Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout

Lightweight Touring Binding Comparisons

We’ve now posted our reviews of each of the lightweight touring bindings in our shootout, and you should check out those reviews for detailed information on each bindings’ design features, uphill performance, downhill performance, and our overall impressions. (Each review is linked in the title of each binding below.)

In this section, we’re listing all of the bindings’ specs, then briefly going over what sets apart each binding from the others.

And then at the very end, we’ve listed a few spectrums to illustrate which bindings offer the best power transfer, which feel the least-jarring on the downhill, and which are the easiest to use overall. But first…

Picking the Right Class of Binding:
Lightweight AT Bindings vs. Heavier AT Bindings

We think it’s worth touching on the differences between this class of lightweight touring bindings and heavier, more freeride-oriented bindings like the Salomon / Atomic Shift, Fritschi Tecton, and Marker Kingpin. What do you give up by going lighter? What are the compromises? And which class of bindings should you be considering?

We’ll be going more in-depth on this topic in an upcoming Touring Bindings 101 article, but for now, we just want to help make sure that you are clear on which category of binding is going to make the most sense for you.

The good news is that this is actually fairly straightforward: If you want to ski very hard — high speeds, and / or dropping cliffs, and / or throwing tricks, etc. — then you are better off with one of the heavier freeride touring bindings. They provide far better power transfer, feel much less harsh, offer far more elastic travel (see our Bindings 201 article), have more safety-oriented features, and are overall much better suited to skiing very hard and fast compared to the lighter options in this shootout.

But a lot of people — perhaps most people — aren’t charging hard in the backcountry, and so instead of prioritizing maximum downhill performance, they prioritize lower weight, simplicity, and ease of use. And that’s where these lightweight touring bindings fit in. If you ski more conservatively in the backcountry than you do in the resort, then you probably don’t need a touring binding that gives you the same or similar downhill performance as your alpine bindings. And by compromising a bit on the downhill, you’ll get to pick from options that weigh a lot less, tour better, and are easier to use than their heavier, more downhill-oriented counterparts.

So it really just comes down to what you prioritize in your touring bindings. And with that said, let’s take a look at some of the top options in the lightweight touring binding category:

Marker Alpinist 12

Blister’s Measured Weight:

  • Toe Pieces: 124 & 124 g
  • Heel Pieces: 143 & 144 g*
  • Brake Units (105 mm): 99 & 99 g
  • Screws (toe+heel): 17 & 17 g
  • Total Weight: 383 & 384 g
  • Total Weight (no brakes, no leashes): 284 & 285 g

Release Value Range: 6-12 (adjustable lateral; fixed vertical based on U-spring)
Available Brake Widths: 90, 105, 115 mm
Mounting Pattern Width: 38 mm (toe); 36 mm (heel)
Climbing Risers: flat, 31, 40 mm
Elastic Travel: 4 mm
Heel Mounting Gap: 0 mm
Heel Track Adjustment: 15 mm
Available Brake Widths: 90, 105, 115 mm
Available Crampon Widths: 80, 90, 105, 120 mm
MSRP: $395

*Our pair of Alpinists came with the long demo heel track (30 mm of adjustment vs 15 mm for the standard), which likely weighs a few grams more than the standard heel track.

Blister's Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout
Marker Alpinist 12

If the downhill performance of your lightweight touring binding is your top priority, then the Alpinist 12 should be near the top of your list. The Alpinist has the best power transfer and the least-jarring feel of all the lightweight touring bindings in our test (for more on this, see our full review).

The primary downsides of the Alpinist are that its heel piece can’t easily be turned using a pole tip for transitions, it’s tricky to step into, and its heel risers are the shortest in the test. All of those factors contribute to the Alpinist falling to the bottom of the test when it comes to ease of use.

But if you’re looking for a lightweight touring binding that won’t break the bank and that skis better than all the other options in this class, then the Alpinist makes a lot of sense.

