Hands-on Gear Review

Karakoram Prime 1 Review

Prime
Price:  $670 List
Pros:  Strong downhill performance, the interface attaches solidly and provides excellent lateral support when sidehilling
Cons:  Average uphill performance, heavy, average quality of straps, leans, and risers, transitions are a bit more difficult than other models, the most expensive in the fleet
Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Weight in g (pair):  1600g (medium)
Weight in lb (pair):  3 lb 8 oz
Compatible systems:  Karakoram Splitboard Clips, Prime Crampons
Manufacturer:   Karakoram

Our Verdict

Unlike the other bindings in our review (which all use the puck based interface) the Karakoram Prime bindings actively connect to the board (or at least the Karakoram interface attached to the board). Karakoram asserts that this connection "takes solid board feel to another level." While it is certainly a solid and reliable connection, our reviewers did not notice it improved splitboard ride quality when compared to the same splitboards set up with Voile or Spark R&D bindings.

The Prime is most expensive binding in our review and relatively heavy. In challenging snow conditions the Karakoram interface did require more snow clearing than the pucks used by the other bindings in our a review and this hurt its transition scores.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Splitboard Bindings


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
David Reichel

Last Updated:
Monday
March 21, 2016

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Karakoram offers a range of promising splitboard bindings, with this pair of bindings being their entry-level model. These pair of bindings are the only ones in our review that do not use the more common puck based interface system. The Karakoram interface is a bit heavier than the Voile puck based interface and requires a little more attention during some transitions.

Performance Comparison


Powder day tree runs on Flagpole Peak after an impressive wet loose avalanche cycle.
Powder day tree runs on Flagpole Peak after an impressive wet loose avalanche cycle.

Uphill Performance


The Prime climbs well. The Karakoram Tour Mode interface attaches solidly and provides secure lateral support when sidehilling. The forward lean adjuster easily rotates to change from riding to climbing mode and allows for a much more relaxed and efficient stride on low angle skin tracks and flat approaches. The maximum rearward lean is a little less than what the Spark Arc (which allows for the most rearward flex out of our review fleet) allows, but it is enough for a nice natural stride.

Weight


At 3 lbs and 8 oz, these bindings are heavier than either the Spark R&D Arc or Spark R&D Blaze, but lighter than the Voile Light Rails. While the hefty weight can be seen as a negative aspect of this competitor, you can opt to purchase the carbon fiber version of this model; with a claimed weight of a little under three pounds for the pair (size medium - compared to 3.50 for the model we reviewed), weight weenies will rejoice in the fact that they can shave off approximately half a pound. The carbon fiber version will cost you some serious coin - $880 to be exact. The Karakoram interface is heavier than a puck-based interface. The Karakroum interface weighs in at 1 lb 8 oz compared to 1 lb 3.4 oz for the Voile interface. This interface weight lives on the splitboard as opposed to binding but still requires energy be carried uphill.

Weighing the splitboard bindings.
Weighing the splitboard bindings.

Transitions


Changing from ride mode to skinning mode is often a simple process. Grabbing the Power-Link lock bar can be tough if you are wearing thick gloves; thin gloves will make this process doable. With all splitboards, the switch from skinning to ride mode is the more difficult transition, in that it's easier to take something apart than it is to connect two pieces together. When compared to the other competitors, the re-connection process with the Karakoram proved to be tougher for many of our testers. Practice did improve testers' speed with these transitions, but it still required more time to clear the interface and accurately line up the bindings.

Installing the interface is a more challenging process than installing pucks. Luckily, the company offers many helpful videos on their website to demonstrate this process. If the interface and bindings are not installed properly, problems can arise when transitioning from skinning to riding. During our testing process, multiple reviewers moved this particular interface from splitboard to splitboard, frequently changing the stance between regular and goofy, adjusting stance angles and width; these adjustments resulted in significant wear of the bindings. While some of this wear is undoubtedly due to imperfect installation, it is likely representative of the real world use as well.


Downhill Performance


These bindings rode well downhill. The highback is stiff, but it isn't harsh. These bindings feel good, though it is important to note that not a single tester raved about improved board feel when compared to the other competitors in our review. The idea that these bindings somehow make splitboards ride like a solid was not supported by the feedback from reviewers during our testing.

Straps, Lean, and Risers


Straps
One of the screws holding in a toe strap came loose and fell out during our first week of testing. Luckily we didn't lose the toe strap but this was disappointing from the most expensive binding in our review.

Lean
The forward lean adjusters on the highbacks work quite well and it is fairly simple to rotate them between touring and riding mode. While the range between maximum forward lean and maximum rearward lean is not as much as can found on the Arc, it is enough to be highly useful.

Risers
The ratchets on these bindings are functional, but lack the polished feel of the Burton ratchets that can be found on the Spark Arc or Spark Blaze. The heel risers are designed to be used with the baskets of your poles; many of our reviewers struggled to adjust them using their pole baskets and simply resorted to leaning down and using their hands. This situation was a bit similar to what folks experienced with the Spark Arc. Part of the difficulty is that some pole baskets are just too soft to reliably grab and move the heel risers. With the proper pole baskets and enough practice, most people could master this move; in our testing, many of our reviewers gave up trying to use their poles.

Karakoram's illustration of their forward lean adjuster system.
Karakoram's illustration of their forward lean adjuster system.

Best Applications


These bindings would be a good choice for snowboarders who have plenty cash to drop and are receptive to the idea that these bindings will improve the performance of their splitboard. This is a non-trivial group, as many snowboarders assume that splitboards can't deliver a high performance ride; if Karakoram Prime 1 bindings help ease their mind that might be worth it.

Value


At $669.99, these are the most expensive models in our review. They are essential an entry-level binding in the line-up and are certainly not the lightest pair out there. For $200 more, consider the carbon fiber version, which will save you 0.5 pounds. For a whopping $285 less, combined with a weight loss of eight ounces, you can own your very own pair of Spark R&D Arc bindings, our Editors' Choice award winner.

Conclusion


In order to justify the high price, the downhill ride performance and board feel would have to knock our socks off and frankly, that did not happen. If you value the concept that these bindings create a superior board feel, then perhaps they make sense for you.

Other Versions


Karakoram PRIME Women's
PRIME Women's
  • Women's version
  • Cost - $670
  • Claimed weight - 3 lb (Medium pair)
  • Open Binding Chassis allows the binding to twist with the flexing board to increase board feel

Karakoram PRIME Carbon
PRIME Carbon
  • Cost - $880
  • Claimed weight - 3 lb (Medium pair)
  • Lightweight and features a stiff flex

Karakoram PRIME Straightline
PRIME Straightline
  • Cost - $800
  • Claimed weight - 3 lb 7 oz (Medium pair)
  • Stiffest and most responsive binding from Karakoram
David Reichel

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Most recent review: March 21, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (3.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
 (0.0)
Rating Distribution
1 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 100%  (1)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


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