The Atomic Backland Tour binding represents, to our accomplished test team, the "state of the art." Ironically, there is literally nothing new in the technology employed. This is a simple binding combining proven features with polished execution. Surely, more complex and sophisticated bindings exist, with features and attributes that address specific concerns of narrow profiles of users. However, for the vast majority of backcountry skiers, these other products offer solutions without problems at a weight and reliability and ease of use cost that just isn't worth it. The Atomic Backland is a sweet spot, and handily earns an Editors' Choice award.
Atomic Backland Tour ReviewPrice: $500 List Pros: Light. Solid. Just the right set of features.
Cons: Not suitable for truly hard-charging downhill skiers.
Bottom line: This minimalist binding has exactly what most of you should want, and nothing you don’t need.
Tech or Frame?: Tech
Release value range: "Men", "Women", "Expert"
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Backland Tour Binding from Atomic, in its tested configuration (with optional brakes), is the lightest "full function" touring binding we have found. What we consider "full function" is important to enumerate. Our deep and strong team of expert backcountry skiers has clear values that inform our preferences. We consider a full function touring binding to be one that has adjustable release value, multiple heel lifter levels, adjustment for boot length, and ski brakes. There are many potential features that don't make this list. However, we are confident that our values reflect those that should be important to most ski tourers. Of paramount importance is weight. And weight is lower with fewer features.
Touring performance of AT ski bindings is a function of just a couple things. First, we are currently at a historical crossroads of sorts. Right now there is a far wider range of touring performance than there will be in another year or two. For dedicated ski touring so-called "frame bindings" are making their last gasps of relevance. As long as something like the Top Pick Marker Duke is on the market, all tech style bindings (including this, the Backland) will cluster near the top of the scoring charts. The difference in touring performance between frame bindings and tech bindings is so vast that frame bindings are bound for obsolescence. Our next complete binding update will include just one frame binding, if any. For now, we have to mention the differences, because folks are still using and considering and selling frame bindings.
Within the tech binding sub-category there are some touring performance differences. Mainly, we look at heel risers, propensity for icing, and touring lock mode. Having a few heel riser options is beneficial. The Atomic Backland has three different levels. The simple construction of the Backland binding minimizes icing. Finally, the toe piece must be locked out for touring.
As compared to the frame bindings, the Atomic Backland Tour is vastly superior. There is basically no comparison in touring performance between the Backland and the Fritschi Freeride Pro or Marker Baron.
As compared to the other tech style bindings, the differences are more subtle. The heel lifters of the heavier bindings, like the other Editors' Choice Dynafit Radical ST 2.0 and the Best Buy Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 are superior to those on the Atomic, mainly because they cover a wider range of options (don't let anyone tell you that the heel lifters of the Speed Turn are hard to activate. Use proper technique and the Speed Turn lifters are easier to change than any others.) The lowest level on the Atomic is higher than that on the others, while the highest isn't as high as the others. No other bindings we tested are as resistant to icing problems as the ultra simple Backland.
Finally, toe piece lock and release must be discussed. Simple bindings like the Backland (and the Dynafit bindings we tested) have toe pieces with two distinct modes. The Backland binding has uphill mode, in which the toe piece is completely locked, and downhill mode. With the toe piece of the Backland in downhill mode, but the heel free, the ski would release, but there is not enough retention for normal function. Essentially, you must tour on the Backland binding with no expectation of release. The G3 Ion 12 and Top Pick Fritschi Teton 12, among others, have toe pieces that can be configured secure enough for touring, but with at least some level of release value in that touring mode. These others are better this way than the Backland.
The Atomic Backland bindings employ a downhill boot retention style and standard that is widely proven to be more than adequate for the vast majority of backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. A full tech-style binding like this, especially one as simple and light as the Backland Tour, has its limitations, to be sure. The retention is secure and tight, but has limited release function and limited "elasticity". Without diving into it too much, realize that anything that can be skied has been skied on tech bindings just like the Atomic Backland. The skiing may be slower than on alpine bindings, but the backcountry environment requires this conservatism more than the equipment does. Another consideration in downhill performance is the binding's "ramp angle" or toe-heel delta. The Atomic Backland has relatively little delta. It is less dramatic than that of the other Editors' Choice Dynafit Radical ST 2.0, for instance. This is a good thing.
The full tech style bindings have far more in common, in terms of downhill performance, than they are different. The simple construction and limited release adjustment of the Atomic Backland puts it at the bottom of the heap, but it is still fully functional. It is basically the same as the Speed Turn. The Speed turn has a little more nuanced release adjustment. The other Editors' Choice, the Dynafit Radical ST, has a more sophisticated way of adjusting release value and has therefore earned full "DIN certification".
Regardless of these differences, realize that a full tech style binding is not intended for the burliest and fastest of skiing. It isn't until you "step up" to a hybrid tech/alpine binding, like the Top Pick Fritschi Tecton, that you get real advances in downhill performance. The Tecton, and close competitor Marker KingPin 13, are legitimately better in downhill performance, offering more release modes, greater adjustment of release values, and each offering release elasticity that is more similar to resort alpine gear. The downhill performance of the frame style bindings is yet another step up from that of the hybrid style bindings. The level of performance you get from a frame style binding is unlikely to be of use to any but the most aggressive skiers. If you ski hard enough to require the downhill performance of a Marker Duke EPF binding, you also should have a rescue helicopter standing by.
