Marker Alpinist 12 Review
Cons: Unsophisticated heel lifters, untested aftermarket brake
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Marker Alpinist 12
|Price||$450 List||$549.99 at Amazon|
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$193.03 at Backcountry
|$445 List||$350 List|
$349.95 at Backcountry
|Pros||Light, innovative downhill performance||Light, solid, adjustable, three heel lifts, good brakes||Solid, reliable ski bindings, excellent toe piece entry and easy heel lifter transitions||Light, simple||Surprisingly durable for how light they are, killer price, lighter than most|
|Cons||Unsophisticated heel lifters, untested aftermarket brake||No certification, limited release adjustment||No ski brake option, heavier than bindings with the same or more features||Limited release functionality, no brakes, only one heel elevation||No brake option, heel risers are more of a pain to learn|
|Bottom Line||These are excellent all around functioning bindings made for human powered skiing||This minimalist binding has exactly what most of you should want, and nothing you don’t need||These Canadian bindings use a now-proven overall design and include the latest of the greatest usability benefits; we only wish they were lighter||Superlight bindings for light to medium duty backcountry skiing; choose these for simplicity and their all-metal construction||A simple binding design that has been proven over decades now, available for a fraction of the price of others|
|Rating Categories||Marker Alpinist 12||Atomic Backland Tour||G3 Ion LT 12||Plum R170||Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0|
|Touring Performance (30%)|
|Downhill Performance (25%)|
|Ease of Use (15%)|
|Specs||Marker Alpinist 12||Atomic Backland Tour||G3 Ion LT 12||Plum R170||Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0|
|Weight (pounds for pair)||1.18 lbs||1.26 lbs||2.13 lbs||0.88 lbs||1.63 lbs|
|Weight of one binding, grams||268g||286g||483g||199g||370g|
|Release value range||6 to 12||"Men", "Women", "Expert"||5 to 12||8 Fixed||4 to 10|
|Stack height (mm. average of toe and heel pin height)||36mm||37mm||46mm||34mm||38mm|
|Toe/heel delta (mm difference in height between heel pins and toe pins)||3mm||10mm||12.5mm||4mm||17mm|
|Brake options||90, 105, 115mm||80, 90, 100, 110, 120mm||No brakes||No brakes||No brakes|
|Ski Crampon compatible?||Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style.||Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style.||With aftermarket part. Only G3 brand.||With aftermarket part. Best with Plum brand. "Standard" Dynafit/B&D style ski crampons can be lightly filed to work.||Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style.|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Marker calls the Alpinist their "ultralight" binding "for high alpine challenges"; we call it our favorite binding for all-around human-powered skiing. It's tied as our favorite, with the other high scorer, the Atomic Backland Tour. The weight to performance ratio of the Alpinist (and the Atomic) hits what is currently the AT ski binding sweet spot, and these bindings stand up to the most robust downhill backcountry skiing (unless you have a film crew and associated emergency response team; only then might you be skiing hard enough, with enough safety margin, to leverage the advantages of a heavier binding) and virtually disappear on the uphill. The Marker Alpinist has all the efficiency and features we've come to expect in the last three decades of tech binding evolution, with Marker's refinement and downhill ski performance additions.
The minimalist form of the Alpinist keeps it simple and minimizes the propensity for icing. We look for all the other uphill touring attributes: three heel riser levels and full toe piece pivot range of motion.
The mixed materials (metal, carbon fiber, plastic) seem to leave the Alpinist a little more vulnerable to icing than similarly small bindings. Also, the three levels of heel riser require rotating the heel piece to use them all. Spin the heel pins backward, and you get flat on the ski and high riser. Spin the heel pins forward and flip the lever the same direction, and you get a mid-height riser; this isn't as easy as other arrangements that deliver three levels. Speaking of the three heel riser levels, the difference between all three is relatively minimal. The three levels cover a more similar range to the first two levels of other three-level bindings. See our comparison pictures for the different heel level orientations.
