How To Buy Climbing Skins for Backcountry Skiing

The right climbing skins are the secret to smooth backcountry travel. Here’s how to choose the right ones.

Backcountry skiing and snowboarding offer an amazing way to earn your turns away from the crowds. But as well as the necessary safety gear—and some backcountry boots and bindings—you’ll also need climbing skins to get you to the top.  

Climbing skins are long strips of fabric backed with an adhesive that sticks to the bottoms of your skis. Slap them on your backcountry skis, and you can ascend on snow without slipping backwards. Peel them off, and you can scoot downhill just like you would at the resort. 

Here’s how they work: The side touching the snow has tiny hair-like fibers that stick up and grip when pushed in one direction, and flatten down and glide when pushed in the other. Skins stay put thanks to their layer of reusable glue, as well as clips or hooks that clamp them to the tips and tails of your ski. When you’ve reached the top of the slope, you simply unhook the clips, peel off your skins, and roll them up and stash them in your pack (or pockets) for the descent. Then, you can reattach your skins and repeat the whole process until your quads give out. 


In the beginning, climbing skins were made of seal skin, which had tiny hair follicles that slide one way and grip the other. Today’s skins are lighter and grippier (and, thankfully, made without harming any seals). Materials range from nylon to mohair (made from goat fur) and combinations thereof. Each material offers different grip, glide, wear, and cost. 


Mohair is more expensive than nylon. It offers better glide, but it can wear down over time, so you’ll have to replace it more often. Because mohair skins tend to be lighter, they’re a good option for long-distance tourers looking to save weight. 


Nylon is more durable than mohair, and more affordable, which makes it a good choice for more casual tourers. It doesn’t glide quite as smoothly as mohair, but it offers better traction on slick slopes. Nylon skins can also be slightly heavier than mohair.


While slightly more expensive, combinations of nylon and mohair blend the best attributes of each, and maximize both grip and glide. 


All skins have some sort of glue for adhering to your ski’s base. Fortunately, technology has come a long way since the days of yesteryear when yanking apart a pair of skins took Herculean effort. Most glues are relatively similar. One exception is the company Contour, which manufactures skins that use a hybrid polymer compound in place of glue to stick to your bases molecularly. While it’s slightly more expensive, it keeps them cleaner and more free of debris, and it eliminates the tug-of-war often involved in pulling them apart.

Attachment Points

Different skin models use a variety of hooks, clips, and loops to keep them in place. Some skins clip to the tail of the ski, then let you stretch them taut with a rubber, bungee-style fastening that hooks around the tip. Others reverse it and have the tensioning on the tail and a fixed attachment on the tip. Some skins are even designed to attach to specific skis, slotting into a hole drilled into the ski tip or tail (holes that can also be used to turn a ski into a rescue litter or snow anchor). All of these systems work well.    


The most important feature of climbing skins is their size. Too big, and they’ll cover up your ski edges, leaving you unable to dig in while sidehilling. Too small, and you won’t get the underfoot grip you need for a secure ascent. Here’s what to watch for to get it right.

Custom Skins

Some manufacturers sell ski and skin packages, including pre-cut skins already designed to fit the ski (or splitboard). These skins fit precisely for optimum performance, so simply slap them on and you’re off. 


If you don’t buy skins custom-made to fit your skis or splitboard, you’ll likely have to trim them down to size. Most manufacturers list their skin widths in millimeters. When shopping, make sure to get a pair that’s wide enough to cover the full base of your ski (i.e. if your skis are 100mm at their widest point, usually near the tip, make sure your skins are 100mm or wider). Once you get your skins, use the enclosed skin-cutter tool and follow the manufacturer’s directions for trimming them to size. You can also have this job done by a ski shop that offers backcountry gear services. 


As with width, length will need to be finetuned if you don’t buy custom-fit skins. You can either purchase pre-cut skins, or cut them to size yourself. 

Multiple sizes: These skins are pre-cut to fit a specific length range, with their tip and tail hardware already installed for convenience. Choose the range that encompasses your ski size. (For example, get skins marked as “162cm to 172cm” for 170cm skis.) Then, use the slider on the adjustable tail or tip hardware to finetune the length. 

One size: These skins come in a single length, with either the tail or tip hardware already secured (but not both). For this kind, cut the skin to the appropriate length. You’ll then have to install the remaining hardware.

Person sticking climbing skins on split board. Ski touring equipment

Splitboard Skins

Climbing skins for splitboards (backcountry-compatible snowboards) work the same as skins for skiing. Most skins attach to splitboards with tip loops, tail clips, and glue. As with skis, make sure to trim the skins to precisely fit the width and length of your splitboard (and make sure to purchase splitboard-specific skins). Some splitboards can also be outfitted with pre-cut skins.   

Skin Care 

To get the most out of your skins, follow these tips to keep them clean, dry, and safely stored.  

1. Keep your glue clean.   

Glue becomes less sticky when it gets covered with dirt and debris, so be mindful of where you put your skins, both during use and during storage. Whenever you stash skins in a pack or jacket, fold them in half glue-to-glue. Try not to flick them into dirt or pine needles on the mountain, and keep them away from pet hair and carpet fuzz at home.

2. Clear away snow.  

You’ll also want to try to keep snow off of the glue as much as possible. Pro tip: If you do drop your skins in powder or find snow caking onto the glue, you can use your ski edge (or better, a ski scraper) to scrape it off.  

3. Keep them warm.

Cold temperatures can affect your glue’s performance. On chilly days, stash your folded skins inside your ski jacket during the descent. (Just be sure to zip it up and buckle the hip belt of your pack to keep them from slipping out the bottom. Some jackets have large pockets that work for storing skins.)

4. Reapply glue as needed.  

If your skins’ glue does get too gummed up or worn-out, it’s possible to buy new skin glue. It’s just a pain to reapply, so try to treat your skins with care. And if you’ve never removed or applied glue before, go to your local Public Lands store or mountaineering shop to ask for tips. 

5. Get a spring wax.  

In certain conditions—especially during warm, spring ascents—snow can stick to the bottom of your skins while touring. That can impede progress and add weight (there’s nothing quite like hiking with a pound of snow under each foot). Several companies make spray or rub-on “skin wax” that can help. Apply it before setting out on your tour when your skins are still warm. 

6. Hang them dry.  

At the end of every ski day, hang your skins to dry. Be sure to keep them away from direct heat sources, which can dry out the glue. (If you’re on an overnight trip, don’t leave them on your skis outside overnight).  

7. Use your skin savers.  

If you’re not planning to ski the next day, reaffix your skins to their skin-savers (mesh strips) once they’re dry. This is also the preferred method for long-term storage. You can store them folded glue-to-glue, but glue can become wicked hard to pull apart if you leave them like this for a while.

Ski Crampons

If you’re skinning into icy, steep, exposed terrain, ski crampons add additional purchase. Made for mountaineering, they slide onto the ski beneath your foot. If you’re just a recreational tourer seeking out fresh turns, you likely don’t need them.    

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.