Nothing is more mystifying and exciting than backcountry alpine touring ski bindings. Products herein run the gamut from tiny things that look more like jewelry than ski equipment to bindings that are alpine resort tools mounted to a hinging plate. We are here to cut through the chaff, educate you, and point out the best of the best on the market. Our opinions and observations are sound, standing on decades of accumulated experience in some of the most trying ski mountaineering settings. The market holds hundreds of alpine touring bindings, and we selected 10 of the best to put through the wringer. We evaluated, in a series of objective tests as well as miles and miles of field time, the bindings for touring performance, downhill performance, ease of use, weight, durability, and transitions. Read the whole review for a summary of our award winners as well as an overview of how the various tested products stack up as compared to their peers.
The Best Bindings for Backcountry Skiing
For 2018 we have added two new award-winning products. In the first few months of the North American ski season, our team has been hard at work testing AT skis, bindings, and boots. It's a rough job, but someone has to do it. The bindings we selected are both worthy of awards. We've granted the Atomic Backland Tour binding an Editors' Choice award, for it has all the performance attributes most ski tourers need at half the weight of our other Editors' Choice-winning binding. That binding, the Dynafit Radical ST 2.0 is still relevant for its certified release. It is the best performing binding we tested with a certified release function. The other new binding we added for 2018 is the Fritschi Tecton. The Tecton is a beefy, innovative, and hard-charging binding that displaces the Marker KingPin as a Top Pick award. These two bindings perform almost identically, both offering the best downhill performance of any tech binding on the market. The Tecton is significantly lighter, which edges it ahead of the KingPin.
Best Alpine Touring / AT Bindings for Backcountry Skiing - Release Certified
Dynafit Radical ST 2.0
Winning Editors' Choice for the best overall touring product is the Dynafit Radical ST 2.0. A long-standing top choice for many, the Radical ST 2.0 is still the gold-standard in tech bindings, a benchmark for other models. The 2.0 maintains the efficient touring design of previous models, and several upgrades make the binding safer and more durable. Some components of the Radical are known to break, so Dynafit has beefed these up, adding a pivoting toe piece and eliminated the 5 mm gap between the user's boot and heel piece. With these changes, the Radical ST 2.0 now has ISO/DIN certification, offering a standard for safety and consistency in release values. These upgrades add 5 ounces per pair. With several new strong contenders in this category, competition is stiff, but when we can only use one binding in the backcountry and need certified release (rental shops, we're looking at you), the Radical ST 2.0 would be it.
Read review: Dynafit Radical ST 2.0
Best Alpine Touring / AT Bindings for Backcountry Skiing
Atomic Backland Tour
We consider a full function AT binding to be one that has optional brakes, adjustable release, adjustable boot sole length, and three touring heel levels. The Atomic Backland Tour (an identical, but co-branded, Salomon Mtn) is the lightest binding we have ever tested with all four of these key attributes. It is lightest by quite a bit. That attribute means a lot. It was easy to grant this our Editors' Choice award, and it is easy to recommend these bindings to you. Now, this choice may be a little intimidating. First, these bindings are fairly minimal in appearance. Fear not, as we have tested them thoroughly and have had no performance or durability issues. If anything, the simple construction is its greatest performance and durability attribute. Next, there is no certification of the release values. So-called "DIN" certification is something that alpine skiers are conditioned to look for, and this binding does not have that. In order to attain that certification, though, the bindings need to be almost double the weight. That is not worth it. These bindings release. Further, if you feel you need certified release to ski as hard as you want, you are likely skiing harder in the backcountry than maybe you should be. The backcountry is a high consequence environment regardless of the certification your bindings have.
Read full review: Atomic Backland Tour
Best Bang for the Buck
Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0
The Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 is the best deal available for a tech-style binding, costing $200-$300 less than most other models. It doesn't come with a brake, nor is it compatible with one. But at 1 pound 10 ounces, it's one of the lightest options that has adjustable release value. (Like the Atomic Backland, the release value of the Speed Turn is not DIN/TUV certified. It is super light; ski mountaineers who want to save weight can easily save money and sacrifice very little performance with this binding. With its simple yet tried-and-true design, Speed Turn is built to last, and we wouldn't hesitate to use it on remote trips. However, because of its brakeless design, it takes more skill to deal with the nuances of skiing, transitioning without a brake, or considering a leash in spring conditions. The Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 is the result of very incremental upgrades and refinements over 30 years of development. Speed Turn bindings don't look much different than the Dynafit tech bindings of the early 1990s. That is a good thing.
