Faction Agent 3.0 Review
Cons: Poor “factory” mounting position, heavy
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Faction Agent 3.0
|Price||$750 List||$699.95 at Backcountry||Check Price at REI|
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|$700 List||$649.95 at Amazon|
|Pros||Sturdy, versatile design and performance||All-around performance, damp, inexpensive, available, sweet spot weight||Stable, damp, predictable||Inexpensive, balanced downhill performance, average weight||Solid all around downhill performance, compatible with excellent Dynafit SpeedSkins|
|Cons||Poor “factory” mounting position, heavy||Soft and damp||Mid-weight, no real stand out performance||Ski “short”, powder skiing stability suffers at super high speed||Heavier than average|
|Bottom Line||After we resolved a real and frustrating mounting position issue, we found these to be predictable and solid, albeit heavy, touring skis||Inexpensive, proven all-around performance that's suitable for a wide variety of backcountry skiers and ski conditions||Good skis for good skiers in all kinds of conditions; the definition of all around backcountry skis||Great, budget skis for backcountry skiers of all kinds; the all around, balanced performance appeals to a huge range of users||Touring skis for he or she that prefers downhill performance to uphill efficiency|
|Rating Categories||Faction Agent 3.0||K2 Wayback 106||Black Crows Camox F...||Salomon MTN Explore 95||Dynafit Beast 98|
|Firm Snow (20%)|
|Crud And Poor Snow (20%)|
|Stability At Speed (15%)|
|Specs||Faction Agent 3.0||K2 Wayback 106||Black Crows Camox F...||Salomon MTN Explore 95||Dynafit Beast 98|
|Weight Per Pair||7.9 lbs||6.9 lbs||6.7 lbs||6.8 lbs||6.8 lbs|
|Weight Per Ski||1772g, 1795g, average: 1784g||1518g, 1557g, average: 1537g||1510g, 1509g, average: 1510g||1547g, 1529g, average:1538g||1541g, 1553g, average: 1547g|
|Weight Per Pair||3566g||3075g||3024g||3076g||3094g|
|Weight Per Surface Area Ratio, g/cm^2||0.82||0.71||0.71||0.76||0.75|
|Available Lengths||172, 180, 188cm||172, 179, 186cm||162, 172, 178, 183cm||169, 177, 184cm||170, 177, 184cm|
|Construction Type||Sandwich||Sandwich Cap Hybrid||Semi-cap||Half-cap||Sandwich|
|Core Material||Karuba||Paulownia||Paulownia, poplar||3D Full Woodcore, C/FX reinforcement||Ash/poplar wood|
|Rocker/Camber||Tip rocker, camber underfoot||Tip rocker, slight camber underfoot||Tip rocker, camber underfoot||Rocker, camber, rocker||Double Ellipse Rocker|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Faction Agent 3.0 is either a heavy touring ski or a very light resort ski. In terms of branding, Faction is "all in" with their messaging and identification of the Agent as a touring ski. At almost 1800g per ski, we find the Agent we tested to be on the heavy end of suitable for sustained, human-powered skiing. At that weight class, we expect downhill performance to be well above average for touring skis. That was not our experience.
Before we dive in, let us point out that all of our downhill performance observations of the Faction Agent 3.0 are a little tainted. We had our tester pair of the Agent 3.0 professionally mounted according to the markings on the ski. That mounting was, visually, much further back than we would have expected. In initial testing we found the downhill ski performance, across the board in terms of conditions, to be poor to unusable. After consulting with Faction directly, as well as with input from ski technicians and our whole review team, we had the binding mount moved forward almost 3cm. The resulting performance was much better. Consult with Faction indicates that the ski markings used initially were correct; the initial mount is how they intend the skis to be used. We found factory specified use of these skis to be unsatisfactory. Modified as we did, the performance was overall much better and more in line with what we would expect of modern touring skis. Our comments below are largely based on the modified, secondary mounting position we used. We note when we are discussing the pre-modification geometry and performance. Faction has since reconfigured the top sheet markings to reflect a mount more similar to the one we landed on. We have not tested the new graphics.
