Backcountry Bindings: Where to Begin?
With all of the different backcountry bindings and new technology on the market, it can be difficult to know what to buy when you are building a backcountry setup. That’s where we come in.
There are a couple of important questions to begin with. This helps us pin down what type of binding best suits your needs.
How will you use this setup?
This is the first question we like to ask everyone who walks in looking for new backcountry gear. Is this going to be a dedicated backcountry setup or a one ski quiver for in bounds and out of bounds skiing? If it’s a dedicated backcountry setup, we recommend focusing on tech bindings. For a one ski quiver, you should consider a hybrid binding.
Eighty percent of our customers fall into the all mountain touring category where a fully featured tech binding is a great choice. These bindings have adjustable release settings, brakes, and multiple heel risers while remaining lightweight. The outlying 20% who are using their set up for racing and fitness, big mountain freeride, or as a one ski quiver, for instance, will need a more specific binding. Race and fitness will move into the ultralight binding category, sacrificing release values, brakes, and heel risers for a streamlined, uphill oriented binding. Freeride and one ski quiver bindings are often heavier but offer better power transfer, toe release, and an alpine style heel.
What kind of skiing do you do?
What kind of skier are you? Don’t know? Take a look at this guide.
If you are hucking cliffs, spending time in no fall zones, and skiing fast and aggressive lines, you’re going to need a different binding than someone heading out for relatively mellow tours. The majority of skiers we see are just fine in an all mountain tech binding such as the G3 Ion or Dynafit Rotation, but a handful need a more powerful freeride oriented binding like the Salomon/Atomic Shift or Fritschi Tecton to drive a bigger ski and accommodate more aggressive skiing.
What are tech bindings and who are they for?
Tech bindings have two pins in the toe and heel pieces that attach to fittings in your boot. They are the lightest category of backcountry bindings and the weight savings from these over say a frame binding is huge. These bindings are ideal for skiers who plan to use this setup 80-100% of the time in the backcountry.
If you’re looking to build a set up for skimo racing or fitness, an ultralight binding such as the Black Diamond Helio is the way to go. These bindings are designed for the uphill and have minimal features. For the uber weight conscious, choose the Helio 110 which weighs in at just 110 g! If you want more features, it comes at a slight weight penalty. The Black Diamond Helio 200 is a great choice for most users. It comes with DIN settings from 5-10 and only weighs 200 g. Another ultralight fitness binding to consider is the Salomon Mtn Pure. At 297 g, it packs a powerful punch. You’ll get three release settings and a leash or brakes, depending on your preference. There are 6 different brake sizes available, making it widely compatible with a variety of skis.
Weight savings is the main advantage of choosing a tech binding. If you are counting grams and want to go as light as possible without entering into skimo territory, choose a brakeless binding like the Dynafit Speed Radical (680 g / pair) or the brake optional G3 Zed (690 g / pair). Both of these bindings come with leashes so you don’t have to worry about losing your skis when you step out.
A brake can give you confidence when stepping into your binding, especially on steep terrain. It’s also good insurance that your ski won’t go sliding down the mountain on a windy day… If you want a binding that has a brake, the G3 Ion or Dynafit Rotation (both available in a 10 or 12 DIN) are great choices for most backcountry skiers. They are lightweight at 1170 g / pair and 1198 g / pair respectively and easy to use. Those looking to go even lighter should consider the Salomon Mtn Pure which weighs in at 297 g and bridges the gap between skimo and everyday bindings.
If you’ve had a previous injury or if binding release is your priority, you’ll want to stick with a binding that is DIN/ISO/TUV certified. These bindings have the highest level of safety certification the industry has to offer. Our favorite tech binding in this category would be the Black Diamond Fritcshi Vipec Evo which is unique in that it has a DIN adjustment in the toe AND heel. This adds a margin of safety and provides a more reliable release.
What are hybrid bindings and who are they for?
In the past few years, we have seen the rise of hybrid tech/alpine bindings. These bindings offer more power and performance than traditional tech bindings and are a great choice for skiers who will be spending part of their time in the backcountry and part at a resort. If you are looking for a one ski quiver, consider the Fritschi Tecton or Salomon Shift.
The Fritschi Tecton has a tech toe and alpine style heel. The advantage of this binding is power transfer. Instead of being connected to your binding via two small pins, an alpine style heel gives you full contact with your ski boot and maximizes energy transfer from your boot, through your binding, to your ski. So if you want to drive a bigger ski in the backcountry, or want the confidence of a backcountry binding that skis similar to your alpine bindings, the Fritschi Tecton might be the binding for you.
The Salomon S/LAB Shift is in a league of its own. This hybrid binding makes no sacrifices when it comes to downhill performance. It’s essentially an alpine binding that can transform into a tech toe for the uphill. While this binding is revolutionary new technology, there are a few disadvantages that you should be aware of. At 1700 g / pair, it’s heavy compared to tech bindings and it’s not compatible with some backcountry boots. So, who is the Shift for? It’s for skiers who don’t want to sacrifice any downhill performance, who want to ski fast and aggressively in the backcountry and are okay with sacrificing some weight savings along the way.
Alpine Touring Binding Buying Guide
Best Fitness/Skimo Bindings
#2 – Black Diamond Helio 110
#3 – Salomon Mtn Pure
Best All Mountain Tech Bindings
Best Hybrid Bindings
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Building a backcountry ski setup? Check out our gear guides below!
Former park ranger turned writer/marketer. Always down for a sufferfest, as long as it ends with ice cream. Favorite activities include backcountry skiing, trail running, and backpacking.