Hands-on Gear Review

Spark R&D Arc Review

Arc 2017/2018
Editors' Choice Award
Price:  $385 List | $307.93 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Exceptional uphill and downhill performance, lightest model in our review, affordable, simple attachment system, speedy transitions, high quality toe and ankle ratchets and straps
Cons:  Can be tough for some riders to engage the climbing bar from a standing position, high back not particularly stiff
Editors' Rating:   
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Weight in g (pair):  1350g (medium)
Weight in lb (pair):  3 lb
Compatible systems:  Spark Pucks, Voile Pucks (Regular or Canted), Burton Channel Pucks, One Binding System, and Ibex Crampons
Manufacturer:   Spark R&D

Our Verdict

The Spark R&D Arc skinned away with the Editors' Choice award and for good reason: this model scored the highest in every single one of our review categories. The Arc was the lightest splitboard binding in our review and was the easiest to adjust highback from touring to shredding mode. They had the simplest attachment system and the highest quality straps. A couple reviewers mentioned that the Arc felt nicer than the bindings on their inbounds snowboard. The Spark Women's Arc is the same binding but sized down to better fit smaller boots. It comes in one different color (Bluebird) and is a few grams lighter.

While this competitor dominated the competition in both performance and price, there are a few areas in which these bindings could be improved. Engaging the riser bars proved to be challenging for several of our reviewers. While simple to flip from snowboarding to climbing mode, the forward lean adjuster still requires the user to remove the binding to switch between positions. Still, this forward lean adjuster (along with one on the Karakoram Prime) was at the top of pack for our review. Achieving high scores in all our metrics, our testers feel that if you can only have one pair of splitboard bindings, this is the pair that you'll want. If you're on a tight budget, we highly recommend the Best Buy-winning Spark Blaze

Updated for 2017/2018 - Now Lighter With New Straps
This year, Spark shaved another 54 grams by adding in the new Pillow Line straps. This reduces the weight of the bindings by about 8%. Otherwise, the binding remains the same as the 16/17 model. This year they discontinued the red color and replaced it with Cyan.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Splitboard Bindings


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
David Reichel

Last Updated:
Monday
October 9, 2017

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The Arc is the lightest binding and still rocked every other category. The Arc was the binding that most reviewers tried to grab first.

Performance Comparison



Uphill Performance


The Arc's highback leans back more than any other in our review. This allows for the longest stride, which in turn allows for a higher level of efficiency. This isn't too noticeable on steep ascents since one's stride is usually shorter; however, when walking uphill (on lower angle climbs) and on rolling terrain, this is a significant advantage. Imagine going for a leisurely summer hike, but being forced to shorten your stride by 30%. Though this wouldn't be an issue over a very short distance, you would feel the extra exertion over the course of a day. If you were suddenly allowed to take your natural (longer stride), you would immediately notice the improvement; this is the promise of a large rearward lean provided by the Arc. It's important to note that if your boots are stiff and don't allow the same amount of rearward flex that the Arc does, you won't be able to benefit from this advantage.

Weight


At 2.7 lbs, this model is the lightest binding in our review. This is especially impressive since these are the only pair with heel risers attached to the binding itself (the other three bindings have the heel risers attached to the board). Since we move the binding with every step, the weight attached to our feet is more consequential than the weight carried in our backpack and possibly even more significant than board weight.

To reduce weight, the baseplate has holes where the metal has been removed. We thought these holes would fill with snow when touring or transitioning, adding weight to the bindings and complicating transitions. However, this was not a significant issue. These holes presumably allow for the baseplate to flex more than it would without the holes, though none of our reviewers noticed or commented on this. For bigger riders who are considering the Arc but are concerned with stiffness, we recommend the Surge (essentially a stiffer and slightly heavier version of the Arc).

Transitions


When Spark R&D developed Snap Ramp and eliminated the slider pin from their higher level bindings, it was a significant development for splitboard bindings. Without breaking from the slider puck interface, they simplified the process and sped up transitions. It is an impressive engineering solution to improve this process without adding significant weight or complexity to it.

It's quick and easy to lift the end of the Snap Ramps and slide them out of the touring brackets at the top of their objective. Once we connected the splitboard, it was straightforward and simple to push the bindings back on and press down on the Snap Ramps, closing the bindings in place. These bindings transitioned significantly faster than any other binding in our review.

