Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout

Touring bindings are a hot topic right now. There is a lot of development going on and new technology coming out every year. Bindings like the Salomon / Atomic Shift, Fritschi Tecton, and Marker Kingpin have gotten a lot of worthy attention for bringing elements of alpine binding performance to the touring world.

But those bindings are on the heavier end of the touring binding spectrum, and they offer a level of downhill performance that many ski tourers and ski mountaineers simply don’t need (unless you are skiing fast and hard, jumping off cliffs, straight-lining chutes, etc.).

When it comes to surfing around in hippie pow on a storm day or touring for miles to reach high peaks, things like elasticity, maximum toe / heel release values, or having an alpine-style heel may become lower priorities.

For those backcountry skiers who aren’t as concerned with skiing super hard on the way down, weight, simplicity, and reliability are the features that make a binding stand out. A lighter weight allows you to climb higher, with fresher legs for the down; simple design is critical for things like transitioning to ski mode on a 50° slope; and there is nothing worse than an equipment malfunction deep in the backcountry.

So we’ve rounded up 4 of the most interesting lightweight touring bindings that will be on the market for the 18/19 season, mounted them on four pairs of the same ski (one of our favorite lightweight touring skis, the Salomon MTN Explore 95), and have been testing them head-to-head this spring.

How We Chose the Bindings

There are a staggering number of touring bindings on the market right now. Narrowing down which to choose for this test was not easy.

The main idea behind the test is that the bindings should be light enough to make a difference in your day (let you climb an extra peak, move fast enough so you can sleep in a bit longer on warm spring days, etc.) without taking too much from the enjoyment of the descent.

While most of the “freeride” touring bindings come in at well over 600 grams, the bindings in this test all weigh under 400 grams, with some coming closer to 300 grams. That can shave off over a pound per foot when compared to the Kingpin or Shift. That’s a big difference.

Here is some other miscellaneous criteria for the bindings included in the test:

(1) Robust feature sets

There are tons of ultralight bindings out there with fixed heel tracks, odd ramp angles, non-adjustable release values, and limited climbing riser options. All of the bindings in our test have adjustable heel tracks, adjustable release values (some have both vertical and lateral release values at the heel), a flat climbing option along with at least two other riser options, and ski crampon slots. All of the bindings in this test also have the option of using brakes or leashes.

(2) Wide mounting patterns

There’s no use in getting a binding that allows you to go further into the mountains if you’re going to tear it out of your skis on the way down. Narrow hole patterns put more stress on the skis and bindings, and aren’t as well suited to skiing hard, especially on fatter skis. Sure, you can save some weight by switching to a 3-hole pattern on the heel, but for this test, we focused on bindings with wider, 4-hole mount patterns that are better suited to handle wider skis.

Below are the five bindings we’re including in this test.

We’ve now dropped reviews of each individual binding, and on the next page you can check out some in-depth comparisons to differentiate the five.

NEXT: The Comparisons

27 comments on “Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout”

  1. Really and truly who notices mounting pattern width? I went “back in time” in terms of pattern width, to the Plum RACE binding. I have run them on a range of skis from 100mm to 70mm and have toured both haute routes, the WAPTA with them. At 150 grams a binding I’m never going wider if it isn’t lighter…

    • Hey Apingaut, hole pattern width is more noticeable in terms of reliability and durability. The narrower the hole pattern, the more stress is put on the binding (and ski) — an effect that is multiplied by going to wider and wider skis. For things like mountain traverses and skimo races, narrow mount patterns tend to be fine because weight is at a significant premium, but for things like steep skiing and free touring, a wider hole pattern can increase the longevity and reliability of the binding.

      • Hi Sam. I have seen no real data to support your reliability or durability claim. The popular theory of “as we go with wider skis we need a wider binding” best I can tell it is all marketing with zero supporting data.

        In my experience I have never seen a tour binding rip out that wasn’t already compromised, ALA you can’t fix a bad installation with a wider binding hole pattern. In comparison a tele binding has less screws, a narrower hole pattern, and while tele has a low reliability rap; bindings ripping out isn’t very high on the list.

        • Hey millerb, you’re right that data on binding failure is tough to come by from the consumer side. I would recommend listening to the GEAR:30 podcast that we did with the binding engineers at G3, as we talked a bit about binding failure modes.

