For its all-around functionality at a stellar weight, the Marker Alpinist wins our Editors' Choice award, as it's a binding we can unequivocally recommend for the vast majority of backcountry skiing. You might think you want something different, but we are entirely confident in the suitability of this binding. Sure, it is way lighter than what you might typically see out there, but it functions very well. Every single thing that has been skied - has been skied on bindings that weigh half what the Alpinist does. Marker doubled the weight of typical skimo race bindings but used those extra grams well. There are three heel risers, adjustable release value, length adjustment, and heel piece "elasticity". Also, there are optional brakes.The result is a binding that instills confidence and just feels good while skiing. You make a couple of compromises, mainly in the use and utility of the heel risers. With modern ski touring boots, you won't even notice the issues with the heel risers. The significant ankle articulation in modern ski boots negates the need for constant and wide-ranging adjustment of your heel risers. In our overall scoring, the Marker Alpinist is tied with the Atomic Backland Tour. These two bindings top the charts, and both earn Editors' Choice awards. Either one would be an excellent choice, and you might just pick based on availability, price, or brand loyalty. If you wish to split hairs, the Marker skis downhill a little better and is lighter.
Marker Alpinist 12 Review
Cons: unsophisticated heel lifters, untested aftermarket brake
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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 Editors' Choice, 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) 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 Alpinis keeps it simple and minimizes the propensity for icing. There are all the other uphill touring attributes we look for: 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 range that is more similar 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 its 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
Transitions, adjustments, getting in and out… How does the Marker Alpinist do?
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 vertical release is fixed by the u-spring, 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 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.
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, the Alpinist's weight threshold is manageable. 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 this first season with the Alpinist binding has been blessedly quiet.
Interestingly, we find lightweight touring tech bindings to be quite 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 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 Editors' Choice winner. For the performance you get, the Alpinist is a great value.
We are glad to grant the Marker Alpinist our Editors' Choice 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