How to Buy Backcountry Climbing Skins

 
 
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evo Size & Buying Guides - We have one of the largest selections of climbing skins on the web, a super knowledgable staff and expert guides to help you make an informed decision.

 
Think of them as tread for your skis; climbing skins are adhesive-backed pieces of fabric that attach to your ski tips and tails and stick to your ski bases. They allow you to ascend snowy terrain quickly and gracefully. Held on by a combination of glue and mechanical hardware, they have tiny fibers pointing rearward to prevent sliding backward while allowing you to glide forward. Picture a dog’s fur that can only be stroked one way smoothly but stands up when you run your hand the other way.  
 
With the right snow conditions and technique, properly prepared skins will get you up most slopes in the backcountry and open up a new world of skiable terrain.
 

Material

Back in the day, skins were actually made of seal skin (hence the name) but now are composed of nylon, mohair (a natural fiber from Angora goats, not “mo”s), or a mixture of the two. 
 
Nylon - Nylon provides the best uphill grip, is the most durable, and requires the least maintenance.
 
Mohair - Mohair gives the best glide but wears somewhat faster than nylon and has 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. 
 

Tip and Tail Hardware

There are many styles of tip and tail hardware. Some skins include hardware that adapts to fit a variety of tip and tail shapes, while other brands (K2 for example) come with hardware that is designed to fit only their own skis. Some people use a stretchy tip attachment with no tail hardware at all - this is common in Europe and with randonnée racers (think people wearing Spandex). For general touring (Spandex optional) we recommend tail hardware of some kind - it can save your day if your skin glue fails. 
 

Skin Size

Width

It’s important to pick the right width, which is listed in millimeters in the product description. 
 
Wall-to-Wall Coverage
To go full coverage (wall-to-wall), find the widest part of your skis - usually this is at the tip - then subtract 5-6 millimeters to arrive at the desired skin width. If the width isn't printed on the ski, measure with a ruler or calipers. 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.
 
Your skins should cover the entire base with just the edges showing at the sides
 
For a ski with the dimensions 131-105-121 mm, a 125 mm wide skin will give you wall-to-wall coverage after trimming. If your skis are between sizes or you can't locate the ideal width skin, it's usually fine to go down a size, but make sure you have enough skin width to completely cover your ski bases leaving about 2 mm to expose the edges from just in front of your toepiece to about a foot or so behind your heel - this is where the majority of your traction comes from when you're ascending. More ski base exposed at the tips and tails won't affect grip very much but bare base material underfoot definitely will. This is especially true for skis with a lot of rocker in the tips and tails, where the majority of the contact with the snow will occur underfoot.
 
Straight Coverage
Some people, mostly rando racers, choose a straight skin when they are worried more about speed than grip. Find the width that comes closest to matching the waist dimension of your ski without covering the edges – this will leave some base showing at both the tip and tail of the ski. 

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 you have a 182 cm length Black Diamond Zealot ski, for example, with the dimensions 135-110-123 mm and you want to use G3 Alpinist Climbing Skins, you’d pick the 180-190 cm length and the 130 mm width. When trimmed, this will leave a tiny bit of exposed base material at the tip (about 2 mm on each side) but cover the remainder of the base completely for traction.
 
If you choose skins that aren’t pre-cut to length, you’ll have to do this before you trim the width. Black Diamond skins in this category have an adjustable tip loop to install before you trim the sides.
 

Cutting Your Skins

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 with hardware to match their own skis - if you choose this option, simply make sure you order the right model and length. Many Dynafit and some K2 skis offer a skin that is pre-cut to fit each model exactly.
 

Maintaining Your Skins

Skin maintenance is simple:
  • 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; it diminishes adhesion. 
  • 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 "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.

Storage

Storing your skins properly will add to their longevity.
  • After using your skins allow them to dry out completely before storing them. Prolonged heat damages skin glue, so never leave your skins on the dashboard of your car in the sun or store them for the summer in a hot attic - keep them at cool room temperature or colder.
  • 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 coat while skiing down. The exception is brand-new skins with very sticky glue that are physically difficult to separate - in this case just use the cheat sheets until the adhesive on your skins gets a little less sticky.

Trouble with snow sticking to your skins

There are commercial rub-on and spray products (like Nikwax Ski Skin Proof) that are meant to keep snow from sticking to the bottom of your skins, and which are best applied while the skins are warm and dry. Use these products at home, before you leave on your trip. Experienced backcountry skiers and rando racers often hot wax and brush their skins much like waxing their skis.
 

Ski Crampons

Think seriously about a set of ski crampons, too – they’re sort of an insurance policy for icy and crusty conditions. Ski crampons are aluminum devices with teeth like a rake that attach to your touring bindings (or sometimes directly to your ski) and give you grip on icy sidehills when the combination of skins and ski edges won't hold. Ski crampons are specific to each brand of binding and must fit the width of the ski you intend to use.
 
Dynafit Ski Crampon attached to binding and ready to use

We recommend taking an avalanche safety course to familiarize you further with all your backcountry gear.
American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education // American Avalanche Association // Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center

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Learn more with our other Backcountry Guides:
Backcountry Basics – How to Get Started
Backcountry Gear – Checklist
Backcountry Backpacks – How to Choose
Avalanche Beacons / Transceivers – How to Choose
Avalanche Shovels – How to Choose
Avalanche Probes – How to Choose
Avalanche Airbags – How to Choose
Alpine Touring Skis – How to Choose
Alpine Touring Ski Boots – How to Choose
Alpine Touring Ski Bindings – How to Choose
Dynafit (Tech) Bindings – Getting Started
Backcountry Basics - How to Skin
Climbing Skins – Size Guide
Climbing Skins – Weight Chart
Climbing Skins – How to Cut/Trim
Outerwear & Layers – How to Dress for the Backcountry


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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 skins to fit your needs.