Only waxable classic skis need kick wax.
Kick wax is also known as grip wax. It’s applied to the base of waxable classic skis in the area roughly under the binding. The area of the base where you apply kick wax is called the wax pocket or the kick zone.
Here’s how to find your wax pocket.
The Most Important Thing
More than anything else, you want good grip. There’s nothing more discouraging than pushing against the snow and having your ski slip under you. If that happens, you can thicken the wax under the ball of your foot, lengthen your wax pocket further forward, or try a stickier wax.
As you get more skilled at skiing, you’ll start to notice that kick waxes don’t just affect your grip, they also affect your glide. If you want, buy more waxes and experiment to learn which waxes you like best in which conditions.
There are 2-3 grip waxes we use the majority of the time. There’s always regional differences, so ask around to see what’s popular in your area.
Klister: I Hate it, But I Love It
If temperatures are very warm or the snow is icy, kick wax won’t work and you’ll need klister. Klister comes in a tube like toothpaste and is extremely gooey. It’s difficult to work with because it sticks to your hands and tends to get everywhere.
Watch a video and practice applying klister.
When klister is cold it’s really difficult to apply. If I’m applying it at home, I warm it a bit with a heat gun after I’ve dabbed it on my ski. That makes it easier to spread with my thumb. If you’re applying it at the trailhead, you can warm the tube first with a blow torch (be careful, obviously). The klister will flow more easily from the tube and be easier to spread with your thumb.
Another trick is to bring a plastic garbage bag to wrap around your skis to protect your car. Klister gets everywhere, including on other skis and their bindings. It’s nice if you have a dedicated klister ski bag.
A lot of skiers hate klister, but is actually great to ski on. There’s a lot of room for error and it can really extend your ski season into the springtime.
Equipment You Need to Kick Wax Cross Country Skis
The tools you need to apply kick wax to cross-country skis are cheaper than the tools you need to glide wax, but you’ll need a larger selection of kick waxes than glide waxes.
Must Have Items
- Kick wax scraper
- Wax remover
- Fiberlene, rags or paper towel
- Sandpaper and a sanding block
- Selection of kick waxes
- Universal klister
Nice to Have Items
- Extra Corks
- Heavy Duty Rags
- Nitrile or Rubber Gloves
- Heat Gun
- Extra Iron (it’s best not use your glide wax iron)
- Base binder and even more kick waxes and klisters
Applying Kick Wax
Applying Kick wax is a multi-step process:
- Clean off old wax
- Prep kick zone
- Apply binder (maybe)
- Apply kick wax
Here’s a brief explanation of each step followed by a video demonstration.
1. How to Clean Off Old Wax
- Soften old kick wax with a heat gun or hairdryer and gently scrape it off with a putty knife.
- Once most of the old wax is removed, use a liquid wax remover and a fiberlene cloth to clean off any remaining kick wax. Fiberlene is nice because it’s non-absorptive, which means you’ll use less wax remover. You can buy it at Nordic ski stores.
- Also use the wax remover to clean your sidewalls, the tops of your skis, and your bindings.
- Dry off excess wax remover. Try not to get wax remover on your glide zones, but don’t worry if you do. Just wipe it off with a rag.
2. Prep the Kick Zone
This part killed me when we first started cross-country skiing.
It was scary and a little bit heartbreaking to sand the beautiful, shiny smooth P-tex base of my new skis. Eventually it just becomes normal and you think nothing of it, but it’s tough the first time.
The video below shows how to sand your kick zone. Use something, a block of wood or a cork, to hold the sandpaper flat. Use 80 grit sandpaper for abrasive snow conditions and 120 grit for fresh, soft snow. Don’t forget to wipe off the dust before applying wax.
Obviously, you only want to sand the kick zone, not the glide zones. If you’re not sure of your wax pocket, be conservative and sand a shorter area. You can lengthen it later. Here’s how to find the boundaries of your wax pocket.
3. Apply Binder
Base binder is applied under kick wax. It doesn’t provide any grip, but it makes your kick wax last longer. It’s very hard to apply with only a cork. Either warm it with a hair dryer or heat gun, and then cork it, or iron it on.
If you use the same iron for binder and glide wax, make sure to thoroughly clean the iron. You don’t want binder mixed into your glide wax. (We don’t use our glide wax iron for binder, but many people do.)
Make sure the binder completely cools before you apply kick wax. The kick wax should sit on top of the binder, not blend into it.
We only use binder if we’re going for a long ski (>2 h) or when skiing on really abrasive snow.
4. Apply Kick Wax
Here’s a good video demonstration of kick wax application. The tech demonstrates sanding the kick zone, then applying kick wax. He doesn’t apply binder, but you can search the other videos if you need to see how that’s done (it’s similar to kick wax application).
Note how the wax tech rubs the cork from the edges of his wax pocket inwards. This is important because it builds the wax up thicker where the ski is most flexed. You should copy him.
He uses tape to protect his glide zones. That’s not necessary, but you could use painter’s tape if you wanted.
Tips and Tricks with Kick Wax
- When you’re getting started buy 1 base binder, 4-5 kick waxes (temp range +3 to -15 Celcius), and a universal klister.
- You don’t need a wax table and ski form to apply kick wax, but if you have one, use it when applying kick wax. It will help you make your application smooth.
- Kick wax is easier to apply when the wax and skis are warm.
- If you need to re-wax your skis when you’re out on the trails, don’t hold your ski vertically and jam the tail into the snow. That can delaminate your ski’s base.
- If you’re waxing without a ski form, try to hold your ski semi-horizontally when you apply kick wax so you can use more downward force. I like to hold it across my knee for more support.
- Avoid blobbing wax on your kick zone. You want to apply thin layers and cork each layer as smooth as possible. We usually apply 3-4 layers.
- Warm temperature waxes are sticky and more likely to blob up. Rather than dragging it across your wax pocket like a crayon, dab it on lightly with a slight twisting motion.
- If you’re having trouble getting enough grip and are slipping a lot, put on a warmer wax even if it says the “wrong” temperature on the tube. We almost always use a warmer wax than recommended because we often ski on icy, man made snow.
- If your skis feel “draggy”, or snow is sticking to your wax, stop, scrape off the snow, and apply a colder wax on top of the warmer wax.
- Fresh snow, around zero degrees Celcius is almost impossible to wax for. We discuss this problem and possible solutions in Waxlable vs Waxless Skis.
- It is commonly recommended that you buy one brand of wax and become familiar with it. This is a good approach, but as you become more skilled at skiing and waxing, there’s no reason you shouldn’t explore other waxes, especially if that’s something that interests you. If you really want to improve your wax knowledge, why not try 2 different waxes on your skis? Label your skis A and B and make a note of which wax you use on each ski. Every time you ski you have the opportunity to test 2 kick waxes.