It’s easy to get caught up in all the latest AT boots, skis, and bindings, while overlooking an important part of the touring equation: skins.
Where you tour, where you tour most, and how often you tour all factor into what your priorities are: Traction? Glide? Durability? How fast and easy the skins are to put on and take off?
With that in mind, we’ve compiled this list of some of the more popular skins on the market. Check out our 16/17 piece for new skins and updates.
Black Diamond GlideLite Mohair Mix STS
Materials: 65% mohair, 35% nylon
These skins have performed almost flawlessly from day trips to extended multi-day traverses in tough conditions. They have enough grip to crank up something steep, but significantly better glide than grippier skins like the Black Diamond Ascension Nylon STS or the G3 Alpinist or Alpinist High Traction.
The current Black Diamond glue is quite good, and ties with G3 for the best glue we’ve used. The Black Diamond tip and tail system is also fine, although we’ve broken more than a few of the tails, and the tips don’t work for some very wide tip shapes.
Black Diamond GlideLite Mohair Pure STS
Materials: 100% mohair
We really like pure Mohair skins, and this option from Black Diamond is our favorite so far. For almost any given day of skiing they would be our top choice, but we have found them to be less durable than the mohair mix skins listed above. But the excellent glide of pure mohair easily makes up for the decreased traction and durability. Experienced ski-tourers with good technique can use these on almost any type of terrain, and the impressive glide makes a big difference on long approaches.
G3 Alpinist Momix
Materials: 70% mohair, 30% nylon
We like the G3 Momix for the same reasons we like the Black Diamond Mohair mix skins. The glue is quite good—comparable to the BD version.
The G3 tip attachment system has worked well on any kind of ski we’ve tried (including a few that the BD skins wouldn’t fit well), and the tail cam works great. The only reason we would rank them lower than the BD skins is that we’ve had quite a bit more glopping with the G3 skins, even with ample amounts of glop stopper.
Black Diamond Ascension Nylon STS
We have not yet reviewed the new 15/16 version of the Ascension Nylon STS but have extensive experience with previous iterations. They are among the most durable skins we’ve used, and have all been great all-around performers. But they do lack glide compared to the skins listed above.
The G3 Alpinist has slightly better glide than the Black Diamond Ascension Nylon STS, but we’ve experienced the same glopping issues that we’ve encountered with the G3 Momix. Even in side-by-side testing with skins of equal ages, our test pairs of G3’s glopped a bit more for us than comparable Black Diamond skins in a variety of conditions.
G3 Alpinist High Traction (HT)
While the G3 Alpinist High Traction skins do have a bit more grip than the Black Diamond Nylon STS or the G3 Alpinists, we haven’t yet found a situation where the extra traction was worth the decreased glide. With good skinning technique we think most skiers won’t need these in most situations. But if your tours regularly involve relatively short, steep skin tracks, the more sense it makes to give these a look.
Volkl Universal Vacuum Skins
If you hate fighting with your sticky skins to peel them apart, then you might consider these “glueless” skins. To be accurate, these aren’t glue free, but they use a silicone-based adhesive that takes no effort whatsoever to separate, making installation and removal incredibly fast and easy.
The downside is that, of all the skins we’ve listed here, these are the least willing to stick to wet ski bases—a not-uncommon thing when touring in wet snow.
So for these to work well, you’ll need to wipe down and dry your bases to get these skins to adhere. But if you’re willing to do that, we’ve found their glide to be totally adequate and their grip to be very good—on par with the G3 Alpinist and Ascension Nylon STS. The more you tend to yo-yo laps in the backcountry, the more compelling these “vacuum” climbing skins become.
We did find them to glop up quite a bit during our testing of them in New Zealand (typically touring in warm temps and wet snow) in comparison with several of the above listed skins. In addition, we found that the tail attachment was prone to slipping and was generally more difficult to use compared to the rubber strap versions on the G3 and BD skins.
However, when touring in colder temps and drier snow in northern New Mexico—while being careful to make sure the bases are dry before applying these—they have performed well, and without issue.