Climbing Grip Versus Glide

Two main characteristics of the plush fabric determine the glide and climbing performance of skins; the material and the angle at which the plush fibers exit the backing material.  Overall, climbing performance seems to be much less sensitive than glide to the characteristics of the plush material. Our experience and testing with many varieties of skins has shown that as long as the plush is mildly rigid and has some directionality to it (exit angle < 90°),  all skins seem to have similar climbing performance in most snow conditions. It is possible that an optimum plush length, stiffness, or exit angle could be found, but already, skins will grip tracks as steep as it is comfortable to set them. As a result most of our efforts are spent trying to enhance glide.

Historically, the two materials used for making climbing skins have been nylon and mohair.

Mohair skins have retained a certain popularity due to their excellent glide while nylon has become popular due to its durability. The plush fibers of Mohair skins are made from fine, Angora goat’s wool which is woven into a backing material. The fine and supple nature of the goat’s wool facilitates the excellent glide that mohair skins are known for. One down side is that the wool fibers are weaker than some synthetic materials, so Mohair skins “bald” after significant use, especially in icy conditions. The fine, supple mohair fibers easily lay flat and provide very little resistance as the ski slides forward. But with each transition from gliding to kicking, there is a slight backward sliding of the ski as the supple fibers stand up and set against the snow. When coupled with the enhanced glide, this minute rearward motion makes for a different feel from most nylon skins (Not necessarily better or worse, just different). It is also possible that natural oils present in the wool lend the mohair skins hydrophobic properties, further helping glide performance.

The fiber’s exit angle from the backing material is the second major factor contributing to the glide and climbing performance of skins. In general, a higher exit-angle means worse glide because the plush fibers push away from the backing material and into the snow. Also noticeable is that plush with a high exit angle is harder to push forward at the beginning of each step because a fair amount pressure is needed to lay the fibers flat before the skin will slide forward. 

Although it is much easier to weave a fabric where the fibers exit the backing material at close to 90°, and then press or iron the fibers over in order to simulate a low exit-angle, this approach is not the most reliable. Relying on ironing rather than weaving to set the plush angle is especially problematic with nylon skins because nylon is a memory plastic; it tends to return to the shape it was first crystallized in. Some non–crystalline fibers can be shaped in the solid state (thermoformed), but not nylon.  Even when weaving determines the exit angle, over time the fibers of most nylon skins will “stand up.” This can happen long before the plush material actually wears out. The resulting “furry” feeling will be familiar to anyone with a well-used set of nylon skins. Old nylon skins generally have slightly less glide and are more prone to glopping/icing than a brand new set of skins.

Little experimentation has been done with the fiber density in relation to climbing and gliding, but intuition would lead us to believe that a higher fiber density will perform better for climbing and worse for gliding. Thus on firm icy tracks a low fiber density may not provide enough purchase to prevent sliding backward, but conversely could provide excellent forward glide.

ClimbingSkinsDirect.com skins use the same plush found in the purple Ascension™ skins. To date, this fabric is the only synthetic material with glide comparable to mohair. We offer the durability of nylon, but with fine, supple, plush fibers and a low exit angle for mohair-like glide.