Downhill Performance


Once transitioned and strapped in, we found that this model, along with the Spark R&D Blaze, and Karakoram Prime, all function well while shredding down the mountain. If you're tired from climbing up or at the end of a big tour day, it is possible that it's easier to drive a lighter binding (and board). While some may find this to be an advantage, it may only a slight advantage that is dependent on the scenario, as a little extra weight could prove to be advantageous when riding down.

Straps, Lean, and Risers


Straps
After we completed our side-by-side testing, we determined that the toe and ankle ratchets and straps were the best of any competitor. Burton produces the ratchets; not only do they grip extraordinarily, but they release quickly and reliably. The toe and ankle straps feature easy adjustability to accommodate a reasonable range of boot sizes.

Lean
The forward lean adjuster (FLAD) is another high point. It is easy to switch the adjuster from skinning (low forward lean) to riding (higher forward lean) and dialing in the preferred amount of forward lean is achieved by twisting the adjuster. While this allows for precise customization, it does make it a bit tough to ensure that both adjusters are set for the same amount of forward lean (assuming that is what the rider is seeking). This can be achieved by careful measuring and/or eyeballing.

A couple reviewers found the highback to be overly soft (those were bigger dudes and would likely be better served by this model's stiffer sibling, the Surge). While the Rip'N'Flip adjuster is by far the best, it still requires the user to remove the binding in order to switch between positions. All of the other forward lean adjusters require this as well, but there are times when it is advantageous to switch between modes on the fly while skinning or split-skiing.

The best part of this binding is that the forward lean adjuster easily moves out of the way, allowing for the most significant amount of rearward flex of any binding in our review. On really long days, especially featuring low-angle approaches or exits, this is a welcome feature as it increasing the touring efficiency. Arriving with more energy at the top allows for more fun on the descent. Arriving to the top at a faster pace allows for more laps or more summits in your day.

Risers
The climbing bar riser lives on the underside of the binding. A single riser bar provides two levels of height for climbing; the height can be changed by moving the riser into either of the two settings. The riser clicks into each setting with an audible noise, which works perfectly in the house when checking out the binding; however, multiple reviewers found it to be more challenging to operate in the field. Unlike the traditional Voile climbing bars (which live on the splitboard and operate by the handle of the pole), this model's climbing bar is attached to the underside of the binding base plate and activates with the pole basket. Some folks operate all types of climbing wires while maintaining a balanced upright position, and bending down and using their fingers; using their poles is less fatiguing, faster, and ultimately more desirable.
Adjusting the heel riser on the Spark R&D Arc binding.
Adjusting the heel riser on the Spark R&D Arc binding.

Best Applications


This competitor is a highly evolved splitboard binding that works for just about any application. Some of its impressive light weight comes at the expense of being super stiff, though most of our reviewers found that it still worked well for every conceivable application. If you seek out technical descents in firm conditions, you might prefer a stiffer binding (like the Arc's sibling the Surge); the same thought applies to larger and harder charging riders. More normal sized folks and those with a preference for getting freestyle will likely be content with this model. The light weight also saves energy, making these bindings a great choice for long multi-day tours and big days racking up the vert.

Value


At $385, this model may not cheapest, but it sure is affordable. It costs $110 more than the cheapest pair in our review, the Voile Light Rail, $275, and offers more advantages. It's a whopping $285 cheaper than the most expensive pair of bindings, the Karakoram Prime, which retail for $670. This competitor was easily the highest rated binding in our review. In short, they're an awesome value.

Conclusion


The Arc is the best splitboard binding in our review. From being the lightest, to having the easiest transitions, this model was the clear winner in our review. The only significant gripe that some reviewers noted was with activating the climbing bar. It's also important to note that not every reviewer struggled with this and we expect that with practice, most folks could learn to engage the climbing bar from a standing position. Even if this were not possible, the many strengths of this competitor far outweigh this one negative. A few of our larger testers did wish for a stiffer highback; if you are a bigger person (or just know you prefer a stiff highback), the Arc's stiffer sibling, the Surge, may be the option for you.
David Reichel

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: October 9, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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  • 5
 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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 (3.5)

50% of 2 reviewers recommend it
 
Rating Distribution
3 Total Ratings
5 star: 33%  (1)
4 star: 33%  (1)
3 star: 33%  (1)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
Snowboarder

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   May 16, 2017 - 05:43pm
earnyourturns27 · Snowboarder · South Lake Tahoe
This is my first season using these bindings and, overall, I am thoroughly impressed with their performance and durability. I agree with the conclusion that these are the best bindings for a majority of split boarders. Spark R&D seems like an excellent company that truly stands behind their products and is passionate about innovation. Some specifics on the pros and cons:

Pros:
-Light weight: Though I have not weighed them, they feel similar or lighter than some of the older inbounds binders I have used (including pucks and hardware). This has been much appreciated on long ascents.