Read review: Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0
Top Pick Touring Binding for Primarily In-Bounds Use
Marker Duke EPF
If you're going to ski 70-100% of your time inbounds, whether skiing sidecountry or just ripping groomers, our Top Pick is the Marker Duke EPF. If you want the best AT binding for riding chairs and skiing gnarly lines, the Duke EPF has the positive boot-binding connection, ease of use, and durability you'll need. The EPF is Marker's Extended Power frame, which refers to the wider hole/mounting pattern, giving it better leverage on the ski. For pure touring, the Marker is heavy and is prone to icing up in the tracks that lock it down. Also, because of their locking mechanism, you always have to take your boot out of the binding to transfer between skinning and skiing, a disadvantage in our minds, though that wasn't enough to overcome the Duke's benefits for downhill performance. Additionally, and likely the biggest advantage for some riders, the Marker Duke can be used with your regular alpine ski boots. The tech style bindings we have tested all require dedicated touring boots.
Read review: Marker Duke EPF
Top Pick for the Ultimate Quiver of One
Black Diamond Fritschi Tecton 12
If you'll only have one set up for everything, and you tour and resort ski roughly half and half, the Fritschi Tecton is the binding for you. Even if you backcountry ski more than half the time, the Tecton might have appeal. It is tied with the Marker KingPin for downhill performance, offering energy transmission and release performance that almost matches the frame style bindings, at a fraction of the weight. In fact, it is the weight that edges the Tecton ahead of the KingPin and therefore earns it this Top Pick award. The Tecton weighs about 100g less than the Kingpin. The Tecton wasn't the runaway winner, receiving strong contention from the KingPin for this award. However, the Fritschi won because it features some of the best downhill performance while maintaining typical tech binding uphill efficiency, and its relatively lightweight (3.06 lbs). For resort experiences, the Tecton is one of the safer tech bindings and has a DIN/ISO rated release.
Read review: Black Diamond Fritschi Tecton 12
Best Tech Binding for Ease of Use
G3 ION 12
The new G3 ION 12 is rad looking and is one of the best contenders to Dynafit's King of the tech binding touring throne. What we loved is the ION's toe is super easy to step into; the easiest of any tech binding on the market. Instead of pressing down or hooking one side of the "pins", the ION has two levers that engage the pins when bumped, so that no downward pressure is necessary. The heel, while super solid, had a handful of issues that kept it from being our Editors' Choice. Every so often, the brakes would deploy without the boot releasing (AKA your brakes come down while you are still skiing). This was extremely rare, but did happen on occasion. The heel on the ION was also more prone to icing up. When we left it outside during a wet overnight tour, we had to spend five minutes chipping the heel piece free to get it to engage. The heel risers also don't always stay in place, nor do they engage as nicely as other models. None of these issues were deal breakers for us, and we still think the ION is sweet, but they did keep it from getting our highest award.
Read review: G3 ION 12
Analysis and Test Results
A Note on the Name: Alpine Touring vs AT vs Randonee
We use Alpine Touring, its shortened name AT, ski touring, and Randonee skiing all interchangeably as there is no true distinction between these terms. Randonee or in French with two n's, Randonnée, is merely the French term used for ski touring that has more or less been accepted as the universal term. Randonee or AT skiing is not tele-skiing (telemark). While tele-skiing, your heel remains free for the ascent and descent, where as when you're Randonee skiing, your heel is free for the ascent, but the heel is locked down for the descent, and traditional alpine turns are made.
We've compiled a lot of information in this review, and to simplify selection of the best AT binding for your budget, we've included a chart which combines all bindings and graphically compares them in terms of cost and performance. Higher overall scores are farther right and higher prices are farther up.
Looking for best deal? The Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 comes in at $200-$300 less than some other models, is one of the lightest, and may be a good option if you can get away without a brake. For emphasis on performance, the Editor's Choice award winning Dynafit Radical ST 2.0 or Atomic Backland Tour may be what you're looking for in the $400-$450 range. At a range of prices, the Top Pick G3 ION 12, Black Diamond Fritschi Tecton 12, and Marker Duke EPF excel at specifics such as easy step-in, ultamate versatility, and in-bounds performance.
