mohair/Nylon Mix


The goal of mixed skins is to blend each material's benefits and manage the trade-offs associated with either one. The aim is to find a compromise between every attribute. The level of behavior that they exhibit between nylon and mohair is dependent on the percent and execution of the blended 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. Most will quickly outgrow the grip benefits and learning benefits of certain full nylon skins. On the same note, most will never find a time to use the mohair ski mountaineering skin. Skins are inherently polarized; we need them to grip and glide. We need to be clear on what our needs are so we can strategically select the compromise we are willing to accept.

This requires that we are clear with what we want from them. If you prioritize grip, the G3 Grip are a great option. If you're looking for versatility, we prefer the G3 Splitboard + Universal Glide. The carpet type is really the main decision to make, and then you can fine-tune your product selection from there.

Fine Tuning



Attachment System


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 Jones Nomad Pro offering for your board. A common theme here is user-friendliness; take note that some skins require installing your tail clip, which takes a little more effort.

G3's tip clip is very adaptable to different shapes.
G3's tip clip is very adaptable to different shapes.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

The bulkier attachment system, the less packable the skins will be. If you're looking for packability, a simple attachment blended skin like the Contour Hybrid will provide the most packable offering.

Mohair blended skins offer better packability. Pictured here is the...
Mohair blended skins offer better packability. Pictured here is the Contour Hybrid which offers one of the smallest pack sizes available.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

Glue


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. If you have had trouble with sticky skin glue in the past, take a look at the Contour Hybrid. It has a two-layer adhesive that makes it incredibly easy to pull apart and off of the skin base.

Glue has the ability to make or break our touring experience. All...
Glue has the ability to make or break our touring experience. All the models in this review found an acceptable balance between ease of use and security. Of course, there's a gradient here so be sure to look at the individual reviews for model-specific information.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

Know Your Priorities


It's important to know where you fall in these categories and how much you 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.

Enjoy determining which skin is best for your next adventure.
Enjoy determining which skin is best for your next adventure.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

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