How to buy backcountry climbing skins
Everything you need to know to choose the right skins, and keep them in top condition
Climbing skins create tread for your skis or splitboard, providing the necessary grip for you to ascend. Adhesive-backed pieces of fabric, climbing skins attach to your tips and tails to allow you an easier walk up the hill by using tiny hairs that point towards the tail of your board, which also prevent you from sliding backwards.
Held on by glue and mechanical hardware, it is essential your skins fit your skis or splitboard properly or you’ll have a hard time getting up the mountain.
Our stores have a wide range of backcountry climbing skins, so if in doubt, visit us in store and get expert advice from our knowledgeable staff.
Skins are now made from either nylon or mohair, or a mixture of the two. Traditionally they were made from seal skin.
Climbing skins made from nylon are durable, require less upkeep, and provide the best uphill grip.
The advantage of mohair over nylon is the smoother glide; however, mohair wears quicker than nylon and, in a range of snow conditions, tends to have less grip overall.
A mix of materials will give you the glide of mohair with the grip and durability of nylon.
They can be harder to use than a single material skin, however once you learn the basic technique they work well in most conditions.
Tips and tail hardware is available in different styles. While some skins include hardware that can fit to a variety of tips and tail shapes, others only include hardware that is designed to fit their own brand of skis.
For general, touring tail hardware is vital in the event your skin glue fails.
The width of your skin size is important for the perfect fit, usually listed in millimetres.
For full coverage, find the widest part of your skis or splitboard - usually at the tip - then subtract 5-6mm. If you don’t know the width of your ski or splitboard measure with a ruler or tape measure.
You want to cover all of the plastic base material on the base of your equipment, leaving the metal edges bare to give you maximum grip going uphill, but good edging downhill.
Occasionally skiers and boarders will choose a straight skin for better speed than grip.
Most skins are cut to a specific length, but you'll need to trim the sides to match your equipment. Pre-cut skins will often have tip and tail hardware already installed, saving you some time. If not, you have to cut the skin to the proper length and attach either the tip or tail hardware before you trim the width.
Cutting your own skins is easy and a great way to get a custom fit, but it does take time. Always read the instructions before you begin.
If you don't fancy giving it a go, most manufacturers offer pre-cut skins with hardware to match their own skis.
Think about adjusting the length before trimming the sides using the following steps:
- Set up your tail strap with the hook in one of the middle notches - don’t worry if your skin doesn’t cover your ski all the way to the end, the tail won’t add much grip.
- Apply the skin to the ski while pulling firmly to stretch the skin material.
- Adjust the tip loop so that it fits securely over the tip of your ski.
- Mark the spot where the tip loop ends with a pen or pencil and cut the skin there.
- You can taper the tip of the skin to form a smooth curve using sharp scissors.
You want to cover all of the base, but leave the edges free.
Skins that are too narrow under your foot are more likely to have you slipping backwards, while skins that are too wide over the edges won’t give you grip on icy walls.
Different tools are available for cutting the sides of skins; you can use straight edge razor blades or cutters.
If you end up with a poorly cut or wavy edge you can smooth it out by moving the skin over to a cutting board, or other clean, hard surface, and re-trimming it with a knife and metal straightedge.
Proper skin maintenance can add to their lifespan. Follow these simple tips for added longevity:
- 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 reduces adhesion.
- Extreme cold is a challenge for most skin glue. In very low temperatures it's best to store your skins inside your jacket while descending.
- If the plush side of the skin gets really dirty, clean with a mild soap and water solution, but don't worry about slight discolorations from pollen or oil.
- Re-waterproofing your skins using rub or spray on solutions can help keep snow from sticking to the bottom of your skins. These are best applied while the skins are warm and dry while, so try to do it before setting out for the day.
- Alternatively, wax your skins.
Hot waxing your skins, just like your skis, is the best way to improve glide and keep the snow from sticking to your skins.
In some conditions snow will always stick to your skins, such as when skiing through fresh powder into cooler, icier stuff.
Follow these simple steps to wax your climbing skins:
- Start with the wax you already use on your skis.
- Put your skins on your skis and then place them with the base facing up.
- Apply the wax by rubbing it directly onto the skin in both directions. Pre-heat your wax iron to typical wax-melting temperature and iron the surface of the skin just like you would with your skis.
- Let the skins cool for a minute or two. You don’t need to let them cool completely like with your skis as you’re not going to scrape the wax off. When the wax has firmed up, brush the skin plush from tip to tail with a coarse nylon brush until all the fibres line up and look smooth. Don’t use a brass or bronze brush, it’s too rough and may damage the fabric.
- Go ride.
Storing your skins properly will add to their lifespan. Follow these simple tips for added longevity:
- After using your skins allow them to dry out completely before storing them.
- Prolonged heat damages skin glue, so never leave your skins in the sun or in a hot place. Keep them stored in a cool, dry place.
- Use your ‘skin savers’ or ‘cheat sheets’ (lengths of plastic mesh designed to be placed between the glue surfaces of the skins when they are not in use) for long-term storage.
- When touring, simply fold your skins glue sides together and put them in your pack or jacket while descending. Be aware that new skins with very sticky glue can be difficult to separate, so use your cheat sheets until the adhesive on your skins gets a little less sticky.