 

Salomon MTN / Atomic Backland Tour

Blister’s Measured Weight:

  • Toe: 119.3 & 118.7 g
  • Heel: 163.6 & 163.9 g
  • Leashes: 25.8 & 25.6 g
  • Screws: 15.3 & 15.5, g
  • Total: 324.5 & 323.2 g
  • Total Weight (no brakes, no leashes): 298.2 & 298.1 g

Release Value Range: “women”, “men”, “expert” (adjusted by changing out U-spring in heel)
Available Brake Widths: 80, 90, 100, 110, 120 mm
Mounting Pattern Width: 40 mm (toe); 28 mm (heel)
Climbing Risers: flat, 42 mm, 58 mm
Elastic Travel: 0 mm
Heel Mounting Gap: 4 mm
Heel Track Adjustment: 30 mm
MSRP: $449

Blister's Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout
Salomon MTN (aka, Atomic Backland Tour)

Keep it simple, stupid. That’s what Salomon and Atomic did with the MTN / Backland Tour binding. Coming in at the top of the test for ease of use, the MTN / Backland is a great choice for people who appreciate simplicity and want an uphill workhorse rather than a downhill charging machine.

The MTN / Backland Tour’s heel risers are really easy to use, its high riser is actually high, and its riser setup allows for quick transitions.

In terms of downhill performance, the MTN / Backland Tour is definitely the most traditional-feeling binding in the test. The MTN / Backland Tour feels pretty harsh on the downhill and transfers a lot of feedback from the snow to the boot. And though it’s not that far off from the TLT Speed, the MTN / Backland Tour also has the poorest power transfer of the bindings in our test.

But while the MTN / Backland Tour fell at the bottom of the downhill performance category, the differences between many of these bindings were quite subtle. So we’d be cautious about basing your decision strictly on the differences we’ve teased out in the downhill characteristics of these bindings. Again, this all comes down to what you prioritize in a touring binding.

For long tours deep in the backcountry and multi-day excursions where reliability and simplicity trump downhill performance and rich feature sets, the MTN / Backland Tour would be one of our top picks, tied with the Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12 and ZED 12.

 

ATK Raider 2.0 12 / Hagan Core

Blister’s Measured Weight:

  • Toe: 117.5 & 117.7 g (without brakes)
  • Heel: 187.3 & 188.5 g
  • Brake: 54.9 & 53.9 g
  • Screws: 15.3 & 15.4 g
  • Total: 375.0 & 376.5 g
  • Total Weight (no brakes, no leashes): 320.1 & 322.6 g

Release Value Range: 5-12 (independently adjustable both vertical and lateral)
Available Brake Widths: 86, 91, 97,102, 108, 120 mm
Mounting Pattern Width: 30 mm (toe); 45 mm (heel)
Climbing Risers: flat, 38, 41, 48, 58 mm
Elastic Travel: ~5 mm
Heel Mounting Gap: 4 mm
Heel Track Adjustment: 30 mm
MSRP: $625

Blister's Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout
Hagan Core 12 (aka, ATK Raider 12 2.0)

The ATK Raider 2.0 12 / Hagan Core 12 is the most expensive binding in the test, the second most feature-rich (to the ZED), and the best all-round performer. It’s one of only two non-U-spring bindings in our group, which means that you can fine-tune both the lateral and vertical release values of the Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12, and it won’t wear out the tech inserts on your boots as quickly as U-spring bindings (more on that in our full review).

The Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12 also has the best heel risers in our shootout — 5 options, and they’re all easy to actuate with a pole basket. The only thing that really keeps the Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12 below the MTN / Backland Tour when it comes to overall ease of use is the Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12’s unusual brake that’s mounted on its toe piece and its difficult-to-turn heel tower. The Radier / Core’s brake takes a bit of practice to get used to, and we doubt it would do a whole lot to stop a runaway ski on a steep slope (the brake is very small and minimal). But of course, you could just ditch the Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12’s brakes and use leashes if that’s what you prefer.

When it comes to downhill power transfer, the Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12 is the second best binding in our shootout, just behind the Alpinist. The Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12 definitely feels harsher than the Alpinist, but its burly metal construction which contributes to that harshness is also responsible for the huge amount of confidence that this binding inspires. It just feels really solid. Out of all the bindings in the test, the Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12 is the one we are least worried about when it comes to potential durability issues.

If you don’t mind its traditional tech-binding harshness and have a little extra cash to fork out, the ATK Raider 2.0 12 / Hagan Core 12 is an excellent all-round binding on both the up and the down.