Selecting the Right Product
When considering an AT binding, you first need to figure out where you are primarily going to use them. Are you going to tour elusively on them because you already own a downhill setup, or are you mostly planning on riding lifts and only going for the occasional tour? Or are you somewhere in-between? There is no "best" AT binding for every type of skiing. Consider the demands amongst the spectrum of skiing: from high-speed groomer laps and icy moguls, to monster touring days with heaps of vertical and overnight tours. If you can, figure out approximately how much of the time you are going to be skiing in in-bounds on this setup (if any), compared to how much touring you expect to do.
Where are you planning on skiing?
If you are planning on getting a dedicated touring setup or planning on touring 50-60% or more of the time, we'd recommend most people get a "tech binding" because of their weight benefits and extremely efficient stride. If you are going to ski 50-60% or more of the time in-bounds, then we'd recommend a frame style AT binding because of their downhill performance and ease of use. If you are planning on skiing their setup close to 50% of the time, both in-bounds and touring, then read on for what might be the best for you.
Tech Versus Frame
Tech (or "pin bindings" in Europe) numbers have been growing as backcountry touring continues to gain popularity. Just over five years ago, Dynafit was the only name in town, but now there are more than a half-dozen manufacturers with more tech bindings coming out every year. Tech bindings utilize "pins" that slot into metal lined holes near the toe of your boot and feature a heel piece that never leaves the ski. The primary advantage of these is weight, often being around half the weight of the average frame binding. Their other primary advantage is a more efficient pivot point, meaning you can stride more naturally while skinning, resulting in energy saved. Adding to the efficiency of tech bindings is that you are not lifting the weight of the frame with every step, because with tech bindings the binding stays on the ski. While lifting the frame part of the binding might not seem like a lot, add it up 5,000+ times and most folks will notice a difference. Tech style bindings are typically marginally harder to get into, especially in softer snow compared to their frame binding counterparts; they are durable but typically not quite as beefy as many framed modeled versions. But because of their weight and efficient stride, they are hands down the choice for backcountry users who tour on their setup more than 50% of the time. The primary disadvantage that comes from an overall reduced mass is that the bindings feel less damp on firm snow; an easy trade-off when you skin for hours to get to that firm snow, or a poor trade-off when you took a chairlift or a helicopter to get there. The final trade-off for most tech bindings is that you will need a boot with "tech fittings" and you will almost definitely not be able to use your downhill boots in them - meaning it's harder to "ease" into the transition of purchasing a touring setup.
Frame bindings feature a metal structure (hence the term "frame") connecting the toe and the heel piece of the binding that can be freed for touring, and locked down for skiing. Frame bindings excel on the down and make for easy entry and exit. They are also arguably marginally safer. Examples that we reviewed are the Marker Duke, Baron, and Fritschi Freeride Pro. Frame style bindings look more like a traditional downhill binding but feature some "release" that frees your heel to allow you to tour; this means that with every step, you are picking up a little extra weight because of the binding.
The pivot point, with the exception of the Fritschi Freeride Pro, is also typically not as efficient, and thus over the long haul will tire you marginally quicker, something that is even more noticeable on flatter approaches. In nearly every case, frame styles are heavier, often about 50% heavier, but sometimes even greater compared to their tech counterparts. Despite this, for primarily in-bounds focused skiers, these are the way. Their greater mass, while heavier for the way up, means superior dampness and performance on the down. The firmer the conditions and the greater the speed, the bigger to advantage to frame style. Most frame styles work with downhill boots and are easier to get in and out of. Their release is nearly always more adjustable in the toe and offers marginally better release at more potential falling angles. Are tech bindings dangerous? No, but do most frame style bindings release better? Yes. Frame bindings never force the users to lock out their toe, which nullifies or significantly increases the release value; in the event of the user being hit by an avalanche while skinning-up on the ascent, the skis will release. Overall, frame bindings offer slightly better releasability, meaning in strangely angled falls, you are potentially more likely to come out.
Frame bindings are on their way out. We are currently selecting bindings for the 2018-2019 update of this category and will only have one frame binding in the selection. With options like the Fritschi Tecton and Marker KingPin, the only reason to choose a frame binding is for using your existing alpine boots. And that argument is losing its validity as touring boots get better and better.
