2020-2021 G3 ZED 12
Release Value Range: 5-12
Available Brake Widths: 85, 100, 115, 130 mm
Available Crampon Widths: 85, 95, 105, 115, 130 mm
Climbing Aids: Flat, 36, 55 mm
Forward Elastic Travel: 10 mm
Mounting Pattern Width: 39 mm (toe); 36 mm (heel)
Heel Mounting Gap: 0 mm
BSL Adjustment: 30 mm
Stated Weight: 345 grams (no leash / brake)
Blister’s measured weight:
- Toe: 124.7 & 124.7 g
- Heel: 239.7 & 239.2 g (without brakes, with stomp pad)
- Leashes: 18.0 & 18.3 g
- Brakes (100 mm): 87.5 & 87.4 g
- Screws: 12.4 & 12.4 g
- Total: 375.0 & 376.5 g (with leashes and stomp pad)
MSRP: $499 USD
Ski Used: Salomon MTN Explore 95
Test Locations: Front Range, CO
Days Tested (so far): 3
[Note: Our review was conducted on the 18/19 ZED 12, which was not changed for 19/20 or 20/21.]
G3 has been quietly amassing a devoted following over the years. They have a reputation for making simple and durable backcountry gear that emphasizes functionality more than gram counting and flashy features. We’ve been fans of several of their skins and their ION 12 binding. And, personally, I love the SENDr 112.
So when we got word of a new binding from G3 that had a very similar feature set to the ION at reportedly half the weight, we were very intrigued. To get more info on the new ZED binding, we had a very interesting conversation with some of G3’s engineers, which you can check out here.
The ZED binding has certainly been getting a lot of hype since its announcement, and for good reason — on paper, it looks amazing. But when you actually get out and tour on it, how does the ZED compare to the other bindings in our Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout?
The ZED shares a striking resemblance to the ION. Which, because the ION is quite good, is something we are very happy about. But the ZED has a few notable design features that set it apart from the ION and the other bindings in our Shootout, so let’s dive in.
When talking about the design of the ZED, I’m going to be using the word “simple” a lot. And for a touring binding, we think that is a very good thing.
The ZED’s toe piece uses the same general design and geometry as the ION toe piece, with the primary difference being that the weight has been cut drastically (check out our podcast with G3’s binding designers for more on how they accomplished this). Metal has been shaved off throughout so that the toe sits closer to the ski and weighs much less than the ION toe (189 g for the ION toe vs 125 g for the ZED toe). The ZED’s toe bumper has also been made smaller and lighter.
Otherwise, the toe geometry (one of the big reasons we love the ION) and the general functionality on the ZED are the same as the ION. It’s a simple and easy-to-use design.
Functionally, the ZED toe is very easy to step into (easier than the Marker Alpinist, Dynafit TLT Speed, and Salomon / Atomic MTN / Backland Tour), and is one of the most confidence inspiring on the downhill. In theory, G3’s higher pivot point on the toe contributes to higher holding force in the toe pins, and the toe design also makes it easy to clear it of ice buildup.
For those familiar with tech bindings, the ZED’s toe will offer no surprises. Ski / climb mode is still determined by a lever in front of the toe — pull up the lever to lock out the toe for climbing and push it down to allow release on the descent.
Similar to the ION and ATK / Hagan Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12, the ZED doesn’t use a U-spring heel. Instead, the heel pins on the ZED are independent and rotate during step-in and release. This design is used to help limit wear on the heel inserts of your boots and provide a more consistent release in the event of a fall.
For more on the potential safety issues with U-spring bindings, check out our podcast with some of G3’s engineers where they discuss this topic around the 41:00 mark.
Unlike the ION, the ZED uses a single screw to adjust both the vertical and lateral release values of the heel (again, it’s simple). This, along with making the heel tower sit a bit closer to the ski, significantly cut the heel-piece weight between the ZED and ION (438 g for the ION with brakes and roughly 325 grams for the ZED with brakes).
Functionally, the ZED and ION heel pieces essentially operate identically. For climbing mode, you turn the heel tower 90 degrees in either direction to allow your ski boot to pivot while skinning. For the downhill, you turn the heel tower back to the forward position, allowing you to step into the heel pins and ski. This is a time-tested and easy-to-use design that’s used on many touring bindings. And unlike the other bindings in our test, the ZED’s heel piece is pretty easy to turn with your ski pole.
Another thing that I really love about the ZED is its heel risers. They are so simple and easy to use. I can easily actuate them with my pole basket and they offer the exact climbing heights I need (including a flat option). I think the risers on the ZED are a bit easier to use than both the MTN / Backland Tour and the Raider / Core (and those bindings’ risers are already quite good). The MTN / Backland Tour’s high riser is a bit higher overall and the Raider / Core has more options for fine-tuning, but for me, the ZED’s risers are just about perfect.
The ZED’s heel piece can be mounted with brakes (sold separately), or with a stomp pad to save weight and money. We haven’t yet gotten on a ZED mounted with brakes, but we will be soon, and will update this review once we’ve used the brakes.
Uphill Performance / Transitions
To avoid the risk of beating a dead horse, I’m going to use a different word than “simple” to describe the touring experience on the ZED … let’s go with “efficient.”
