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Atomic Backland Tour Review

This minimalist binding has exactly what most of you should want, and nothing you don’t need.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $500 List | $499.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Light, solid, just the right set of features
Cons:  Not ideal for truly hard-charging downhill skiers
Manufacturer:   Atomic
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 22, 2019
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 11
  • Touring Performance - 30% 8
  • Downhill performance - 25% 6
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Ease of Use - 15% 8
  • Durability - 5% 9

Our Verdict

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 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.


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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award    
Price $499.99 at Amazon$448.95 at Backcountry
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Pros Light, solid, just the right set of featuresLight, innovative downhill performanceLight, simple, advanced features for the weight.Solid, reliable ski bindings, excellent toe piece entry and easy heel lifter transitionsDIN Certification, familiar brand and design, enhanced downhill performance
Cons Not ideal for truly hard-charging downhill skiersunsophisticated heel lifters, untested aftermarket brakeCrampon mount and brakes not included, heavier than closest competitionNo ski brake option, heavier than bindings with the same or more featuresHeavy, collect ice, unnecessarily complicated for most
Bottom Line This minimalist binding has exactly what most of you should want, and nothing you don’t need.Excellent bindings for all-around human powered skiing.A solid, simple contender with significantly more features than bindings just a little lighter.These Canadian bindings use a now-proven overall design and include the latest of the greatest usability benefits; we only wish they were lighter.Proven bindings with innovative features.
Rating Categories Atomic Backland Tour Marker Alpinist 12 G3 Zed 12 G3 Ion LT 12 Dynafit ST Rotation 12
Touring Performance (30%)
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
Downhill Performance (25%)
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
5
10
0
8
Weight (25%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
5
10
0
5
Ease Of Use (15%)
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
5
Durability (5%)
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
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6
10
0
8
10
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5
Specs Atomic Backland Tour Marker Alpinist 12 G3 Zed 12 G3 Ion LT 12 Dynafit ST...
Weight (pounds for pair) 1.26 lbs 1.18 lbs 1.6 lbs 2.13 lbs 2.71 lbs
Release value range "Men", "Women", "Expert" 6 to 12 5 to 12 5 to 12 5 to 12
Stack height. (mm. average of toe and heel pin height) 37 36 41 46 46
Toe/Heel Delta. (mm difference in height between heel pins and toe pins) 10 3 4 12.5 15
Brake options 80, 90, 100, 110, 120 90, 105,115 mm 85, 100, 115, 130 mm No brakes 105, 120, 135 mm
ISO/DIN Certified? No No No No Yes
Ski Crampon compatible? Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style. Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D Style With aftermarket part. Only G3 brand. With aftermarket part. Only G3 brand. Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style.

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Backland Tour 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. Many potential features 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.

Performance Comparison


If skiing is good  more skiing is better. If more skiing requires more energy  save that energy by carrying lighter equipment. Bindings are the best place to save weight on your backcountry kit. The Atomic Backland is an ultralight product with all around appeal.
If skiing is good, more skiing is better. If more skiing requires more energy, save that energy by carrying lighter equipment. Bindings are the best place to save weight on your backcountry kit. The Atomic Backland is an ultralight product with all around appeal.

Touring Performance


Touring performance of AT ski bindings is a function of just a couple things. First, we are currently at a historical crossroads of sorts. Recent history holds a far wider range of touring performance than is current. For dedicated ski touring, so-called "frame bindings" are making their last gasps of relevance. As long as something like the Marker Duke is on the market, all tech style bindings (including this, the Backland) will cluster near the top of the scoring charts. We've not eliminated all frame bindings from our review.

The difference in touring performance between frame bindings and tech bindings is so vast that frame bindings are bound for obsolescence. For now, we have to mention the differences, because folks are still using, 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 other tech style bindings, the differences are more subtle. Some other heel lifters are superior to those on the Atomic, mainly because they cover a wider range of options. The lowest level on the Atomic is higher than that on the others, while the highest isn't as high as the others. The only other bindings we tested that are as resistant to icing problems as the ultra simple Backland are the ultralight race style.

Finally, toe piece lock and release must be discussed. Simple bindings like the Backland 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. Some 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.

Downhill Performance


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 inherent risks of 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. This is a good thing.


The full tech style bindings have far more in common, in terms of downhill performance, than they have differences. 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.

The Backland binding in ski mode with our Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS boot.
The Backland binding in ski mode with our Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS boot.

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" (mainly in weight; almost double the weight) to a hybrid tech/alpine binding that you get real advances in downhill performance. These hybrid bindings 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 truly require the downhill performance of a frame binding, you also should have a rescue helicopter standing by.

The backland heel piece  in downhill mode. For uphill mode  the bar labeled "ski" folds rearward to cover and contain the center of the ski brakes  thereby holding the brakes up off the snow.
The backland heel piece, in downhill mode. For uphill mode, the bar labeled "ski" folds rearward to cover and contain the center of the ski brakes, thereby holding the brakes up off the snow.

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 and respective springs. 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 straightforward 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.

In terms of transitions, 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 fantastic. 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.


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, some differences smooth out the process. The Atomic Backland is about average in this regard.

The simple  clean toe piece of the Atomic Backland.
The simple, clean toe piece of the Atomic Backland.

With practice, the Atomic Backland transitions almost as easily as any other in the test.

This is the Backland in tour mode. The greenish lever under the boot heel holds the brakes out of the way as well as preventing the heel pins from engaging. Pretty simple and clever. On the brakeless version of the Backland  one must use the lower lifter for tour mode.
This is the Backland in tour mode. The greenish lever under the boot heel holds the brakes out of the way as well as preventing the heel pins from engaging. Pretty simple and clever. On the brakeless version of the Backland, one must use the lower lifter for tour mode.

Weight


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. The weight of a ski is a performance attribute; all else equal, and to a point, heavier skis ski better. 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 than many. As noted above, the Backland has the right selection of features.


The only lighter bindings in our test do not have ski brakes. Our lead tester doesn't use brakes on his 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 non Editors Choice binding is even close to the Atomic in weight. Remove the brakes from the Backland, and it is much lighter than others with adjustable release and length. Leave the brakes on, and it is much lighter than similarly featured non-award winners. The hybrid alpine/tech bindings are almost twice the weight of the Atomic. Choose the Atomic for its features and enjoy it for its weight. Or vice versa.

Durability


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 bulkier and heavier bindings are, in our experience, more vulnerable to failure than the simple but small components of the Backland Tour.

Ultralight gear like the Backland Tour bindings are made for your typical low-angle backcountry powder skiing. You don't need anything more than this binder!
Ultralight gear like the Backland Tour bindings are made for your typical low-angle backcountry powder skiing. You don't need anything more than this binder!

Value


For what you get, we consider this a good value. It is worth pointing out that the Best Buy is quite a bit less expensive, and only really omits the ski brakes. If ski brakes are not important to you, the Dynafit Speed Turn is a closer competitor and a much better value.

The Scarpa Alien RS boot and the Atomic Backland are a great combination. Light and fast.
The Scarpa Alien RS boot and the Atomic Backland are a great combination. Light and fast.

Conclusion


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, like 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.


Jediah Porter