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Best Backcountry Ski Bindings of 2022

Direct comparisons, based on millions of feet of real backcountry skiing, of touring bindings from Dynafit, Marker, G3, Atomic, Black Diamond, Ski Trab and others
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Photo: Jediah Porter
Thursday October 21, 2021
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Choosing the best backcountry ski bindings is way daunting. For the 2021 season, we tested 15 top performers. We've been doing this formally for over 6 years and employ a team with hundreds of years of combined experience. In short, this is the tightest, most comprehensive third-party review of backcountry ski bindings on the internet. We describe a broad spectrum of bindings and there is something here for you. We assess each and compare them all in terms of downhill performance, touring performance, weight, ease of use, and durability.

Related: Best Backcountry Skis of 2022

Top 15 Product Ratings

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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award    
Price $509.99 at Amazon
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$531 List
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Light, solid, adjustable, three heel lifts, good brakesLight, innovative downhill performanceLight, simple, advanced features for the weightLight, simpleUnique toe piece, lightweight
Cons No certification, limited release adjustmentUnsophisticated heel lifters, untested aftermarket brakeCrampon mount and brakes not included, heavier than closest competitionLimited release functionality, no brakes, only one heel elevationNo brake option, narrow heel elevation range
Bottom Line This minimalist binding has exactly what most of you should want, and nothing you don’t needThese are excellent all around functioning bindings made for human powered skiingA solid, simple contender with significantly more features than bindings just a little lighterSuperlight bindings for light to medium duty backcountry skiing; choose these for simplicity and their all-metal constructionSimple, unique, lightweight bindings for all around human-powered backcountry skiing, this lightweight model stands out for certain innovations
Rating Categories Atomic Backland Tour Marker Alpinist 12 G3 Zed 12 Plum R170 Ski Trab Titan Vario
Touring Performance (30%)
8.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Downhill Performance (25%)
6.0
7.0
7.0
3.0
7.0
Weight (25%)
7.0
8.0
6.0
9.0
8.0
Ease Of Use (15%)
8.0
7.0
8.0
10.0
5.0
Durability (5%)
9.0
7.0
6.0
8.0
7.0
Specs Atomic Backland Tour Marker Alpinist 12 G3 Zed 12 Plum R170 Ski Trab Titan Vario
Weight (pounds for pair) 1.26 lbs 1.18 lbs 1.97 lbs 0.88 lbs 1.23 lbs
Weight of one binding, grams 286g 268g 447g 199g 279g
Release value range "Men", "Women", "Expert" 6 to 12 5 to 12 8 Fixed 9 to 11
Stack height (mm. average of toe and heel pin height) 37mm 36mm 41mm 34mm 40mm
Toe/heel delta (mm difference in height between heel pins and toe pins) 10mm 3mm 4mm 4mm 9mm
Brake options 80, 90, 100, 110, 120mm 90, 105, 115mm 85, 100, 115, 130mm No brakes No brakes
ISO/DIN Certified? No No No No No
Ski Crampon compatible? Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style. Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style. With aftermarket part. Only G3 brand. With aftermarket part. Best with Plum brand. "Standard" Dynafit/B&D style ski crampons can be lightly filed to work. Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/B&D style.


Best Alpine Touring / AT Bindings for Backcountry Skiing


Marker Alpinist 12


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Touring Performance 7
  • Downhill Performance 7
  • Weight 8
  • Ease of Use 7
  • Durability 7
Weight: 268 grams | ISO/DIN Certified: No
Light
Full-featured
Downhill forward pressure
Compromised heel lifters
Unproven brake and durability

The Marker Alpinist shares this award, in this category, with the excellent Atomic Backland Tour. (Incidentally, these two have to share the same award with the otherwise untested Salomon MTN binding. The Salomon MTN and Atomic Backland are identical in design, function and construction.) The Marker Alpinist is newer than the Atomic/Salomon, lighter, and offers a slightly improved downhill skiing function. Both hit the sweet spot for weight to performance ratio and offer all the basic features we look for in a touring binding. You wouldn't be wrong to flip a coin in your choice for an all-around AT binding for human-powered backcountry skiing, as the Atomic and Marker award winners are both that good and that close in scoring.

