The AT ski boot category readily subdivides into various niches. On one end are the excellent downhill ski products. Of those that we reviewed in that category, one stood out for its touring ability. We granted the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro an Editors' Choice award for an excellent downhill skiing and passable uphill performance. From that well-skiing sub category, we granted one Top Pick award to the no-holds-barred downhill shredding Lange XT FreeTour 130. At the other end of the spectrum is the ultra-lightweight AT ski boots. From that sub-selection, we granted the good-skiing Dynafit TLT 7 Performance our Editors' Choice award. In the ultralight sub category, the Atomic Backland Carbon is an ultralight, uphill-charging machine. This nearly-outlier status earns it high scores and special mention. With wide feet and for uphill focused ski touring, check out the Atomic Backland Carbon!
Atomic Backland Carbon Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Light and excellent tour mode
Cons: Thin materials are cold and require very balanced skiing skills
Our Analysis and Test Results
Hands-On Review of the Backland Carbon
This is nearly the lightest and most touring friendly boot in our test. The freely pivoting cuff, removable tongue, thin shell plastic, flexible liner, and carefully tailored buckle selection combine to make a boot that virtually flies uphill. The downhill performance is adequate, but you don't choose these for hard charging descending.
Overall, the Atomic isn't anything special. However, as a versatile and lightweight boot suitable for wide, high-volume feet, it is worth your consideration.
These are nearly the best uphill skiing boots in our test. Only the Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS exceeds their performance uphill. They are basically randonnee racing style boots with a little more support for the downhill. The uphill travel performance is a function of ankle range of motion and the friction within that range of motion.
The next category of boots is a full step behind the uphill machines. The Best Buy La Sportiva Spectre has a wide range of motion, but a fair amount of friction in the flex due to binding plastic and the drag of the ski/walk mode bar. In the end, the Atomic and the other lightweight boots are in a class of their own, representing the most free-climbing boots we've ever used.
The Atomic is among the lightest boot in our test, if you strip it down. "Out of the box", like we weighed all of our products for the overall comparison, the Dynafit TLT 7 and Scarpa Alien RS are both lighter. Remove the optional parts of the Backland (tongue and power strap), and the Backland Carbon is lightest.
You can't have it all. We are enthusiastic in our approval of the uphill performance and weight of the Backland Carbon. That enthusiasm is tempered by the downhill performance. These are boots for skiing carefully and slowly, with relatively small skis. They demand centered, disciplined technique of the rider, and punish lapses in balance. They are not very stiff in any direction. The good news is that, for some reason or another, with the optional tongue in, the Backland has a slightly more "progressive" forward flex than other boots in this class. These lightweight boots can be made quite stiff with the addition of plentiful carbon fiber. Absolute stiffness, however, is far from the primary measure of downhill performance.
Boots need to be ultimately supportive, especially to the rear and sides. To the front, however, we want our boots to give easily in the first millimeters and gradually ramp up the resistance. We refer to this as "progressive flex" and big beefy "overlap" constructed boots like the Top Pick Lange XT FreeTour 130 do this very well. The Backland is nothing like the Lange, but the forward flex, with tongue in, is more progressive than other boots like this we have tested. Overall, they ski similarly to the La Sportiva, but not as well as the Editors' Choice Dynafit TLT 7 Performance.
Comfort and Fit
The Backland Carbon is fairly wide fitting, especially through the forefoot area. It is wider than the Procline and slightly wider than the TLT 7. It is wider than any other boot in our test, across the forefoot. The liner is thin, making a good "shell fit" crucial. Those with bony fit may find pressure points around tender ankle bones or prominent heels. Unlike with thicker and more robust boots, the Atomic doesn't lend itself to extensive shell modifications. The plastic parts of the shell, certainly, can be flexed and punched to make a little more room in small spots, but there isn't a ton of plastic there to do it. Since the fit is rather roomy to begin with, it is unlikely many will need this sort of adjustment anyway.
Thin liners and thin shells are not very insulating. The warmest boots in our test are also the heaviest. The Atomic are among the least insulating. Though similar in weight, the liner of the Dynafit TLT 7 seems to be a little more robust and results in a warmer outcome. If you are prone to cold feet, be very careful with any of these lightweight boots. The good news is that boots like this encourage high tempo ski touring in which warmth is provided by circulation and effort rather than absolute insulation.
Ease of Use
By virtue of the relatively simplistic design and flexible materials employed, these boots are easy to get in and out of and reasonable in transitions. The gold standard for ease of use is the Editors' Choice Dynafit TLT 7 Performance. Essentially, this boot has one buckle that serves many purposes. It tightens the lower boot for all purposes, and then a further click tightens the cuff and locks cuff to lower boot. There is a power strap if you're into that kind of thing. Only the Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS is easier to transition than the TLT 7. The Atomic Backland is fairly easy, mainly because the buckles are easy to use. However, there are decidedly more steps with the Backland than with the TLT 7. Most importantly, for optimal touring and skiing, the tongue must be removed and replaced at each transition.
This requires loosening both main buckles and disengaging the cuff lock. From ski to tour, the tongue is removed and the lower buckle is adjusted and re-engaged. From tour to ski, the tongue is reinserted, the lower buckle is readjusted to accommodate and tightened, the upper buckle is locked, the power strap is tightened, and the rear ski/walk mode lever is flipped. Again, it is a number of steps, but it seems to go smoothly.
These are great boots for high tempo, long-day backcountry skiing, and ski mountaineering. The freedom of motion and light weight encourage fast and long uphill progress, but the lightweight and flexible downhill mode requires careful technique, slower speeds, and smaller skis than many are accustomed to. Once tempo, equipment, and technique are adjusted, this sort of backcountry skiing is enjoyable and rewarding.
Of the ultralight boots, the Backland is the least expensive. As compared to the rest of the field, it is roughly average. The thin materials and small parts will break down fast, so they are not that durable. For the applications they excel in, these are a good value. As all around, day-to-day AT ski boots, there are better choices.
Our test team has members that have always valued high energy, long ski touring endeavors. We couldn't be happier with the way the market is responding to an increase in interest in this sort of skiing. The Atomic Backland Carbon represents this trend, and does so in a solid and reliable way.
— Jediah Porter