Blurring the Line
With all that said, not all tech nor frame bindings are created equal. While most tech designs are aimed to be lightweight and effective tourers; some, like the Marker Kingpin 13, are a little heavier, but offer superior downhill performance with their design. On the flip side of the spectrum, most frame bindings feature poor pivot points and force the user to step out of them at any transition. However, the Fritschi Freeride Pro offers hassle-free transitions and a solid touring efficiency, yet remains downhill boot compatible and are just as easy to step into.
If you are truly around a 50-50 skier, using a given ski setup half the time at the resorts, and half the time touring, consider that our testers all agree that most tech bindings ski better than frame bindings tour. Meaning if you are close to the 50% mark, we'd lean you toward some sort of tech binding even if you are going to ski it in-bounds close to 50% of the time.
To start off, we would like to state an industry standard: that you should never use leashes while skiing with any type of avalanche hazard in avalanche terrain. Yes, partly because the skis might pull you down while you are being carried, but in reality it's primarily because your skis will likely beat you with sharp edges during the ride. Using leashes on firm slopes or on glaciers where you are primarily concerned with losing a ski is okay as long as you are extremely confident there is minimal avalanche danger. Ski resorts also require leashes when skiing in in-bounds areas.
Debatably, our testers prefer bindings with brakes; they feel that the added weight of brakes and increased marginal amount of hassle was worth it for making it less likely to use a ski. There are many randonee bindings that don't come with brakes in order to save weight and a little bit of effort while transitioning; several models require the user to press the brake down while you spin the heel piece. Some of our testers previously toured for years without brakes, but have since switched back over recently and find them worth it. Others have abandoned breaks in recent years. Brake use in the backcountry is surely debatable. Choose carefully, but realize that now with the Editors Choice Atomic Backland Tour you have a brake equipped choice that is lighter and simpler than most of the others.
Just to present the other side the argument for not using brakes: if you're skiing deep snow, you don't need brakes because your skis won't go anywhere. If it's icy or you're on a glacier, there is likely no avalanche danger and so you can use leashes. While we can agree to these points, our testers feel that there are too many days that just aren't that cut and dry.
Binding Release Values and DIN/ISO/TUV Certifications
Alpine touring/Randonee bindings are not required to pass the ISO/DIN Certifications (ISO 9462:2014 to be exact) that all alpine/downhill bindings are required to pass. As a result there are many touring bindings that don't have this safety-oriented certification. While most frame style touring bindings like the Marker Duke and Fritschi Freeride Pro; feature the ISO/DIN certification, it was just in the last couple of years that tech-style bindings starting getting the certification. Tech style bindings have their alphabet soup of certifications, but it is the same as that for alpine and frame style bindings. Among the first such tech-style bindings to receive this certification were the Fritschi Tecton, Marker Kingpin, and Dynafit Radical 2.0.
Someone has to create the certification and standardization for release values, boot sole thickness and pin location; those someones are the German DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung). The standards are written by DIN and the TUV (Technischer Überwachungsverein or in English: Technical Inspection Association) is the body that performs testing of each binding model. Both of these work with the ISO. The ISO is an international, independent, industrial standardization organization that defines standards on all manners of industry and technology (over 30,000 standards, to be precise) and they do the same for ski bindings. It's a mess of nomenclature.
They came out with a standardization for touring bindings and just recently, another certification specifically for tech style bindings regarding boot binding interaction and release. This was, among other things, to help manufacturers design and produce a safer product, with more definable and consistent releasability.
This doesn't mean that if your binding isn't TUV/DIN/ISO certified that it's necessarily dangerous, but we would argue that it's likely not as safe as a binding that is. We also think to some extent the importance of this depends on the user; the more you want to ski in-bounds (AKA more volume and more chances of falling at higher speeds), the more important it is. Many of the tech bindings that don't have TUV certification are on the lighter end of the spectrum and the manufacturer is prioritizing weight savings over consistent releasability. DIN certification of Tech bindings is nice, but the attributes required to pass the test add complication and weight. One of our lead testers has skied for almost 15 years on non-DIN tech bindings with no issues at all. Randonnee racers ski millions of vertical feet with non-DIN tech bindings. Those assembling commercial rental and demo fleets of skis really like DIN certification, for liability reasons. So it is entirely possible that your first tech binding experiences will be on DIN gear. Now, realize that there are other options and we encourage you to think critically about your need for TLA ("Three Letter Acronyms") on your backcountry ski bindings. Not all need the certification.
Tech Bindings: Leave your toes unlocked 99% of the time!