We now have a couple of full seasons on them and only reinforce our findings with ongoing testing. We'll keep hammering on them but are confident they will hold up. These AT bindings are marketed as "ultralight" ski bindings, implying a specialized niche. We beg to differ. The Alpinist is capable of virtually all your human-powered skiing needs. For resort use, the Alpinist is indeed "ultralight", with all the caveats that label implies. If you wish to ride the same equipment in bounds and out, first check yourself. Is that really a compromise you are willing to make? Human-powered skiing is our focus, and the Marker Alpinist does all you need to do in that environment. Others are lighter but far less featured. Others offer at least a couple more downhill skiing attributes and benefits but are way, way heavier. We are confident that you will dig the Marker Alpinist bindings for all your backcountry skiing.

Read review: Marker Alpinist

Another Best Alpine Touring Option


Atomic Backland Tour


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Touring Performance 8
  • Downhill Performance 6
  • Weight 7
  • Ease of Use 8
  • Durability 9
Weight: 286 grams | ISO/DIN Certified: No
Light
Full function
Super reliable and simple
Has adjustable release but does not have a release certification
Highest heel lifter is a little lower than others

We consider a full-function AT binding to have adjustable release, adjustable boot sole length, three touring heel levels, and optional brakes. The Atomic Backland Tour (and identical but co-branded, Salomon Mtn) is nearly the lightest binding we have ever tested with all four of these key attributes. Only the co award-winning Marker Alpinist betters the weight of the Atomic. It was easy to grant this our highest award, and it is easy to recommend these bindings to you.

Now, this choice may be a little intimidating. First, these AT bindings are relatively minimal in appearance. Fear not, as we have tested them thoroughly and have had no major performance or durability issues. Especially when compared to much heavier touring bindings, these award winners are actually more durable and reliable. 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. Nor does the Marker Alpinist or most other suitable options. To attain that certification, the bindings need to be at least double the weight. That additional weight is not worth it. The Atomic Backland bindings release but are not certified in that release by a third party. We feel that if you conclude, 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. Nonetheless, if you insist on having high-energy downhill performance and DIN certification, check out the Marker KingPin, Fritschi Tecton, Dynafit Rotation ST, Marker Duke PT, or Salomon Shift.

Read review: Atomic Backland Tour

Best for Downhill Performance and Resort Use


Marker Duke PT 12


53
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Touring Performance 4
  • Downhill Performance 9
  • Weight 2
  • Ease of Use 6
  • Durability 8
Weight: 1219 grams | ISO/DIN Certified: Yes, Alpine and AT
Uncompromised downhill performance
Removable toe piece
Familiar form factor
Heavy
Lots of moving parts
Fiddly transitions

Choose this binding for optimized downhill performance, but do so with caution. As it pertains to inherently compromised backcountry ski bindings, we can seldom make absolute claims. However, we can definitely assert that the Marker Duke PT is the best skiing binding that can also tour. Aside from minor points, the Duke PT skis as well as basic to above average resort bindings. We can say that about few to no other backcountry products.

That, though, is where the applause ends. To get that downhill performance, the Duke PT is too heavy and complicated to compete on any level with actual touring bindings. The Duke PT is literally 7x the weight of the lightest binding we tested (and 12x the weight of lightest options on the market!) For all that weight, you might get downhill performance that is 2x the light options. That's tough math to reconcile. Basically, these bindings are for resort (or other mechanized ascent; helicopter, snowcat, etc.) skiing that might involve short ascents at one time or another. "Regular" backcountry skiing is best done with regular and much lighter backcountry ski bindings.

Read review: Marker Duke PT 12

Best Bang for the Buck


Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0


59
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Touring Performance 7
  • Downhill Performance 4
  • Weight 5
  • Ease of Use 7
  • Durability 10
Weight: 1.63 pounds | ISO/DIN Certified: No
Excellent durability
Affordable
Incredibly lightweight
Lacks a brake option
Learning curve to engage heel risers
Limited size range

The recently discontinued Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 is the best deal available for a tech-style binding, costing much less than most other models. If you can find some, you will be psyched. In the meantime, stay tuned here for upcoming thoughts on newer budget alternatives. We leave our review here intact, as the Speed Turn is definitely the best deal, even with the recent discontinuation.

