Reviews You Can Rely On

Faction Agent 3.0 Review

After we resolved a real and frustrating mounting position issue, we found these to be predictable and solid, albeit heavy, touring skis
Faction Agent 3.0
Photo: Faction
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Price:  $750 List
Pros:  Sturdy, versatile design and performance
Cons:  Poor “factory” mounting position, heavy
Manufacturer:   Faction
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 23, 2020
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65
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 13
  • Weight - 25% 5
  • Firm Snow - 20% 6
  • Powder - 20% 7
  • Crud and Poor Snow - 20% 7
  • Stability at Speed - 15% 8

Our Verdict

Faction's Agent 3.0, when set up carefully, is an average to above-average downhill performer. To achieve that level of downhill performance (a level of performance that we found to be consistent across a variety of terrain and snow conditions) we had to execute an "off label" remount and lug up, every run, one of the heaviest touring skis we've tested in recent years. These are touring skis for the user that has the energy and patience to move some extra weight and execute some critical thinking or experimentation at time of binding mounting. Read on for further elaboration.

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Faction Agent 3.0
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Faction Agent 3.0
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award  
Price $750 ListCheck Price at REI
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$948.95 at Backcountry$700 List$649.95 at Amazon
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Pros Sturdy, versatile design and performanceStable, damp, predictableStable, predictable downhill performance in all snow types and terrainInexpensive, balanced downhill performance, average weightSolid all around downhill performance, compatible with excellent Dynafit SpeedSkins
Cons Poor “factory” mounting position, heavyMid-weight, no real stand out performanceHeavySki “short”, powder skiing stability suffers at super high speedHeavier 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 skisGood skis for good skiers in all kinds of conditionsA nouveau classic touring ski in a time when the market is moving lighter for the same downhill performanceGreat, budget skis for backcountry skiers of all kindsTouring skis for he or she that prefers downhill performance to uphill efficiency
Rating Categories Faction Agent 3.0 Black Crows Camox F... Kastle TX 103 Salomon MTN Explore 95 Dynafit Beast 98
Weight (25%)
5.0
6.0
5.0
6.0
6.0
Firm Snow (20%)
6.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
Powder (20%)
7.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Crud And Poor Snow (20%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Stability At Speed (15%)
8.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
Specs Faction Agent 3.0 Black Crows Camox F... Kastle TX 103 Salomon MTN Explore 95 Dynafit Beast 98
Weight Per Pair 7.9 lbs 6.7 lbs 7.6 lbs 6.8 lbs 6.8 lbs
Measured Length 179 cm 182 cm 180 cm 177 cm 183 cm
Manufacturer Length 180 cm 183 cm 181 cm 177 cm 184 cm
Available Lengths 172, 180, 188 cm 162, 172, 178, 183 cm 165, 173, 181, 189 cm 169, 177, 184 cm 170, 177, 184 cm
Claimed Dimensions 134/106/24 mm 130/97/115 mm 138/103/120 mm 130 / 95 / 116 mm 136/98/117 mm
Measured Dimensions 134/105/124 mm 137/97/117 mm 138/103/120 mm 130/95/116 mm 126/97/116 mm
Weight Per Ski grams 1772g,1795g, average: 1784 g 1510g, 1509g, average: 1510 g 1727g,1708g, average :1718 g 1547g,1529g, average: 1538 g 1541g, 1553g, average: 1547 g
Weight Per Pair 3566 g 3024 g 3435 g 3076 g 3094 g
Weight Per Surface Area Ratio, g/cm^2 0.82 0.71 0.79 0.76 0.75
Construction Type Sandwich Semi-cap Sandwich Half-cap Sandwich
Core Material Karuba Paulownia, poplar Paulownia,poplar 3D Full Woodcore, C/FX reinforcement Ash/poplar wood
Waist Width 105 mm 97 mm 103 mm 95 mm 98 mm
Radius 21 meters 18 meters 19 meters 18 meters 21 meters
Rocker/Camber Tip rocker, camber underfoot Tip rocker, 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.

Performance Comparison


The Faction Agent 3.0 in some socially distant April powder skiing...
The Faction Agent 3.0 in some socially distant April powder skiing on the west slope of the Tetons.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Weight


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".

Our initial mounting, with the Scarpa F1 LT boot in the binding. We...
Our initial mounting, with the Scarpa F1 LT boot in the binding. We had the binding mounted for bigger boots. The low profile sole of the pictured models effectively further ahead than intended, but still way, way too far back. We include this photo to document our initial mounting.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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.

Firm Snow


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.

The Faction Agent, as initially mounted with factory instructions...
The Faction Agent, as initially mounted with factory instructions, amongst similarly sized skis (all tails are sitting on flat ground). Especially when one corrects their eye for approximate length, the very rearward position of the binding is apparent.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Powder


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.

When configured to our liking, the Faction Agent 3.0 was well...
When configured to our liking, the Faction Agent 3.0 was well balanced and suited to all-around backcountry skiing, with a bit of a weight penalty.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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.

Crud/Poor Snow


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.

Early in our testing of the Faction Agent. There is no trickery of...
Early in our testing of the Faction Agent. There is no trickery of camera lens here; that is a huge percentage of the ski out in front of the toe piece. The coming run was terrifying and strenuous.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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.

This is the newer, more effective mounting position we used. You can...
This is the newer, more effective mounting position we used. You can see the rear-most holes (filled in with orange plugs) and their distance from the rear-most screws of the mounted Plum Pika binding.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Value


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.

Our tested Faction Agent 3.0, partway through testing and set up to...
Our tested Faction Agent 3.0, partway through testing and set up to the liking of our team.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Conclusion


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