-Durable: No issues with wear or breakdown at any point this season. The chases and highback feel as solid as anything I've ever used, despite their minimalist design.

-The straps: Maybe my favorite part of the binding! They are easy to adjust, comfortable, have a great amount of response, and distribute pressure evenly. Just as good on the way up as they are on the way down.

-Performance: These have the perfect amount of medium to stiff response for all types of terrain. I've taken these for some quick laps in bounds when snow conditions were dicey and they perform as well or better than traditional bindings in powder, chop, and on hard pack. Touring performance is generally excellent with a few minor set backs (see cons list).

-Attachment: The toe ramp system is elegant and easy to use 95% of the time. Using Voile Pucks offers a solid board feel while maintaining a low-as-possible center of gravity for confidence in all types of terrain.

-Hardware: I've put hundreds of hours on these babies and haven't had any trouble with buckle or screws. It's reassuring to know when you are miles out and don't have to worry about unexpected failure of any of the critical small components.

-Style: These look great and go with whatever. The durable finish on the black color way has held up to abuse without any major peeling or nicks.

Cons:
-Base Plate: A relatively minor detail, but I think it is worth mentioning. Not having an rubber or foam padding on the baseplate makes it a little "slick" in certain snow conditions with my boot's rubber outsole. I can generally obtain a good fit that avoids this feeling once sufficiently tightening the straps, however, when I want to keep things a bit looser, especially for touring, I have had a "sloppy" feeling where my boot has shifted unexpectedly, especially in wet snow.

-Climbing Bars: These seem to be one of the universally contended points for most riders and they fall on the "con" side for me. I have no problem engaging the risers when on flat ground or gentle slopes using my poles, however, I run into difficulty at times when it comes to flipping the metal bars up on a narrow skin track, in deep snow, and/or when already on a steeper slope and want to adjust between levels. After using the bindings more frequently, it became easier to find and adjust more quickly, however, I wish there was an easier way to engage the mechanism. Perhaps Spark could improve this by adding a small uniquely colored extension out to the lateral side of the climbing bars that serves as point of reference and provides an easier "lever" to engage the bar downward?

-Attachment: I've had intermittent issues with icing on the toe ramp system, especially when taking multiple laps where my boots compress snow and ice in to this area. This is the 5% of the time that I would call this mechanism equal to the older pin system on the "frustration scale." It doesn't take much to de-ice, but on cold days this can be a finger-chilling task. I also had to file the pucks down slightly in order to provide a smoother glide on and off. This worried me, as I didn't want to take too much off and have problems with a poor fit, especially in extreme warm or cold temps when materials may fluctuate in volume. This is more of a problem with the puck system, rather than the Arc. Luckily Spark even includes a small piece of sandpaper for this purpose. I look forward to the development of new systems that address this.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
Snowboarder

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   Jan 12, 2017 - 11:14am
pmartin8 · Snowboarder · quebec
I owned a pair of spark Magneto for 2 years and let me tell you what my experience is. First off, I'm 6'5'' 210 lbs so I'm putting a lot of weight on the bindings.

I'm totally in love with the quarter pin system that is super fast to switch from ski/ride mode. Most of the time my transitions are faster than skiers. Event in icy conditions, I've never had any problem with ice building up in places that wouldn't let me do an easy transition. Very good!

Now, these binding are made of aluminum. There is a groove that will hold the heel pin into position (close/open) when changing the position of the heel pin, the groove WILL wear out and will disappear with time (took about 50 days for me). This will happen no matter what is your weight it just depends on how often you open/close the heel pin. When the groove is worn out, then the heel pin will hang anywhere between the open/closed position. This means it will step right over your board top sheet and destroy your board in no time.

Talking of the heel pin. Don't let other people fool you. This is absolutely not designed so you can open it using your ski pole. You will need to kneel down to do it. This is not what they advertise…

Because of my weight, I also twisted the heel pin. The heel pin is definitely not sturdy enough for a guy my size.

After two years of using them, I ended up breaking the aluminum rail where the high back sits.

Bottom line, they are absolutely beautiful lightweight bindings. Quick to transition. No ice/snow build up. BUT THEY ARE NOT MADE FOR PEOPLE OVER 200lbs. Big guy will break every single part of the binding.

On the other hand, Spark is very good with honoring its warranty. After all the breakdown I had, they sent we a replacement part with no hassle. thanks.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.


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