With its tried-and-true yet straightforward design, the Dynafit 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 backcountry skiing with no brakes. The Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 is the result of a few 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; this is a good thing.

Read review: Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
73
$550
Editors' Choice Award
If you truly need more performance features than this lightweight binding provides, you fall into a tiny sliver of skiers at the hard-charging end of the spectrum
73
$450
Editors' Choice Award
For any sort of human-powered wild skiing, this is a reliable choice
72
$531
For the weight and cost, you get great functionality and features
70
$445
For moderate backcountry skiing, these bindings could be just the ultralight ticket you need
70
$500
A unique design and engineering that certainly doesn’t detract from its performance
70
$429
Solid, simple ski bindings that cram some unique attributes into a reasonably priced package; we only wish they were lighter, included brakes, or both
69
$539
Plum’s proven construction is available here in a mid-weight, all-around ski touring configuration
64
$650
Innovation built on a long-standing platform
62
$629
Sturdy, heavy bindings with all you would ask for, plus French cachet
59
$350
Best Buy Award
Through all the turmoil, its lineage remains reliable, simple, and affordable
58
$500
These are the strongest, simplest bindings we know of; they have very limited safety and convenience features, but remain light and reliable for years
55
$650
Marker is an established company, and their Kingpin has a proven reputation for hard and fast backcountry skiing
55
$650
For a big and fast riding subset of the backcountry ski population, or those looking for a look similar to their resort gear, this is just what the doctor ordered
53
$600
A resort alpine ski binding that can be used for some human-powered uphill excursions
53
$600
Top Pick Award
Tours okay and skis downhill very well, it has all the downhill performance and design attributes you seek

Testing bindings and hunting powder high in the Tetons.
Testing bindings and hunting powder high in the Tetons.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Why You Should Trust Us


To test AT ski bindings, we leveraged the background of our most knowledgeable tester for all things snow. Jed Porter is an internationally certified IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide, holds AIARE pro level 2 certification, and instructs avalanche safety courses. Jed's primary gig is guiding backcountry skiing in his home Teton Range and around the world. Find him at www.jed.ski Jed spends a great deal of time climbing mountains and skiing back down them. To put it mildly. He has notched a summit to sea ascent and descent of Mount Saint Elias and made the first integral and first solo completion of California's historic Red Line Traverse. In 2020 he logged 800,000 vertical feet of human-powered mountain terrain. Including a period in which he logged "half a mil in half a year", all on skis. Jed consulted with peers, partners, and clients for general feedback on bindings and extensive sharing of the tested bindings. For 2021 he expanded and formalized his Teton region test team to include an even wider range of backgrounds.

Testing backcountry ski bindings involved some lab time and then a whole lot of skiing. We weighed each binding to the nearest hundredth of a pound. We obtained measurements of the stack height and binding delta for each binding to get a numerical idea of the edge-to-edge leverage and forward-to-back weight distribution. Next, things got fun. We put in tens of thousands of vertical feet in all sorts of conditions. Our team put each of these bindings through the wringer to take the guesswork out of your decision-making experience. Virtually all of our backcountry ski binding testing took place in the actual backcountry. This lattermost fact alone sets apart our review from many, many other options on the internet; to test in true backcountry circumstances is harder but far more useful. We hold ourselves to a high standard. Plus, we love backcountry skiing.

Related: How We Tested Alpine Touring (AT) Bindings

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Analysis and Test Results


Your absolute most important consideration is your application and usage patterns. Be real about how you will use your ski gear and think critically about marketing copy and the appeal of overblown generalizations that promise more than they can deliver. AT ski bindings can be light, simple, and enable amazing adventures, or they can be entirely unsuitable. Few categories of outdoor equipment are available over such a wide range of functionality. Further, few categories of equipment have the most "exciting" developments in the most ineffective and niche subcategories. Buyer beware and read carefully.