We weighed each tested Agent 3.0 ski (180cm size) on our calibrated OGL kitchen scale. We found one such unmounted stick to weigh 1772g and the other to be 1795g. We expect skis to slightly vary in weight, and Faction's numbers aren't far enough from one another to raise any alarms. It seems to be conventional now to cite touring ski weights by their individual mass in grams. However, if you must know, these numbers convert to 7.9 pounds for the pair.
In our current review roster, only a few pairs surpass the weight of the Faction Agent 3.0. For human-powered skiing, these are on the heavy end of the spectrum. When we correct for size and width with our simple "weight to surface area" ratio calculation the Agent is a little closer to some top competitors but is still on the heavy end.
Stability at Speed
Initial, factory-specified mounting of the Faction Agent 3.0 yielded terrifying performance at speed. It was in attempting to find some sort of stability at speed that our team of expert skiers concluded that the mounting was "off".
Once the bindings were moved we found the Faction to be much more stable. At speed and in the steeps the mass and dampness of the Agent 3.0 came into its own and performed like the heavier ski we were expecting. That dampness is notable. Damp skis like the Agent 3.0 have long been polarizing. Intermediate skiers almost always like damp skis while experts are almost perfectly polarized on the topic. Half love 'em, half hate them. These are damp skis.
The torsionally stiff combination of hearty materials and "reasonable" fat ski dimensions make the Agent 3.0 do better on firm snow than you might expect from 100+ mm touring skis. Lightweight 106mm skis will be terrifying on ice. This Faction isn't terrifying at all. In short, they are good firm snow skis. When that firm snow gets rough and/or really icy the dampness cited above comes into its own. If you only ski firm snow in the backcountry you don't need the girth or the mass of the Faction Agent 3.0. However, if your habits have you skiing any and all conditions, including a healthy dose of springtime, drought, volcano, or maritime hard stuff (upwards of 25% of your descending), on one pair of skis, the Agent's hard snow performance won't let you down.
Ooh, powder skiing. We love powder skiing. The forgiving nature of powder snow, when navigated by a skilled practitioner, is highlighted by our experience with the Faction Agent 3.0. The Agent's powder skiing performance got better after the binding move, but not by nearly as much as in other conditions. If we had only skied the Agent in powder we might not have even noticed the mounting issue.
Once mounted how we found them to perform best, the Faction Agent is a smooth, floaty powder slayer. The dampness and stiffness (relative to other touring skis) make them a little slower and reward longer turns. Nonetheless, in tighter terrain (in our case in this testing, Teton Pass tree skiing) we were able to make round, short turns in deep snow with proper postural and initiation adaptations.
On the spectrum of tougher snow conditions, the Faction Agent 3.0 allowed "normal" turning well into the bad stuff. It wasn't until the crust was enough to bruise shins or the slop sucky enough to almost splash that we had to revert to "survival" turns.
We generally hesitate to attribute certain performance levels to specific design or construction attributes. Nonetheless, we have to assume that, as compared to typically lighter touring skis, the mass of the Faction Agent is its greatest asset in tougher snow conditions. Heavier skis do better in tough snow, all else equal. Every other design attribute, for tough snow performance and in our considerable experience, is secondary to mass.
The Agent 3.0 is priced competitively. Widely distributed skis from the huge manufacturers might be 10% less while high-end skis can be almost twice as much. The high-end skis will definitely perform better and the huge manufacturers' options will likely be less durable, heavier, or both. The Agent 3.0 isn't a budget product, but it isn't anywhere close to the stratospheric price of top performers.
We wish we knew what to tell you about our experience with the mounting position of the Faction Agent 3.0. We worked hard, soliciting the input of a strong team of reviewers and technicians, to verify our findings. We are confident in our conclusion; the skis we tested are good when mounted well outside the manufacturer's recommendations and unusable when mounted according to the instructions. Representatives of the manufacturer, none of whom used the exact skis we used, report finding the Faction Agent 3.0 to perform really well when mounted according to the printed marks. If you have the resources and patience to experiment with the mounting position, the Faction Agent 3.0 is a solid, heavy touring ski for all-around human-powered skiing.
— Jediah Porter