While touring, most tech bindings toes are pulled up, eliminating any release value the binding might have. While touring up, this is essential, as it keeps your ski from falling off your boot at every kick turn. However on the descent, unless you are skiing fall-you-die terrain (which most people rarely actually ski), don't lock the toes up and eliminate your release. There are hundreds of cases of skiers needlessly blowing their knees, ACL, MCL etc., out while skiing mellow runs with their toes locked out. They thought they wouldn't fall, but they hit an unseen object or just straight blew it, and there went their knee.
There have also been a few known fatalities including one skier whose leg was pulled partway off, destroying his femoral artery in an avalanche while skiing 35-degree powder with his toes locked out. His friends reached him in time, but he bled out from his injuries before help could arrive. If you happen to be skiing something that if you fall you are going to get extremely hurt and/or die on, by all means lock out your toes and risk your MCL, though most people ski with their toes locked out because they think it's "cool" or because they see other skiers doing it and are simply unaware of the danger. There is no "one click" or "two clicks" for how much you are upping the release value; talk to the manufacturers: you will either release or you won't and it has noting to do with the number of "clicks".
Criteria for Evaluation
For our touring comparison, we tested and compared the pivot point of each binding, its ease of entry and exit, and the binding's resistance to icing up during wet or stormy days. We kept weight separate for this comparison category even though obviously lighter weight bindings generally mean superior touring; we kept these qualities separate for our scoring purposes.
The pivot point of the binding is key for efficiency because it allows you a more natural stride. Bindings like the Marker Baron 13 EPF or Marker Duke have a pivot point that is slightly out in front of the toe of the boot, forcing the user to have a slight "tip-toe" effect. Whereas all tech and some frame bindings, like the Fritschi Freeride Pro, have a pivot point that is slightly further back and more under your toes, that provides a much more optimal and efficient stride, saving you energy and reducing fatigue on your leg muscles. All the tech bindings have basically the same pivot point, and that pivot point is more dependent on the boot construction than on the binding design.Resistance to Icing
We compared how each contender resisted to icing. Luckily, we tested most of these products in the Pacific Northwest, where this was easy to do. All bindings ice up to some extent and need to be chipped free. However, the Marker Duke, along with the Marker Baron, are by far the worst as far as icing is concerned. Ice would get into the tracks making transitioning into downhill mode during stormy close-to-freezing-days, a huge pain at times. We recommend folks who use this binding to bring a 3 mm plastic scraper to help clear out the tracks. The Top Pick Fritschi Tecton is also prone to icing more than the other tech style bindings.
We found that resistance to icing was one of many reasons we liked the Dynafit Radical ST 2.0 so much, because it never got so frozen that we couldn't quickly free it. Our testers also really appreciated how easy it was to clear ice from underneath the toe section of the G3 ION 12 with a large gap below the toe that a pole tip could easily assist in clearing ice. On rare occasions the ION's brake holder also would ice up, leading to brake deployment while skinning (a slightly funny sight), or not deploying at all while in ski mode. This was rare, but a handful of our testers experienced this during wetter days. The Marker Kingpin also features a sweet space underneath the toe piece that we could use a pole to clear away ice, though its downhill style hole rarely iced. Its leaver occasionally did, but our testers never thought it was much more difficult to clear. The Atomic Backland Tour gave us virtually no icing problems.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is summed up (you guessed it) by how easy the bindings were to use. How easy they were to step into and out of, as well as how easy it was to transition to touring or downhill again. We also compared how easy it was to deploy the heel risers.
Ease of Entry and Exit
Ease of entry for tech bindings is hands down where the G3 ION takes the cake and was the feature that impressed us the most about that binding. Instead of nearly all other tech bindings where you need to either "hook" one side, or line up your toe holes and use downward pressure to engage the front pins, the ION features two vertical levers that when lightly pressured, engage the side pins. For folks that struggle with getting into tech bindings, we think the ION is the answer.
The Marker Kingpin was likely the next easiest of the tech bindings to get into. Similar to the Dynafit, it features two "posts" that help line your boot up correctly. The only reason the new Dynafit Radical ST 2.0 were slightly more challenging was because of the pivoting toe piece that rotates up to 5 mm on either side. Take a quick backwards glance to make sure the user's heal is properly lined up, or briefly lock your toe out (which locks out the pivot of the toe and forces your heel to come down in the correct spot) before stepping in for the descent.