          When a ski is on edge, or otherwise experiences a force near the edge, a moment force (aka torque) is transferred to the binding. This size of this force is defined by: T = F x L (where T is the moment force, F is the applied force and L is the length of the lever arm)*.

          In the case of a ski being stressed, the force is the strength of the impact and the length of the lever arm is the distance between where the force is applied (usually the edge of the ski) and where the binding is fixed. The moment force experienced by the binding is calculated by multiplying those values together.

          Since the impact force is outside of our control, the only way to limit the moment force (torque) experienced by a binding is to decrease the length of the lever arm (L). There are two ways primary ways to decrease the lever arm length: make the ski narrower and make the binding hole mount pattern wider.

          Tele bindings don’t rip out as often because tele setups have an additional degree of freedom (the same reason why every tele skier hasn’t blown all of their knee ligaments). More degrees of freedom mean the system has more ways to accommodate or react to applied loads.

          In our conversation with the binding engineers at G3, they talk about how the majority of the binding failures they see are fatigue failures. These failures are caused by repeated loading that doesn’t necessarily cause plastic deformation (bending), but rather slowly wears down the binding components through any number of material failure mechanisms. The narrower hole patterns experience higher forces which accelerate this fatigue failure process.

          That’s quite a long answer to your question but I hope that all makes sense. Binding design is a complicated thing, it is not an easy time to be a consumer when it comes to tech bindings!

          Thanks for your comments,

          *I simplified the physics a bit to make it more clear, but the concepts all still apply

          • I appreciate the physics behind that and understand the durability argument from wear and time. You say the only way to limit the moment force is by having a narrow ski and/or wider mount pattern. Wouldn’t a softer snow pack, say powder, also limit this force versus say hard pack or heavy, chopped crud?

            I guess I’m alluding to whether or not a wider mount pattern is necessary for a powder specific ski (if your aim is to reduce moment force) since a softer snow would presumably have a lower moment force, no?

            • Hey Mitch! Your logic is quite sound. The only thing I would think about is that many binding failures are the result of impacts — rocks are just as hard under a foot of snow as they are under an inch of snow. An impact in powder vs hardpack should produce similar (though probably not identical) forces.

              • Hey Sam,

                All of the description of the mechanics aside, your statement about tele bindings is pretty much the opposite of what happens, I think. You still have to produce the same moment to get and maintain a ski on its edge, but you only have half a binding to do it with. It’s why it’s so hard to get light and reliable tele bindings. Most of them are much heavier than AT bindings and even the newer light ones like the Meidjo have to have more screws than are necessary for an AT binding to help with that. Oh, and that doesn’t even get to the weight of tele boots vs AT boots, but that’s a story for another day. :)

          • This is a little late. I agree with you about wider mounting patterns being more durable in AT mounts, Im not sure why people are so confused about this (granted it may not be an issue very often).
            I have to disagree about tele bindings ripping out less though (ask any tech at a tele shop whether AT or Tele experiences more binding pullouts/ delams). The traditional 4 hole tele mount pattern has gone extinct now that people are skiing wider skis and more powerful bindings. Tele bindings are notorious for pulling out of skis, hence all modern 75mm and NTN bindings having a wider mounting pattern and at least 6 holes in the toe. Tele bindings are subject to the force of a ski boot acting as a lever on the back screws every turn resulting in much more “fatigue”.

  2. You need the heel raisers for the ATK bindings to properly test them against other bindings that has a heel plate.

    Why not the ATK Haute Route?

    • Hey Gustav, are you referring to the freeride heel spacer? On each of the bindings in this test, the heel of the boot “floats” over the binding/ski (except with the Alpinist where the brake presses into the boot). The Raider 2.0 also comes in at a more comparable weight to the other bindings in this test.

      • Yep. You need contact under your heel on a 100mm ski in my opinion. For a ski waist of 85mm or less it’s fine to float in the air

    • At ~515 g, the Vipec EVO is far heavier than the bindings in this test. We already put the Vipec head to head with the Kingpin, Radical 2.0, and ION 12 in our Alpine Touring Binding Shootout a few years ago.

  3. Reliability of release and retention, when appropriate, is, of course, very important characteristic of a binding for many skiers. Currently that information is mostly missing from the shootout, but in the long term it would be a very valuable addition.

    Currently, there’s a mention of occasional pre-release with the Dynafit TLT Speed, and lack of similar incidents with others.

