Update, November, 2011 Gecko is doing print advertising now, and ostensibly has worked out the bugs in their skin material. We are in the process of truly testing their most recent product, so we’ll reserve judgement for now. More soon.
Update, February 09, 2009: The Gecko climbing skin fur held up fine and continued to grip during my test, as did the glue, but the edges of the skin plush unraveled enough to create a tiny bald area near the edges, which in turn compromised grip while sidehilling. More, the constant unraveling of the skins was disconcerting and messy, and required constant re-burning of the edges. Gecko says their skins are now manufactured in a way that doesn’t unravel on the cut edges. We’ve sent this version of test skins back and hope to test some of the “unravel resistant” skins soon.
It was about this time last winter that Gecko climbing skins were making their debut. Sadly, these unique furs were first constructed with a weak backing and tore easily. Thus, we didn’t have much to blog about except that they seemed fragile. With this exciting new product’s sophomore debut, we can report that fragility (in terms of tearing) is no longer a concern and move on to other parameters.
What’s unique and innovative about Gecko is they use adhesive that’s not really glue, but rather a tacky substance that only sticks well to smooth surfaces. You still need to keep them out of the dirt, but they don’t easily pick up lint, and ice or snow crystals are easily removed by scraping and brushing.
Back to durability: Gecko has had a makeover and now sports a nylon reinforced plush backing that stood the test for two days and about 12,000 vertical feet of touring here in Austria.
Early winter touring (or any time at high altitude) is hard on skins. If you enjoy the alpine, you WILL step on rocks no matter how careful you are. Any skin will tear given enough abuse, but practical mountaineering skins should have at least as much durability as your usual nylon variety. Geckos seemed equal to that standard, as over the past few days I scribed them hard on more than several granite edges — with no penalty.
In terms of a firstlook, my only concern with my pair of Geckos is a questionable attachment system that requires you to peel up a velcro tab (pictured above) which holds the tip loop. You can’t easily do this with gloves, you could loose the tip loop in the snow if you flub, and we all know how velcro doesn’t work when it gets iced. Tail is held by a conventional tail hook. Gecko says their velcro system is used to prevent snow from working its way under the skin and separating the adhesion. Beyond that I suspect that due to how the skins stick, you don’t want too much end-to-end tension on the skin that could pop it off the ski base like a bowstring. So velcro rather than elastic might be good for that reason as well.
Louie has a test pair of Geckos as well, which he’s installing a WildSnow rat tail on. If that works, then problem solved as we’ll use the velcro to position the tip loop while starting removal from the tail. (Louie, please comment after you get out with the skins.)
I also gave the Gecko “adhesive” a good field test, though conditions have been too cold to see how they work when wet rather than snow coated. The first day, I carried extra skins and was very careful not to ice the adhesive. The Geckos worked great for two laps, so yesterday I left my backup skins at home and deliberately abused the Geckos by dropping them in the dry boot-top powder we’ve been enjoying.
Once contaminated by snow Geckos have zero adhesion. BUT, snow does not stick but rather just clings and is super easy to clean off by belting the skins back and forth over the edges of a planted ski, then brushing with the back of a glove.
Geckos are 100% mohair with a nice heavy DWR treatment. As mohair does, they glide well but have a bit less grip than wall-to-wall nylons. In this area of Europe the skin tracks are of reasonable pitch so traction wasn’t a problem during my testing. In the Wasatch and other places where skin track angle is a measure of manhood, you might be better off with nylon (or at least keep your ski crampons handy).
Conclusion: A viable alternative to conventional skins, but follow directions to the letter. Also, while snow is easy to clean off Geckos, these skins are conversely more sensitive to any snow that remains between skin and ski (one small patch of snow keeps expanding as it picks up snow from the trail, and eventually fails the whole skin). Thus, you still have to practice fastidious care during multi-lap days. After the climb they come off quite easily, and with a better tip/tail attachment system would be a joy to remove with skis still on your feet. Jury is still out on how they’ll work for multiple laps during slushy wet conditions. Second best upside is no more glue residue on your ski bases. Best upside is that Gecko adhesive doesn’t easily contaminate with dirt or debris, can be washed, and won’t stick to your hair or fleece.
(And no, these are not an iPod skin.)