And again, those who are familiar with tech bindings will find no surprises here. The ZED works exactly like most other tech bindings.
It is the heaviest binding of those in our Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout, but the ZED still feels quite light on the uphill. And when we say the ZED is the heaviest, we’re only talking about a few dozen grams more than the other bindings in our test.
One of the nice things about the little bit of extra weight on the ZED is the way it affects the balance of the ski on kick turns. All of the other bindings in our Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout have heels that are so light that they require a touch more effort to kick turn — since there is less weight on the back of the ski, the tails don’t drop without a proper “kick” of the ski. The ZED is balanced noticeably better and, as a result, kick turns are a bit more intuitive as the ski’s tails tend to drop a bit easier.
We’ve made this caveat in all of the downhill performance sections for the bindings in this test. Two things really stood out to us while testing these bindings:
First, the downhill performance of each binding is surprisingly similar. If we weren’t skiing them back-to-back, I doubt we would be able to discern many differences in performance.
Second (and perhaps even more surprising), is how hard we were able to ski on these bindings without pre-releasing or breaking anything — including ourselves.
Much of our downhill-performance testing was done inbounds on firm or soft, chopped-up snow and at very high speeds. All of the bindings in the test performed surprisingly well (though the real standout in our Shootout was easily the ski — the Salomon MTN Explore 95 that we had all the bindings mounted on is just soooo good).
That being said, we were able to conclude a few things about the ZED’s downhill performance. It is worth noting that we tested the binding without brakes and with the included stomp pad installed.
Overall, the ZED feels quite competent on the downhill. I skied it hard on firm conditions (both groomers and bumps) and didn’t have any prerelease issues or other inconsistencies. The binding transfers power well but does retain much of the harsh ride qualities of traditional tech bindings. Both the Dynafit TLT Speed and Marker Alpinist offer a slightly less harsh ride.
While it performs well on the downhill, the ZED doesn’t inspire quite as much confidence as the Raider / Core. When pushing hard on steep and firm groomers on the ZED, I would occasionally skitter out of a turn. While skiing equally hard on the Raider / Core on the same run, I did not have issues with the ski chattering out of a turn. The Raider / Core seems to transfer power a bit better the ZED, which I think could be the cause of this.
So when it comes to a solid and confidence-inspiring build quality, the Raider / Core still stands at the top of the bindings we tested — it just feels so solid. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be very comfortable skiing the ZED hard in consequential terrain, it’s just that I would prefer to be skiing the Raider / Core, if given the option. Again, since all of the bindings feel so similar on the downhill, it’s slightly subjective aspects like the Raider / Core’s nearly all-metal construction that help it to stand out.
One of the more surprising ride qualities that we didn’t expect to crop up in our head-to-head binding test was a noticeable difference in the energy the ski transmitted when mounted with the different bindings. But the ZED definitely produces the liveliest ride of the bunch. The MTN Explore 95 seemed to have a bit more pop on the release of a turn mounted with the ZED compared to any of the other bindings in the test. If we hadn’t been testing these bindings back to back on the same ski, we probably wouldn’t have noticed this. It’s just a curious observation we noted during the test.
All in all, the ZED performs well on the downhill, given its low weight. It doesn’t have best-in-class power transfer and it has the fairly harsh feel that most lightweight pin bindings possess. But for backcountry skiing on a variety of snow conditions, we think most people would be happy with its downhill performance. In the class of lightweight tech bindings, the ZED skis quite well.
Safety / Release
Since the ZED and Raider / Core are the only bindings in our test that don’t use U-spring heel designs, I’m going to reiterate here what I wrote about the Raider / Core:
We have yet to experience a pre-release on the ZED or Raider / Core and, because of their non-U-spring heels and adjustable vertical and lateral release values, the ZED and Raider / Core have the most safety-oriented features of the bindings in our test. Without getting each binding on a testing rig and running side-by-side experiments, it’s difficult to say for certain which binding is objectively safer. But if I had to pick a binding that I would trust to hold in my boot when needed and to release when it should, the ZED and Raider / Core would be my top picks.
We haven’t had any preliminary durability issues with ZED after our initial testing, but we will be sure to update this section if any durability concerns crop up in our testing throughout the season. We will be using this binding a whole lot more, so stay tuned of updates.
Who’s It For?
The ZED is the most user-friendly and fully featured binding in our test. If safety-oriented features, simplicity, and ease of use are more important to you than counting every gram, the ZED is easy to recommend.
If you’re looking for the burliest and most solid-feeling binding of the group, the Raider / Core is the best option. And those looking for the least-harsh downhill ride are still going to prefer the Alpinist. But for many skiers who are looking for a lightweight touring binding, the ZED is an excellent option.
And if you’re wondering whether you should go with a lightweight binding like the ZED or a more downhill-oriented binding like the Salomon / Atomic SHIFT, check out our writeup in our Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout.
The G3 ZED 12 is an impressively lightweight, fully featured touring binding. It is simple to use, has many safety-oriented features that other bindings in its weight class lack, and it performs quite well on the up and the down. Skiers considering a lightweight touring binding for long days on the skintrack should definitely take a look at the ZED.