The Fritschi Vipec and Tecton bindings share a toe piece design. While offering plenty of other advantages, these took some time to get the hang of. Its spring-loaded closure was very sensitive and when most folks first start trying to use it, their toe closes before their boot is in position. Like the Radical ST 2, there are tricks to making this process easier with the Vipec (like using the heel piece to help get the distance of your boot just right), but they do unanimously take the most body coordination and time to get into in a timely manner. We'd argue that once one is used to the bindings, the Fritschi tech toe piece is actually the easiest to work with.Frame bindings in general are much easier to step into than tech bindings, a difference that is even more obvious in softer snow. Our testers agree that all the frame models we tested are easier to get into than the techs. It helps that frame bindings feature familiar step in and step out function to your resort bindings. Among frame bindings an interesting note is: lighter weight skiers sometimes have a hard time getting the heel of the Duke to clamp down. We noticed this on several of their products with lighter skiers (less than 150 lbs), but particularly the Duke. This was such a problem that we would advise most lighter weight skiers to avoid buying it and instead get the less beefy model.
Ease of transitioning from up-to-down and down-to-up
Different products have different advantages while transitioning, after skinning up to skiing down, and then once you've finished your run at the bottom while transitioning back to skinning up.
Where it Matters
From up to down matters more; nearly every backcountry tour will have at least one of these types of transitions unless you're in La Grave. Many skiers regularly take their skins off without having to take off their skis; a binding that allows you to do this is an advantage, particularly while in deep snow, where if you step down with a "ski-less" foot, you will plunge up to your hip (we've all been there) in snow. On the flip side, it's extremely difficult to put skins on your skis while they remain on your feet, so being able to transition on this end more quickly is a slightly overrated, over publicized feature. The one time we dig being able to go into "cross country or Nordic mode", where you want your heel free, but no skins on, is during the descent and while traveling on long, flat, snow covered roads and frozen lakes.
For all of their advantages the frame style Marker bindings; the Duke and Baron, are pains to transition with, because no matter what, you have to take your boot out of the binding to transition and can be challenging to flip.
The Fritschi Vipec snapped between walk and tour mode very easily whether below our feet or in our hands. Same with the Tecton. The Radical ST 2.0 transitions well, but if you don't take your skis off while transitioning for the descent, it is difficult to use a pole, and you then have to bend over (though our testers agreed this wasn't terrible). Our testers really liked the small feature found in the bindings, which consisted of the brake staying deployed until our boot became clipped into the ski, minimizing the chance of it running down the hill without us. If your someone who never attempts to rip skins with your skis on your feet, the Marker Kingpin's transition is very smooth and is easy to do, but is extremely difficult with skis still on your feet.The Atomic Backland Tour transitions pretty easily, but requires an extra step with the brakes. The brakes must be manipulated by hand every time you switch from down to up or vice versa.
We also compared how easily each heel risers engaged and disengaged. All the products we tested for 2018 have three levels of touring mode. All the bindings we tested have a "flat on ski" mode, except for the Atomic Backland Tour. We compared how easily the heel risers were to engage and disengage while using our poles, ideally so we wouldn't have to bend over when we wanted to use them. As a whole, manufacturers have taken note of the consumer desire for easier and quicker to engage heel risers and have answered with continuously easier-to-use designs. The Dynafit Radical ST, Fritschi Vipec, Fritschi Tecton, Atomic Backland Tour, and the Marker Kingpin had by far the easiest to engage and disengage risers; the Fritschi Freeride pro was decent, though the Marker Duke and Baron were the most difficult, taking the most precision and effort. The G3 ION's heel risers were okay, but weren't spring loaded, and didn't "snap" into place as easily as the other tech bindings we tested.A Note on Using Heel Risers
Heel risers are an excellent tool designed to save energy and minimize strain on your calves, quads, and hip flexors when used properly in the correct terrain. If you are using your heel risers while ascending terrain or a skin track that isn't steep enough, it will actually tire your legs out more quickly than if you otherwise weren't. How do you know if you should or shouldn't be using your heel risers? If your legs don't straighten out all the way, then you shouldn't be using them. When your leg doesn't straighten all the way out, that means it doesn't get that moment of recovery while your body weight is briefly being held up by your skeleton, nor does it let you use your entire leg muscle, instead concentrating the workload on a single part of it. That means using your highest lifters on only the steepest skin tracks or while breaking trail in deep snow (it helps keep your ski tips on the surface) even for the lower set; if you're feeling tired, switching them up feels good in the short term, even if it's not too steep, but after a few minutes it will tire you out much more quickly.Ski Crampons
Depending on where you live and how much springtime touring and ski mountaineering you do, ski crampons can matter a tremendous amount or very little. We find ourselves rarely bringing ski crampons mid winter while conditions are consistently cold and we are often skiing at or below treeline while basically looking for powder. However, once the melt freeze cycle starts and you start thinking about skiing corn or higher elevation mountains, ski crampons can save you a tremendous amount of effort.
