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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
Atomic Backland Tour
Photo: Amazon
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $550 List | $549.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Light, solid, adjustable, three heel lifts, good brakes
Cons:  No certification, limited release adjustment
Manufacturer:   Atomic
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 21, 2021
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 14
  • 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. We have tested two generations over almost five years now. 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 most backcountry skiers, these other products offer solutions without problems at a weight and reliability and ease of use cost that isn't worth it. The 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.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Atomic Backland Tour
Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award   Top Pick Award 
Price $549.99 at AmazonCheck Price at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$445 List$429 List$599.95 at Backcountry
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Pros Light, solid, adjustable, three heel lifts, good brakesLight, innovative downhill performanceLight, simpleSolid, reliable ski bindings, excellent toe piece entry and easy heel lifter transitionsCertified release, adjustable release, elastic boot retention, removable toe piece for uphill
Cons No certification, limited release adjustmentUnsophisticated heel lifters, untested aftermarket brakeLimited release functionality, no brakes, only one heel elevationNo ski brake option, heavier than bindings with the same or more featuresHeavy, complicated transitions, lots of moving parts
Bottom Line This minimalist binding has exactly what most of you should want, and nothing you don’t needThese are excellent all around functioning bindings made for human powered skiingSuperlight bindings for light to medium duty backcountry skiing; choose these for simplicity and their all-metal constructionThese Canadian bindings use a now-proven overall design and include the latest of the greatest usability benefits; we only wish they were lighterA downhill optimized binding with all the resort attributes you need and rudimentary touring ability
Rating Categories Atomic Backland Tour Marker Alpinist 12 Plum R170 G3 Ion LT 12 Marker Duke PT 12
Touring Performance (30%)
8.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
4.0
Downhill Performance (25%)
6.0
7.0
3.0
5.0
9.0
Weight (25%)
7.0
8.0
9.0
5.0
2.0
Ease Of Use (15%)
8.0
7.0
10.0
9.0
6.0
Durability (5%)
9.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Specs Atomic Backland Tour Marker Alpinist 12 Plum R170 G3 Ion LT 12 Marker Duke PT 12
Weight (pounds for pair) 1.26 lbs 1.18 lbs 0.88 lbs 2.13 lbs 5.38 lbs
Weight of one binding, grams 286g 268g 199g 483g 1219g
Release value range "Men", "Women", "Expert" 6 to 12 8 Fixed 5 to 12 4 to 12
Stack height (mm. average of toe and heel pin height) 37mm 36mm 34mm 46mm 42mm
Toe/heel delta (mm difference in height between heel pins and toe pins) 10mm 3mm 4mm 12.5mm 14mm
Brake options 80, 90, 100, 110, 120mm 90, 105, 115mm No brakes No brakes 100, 125mm
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. Best with Plum brand. "Standard" Dynafit/B&D style ski crampons can be lightly filed to work. With aftermarket part. Only G3 brand. Yes. Marker Duke PT specific.

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Backland Tour from Atomic, in its tested configuration (with optional brakes), is nearly 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, three heel 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


This is not a normal backcountry ski situation. Nor is it what you...
This is not a normal backcountry ski situation. Nor is it what you might envision as a "normal" ski binding. The Atomic Backland Tour, though, is just right for pretty much all you might encounter in the wild.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Touring Performance


Touring performance of AT ski bindings is a function of just a couple things. 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.

The latest version of the Atomic Backland Tour. We've now tested two...
The latest version of the Atomic Backland Tour. We've now tested two subtly different versions over almost 5 years and like all the iterations.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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 (or even simpler and lighter than) 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. No matter what gear you are on, a high-speed crash in the backcountry is a grave matter.

Another consideration in downhill performance is two binding geometrical measures. First is the stack height. All reviewers and manufacturers measure these numbers at least slightly differently. Our protocol allows us to compare all options directly. In our measurements, the Atomic "stack height" is 37mm. The range of stack heights in our test goes from 30-48mm. The Atomic height is relatively low, and this is a good thing. Next, let us look at toe heel delta. The Atomic Backland has a relatively average delta. This is a good thing. We measured it at 10mm. The test roster includes bindings with toe heel delta between 3 and 17mm, and the average is 9.6mm.


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. 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; at and beyond 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. If you ski hard enough to truly require more downhill performance than the Backland Tour and its colleagues, you also should have a rescue helicopter standing by.

Atomic Backland Tour is a full-function, lightweight binding that we...
Atomic Backland Tour is a full-function, lightweight binding that we have proven with nearly a million vertical feet of human-powered testing.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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.

We put the latest tester Backland Tour bindings on a pair of huge...
We put the latest tester Backland Tour bindings on a pair of huge powder skis. This was a good idea. Powder skiing is the best.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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 years of testing, the brakes stow and deploy predictably and handily. We can't say that about many tech binding brake configurations.


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

One tester, in limited situations, observed that the Backland Tour...
One tester, in limited situations, observed that the Backland Tour binding brake would deploy unexpectedly and against wishes in certain touring situations. This is not a widespread issue that we've found.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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 up 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.

The top scoring Atomic Backland Tour binding in action on a solo...
The top scoring Atomic Backland Tour binding in action on a solo sunrise endeavor way out there.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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.

The heel lifter of the Atomic Backland Tour binding is simple and...
The heel lifter of the Atomic Backland Tour binding is simple and easy.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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 TLT Speed is a close competitor and a better value.

Conclusion


The Atomic Backland Tour shakes up the market with its throwback design, executed really well.  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 well 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.

Jediah Porter