Related: Buying Advice for Alpine Touring (AT) Bindings


Value


AT ski bindings span a wide range of prices. Price increases, from the most inexpensive options, in two distinct, opposite directions. As bindings get lighter, they get more expensive. In the other direction, bindings get both more expensive and heavier with incrementally greater safety and downhill performance. Spend more in the lightweight direction, and you can cut the weight in half. Spend more for greater downhill performance, and that downhill performance increases by a marginal amount. If you are looking for "bang for your buck", going lighter is better than going for more downhill performance.

The least expensive bindings are light and straightforward but not super light. Paradoxically, there is an inverse relationship between price and durability. Normally we might expect more expensive products to last longer. In the case of AT ski bindings, the least expensive are the most robust and longest-proven designs. We love this sort of synchronicity.

Subtract weight from something proven and affordable, and it gets more expensive and less durable. Add features (and, inherently, weight) to that same binding, and it gets more expensive and less durable. A good value in AT ski bindings is an excellent, lasting value.

With the addition of the Salomon Shift and Marker Duke PT to the market, our review, and the award selection roster, we acknowledge a discussion of value decisions around these appealing "hybrid" resort/backcountry bindings. With acceptable resort performance, we know that it is tempting to choose the Shift or Duke as bindings to anchor a sort of "quiver of one" for resort and backcountry skiing; we advocate against this strategy, as it likely won't have the value or performance you hope for. Our lead tester takes an editorial slant to this discussion at this external link.

High on Mount Shasta. This is why you pore over binding reviews; to...
High on Mount Shasta. This is why you pore over binding reviews; to get yourself, ultimately, into these spectacular places.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Touring Performance


We tested and compared heel riser range, variety, deployment, touring range of motion, and the binding's resistance to icing up during certain conditions for our touring comparison. We kept weight and ease of use separate for this comparison category even though these things also affect touring performance.


First, everything about heel risers. How easily does each heel riser engage and disengage? What does it take to switch between modes? Most of the products we tested have three levels of touring mode. All the bindings we tested have a "flat on ski" mode, except for the Dynafit Expedition. 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.

Adjustable heel risers accommodate differing steepnesses of skin...
Adjustable heel risers accommodate differing steepnesses of skin tracks. The middle riser of most bindings is appropriate for a bio-mechanically efficient track, but not all tracks are so pitched.
Photo: Jediah Porter

The G3 Ion LT, G3 Zed 12, Fritschi Tecton, Plum Pika, and Plum Summit have the easiest to learn, engage and disengage risers. The flip-flop style lifters are intuitive and fast becoming a standard.

Breaking trail in virgin pow, way up in the alpine, is a great test...
Breaking trail in virgin pow, way up in the alpine, is a great test of touring mode. You will switch the heel risers with some frequency, tangle with icing, and wish to have little to no interference from the weight of your bindings.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Next, we looked at each binding's toe piece range of motion. Some touring moves require more hinge range at the toe than others. A "normal" touring stride requires a little bit of heel lift (about 6-8 inches, at most), and all the bindings we tested allow enough for this. Steep uphill terrain requires specialized "kick turn" technique. The most efficient kick turners get the tip of the ski to their knee (and, therefore, the top of the toe of their boot) near the top sheet of the ski during a kick turn. Most bindings we tested allow all the range of motion you need. However, there are notable exceptions to this rule.

The complicated toe piece of the Fritschi Tecton has bulk and parts that limit the range of motion. In efficient kick turning, this compromised range of motion is noticeable and unfortunate. The close competitor Marker KingPin has less range of motion than other bindings but more than the Tecton. All the other award winners have all the range of motion you need.
Light, all purpose AT ski bindings will be suitable for everything...
Light, all purpose AT ski bindings will be suitable for everything from quick before-work tours to summit expeditions on giant volcanoes.
Photo: Jediah Porter

The final step in binding examination was to assess how each contender resisted icing. All bindings ice up to some extent and need to be chipped free from time to time. The simplest, lightest bindings in our review are also the least prone to icing. The Shift, Duke, Tecton, and KingPin bindings have more moving parts that collect ice. Any binding with brakes is more prone to icing than those without brakes.

