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How to Buy Backcountry Climbing Skins



Think of them as tread for your skis or splitboard. Or little flat chairlifts. Climbing skins are adhesive-backed pieces of fabric that  stick to your bases and allow you to ascend snowy terrain quickly and gracefully. Held on by a combination of glue and mechanical hardware, they have tiny fibers pointing backward to prevent sliding down the hill while allowing you to glide forward. With the right bindings and technique, properly prepared skins will get you up most slopes in the backcountry and open up a new world of skiable terrain.

What Materials are Climbing Skins Made From?

Back in the day, climbing skins were actually made of seal skin (hence the name) but now are composed of some combination of nylon and/or mohair (a natural fiber that comes from Angora goats - no mo's were sheared in the making of this product).

Nylon
Nylon ski and snowboard climbing skins provide the best uphill grip, are the most durable, and require the least maintenance.

Mohair
Mohair climbing skins give the best glide but wear somewhat faster than nylon, and have less grip in some snow conditions.

Mixed Nylon and Mohair
These skins fall somewhere in between nylon and mohair, with a little better glide than pure nylon skins and a little more grip and durability than pure mohair skins.

The differences are subtle, and once you learn basic skinning technique, you’ll be able to make any of them work in most conditions. If in doubt, it’s safer to err on the side of more grip – you might be slightly slower, but you’ll still get there.

Climbing Skin Tip and Tail Hardware

There are many styles of tip and tail hardware. Most skins include hardware that is made to fit a variety of tip and tail shapes, but there are some skins out there that rely on a specifc ski with a compatible attatchment system (some older K2's and newer 4FRNT's have a hole drilled into the ski to accept proprietary skins), so that is something to watch out for. Other than that, most hardware styles, whether they feature clips, loops, or hooks, should work on any ski or snowboard. Just don't try ski skins on a splitboard, or snowboard skins on your skis, or your gonna have a bad time. Many randonnée racers (think people wearing Spandex) use a stretchy tip attachment with no tail hardware at all for lighter weight and speedier transitions. But for general touring (Spandex optional) we definitely recommend tail hardware of some kind - it can save your day if your skin glue fails.

How to Choose the Right Size Climbing Skins

Climbing Skin Width

It’s important to pick the right width climbing skin so you can have good control of your skis or splitboard, and still get great traction. Climbing skins are typically sold by their width, which listed in millimeters in the product description. To get the right width climbing skins, find the widest part of your skis (usually this is at the tip) and subtract 5-6 millimeters to arrive at the desired skin width. Your goal is to cover all of the plastic base material on the bottom of your skis, but leave the metal edges bare. This gives you maximum grip going uphill, but still lets you to edge on hard snow. When in doubt, go a little bit wider - you'll be trimming the skins down to the exact shape of your skis anyways. 

Your skins should cover the entire base with just the edges showing at the sides

Climbing Skin Length

Some skins are cut to a specific length, but require that you trim the sides to match your skis’ sidecut. Skins that are pre-cut to length will often have tip and tail hardware already installed, which can save you some time. If not, you will normally have to cut the skin to the proper length and attach either the tip or tail hardware before you trim the width.

For more information on skin sizing, check out our guide on how to choose the right size climbing skins.

Trim to Fit vs Pre-Cut Climbing Skins

Trim-to-Fit

Custom cutting your own skins is easy, just take your time and read the instructions. A cutter is almost always provided in the box with the basic directions. A single-edged razor blade also works well.

Learn how to cut your climbing skins with our How to Trim / Cut Ski Climbing Skins guide.

Pre-cut

A number of manufacturers make pre-cut skins to match their own planks. This is especially common with snowboards. If you choose this option, simply make sure you order the right model and length. These skins will fit their corresponding ski or splitboard model exactly, and have all the hardware already installed.

Caring For Your Skins

Climbing skins are built to be resilient to stand up to the rigors of backcountry travel, so as a result, they're pretty easy to maintain.

  • Keep the glue as clean as possible and away from animal hair, pine needles, and other debris. When removing skins in the field try to avoid getting snow on the glue surfaces, as it will make them less sticky over time.

  • Extreme cold is a challenge for most skin glues - in very low temperatures it's often best to store your skins inside your jacket while descending.

  • If the "fur" side of the skin gets really dirty, you can clean it with a mild soap and water solution, but don't worry about slight discolorations from pollen or oil.

How to Store Climbing Skins

Storing your skins properly, both in between tours and over the summer, will add to their longevity. As a rule of thumb, always dry your skins after use, and store them with the glue side stuck together. below are some more detailed tips. 

  • After using your skins allow them to dry out completely before storing them. Prolonged heat damages skin glue, so don't lay them out by the fire or radiator, just hanging them up to dry at room temperature will be fine. 

  • Some skins come with "skin savers" or "cheat sheets" - lengths of plastic mesh that are meant to be placed between the glue surfaces of the skins when they are not in use. Some people like them for long-term storage, but it's rarely efficient to use them while actually touring. In addition to blowing away easily in the wind, applying the sheets adds time to your transitions. It's normal to just fold your skins glue-to-glue and stash them in your pack or jacket while skiing down. The exception is brand-new skins with very sticky glue that are physically difficult to separate. In this case, you can use the cheat sheets until the adhesive on your skins gets a little less sticky.

How to Stop Snow From Sticking to Your Skins

If you've been having trouble with snow clumping up on the bottoms of your skins, there are commercial rub-on and spray products (like Nikwax Ski Skin Proof) that can help you out. These products are best applied while the skins are warm and dry, so you should use them at home, before you leave on your trip. Some experienced backcountry skiers and rando racers will even hot wax and brush their skins much like waxing their skis. Check out our guide to waxing climbing skins for more. 

We recommend that backcountry travelers take an AIARE Level One class or equivalent and practice the skills they learn there regularly with their partners. Here are some great resources for avalanche safety education:

— American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education
— American Avalanche Association
— Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center

You should carry an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe when travelling in avalanche terrain and know how to use them. Backcountry travel requires an acceptance of the risks involved (avalanches are not the only danger) and implies a willingness to take responsibility for educating oneself about these dangers and ways to mitigate them.

We have one of the largest selections of backcountry ski and backcountry snowboard equipment on the web, a super knowledgable staff and expert guides to help you make an informed decision.

This is evo. We are a ski, snowboard, wake, skate, bike, surf, camp and clothing online retailer with physical stores in SeattlePortlandDenver, Salt Lake City, and Whistler. Our goal is to provide you with great information to make both your purchase and up-keep easy.

evo also likes to travel to remote places across the globe in search of world-class powder turns, epic waves, or legendary mountain biking locations through evoTrip Adventure Travel Trips. Or, if you prefer to travel on your own, check out our ski & snowboard resort travel guides, and mountain bike trail guides

 

Still have questions? Please give our customer care team a call at 866-386-1590, Customer Care Hours. They can help you find the right setup to fit your needs.