Spark R&D Arc Review
Cons: Heel risers can be challenging to deploy with softer baskets
Manufacturer: Spark R&D
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Spark R&D takes a simplistic design approach to their bindings, and the backcountry is an environment where this rings particularly true. The fewer the steps, the faster the process. When the process of using a product is more straightforward, it's easier to use, and there's less that can go wrong. The design team at Spark R&D built a binding to alleviate user issues rather than create them, and we found the benefits of this in every metric, especially weight.
The Arc tours incredibly well. We looked at the overall uphill efficiency of the bindings and noted its quality of stride, range of motion, sidehilling ability, and comfort.
We spend more than half of our day touring, which in its simplest form, is sequential strides. They need to be efficient. The Arc's highback has more negative lean than the category average; this allows for the longest stride, which in turn allows for a higher level of efficiency. 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.
The Arc touring bracket proves a low friction pivot point with a large range of motion. The binding can pivot almost 130 degrees relative to the board; this provides an advantage with tricky kick turns in deep snow, which requires a solid heel click to raise the tip higher than the snowbank. If you're touring on firm snow, the binding provides supportive sidehilling. Its lower side arms, which are near the heel, don't offer as much support as some competitors, which becomes more noticeable in softer boots. We still found it to be plenty supportive for all our sidehilling endeavors. The metal base plate is super responsive and provides comfort that is on par with the industry standard; it's also fit for all-day use. However, it's not as comfortable as a padded footbed, which Spark provides for all models.
Weight is a critical component of any ascension gear, especially when it's on your feet. One pound of additional weight on your feet is like adding five additional pounds to your backpack. Fortunately, the Arc is one of the featherweights on the market.
We weighed one binding for reference; because you can't tour with only one binding, we also weighed the complete package. Every screw, bracket, and puck was accounted for. One binding weighed in at 636 grams or 1 pound 6.43 ounces, which is especially impressive since these are the only pair with heel risers attached to the binding itself. The tour-ready kit clocks in at 1654 grams or 3 pounds 12.46 ounces, making the Arc one of the lightest bindings in the category.
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.
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. Improving this process in a lighter and simpler way is an impressive engineering solution.
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. Our testers could do it with no problem, even with gloves on. The passive attachment system is resilient to icing. If any snow is in the way, the action of pushing the binding on the pucks clears any snow. These might be the fastest transitioning bindings available, especially in inclement weather. The T1 system is our favorite way to transition because of its efficiency, simplicity, and reliability.
Once we were transitioned and strapped in, the ride of the Arc did not disappoint. Many complaints about splitboard bindings relate to their stiffness. This model has a responsive baseplate and has a nice mid-flexing highback.
This binding provides a responsive and fluid feel. The highback is stiff toe to heel and has good lateral flex, which resulted in a well-blended feel of response and play. Our tester really enjoys tweaking and shifting his weight from the tip to the tail during turns, and this is one of the best split bindings for this style of riding. The downhill performance of this binding is catered toward everyday use, and riders looking for a playful feel with plenty of response. The highback might be soft for heavy riders (200 pounds plus), which is something to take into consideration.
Straps, Lean, and Risers
The straps, lean adjusters, and risers are the most commonly touched and used features on a binding. Efficient designs on these features can help you save time and avoid unnecessary frustration. The Arc is thoughtfully featured, making these critical parts effective and user-friendly.
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 Arc features the Pillow Line straps; this one-piece molded strap is surprisingly comfortable, light, and should last the test of time. The toe and ankle straps feature easy adjustability to accommodate a reasonable range of boot sizes.
The forward lean adjuster (FLAD) is another high point, and it's easy to switch the adjuster from skinning (negative forward lean) to riding (higher forward lean). 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.
The Rip'N'Flip adjuster is by far the best due to its easiness of use. Just like the name says - you rip, flip, and then rip again. When in touring mode, the binding has more than the market average amount of negative lean, which increases your stride length on flat terrain. On really long days, especially with low-angle approaches or exits, this is a welcome feature, as it increases the touring efficiency. Arriving with more energy at the top allows for more fun on the descent while arriving at the top at a faster pace allows for more laps or more summits in your day.
The climbing bar riser lives on the underside of the binding. A single riser bar with a whammy on the buckle side of the binding provides two levels of height for climbing. The height can be changed by moving the riser into either of the two settings via your ski pole. The riser clicks into each setting with an audible noise. Our reviewers found it challenging to deploy with softer baskets. However, everything has a technique, and it's an improvement from years past with no sidebar.
This model comes in at an incredible price. It's definitely worth the added benjamin to purchase the Arc instead of an entry-level binding.
The Spark R&D Arc is an incredible binding designed with simplicity in mind. Its reduced weight increases its efficiency, user-friendliness, and overall performance. This affordable binding is designed for any level of rider looking for a balance of response and play and performs well in all conditions.
— Isaac Laredo & David Reichel