The ultra-low-profile heel pieces of the Dynafit Expedition and Plum R170 collect virtually no ice. In sticky snow conditions, the  G3 Ion and Zed and Plum Pika gather ice that simulates informal "heel lifts", even when the binding is in low tour mode. Almost all "traditional" tech toes collect ice under the center of the toe piece. This manifests as toe pins that won't close entirely. In this case, the ski needs to be removed, turned upside down, and the ice cleared out. It may appear that your boot toe holes are full of ice or dirt, but the more likely culprit is ice between toe piece and ski top sheet.

The Plum toe pieces are especially vulnerable to this problem. The G3 Ion LT  and G3 Zed 12 seem less prone to toe piece icing than nearly every other binding we have used. The Marker Alpinist is in line with the G3 bindings. The beefier and bulkier Plum Summit, Dynafit ST Rotation, and Marker KingPin collect more ice than most.

While backcountry touring you expend a ton of effort going uphill...
While backcountry touring you expend a ton of effort going uphill and the last thing we feel most users want to do is waste effort trying to get into bindings. We compared how easy each one was to get into and out of through a series of side-by-side tests. Here Ian Nicholson skins up the Boston Glacier on the Forbidden Tour, North Cascades WA.
Photo: Jason Broman

Downhill Performance


For our downhill performance score, we compared how well each AT binding performed on the down. We divide our assessment into two main categories: how does the binding perform in "routine" downhill, and how is it designed and built to work when a release is required? 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.

Several factors contribute to downhill "routine" performance. We look at overall rigidity, release elasticity, stack height, and ramp angle/heel-toe-delta. A more rigid initial connection between ski and boot lends better downhill performance. Binding "elasticity" is the distance your boot can move within the binding before it is released. Some binding elasticity allows the boot to get deflected by normal skiing forces and then return to center for the next turn.

The Helio heel piece in downhill mode. Simple. You can see here some...
The Helio heel piece in downhill mode. Simple. You can see here some of the range of adjustment available. Without the adjustment plate, the binding is lighter and a different color and called the "Helio 145".
Photo: Jediah Porter

With theoretical zero elasticity, every lateral boot force would result in a complete release. Longitudinal ski flex creates the same sort of issue. This is undesirable, as normal skiing forces "appear", to a binding, to be the same as the forces associated with an injuring fall. Your binding cannot "decide" which forces lead to an injury and which are just "normal". The elasticity gives you some time and space, measured in split seconds and millimeters. If the force is short-lived, you hopefully won't get injured, and the elasticity of the binding will pull your ski back in line. If that force continues, the ski comes off, and the force is relieved before it is transmitted to your bones and connective tissues; in theory. Of course, binding release isn't perfect, and people get injured all the time. This is a risk you must be willing to take.

Steep and high energy skiing, under an expert practitioner, on ski...
Steep and high energy skiing, under an expert practitioner, on ski bindings without DIN/ISO certification. Good idea? Or accident waiting to happen? We think the former.
Photo: Jediah Porte

Release performance is difficult to objectively assess, as we can simply not crash enough to collect reliable data. We're trying, but we're imperfect. What we look for here first are certification standards. Then we consider the range of adjustment and type of non-certified release methodology.


AT bindings that have a more positive connection and more surface area (contact between the boot and the binding) within the binding itself and between the binding and the ski generally perform better. Of the touring bindings we have reviewed, only the Salomon Shift, Marker Duke PT, Fritschi Tecton, and Marker KingPin have the sole of the skier's pressing onto the binding. The Tecton and KingPin press at the heel, while the Salomon has firm downward hold at toe and heel both. These three also provide some "forward pressure" that assists in the elasticity of the binding.

The G3 Ion LT, Dynafit ST Rotation 12, G3 Zed 12, Ski Trab Titan Vario 2.0, and Marker Alpinist also provide some simulated "forward pressure" that, theoretically at least, lends both elasticity and security. In our testing,  most of the remainder of the bindings have the same downhill performance regarding positivity of connection and elasticity.

The Dynafit Expedition heel piece does not rotate at all. This means it has no lateral release, no change to heel elevation, and zero potential for heel lateral elasticity.