    Naturally, it takes time to properly accumulate the data.

  4. Great comparison of various new lightweight touring bindings. I think it’s interesting that with all the new models in this category over the last several years there are still some older designs that stack up really well. For example, the Dynafit Speed Turn (now the 2.0). Independently adjustable forward and lateral release, adjustable track, flat on ski mode, etc. for only around 380 grams a pair. And available for $350. With so many “new” bindings sporting old tech (u springs/fixed release), a higher price tag and not much of a drop in weight, are we really seeing progress or just new models to keep customers buying?

    • There are definitely some bindings in the group that employ some cool new tech, but that’s not to say that the Speed Turn 2’s aren’t a fine binding for a lot of folks. Plus, that price…

  5. What makes these bindings ski harsher than any of the lighter weight options in the standard “Alpine Touring Binding Shootout”? How much DH performance do you gain when going to an Ion/Radical/Vipec?

  6. I have the Salomon mtn and the g3 ion 12 and i can’t tell any difference in how they ski.

    The Salomon is much harder to get in (expert spring), but it inspires more confidence in the down because the toes have a much stronger spring.

    And it’s a LOT simpler.

  7. What design aspects do you think contributes to you Alpinist feeling smoother and having better power transfer than the Zed per your anlaysis? The design and construction between them, and nearly all of them seem exactly the same. Are we splitting hairs here?

    Seems like the elastic travel would have something to do with it, but the Zed has 10mm while the Alpinist only has 4mm.

  8. Hi Jonathan. The short answer is yes, we are definitely splitting hairs here. As we mentioned in the piece, I strongly doubt that we would have been able to feel any of these performance differences without A/B/C/D/E’ing them directly against each other. And even so, it felt like we were splitting hairs when writing this piece. Binding performance is just a hard thing to tease out. The Alpinist / ZED question isn’t one with a clear answer. In your purchasing decisions, I would focus much more on features that you want and ease of use rather than downhill performance (unless you strongly value durability, then go Core/Raider). Sorry I couldn’t be more help!

    • We haven’t been able to us it yet, but we’ve been told by Plum that they’ll be sending that and the Summit 12 for reviews this season, so we’re looking forward to trying them.

      • I have had the opportunity to try out the Plum Pika.
        I’m I the only one that has noticed that when skinning with a locked toe, the front of the boot will push the toe-lever into ski mode if the boot is pivoted forward far enough?
        This occur when skinning upwards, typically when stretching out the leg before swinging the outside ski around, thus pivoting the boot forward. This immediately result in pre-release, a rather annoying thing to have happen on most every turn on the up, potentially dangerous when skinning in treacherous terrain.
        I used the Dynafit Vulkan boot on this occasion, and upon my return I tried every other boot at hand in the binding; TLT6, Atomic Backland, Dynafit neu and Scarpa Maestrale – same thing, when pivoted forward they all push the toe-lock of the binding forward and into ski mode!

        I have skied several Dynafit bindings, ATK’s and even the Plum Guide in my time, none of which have had this issue when in normal use. When bench-testing these boots across the different bindings, the Dynafit bindings where the only binding to «give away» one single click when fully locked out, and this happened only with the Dynafit Vulkan’s on an extreme forward pivot.
        Am I missing something here or is this a major design-flaw on Plum’s part?

        • @Hellsegg did you have any further experience with the Pika since writing this? I was considering getting a pair because I like the design – specifically being able turn the heel 90 degrees either way to get a choice of flat or riser mode that is easy to manipulate with the pole basket. I don’t mind the single riser. But what you say here has me feeling cautious, as, if I understood you correctly you can kick the binding out of tour mode when uphilling – if that’s right I agree this would be unacceptable.

  9. I love this article and often reference it and share with friends. Chiming in with my $0.02. The G3 Zed is really quite a handsome package, and wanted to add a voice of support there. I really can’t believe that they built such a solid binding at 350g. Emphasizing also how much the ease of use matters here. I was out on a tour in the Whistler Backcountry with no fewer than 6 transitions (meaning 6 ups and 6 downs) over the course of the day. Having a simple, easy binding was a real treat and got me through those transitions with remarkable ease. Great binding.

  10. Where would you slot in the new ’21 ATK Rader 12 into these rankings? Does it pretty much mirror the ATK Raider 2.0? Or does it provide any more power/smoothness?

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