How to Wax Backcountry Climbing Skins
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Huh? What are you talking about? Wax my climbing skins? Won’t they melt? Isn’t that what that purple bar of wax is for?
We’ll let you in on a secret.
The fastest human powered skiers in the world have one thing in common that they aren’t necessarily telling you about. No, it’s not EPO or having the aerobic capacity of a mutant. All of the fastest randonnée racers (and many other experienced ski tourers) all hot wax their climbing skins, both to improve glide and to keep snow from sticking to the skins in transitional conditions. What works for them will work at any speed – that means it’ll help you, too.
Didn’t we say you were supposed to use Nikwax Ski Skin Proof or Black Diamond Glop Stopper bar wax for that? Sure, those are both great products that work well when used properly. Nikwax Ski Skin Proof is a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) spray that you can apply to your skins at home between trips, and it dramatically reduces the amount of water that can soak into the skin fabric and freeze. BD Glop Stopper is a bar wax that’s also effective when used as a preemptive measure, though most people don’t break it out until snow is clumping on their skins – at that point water has already gotten under the skin fibers. Glop Stopper can be used with varying degrees of effectiveness in the field and carrying some isn’t a bad idea, but hot waxing can be used in conjunction with both of these methods and simply makes your skins work better.
Keep in mind that there are conditions when snow will stick to almost any skin, regardless of how well you prep them. Usually this occurs when you’re skinning through a layer of fresh snow in the sun that’s just beginning to melt and then go into the shade in the trees (or higher in elevation) where the temperature is still below freezing.
Let’s get started
1. Start with the wax
you’re already using on your skis. Here in the Pacific Northwest, Swix LF8 or CH8, with its temperature range of 1˚C to -4˚C (34˚F to 25˚F), is good for 90% or our winter days, so it’s usually a good choice for skins as well. If you live and ski in colder temperatures, use the same wax that you normally use on your skis.
2. Put your skins
on your skis and then in a ski vise or supported at tip and tail like you’re going to wax the bases (skis level, bases facing up). If you’ve got a clean, non-porous table surface handy (like a Formica or stainless steel counter top) you can put the skins directly down on that, but clean up that pasta sauce first so you don’t contaminate your skin glue.
Note: Some skin manufacturers warn against letting fluorinated waxes contact skin glue, but years of applying low fluoro Swix and Toko waxes to both touring ski bases and skin plush seems to indicate that low fluoro waxes don’t pose a problem. Any wax improperly applied and left in too thick a layer on a ski base, however, can come up in flakes with the glue when you remove the skins – not nice.
3. Apply the wax by rubbing it directly onto the skin plush heavily and in both directions. BOTH DIRECTIONS? Doesn’t this trash the plush? No, the plush is very resilient, and you want the wax under the fibers, trust us. Pre-heat your wax iron to typical wax-melting temperature, between 130˚C and 140˚C (248˚F - 284˚F), and iron the surface of the skin just like you’d iron wax into your ski bases. Iron from tip to tail only and keep the iron moving at all times, at a speed of about 1-2 inches per second.
4. You can repeat the process with the skins still warm if it looks like the skins can use more wax – rub the bar directly on the warm skins or “hot dab” the wax (touch it briefly to the iron and then rub it on the skin) and heat again with the iron.
5. Let the skins cool for a minute or two – it’s not necessary to let them cool completely like when you’re waxing your skis because you’re not going to scrape them. When the wax has firmed up, just brush the skin plush from tip to tail with a coarse nylon brush until all the fibers line up and look smooth. Don’t use a brass or bronze brush, it’s too rough and may damage the fabric.
There. You’re ready. All you need now are legs and lungs of steel. Party on.
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