Hands-on Gear Review

Spark R&D Blaze TR Review

Spark R&D Blaze TR 17/18
Best Buy Award
Price:  $285 List | $229.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Inexpensive, lightweight, exceptional downhill performance, slightly above-average straps, lean, risers
Cons:  Slider pin is outdated, not the most convenient forward lean adjuster
Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Weight in g (pair):  1466g (medium)
Weight in lb (pair):  3 lb 4 oz
Compatible systems:  Spark Pucks, Voile Pucks (Regular or Canted), Burton Channel Pucks, One Binding System, Sabertooth Crampons, Ibex Crampons
Manufacturer:   Spark R&D

Our Verdict

The Spark R&D Blaze TR is crowned as the bargain king for its blend of value and performance. This binding has adapted over the years, keeping up with the progression of the splitboard world. As one of the cheaper splitboard specific bindings that are available, this pair represents an impressive value, thus receiving our Best Buy award. What do you get for spending another $100 on the Editors' Choice-winning Spark Arc?. The ARC is lighter and, more importantly, has the best locking mechanism of any board we have tested.

New Version - September 2017
The Spark R&D Blaze is now the Spark R&D Blaze TR. The new model, pictured above, features LT touring brackets and dual height climbing brackets. To learn the in's and out's of this upgrade, keep reading.



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Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
David Reichel

Last Updated:
Saturday
September 9, 2017

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The New Spark R&D Blaze TR Compared With The Prior Model


For the 2017/2018 season, the Blaze got a couple of letters added to its name: T and R. TR stands for "tour ready" and refers to the addition of the LT touring brackets and the dual height climbing wires. The new LT touring brackets are lightweight and feature wider pin contact which, according to Spark R&D, should increase control (making backcountry travel more seamless). The dual height climbing wires add inches for skinning up terrain with varying inclines. The latest model weighs 82 grams less than the original model and also costs $15 less. The phrases "weigh less" AND "cost less" are two phrases we don't often see in one sentence!

Check out the comparison images below, with the 2017/2018 model pictured on the left and the older version shown on the right.
Spark R&D Blaze TR 17/18
Blaze

Summary of updates:
  • LT Touring Brackets — The new touring brackets are lightweight (2.43 oz/pair) and feature a wider pin which, according to Spark R&D, should increase control.
  • Dual Height Climbing Wires — The Blaze TR's include 55mm and 75mm climbing heels for added height while skinning up varying slope angles.
  • Lower Price — The new model costs $15 less than the prior model, further solidifying its title as "Best Buy".
  • Decreased Weight - The TR's weigh 1384 grams, which is 82 grams less the prior model.
  • New Name — If you're curious, the "TR" stands for "tour ready".

We can't wait to try out these new bindings! While we wait for the snow to do so, the writing below pertains to the Blaze bindings we initially tested.

Hands-On Review Of The Original Spark R&D Blaze


Once transitioned and shredding downhill, the Blaze scored very high in our review. Since it features the older sliding pin in order to lock it into touring mode or secure it in snowboard mode, there is an extra moment or two required during transitions. Once we've made the transitions, the feel is quite similar to the Spark R&D Arc.

Uphill Performance


The Blaze features an older style forward lean adjuster that requires several touches to move it between large and small amounts of forward lean. While there is plenty of forward lean for most riders on the high end, the lowest angle of forward lean is noticeably higher than the smallest amount that is available on the Arc. This is mostly an issue on rolling terrain where less forward lean allows for a longer more natural stride.

The Spark R&D Blaze forward lean adjuster.
The Spark R&D Blaze forward lean adjuster.

This model relies on the standard Voile climbing bars when ascending. The modern Voile climbing bars are easy to use and work well; they come in both short and long lengths; with a modest amount of practice, they can be engaged from a standing position with the handle end of your poles. Reviewers felt that the overall support provided by this competitor was quite notable during challenging sections of climbs.

Weight


At 3 lbs 4 oz (for the pair), these are the second lightest splitboard bindings in our review. For those weight weenies out there, a pair of light weight bindings are certainly appreciated when ascending.

Transitions


While the slider pin used by this contender is not particularly sexy anymore, it is still completely functional. Compared to the Voile Light Rail, which is the only other splitboard binding in our review still using a slider pin, the Blaze pin is easier to use. The 'L' shape of the Blaze slider pin secures behind a toe strap quickly and easily, while the wider opening of the baseplate holding the bushings means that it is again easier to secure or remove the pin from ride mode.

The Spark R&D Blaze binding pin secures behind the toe strap.
The Spark R&D Blaze binding pin secures behind the toe strap.

The metal lanyard holding the slider pin can be annoying at times, but is about as unobtrusive as a metal lanyard hanging out by the toe of your binding can be. We were concerned that the baseplate (with all its weight shaving holes) would become iced up and a pain during transitions, though in practice, this was a very minimal issue.

Downhill Performance


Snowboarding down the mountain with these pair of bindings feels great. The attachment to the board is secure and the highback and straps offer comfort. A few of our larger riders felt the highback was too soft for them; if this is the case, bigger riders might want to consider the Blaze's beefier sibling, the Burner.

Straps, Lean, and Risers


Straps

This model uses Burton ratchets and ladders. These have been well tested in the marketplace by Burton and incredible smoothness can be found on this contender. When tightening the straps, the ratchets grip well and can be released by quickly slapping the ratchet open. They function identically to straps on the Spark Arc and are far smoother than the straps found on the Voile Light Rail.

Lean

The lowest forward lean setting on this model is not as low as the amount that can be found on the Spark Arc, which, to be fair, is the lowest in our review (and also $85 more). Don't fret; the lowest setting on the Blaze is low enough to function well for most rolling terrain. The mechanism itself feels a bit cheap and clumsy to operate, but does effectively switch between high and low highback angles.

Risers

These bindings uses the standard Voile risers. These metal risers can be heard clinking on the base of the Blaze with each step, but do work well and serve their purpose.

Best Applications


A mere decade ago, splitboarders would have been ecstatic to find a binding that worked this well. Today, this model would be a stellar first splitboard binding. Similarly to the Spark Arc, this competitor has a stiffer (and slightly heavier sibling), the Burner. If you are a larger, heavier shredder, or just know you prefer as stiff a binding as possible, the Burner might be your ticket. For the rest, the Blaze is a solid choice.

Value


The winner of our Best Buy award, we rate this model extremely high for its value, as it offers the most bang for your buck. If you are willing to accept a few sacrifices of convenience in transitions and adjusting forward lean, these pair of bindings deliver performance that is comparable to the Editors' Choice winner, the Spark R&D Arc, saving you $85.

Conclusion


The Spark Blaze wins our Best Buy award based on its performance and relative affordability. For the price, you get very nice Burton manufactured ratchets, the second lightest binding in our review, and a reliable (if slightly dated) slider pin system. Once you have transitioned and are shredding downhill, there is very little performance difference between these and the Editors' Choice winning Arcs. If you can afford it, jumping up to the Spark Arcs; their Snap Ramp and improved forward lean adjusters are tempting and almost all the difference is in the transitions. If you're just starting out, it is likely you will be too busy catching your breath and enjoying the view to worry about a minute or so of extra fiddling between climb and ride modes.

David Reichel

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

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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