While weight is a factor regarding touring performance, we kept it separate for our OutdoorGearLab scoring purposes. More than most other types of gear, the difference in weight from one binding to another is quite large. Look at the 4 lbs 10 oz difference between our review's lightest binding, the Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 (1 lbs 8 oz), and the heaviest, the Marker Duke EPF (6 lbs 2 oz). That 4 lbs and 10 oz of difference is the weight of a tent!!!! The Marker Duke, while the heaviest in our review, isn't even the heaviest touring binding on the market, nor is the Speed Turn the lightest. Overall touring on lighter bindings is noticeable easier. The old saying of "A pound on your foot is like eight on your back" runs at least slightly true, as people can endure noticeably more vertical with less weight on their feet.
Weight is where most tech style bindings have a large advantage over their frame style counterparts, as there is less mass. On top of binding weight, you are not lifting the weight of the frame (which is attached to your boot) every step with tech boots, which is providing better efficiency. There is a significant difference among tech bindings, especially when comparing our Editors' Choice, the Dynafit Radical ST 2.0 (2 lbs 10 oz) to the Maker Kingpin (3 lbs 4 oz). Bindings can be pretty light; while not reviewed here, our favorite super lightweight touring binding for its weight (still featuring Adjustable DIN 7-12 releasability) is the Dynafit TLT Superlite, checking in a ridiculous 350g/12 oz!!!
The Atomic Backland Tour earns our Editors Choice award in great part due to its weight. It is nearly as light as the Best Buy Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0, but it features a brake. Mount it without that optional brake and it is much much lighter than any other binding we assessed. We have scoured the market and have found no other binding with the feature set of the Backland that is lighter.
For our downhill performance score, we compared how well each AT binding performed on the down. While most felt great in softer snow, we made sure to compare them in harsh, icy, and variable snow and at higher speeds where our testers could feel more of a difference. There are several factors contributing to downhill performance that include, but aren't limited to the bindings mass, the overall rigidity of the design, amount of elasticity of a binding, its stack height, the ramp angle/delta angle, and mounting pattern.
AT bindings that have a more positive connection as well as more surface area (touching both between the boot and the binding) within the binding itself, and between the binding and the ski, generally perform better. The Marker Duke and Marker Baron's sliding tracks might be a pain to transition with, but also help the binding keep the best connection among frame style bindings; this was one of the major factors as to why we gave the Duke our Top Pick Award. Our testers felt the Marker Duke and Baron had less "play" within the binding when compared to the other frame style models that we tested (like the Fritschi Freeride Pro).
Among tech bindings, the Fritschi Tecton and the Marker Kingpin 13 are in a class of their own. Each of these has above average release safety and incredible positive boot-ski connection. What's particularly impressive is that the Marker Kingpin achieved great downhill performance. The Tecton is even less weight, and adds considerable elasticity to the mix. With both the Tecton and the Kingpin, you have more latitude, literally, for hard and rough skiing. Your boot can deflect from center but not release unless the forces continue to increase. Your boot will be re-centered for the next turn in these most sophisticated of tech bindings. Among the slightly lighter tech bindings, we thought the Vipec's and Dynafit Radical ST 2.0 notched marginally better downhill performance when compared to the older Dynafit Radical ST and G3 ION. These two are also similar to the downhill performance of the Best Buy Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 and the Editors Choice Atomic Backland Tour.
The mounting pattern, specifically how wide the bindings mounting pattern is, has some effect on how well it performs. While it might not be as much as some companies make it out to be, it remains a factor in power/energy transmission. How much impact depends on how wide your skis are. Bindings with a wider mounting pattern get more leverage, while this matters less for narrower skis as it becomes marginally more noticeable as skis get wider. When you consider wider skis on relatively firm snow (instead of softer snow), the bigger the difference the mounting pattern will make. The Marker Baron and Marker Duke have the widest mounting pattern in our review, just another factor adding to their impressive downhill performance. The Fritschi Freeride Pro also features one of the wider mounting patterns in our review.