 

Dynafit TLT Speed

Blister’s Measured Weight:

  • Toe: 123.6 & 124.0 g
  • Heel: 168.0 & 167.8 g
  • Brake: NA
  • Screws: 14.9 & 15.0 g
  • Total Weight (no brakes, no leashes): 306.5 & 306.8 g

Release Value Range: 6-12 (lateral release; vertical release is non-adjustable)
Available Brake Widths: 75, 90, 105 mm
Mounting Pattern Width: 30 mm (toe); 29 mm (heel)
Climbing Risers: 15 mm, 27 mm, 41 mm
Elastic Travel: 0 mm
Heel Mounting Gap: 5.5 mm
Heel Track Adjustment: 10 mm
MSRP: $499

Blister's Lightweight Touring Binding Shootout
Dynafit TLT Speed

The Dynafit TLT Speed falls near the middle of the pack in most of our testing metrics. It doesn’t feel quite as harsh on the downhill as the MTN / Backland Tour or Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12, but the TLT Speed doesn’t transfer power as well as the Raider 2.0 12 / Core 12 and Alpinist.

When it comes to uphill performance, the TLT Speed is one of the easiest bindings in our test to step into. But the TLT lacks a truly flat mode for touring, and its highest riser is not very high, making it less than ideal for long, flat approaches or really steep ones.

Overall, the TLT Speed is fairly easy to use and feels a bit less harsh than some of the other bindings here. So if you stick to moderate skintracks and / or don’t need a truly flat touring option, the TLT Speed is a pretty good all-around option that tours better than the Alpinist while performing a bit better than the MTN / Backland Tour on the downhill.

 

G3 ZED 12

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 (no brakes, no leashes): 357.0 & 358.2 g

Release Value Range: 5-12 (lateral release; vertical release is non-adjustable)
Available Brake Widths: 85, 100, 115, 130 mm
Mounting Pattern Width: 39 mm (toe); 36 mm (heel)
Climbing Risers: flat, 36 mm, 55 mm
Elastic Travel: 10 mm
Heel Mounting Gap: 0 mm
Heel Track Adjustment: 30 mm
MSRP: $499

Sam Shaheen reviews the G3 ZED 12 for Blister
G3 ZED 12

On paper, it would seem like the G3 ZED is the clear winner in the test (even though it doesn’t come in at the lowest weight). It has the most features, a reasonable price tag, and a simple design. And while the ZED is a very good binding, the ZED’s downhill performance and build quality don’t quite stack up to the Raider / Core.

Don’t get us wrong — we are big fans of this binding. When testing it head to head with the Raider / Core, our primary thoughts went more like “holy *$#!, this Raider is solid” rather than anything negative about the ZED. The ZED has a simple design for efficient backcountry travel, it skis quite well, and is far cheaper than the Raider / Core.

The ZED is probably the best in test when it comes to uphill performance and transitions. The Backland Tour / MTN is also quite good, but the ZED’s heel tower is a bit easier to manipulate with bulky gloves.

The Raider / Core is an outlier in this test — the fact that the ZED doesn’t feel as solid and confidence inspiring shouldn’t be interpreted as a knock against the ZED, but rather high praise for the Raider / Core.

All things considered (and there are a lot of things to consider when it comes to touring bindings), we would probably place the ZED second overall in the test — and if price was a consideration, it would be a very tough call between the Raider / Core and the ZED for the top spot. The ZED’s full feature set, ease of use, and simplicity are all excellent, and you get all of that at a pretty reasonable price.

Spectrums

Best Power Transfer
Marker Alpinist 12
ATK Raider 2.0 12 / Hagan Core 12
G3 ZED
Dynafit TLT Speed
Salomon MTN / Atomic Backland Tour
Worst Power Transfer

Least Jarring / Harsh on the Downhill
Marker Alpinist 12
Dynafit TLT Speed
ATK Raider 2.0 12 / Hagan Core 12
G3 ZED
Salomon MTN / Atomic Backland Tour
Most Jarring / Harsh on the Downhill

Easiest to Use
G3 ZED
Salomon MTN / Atomic Backland Tour
ATK Raider 2.0 12 / Hagan Core 12
Dynafit TLT Speed
Marker Alpinist 12
Most Difficult to Use

15 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,
          Sam

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

  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.

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