Backcountry Binding Buying Guide 2020
Salomon Shift the latest concept in Freeride and Free touring Bindings
Backcountry Bindings In 2020 - Backcountry UK Buyers Guide.
The world of Ski Touring and Freeride bindings has changed massively in the last few years with new systems arriving and existing systems evolving so it was time to produce an updated buyers guide explaining some of the differences.
In this article I will introduce the main families of Backcountry bindings and for each family name my pick of the 2020 seasons offerings.
To start with it is useful useful to divide the types of binding out there in to several different groups, this way you can narrow down the type of binding that will be best suited to your needs. These groups can be subdivided again, some people may choose to split them in a different way but I find the divisions below a useful starting point.
The Pin Tech Bindings - Predominantly Ski Touring.
The original design for these clever lightweight bindings was developed by Dynafit 30 years ago, the design was so good that some some bindings on the market still closely resemble the original version.
Dynafit Rotation 10, an example of Dynafit's classic system which has evolved over the years.
Pin Tech bindings have several significant advantages over frame bindings when touring. Other than the fact that these bindings are lighter in weight, they also have other advantages:
- The pivot of the boot, when skinning, feels more natural and is almost free from mechanical resistance.
- Unlike frame bindings, you don’t have to lift the weight of the binding with every step (zero lift weight) which makes them less tiring over the course of a day.
- The lower stand height (the height that the binding holds your boot above the ski) gives a more stable feel whilst skiing, pin toes also generally have good lateral power transmission.
Something to consider is that most pin binding systems safety releases work in a different way to that of Alpine downhill bindings with the lateral (sideways) release component being at the heel instead of the toe. There are some Pin Tech bindings available which do offer a lateral toe release, making their release characteristics more similar to those of Alpine Bindings.
The debate about how much difference the two systems make to the safety of the skier is complicated, in essence both systems are generally safe though there are certain falls that you can have on either system which could still cause injury. but my view is that on balance a lateral toe release can reduce the risk of common leg injuries in the event of a fall. This is not to say that bindings without lateral toe release are inherently dangerous but I think they are best suited to very competent off piste skiers and for most people, are more appropriate on full touring / free touring setups rather than the one ski to do it all.
A few years ago the patent on these tech binding systems lapsed and there was an explosion in development with most binding brands now having at least one offering.
They vary widely so the pin binding family is best sub divided into three basic groups.
Super lightweight Tech Bindings
These are the lightest bindings available, often derived from Skimo race bindings, these super light bindings are focussed on shaving every gram off to help on the ascent.
Typically these bindings will have no brakes or have an optional brake, release settings may be a fixed value or the adjustment of the releases may be limited. The number of climbing positions can be reduced on some models too.
These super light bindings can ski well but they are not designed for heavy use from the lifts on wide skis. They will typically weigh between 300 - 700gms per pair!
The modern super light bindings are often very clever, they can make a big difference on long tours with big climbs and ski mountaineering objectives but they can be fiddly, are sometimes not as safe to use, won’t drive your freeride skis like some of the others and can be expensive too.
These are best suited to serious tourers and ski mountaineers on a dedicated lightweight touring set up.
Ski Touring Pin Bindings
This is the category for most recreational ski tourers as they generally offer improved safety, performance, reliability and functionality without getting too heavy for big days of touring.
Expect these bindings to have ski brakes, fully adjustable release setting in the horizontal and vertical with improved release characteristics such as AFD’s, sprung heel pieces to allow the ski to flex whilst maintaining the vertical release values, 3 stage climbing positions and good ski performance.
These bindings usually weigh between 700gms to 1.2KGs per pair and often have features which are designed to make them a bit easier to use when stepping in.
The 2019 line up of ski touring bindings is quite diverse with some great options out there. Most ski tourers will get everything they need from one of these bindings and most are suitable for doing most of your skiing on.
G3 Ion and Z
Freeride, Freetour or Ski performance pin bindings
This is the newest category of pin bindings and it has really gathered momentum in the last few seasons. They are touring binding systems which have been developed to give maximum ski performance and safety whilst still being light enough to do some ‘proper’ touring.
These bindings often feature a combination of a pin tech toe piece and a more conventional Alpine style heel which presses the boot down to the ski for improved ski performance, this can give the skier the best of both worlds.
They have lower ‘stand heights’ (the height of the boot above the ski) than older frame freeride bindings making them more stable and the safety releases will usually have a higher DIN range than the normal touring bindings for harder skiing.
These bindings are increasingly featuring lateral toe releases, will comfortably drive modern wide freeride skis and stand up to hard skiing making them suitable for lift served resort skiing as well as many ski touring trips. Typically these bindings will be a little heavier weighing in between 1.2KGs and 1.6KGs per pair.
Everyone wants the best ski performance they can get and as the number of people wanting to go ski touring increases and the number of ski boots on the market which have pin tech fittings grows, we expect this category to continue to be the biggest growth area in the market.
Frame Touring Bindings
These are the type of binding we were all using a few years ago, where the boot is clipped into a aluminium or plastic frame which is hinged at the toe. This frame is locked down at the heel to ski but unlocked to tour. When skinning the whole binding frame is lifted with the boot.
It’s fair to say that these frame bindings have reduced in sales massively over the last few of seasons as the weight saving of moving to pin tech bindings is dramatic and the ski performance a safety features of pin bindings has improved. There is, however, still a place for these binding systems as their ease of use, reliability, safety performance and value for money can make them a good choice for many people.
Though they are heavier than pin tech bindings, they are easier to step into, the safety releases start lower and are very dependable, with lateral toe and vertical heel release the norm. Many have been around for some years too, so most reliability issues have been worked out.
Frame bindings are still a good choice for people wanting safe, reliable and easy to use bindings to do all their lift served skiing on and for some shorter tours.
Touring Boot Compatible Alpine Bindings.
The final family of bindings we’ll look at in this article aren’t touring bindings at all, but they are of interest to the anyone who uses Backcountry Ski Boots.
There has been an increase in the number of Alpine bindings on the market which claim to be compatible with ‘Ski Touring’ Boots. This can give people like me, who do all their skiing in their super comfy and hard skiing touring or freeride boots, an Alpine binding option for a full weight Freeride or an All mountain Ski, what’s not to like?!
Whilst this can be a great option for the quiver of skis, there are a few points that are worth noting before you buy.
These bindings should differ from ‘normal’ downhill bindings in 2 ways, they will have a system for adjusting the depth of the toe height, and they should have a moving AFD (Anti Friction Device) which is designed to reduce the friction against the binding caused by the rubber boot sole.
Some of the bindings which claim to be compatible with touring boots are in fact not compatible with all ‘proper’ ski touring boots with fixed rubber, rockered soles. Bindings such as Markers ID bindings (Jester, Griffon and Squire ID) don’t have sufficient toe height adjustment to safely accommodate many of the popular touring boots, though they work well with WTR (Walk To Ride) and Grip Walk soles and some freeride boot soles. Bindings like the Look Dual bindings (SPX12 and Pivot) are designed to take WTR sole units too but will not work safely with some full rubber boot soles.
There are Bindings in this area which we have found do work with almost all touring boots with ISO9523. The Salomon/Atomic Warden 13 MNC for example is great for this.
This area of the market is a bit confusing at present so best speak to someone that knows before jumping in and buying that ‘touring boot compatible’ Alpine Binding.
Salomon Warden 13 MNC
Marker Griffon 13 ID
Hopefully this article is of help, please get in touch if you have any questions!