The Alpinist skis downhill better than any other binding we've used in this weight class, and you need to bump up many ounces to match the heel elasticity, solid retention feel, and adjustable release. Something about the construction makes the attachment feel both solid and "damp". If we had to guess, we'd say it's the mixture of materials. Chattery conditions are absorbed, to just a tiny degree, better than by other lightweight tech bindings.
We also dig the adjustable release. For a binding, this svelte, nuanced release value adjustment (note that we are not referencing "DIN values"… the Alpinist is not certified. The numbers that accompany the Alpinist release adjustment might look familiar, but they are not DIN Certified numbers) is virtually unheard of. Because there is not a third party standing by the release function, your engagement, caution, and experimentation are required with the Alpinist, just as with any tech binding.
Ease of Use
The toe piece is familiar and reliable, and it isn't any easier or harder to get into than any other standard tech binding. The u-spring fixes the vertical release, but the lateral release can be adjusted between what Marker calls values of 6 and 12; doing so requires a Torx #20 bit. Length adjustment is performed with a large flat or Phillips bit and is measured by eye only; no spacer or measurement tool is required. We like this.
We tested the standard Alpinist binding, which has 15mm of adjustment range once mounted. For most folks, with just a little planning at the time of mounting, this allows you to use Alpinist-equipped skis with your little go-fast boots and with burlier boots of similar shell size. If you'll share Alpinist-mounted skis with a family or between, say, tight light boots and oversized beefier boots, select the so-called "Long Travel" version of the Alpinist. The LT version doubles the track length to allow 30cm of heel piece adjustment.
Our one usability concern was at the time of mounting. We wanted, like most should want, to include the ski crampon holder with the toe piece. It attaches with the toe piece mounting screws and fits into a recessed portion in the bottom of the plastic toe base plate. The crampon holder was quite a bit bigger than the recessed portion allowed. A tiny bit of knife-blade excavation fixed the issue, but this seems like a problem that we shouldn't have to address.
Again, Marker calls these "ultralight" and alludes to specialized applications. Many skiers see them the same way. We'd like to suggest, though, that the time is now for this weight class of bindings to become the "standard". The Alpinist does all you need your AT ski bindings to do unless you once frequently had the abbreviation "FIS" on your calendar and ski into the wild with that same energy.
The Alpinist's weight threshold is manageable whether stripped down to 267 grams per binding (no brakes, which is how we tested them) or bulked up with the long travel base and wide brakes. There are lighter bindings, but anything lighter delivers compromised performance in one way or another.
These are relatively new bindings from a company that is simultaneously as familiar as possible while also being a brand new player. We've had absolutely no problems yet; however, our testing is ongoing, and we will report back with any concerns we may have. Marker's first tech binding, the one-time OGL award-winning KingPin, was plagued by early failures and recalls. They seem to have learned something from that process, and, since its first season, the Alpinist binding has been blessedly quiet.
Interestingly, we find lightweight touring tech bindings to be relatively reliable, even over a long test period. The simplicity of construction is mainly responsible for this. Heavier bindings add features but keep the main load-bearing parts similar in size. Further, backcountry skiing, no matter what gear you are using, is a high-consequence endeavor. Whether you have the safest, feature-rich bindings out there or the lightest, simplest options, the consequences of a fall are great just by your position on the planet. Ride gently, as you should, and your gear will thank you for it.
Ski binding prices are fairly consolidated. There isn't a huge price variation between the Best Buy and our most expensive option. The Marker Alpinist is certainly not the most expensive. In fact, it is a little less expensive than our other top scorer. For the performance you get, the Alpinist is a great value.
We are glad to grant the Marker Alpinist our highest award. It sits on a solid foundation of familiar construction and attributes, hits a sweet weight target, and offers just enough carefully thought out innovation to separate it from the masses. Its close competitor and fellow Editors' Choice winner, the Atomic Backland Tour (which is identical to the co-branded Salomon MTN binding), is a little heavier but easier to use. The Atomic is slightly better uphill, while the Alpinist is slightly better downhill. The overall results have these two exactly tied, and you can confidently choose based on price, brand loyalty, availability, or the subtle differences we note.
— Jediah Porter
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