Stack height is how far your boot is off the ski. While some ski racers like more stack height, most skiers, especially backcountry tourers, prefer to be closer to the ski. This gives the user better balance and "feel". Generally speaking, most manufacturers compete to see who can get the lowest stack height possible. Tech style bindings have an easier time (when compared to most frame styles) getting lower stack height basically because they don't have to put as much "stuff" between the boot and the ski. The more sophisticated tech bindings have a greater stack height. The simpler Speed Turn and Atomic Backland bindings keep your foot closest to the ski.
Ramp Angle and Delta
The ramp angle is basically the difference in height between the toe and the heel on the binding. Your exact ramp angle will change slightly depending on the size of your boot and its BSL (Boot Sole Length) over the distance between the heel and the toe, though the number you see is typically a measurement of the difference that is often referred to as the Delta angle (because it doesn't change with boot size). AT bindings tend to feature a higher ramp angle than most downhill bindings to help make up for generally softer, less aggressive and forward-leaning boots. Models like the Radical ST 2.0 have a ramp delta of +15 mm, the G3 ION +13 mm, and the Marker Duke/Baron/Tour, which all have +6 mm. That we are aware of, the biggest difference between the toe and the heel (among AT bindings) is the Plum Guide (not reviewed here), which sits at +17 mm.
Compare that to popular traditional alpine bindings, like models from Atomic + 2 mm, Marker Jester & Griffon + 4mm, Look +3 mm, Salomon +2 mm and Head +3 mm. Among all of the factors to take into account regarding downhill performance, we think ramp delta is the least important, but it's an often talked about (sometimes over talked about) factor.
For our durability test, we did our best to compare how burly each product was. For this comparison, we not only pooled our own experience, but talked to over a half dozen reputable backcountry ski shops, mountain guides, and a handful of reps; we wanted to see what broke, how often, and on which models. The most durable product that we tested was the Marker Duke, with the Marker Baron trailing closely behind. Marker sells a lot of these models and it's surprising how few problems they see. Dynafits, despite their minimal appearance, are surprisingly tough. They are designed in a way that the plastic pieces are designed to break before the more crucial metal pieces, so that if you're deep in the backcountry it remains functional, albeit harder to use. The Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 shares the bulk of its working design with decades of lineage. It is a proven design, and has been shown to go for literally millions of vertical feet of ski touring.
Among our testers going on long, super remote tours, we'd still reach for the tried-and-true design of the Dynafit Radical ST 2.0, which has proven its durability and has relatively few problems for the number out there. Besides TYV certification and increased binding elasticity, we think the biggest design differences are the subtle designs that vastly improve strength and durability, with the Dynafit Radical ST 2.0 having its few weak points beefed up (the most notable the top of the heal spindle).
The Editors Choice Atomic Backland Tour is a relatively new product, but it uses a simple construction that has been proven for many many years now. We have not yet tested to failure, but we are confident that the Atomic will be a durable legend.
Both the Vipec and the Kingpin had few fairly major issues with the glue holding the front pins in position, though both companies seem to have dealt with that issue. While the Fritschi Freeride Pro is burly and tough enough for most resort riders, it isn't quite as durable as a Marker Duke; however, when compared to the Duke, it offers significant weight savings and a more efficient pivot point.
Competitors like the G3 ION and the Marker Kingpin haven't quite been around long enough, nor are the same numbers of them for us to see 100% how they compare in durability for the long haul. Thus far, the Kingpin has impressed us with how durable and long-lasting it could turn out to be. Most of its aluminum parts are gold that is sourced and produced by the climbing company DMM in Wales. This shows us that Marker cares quite a bit about the production quality of this product. The Fritschi Tecton is a little less robust feeling than the Marker KingPin, mainly because of more extensive use of plastic in the construction. This plastic makes it lighter weight. We have yet to have any problems with the Tecton and durability.
Before purchasing a pair of AT bindings, you need to determine where you will be using them and how much time you will be spending in-bounds in contrast to touring. The tests and ratings in this review are designed to help you make this decision and find the pair of bindings that best fit your needs.
— Ian Nicholson and Jediah Porter