Climbing skins – today: Types of plush

Looking forward to this
Looking forward to this

I’ll admit it – I’m casting about for blog ideas since I haven’t gotten out into the hills yet. I don’t like to write about gear and stuff to buy – I figure there are about one million other skiing blogs that do that already, but in this case – I’m not talking about a particular brand – just varieties.

First off – I guess it makes sense to take at least a cursory look at the various types of skins out there – since newbies don’t often know there are different kinds at all. Let’s order them up in terms of their popularity – or if your prefer – the most commonly sold first, followed by the less common.

Plush type: (or – what’s the “fur” made of?)

a popular brand of full synthetics - they make other kinds as well that look similar - so ask!
a popular brand of full synthetics – they make other kinds as well that look similar – so ask!

Full Synthetic

Most common these days are fully synthetic skins. They are 100% Nylon, and while there may be variations in the exact formulation, they all generally provide the highest level of grip going up. Besides being really grippy – they are also really robust, meaning that if you stomp all over a bunch of rocks climbing up, you won’t damage them too badly. They’ll last about 3-5 years of heavy use – maybe more. They are also, generally, among the most inexpensive skins – although this is a relative term when it comes to our sport.

The downside – and there is always a downside – is that these skins tend to be kinda heavy (yeah, it really makes a difference) and all that grip makes for poor glide. With every step – you’ve got to spend a little more energy to push the ski forward than you might with some other options – and if you ever spend time on a flat approach, you’ll not be able to kick and glide like a nordic skier might.

The only other thing to mention is that they do a pretty good job of keeping water from soaking the fur – which can be good in spring when you might have wet snow about. Having wet skins will cause dry, cold snow to freeze to your skins in a second if you get in the shade – making big clumps of snow form under your skis. Something we call “glomming” or, alternatively “a good reason to return to the bar”.

Last note: These tend to be the novice’s choice. If you haven’t got your skin technique down pat – the grippy nature of these things is forgiving. Some brands are even available as “high traction” versions – which is the equivalent of gluing 70s pile carpet to your skis. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Another popular mix skin. Also - they make other kinds, so be sure to ask when you buy.
Another popular mix skin. Also – they make other kinds, so be sure to ask when you buy.

Synthetic Mix

These are a skin that is a mix, maybe 70/30 or 60/40 of synthetic plush and natural mohair, which is the fur of a particular kind of goat. (No – they don’t kill the goats – they brush them. I think. Come to think of it – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a boldly quaffed goat at the beauty shop – so maybe they shuffle forth so we can too – dunno.) Anyway – the idea behind the mix is that the nylon of a full synthetic skin provides grippiness and durability – while the mohair reduces the weight a bit and improves the glide. Mohair slips along much more smoothly than synthetic plush. They are also significantly thinner than most full synthetics – meaning they fold up and stow into your jacket much more easily.

They are a bit more expensive – due to the pampering of those goats – and they are a bit less durable. You’ll get 3 to 4 years out of these babies at the most, if you use them a bunch. After that – the plush won’t grip and they’ll glom up very easily. They don’t grab as well as a full synthetic – but the glide is supposed to make up for that. They are a compromise skin – that attempts to unite the best of both worlds, and they do a good job of that. If you’ve been at it for a while and feel confident – you might like to try some of these.

one of the brands still offering a full mohair variety. Here as well - they've got 5280 kinds, so be sure to ask the salesperson which one is which
one of the brands still offering a full mohair variety. Here as well – they’ve got 5280 kinds, so be sure to ask the salesperson which one is which

Full Mohair

These are the most expensive of skins. They use full mohair and zero synthetic. (At least for the fur) Often – they are sold as “race skins” or “guide skins” – and for good reason. Other than their cost – they are the lightest of all the skin types – gram counters care about this, but they are also thinner, and more pliable than the other skin types, so folding them up inside your coat is easy and less bulky. If you put them in your pack, (NEVER DO THIS! TRUST ME!) they take up less room.

In addition to all that – skinning on these is like gliding on a cloud. They allow you to push forward with noticeably less effort than a comparable synthetic or mix. For experienced skinners – this is the general non-plus-ultra.

So the downside? Well – you better have your technique down – because these babies do not grip as well as the other sorts. You need to know just how to weight them up, and you kinda need to know just how far you can push it – because if you start to slide – you’re going to finish too. Also – for the same reason – if you like to march straight up the hill on some kind of masochistic mission to bring recto-linear geometries into nature – these may not be for you. Additionally – they do get wet more easily – so you’ll have to take care of that with wax or something – which is a whole other blog post. They last about 2 years of heavy use – but being goat hair – are a renewable resource.

So new its still a photo-rendering. These are unmistakable, at least. Certainly only for those of you who enjoy being on the bleeding edge of tech. The jury is still out on these.
So new its still a photo-rendering. These are unmistakable, at least. Certainly only for those of you who enjoy being on the bleeding edge of tech. The jury is still out on these.

Foil skins

These are super-new. No experience with them here, but they are a plastic sheet with a pattern on them that grips in one direction and slides (better) in the other. The upside: they are really light, glide really well, and cannot get wet at all. They are supposed to be really thin – which should mean they fold up really well, and they might last a long time too. Time will tell on these.

If you’ve used them – tell me about it.

Next post – I’ll talk about the next big thing to think about with skins….the glue! There are lots of different kinds out there – and it does make a difference!

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