It is important for us to make a note about Atomic's release value nomenclature. In a move that is simultaneously strange, welcome, and difficult-to-interpret, Atomic equips the Backland with adjustable release values in the form of three interchangeable springs. This isn't the strange part. The weird thing is how they label the different retention values. They call them "Expert". "Men", and "Women". This leads to many questions, and potential jokes. Basically, they could just as easily be called "High", "Medium", and "Low" retention, in that order. You might wonder, "well, what does that translate to in DIN numbers?". You're not wrong to wonder, but the answer shouldn't actually matter to you. Without the actual Din certification (and no lightweight tech bindings have it) any DIN comparison is moot. The release value of all non-DIN bindings requires a process of trial and error, regardless of how the manufacturer labels them. Atomic just happens to be a little less precise, but no less accurate, in their calibration. The labels? That's just weird.
Ease of Use
Simplicity equals ease of use. Once you are accustomed to the function of the Backland Tour binding, it is very easy to use. All the modes function as intended, with no "features" you don't need. Stepping in and out is on par with the other products, changing modes is clean and simple, and adjustments are reasonable and clear.
Stepping in and out of the toe piece of tech bindings requires a learning curve, regardless of how the binding is built. That being said, there are some differences that smooth out the process. The Atomic Backland is about average in this regard. Both Fritschi tech bindings are easier to get into than the Backland. The G3 ION leads the pack, in this regard. The other Editors' Choice Dynafit Radical ST 2.0 is easier to get into initially, but it has a pivoting toe piece that complicates locking the toe and complicates stepping in at the heel. The Best Buy Dynafit Speed Turn is harder to step into.
Weight is king for human powered adventures. Weight matters a great deal to us when it comes to ski bindings. With skis there is a direct relationship between weight and performance. Weight of a ski is a performance attribute. Heavier skis ski better, to a point. Bindings, though, have no such relationship. Aside from the features they can add, heavier bindings offer no advantage to the human powered skier. At OutdoorGearLab we consider very carefully the features that are added to or subtracted from backcountry bindings. For performance, more features are better. For efficiency, fewer features are lighter. We like lightweight, and therefore prefer fewer features. As noted above, the Backland has the right selection of features.
The only lighter binding in our test does not have ski brakes. The Best Buy Dynafit Speed Turn is a design proven over decades now, but it doesn't feature ski brakes. For all-around backcountry ski use, brakes are valuable. Our lead tester doesn't use brakes on his personal skis, but he recognizes their value. The Backland Tour bindings, with the optional brakes, are the exception to his preferences. The brake is light enough and simple enough to change his habits.
When we correct for features, no binding is even close to the Atomic in weight. Remove the brakes from the Backland and it is much lighter than the Speed Turn. Leave the brakes on and it is much lighter than the Radical ST 2.0. The frame bindings are way more than twice the weight of the Backland Tour. Choose the Atomic for its features and enjoy it for its weight.
While the Atomic Backland Tour binding is a new product, its technological foundation is decades old. This style of binding has literally billions of vertical feet of testing behind it. We have not yet tested the Backland to failure, but we are 100% confident that it will stand the test of time and mileage.
Like with ease of use, simplicity is durability. The tiny components of the Backland may appear sub-par, but the fact is that they are more than ready for whatever abuse you may dish out. The many moving parts and extensive use of plastic in the Marker Duke or Fritschi Vipec are, in our experience, more vulnerable to failure than the simple but small components of the Backland Tour.
Again, simplicity reigns. Tens of thousands of accomplished skiers over decades of use on all the continents and mountain ranges prove that this basic form is awesome. The transition from uphill to down or vice versa is about the same as that which a skimo racer does in mere seconds. The only additional step is the activation or stowage of the Backland brakes. So far, in our weeks of testing, the brakes stow and deploy predictably and handily.
With practice, the Atomic Backland transitions almost as easily as any other in the test. The only product that is simpler for transitioning between uphill and downhill modes is the Best Buy Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0. All the other bindings we tested have more complicated transitions than these two products. The G3 Ion 12 comes close, but is still a little tricker than these two.
Atomic markets the Backland as a lightweight ski touring binding. We recommend it as an all-around ski touring binding. This is an important distinction, and represents what we hope will be a sea change in the market, led by consumers and opinion leaders demanding lighter and simpler equipment that is carefully engineered and executed. If you are average to just above average in your ski touring and ski mountaineering pace and style, you will only appreciate the balance of attributes in the Atomic Backland. Only those that could appear in ski movies might wish for greater downhill performance from their ski bindings. For those, your next look should be to the Dynafit Radical ST 2.0. The Radical is definitely a step up from the backland, in terms of downhill performance. A more significant step up in downhill performance, though, comes from the Top Pick Fritschi Tecton 12. The Tecton 12 performs downhill almost as well as an alpine binding, and this is a big deal for .1% of the ski population.
For what you get, we consider this a good value. It is worth pointing out that the Best Buy Dynafit Speed Turn is quite a bit less expensive, and only really omits the ski brakes. If ski brakes are not important to you, the Speed Turn is a closer competitor.
The Atomic Backland Tour shakes up the market with its throwback design, executed really well. Note that the Atomic Backland Tour is exactly the same, aside from color, as the Salomon Mountain binding. Salomon and Atomic, as companies, are intertwined. They brand this same binding design with different model names. All we say about the Atomic can be said about the Salomon Mountain.
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Most recent review: February 14, 2018
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