You&#039;ll notice the benefits of lightweight more on the uphill than...
You'll notice the benefits of lightweight more on the uphill than you will the drawbacks of minimalist bindings on the downhill.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Binding geometry varies from one product to the next. Each binding puts your boot sole at a different distance from the ski, and each binding has a different "heel-toe-delta". The distance between the boot sole and ski top sheet is called "stack height". 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. The more sophisticated tech bindings have a greater stack height. The Kingpin, Tecton, Plum Summit, and G3 Ion LT, among others, all have stack heights over 39mm. The simpler Plum, and Atomic Backland bindings keep your foot closer to the ski. The lightest bindings have the lowest stack heights. The Marker Alpinist is more than a full centimeter lower than the Tecton. The Dynafit Expedition has a stack height of 30mm, which is 3/5ths the greatest stack height we tested.

Award winning Atomic Backland in use. The brakes are simple and stow...
Award winning Atomic Backland in use. The brakes are simple and stow out of the way much like those on your alpine bindings.
Photo: Jediah Porter

The skiing ramp angle is the angle between your foot sole and the ski top sheet. This angle depends on boot size, insole choice, boot sole geometry, and binding construction. We focus here on the binding component of this equation. The binding affects your ramp angle in that different bindings have different relative toe and heel heights. We call the difference between toe and heel height "toe-heel-delta," and we measure this by measuring the distance from ski surface to the center of the effective toe pins and to the center of the effective heel pins ("effective" because not all bindings have heel pins and two do not use their toe pins in downhill mode). AT bindings tend to feature a greater toe-heel-delta than most downhill bindings to, theoretically, help make up for generally softer, less aggressive, and forward-leaning boots.

Unless you are 100% confident that you have strong preferences in ramp angle and you know your boot size and boot geometry (as it pertains to ramp angle), we don't recommend thinking too much about binding toe-heel-delta. If you know, it matters to you, realize that the Marker Alpinist, Dynafit Expedition, G3 Zed, and Plum R170 have really low binding delta. The Salomon Shift, Dynafit ST Rotation, G3 Ion LT, and Plum Summit have high binding delta. Otherwise, the remainder are relatively similar to one another, falling in the middle and sitting within a few millimeters of each other.

Ski binding geometry is easily measured, communicated, and compared...
Ski binding geometry is easily measured, communicated, and compared. But how important is it, actually? So many other variables (boots, skis, rider) affect the experience that it is unlikely you'll notice huge differences in bindings.
Photo: Jediah Porter

There are three main categories of AT bindings in terms of release value adjustment. First, some have no adjustment to the release. The Dynafit Expedition and Plum R170 are in this category.

The Salomon Shift, Marker Duke PT, Marker KingPin, Dynafit ST Rotation, and Fritschi Tecton are the only bindings we reviewed that have this external, third-party endorsement of their certification.

It is important to make further notes on ISO/DIN certification and the "alphabet soup" that surrounds this topic. DIN is a German organization that defines binding release parameters. ISO is an international organization that does the same thing. ISO and DIN parameters are the same. ISO and DIN both write standards for alpine bindings and for AT bindings. The Tecton, KingPin, Rotation, Duke, and Shift all meet the AT binding release standard. The Shift and Duke also meet the alpine binding release standard. The alpine release standard is more stringent than the AT standard. TUV is a company that tests ski bindings to the ISO/DIN standards. You can't actually have "DIN certified" bindings. The bindings are "TUV certified" to the DIN standard. Semantics, but perhaps important to you. Words matter.

Overall durability is tough to determine, we talked to as many folks...
Overall durability is tough to determine, we talked to as many folks as we could, several backcountry shops and a handful of sales reps to help figure out where all AT bindings stood. What we do know is that you don't want to be several ridges back and have them catastrophically break.
Photo: Jediah Porter

As you ponder your binding choice, especially as it pertains to downhill performance, consider the following. Yes, you are here for the downhill. We all are. It is downhill that makes backcountry skiing, skiing. Otherwise, it would be hiking, and we would choose entirely different gear. And probably be more sad. Nonetheless, you have to accept that you will spend 80-90% of your backcountry skiing time going uphill. Lighter gear gets you up the hill faster, with more energy to spare at the top. Bindings that go downhill better are heavier. More precisely, bindings that go downhill a little better are a lot heavier. The heaviest bindings we have tested are more than four times as heavy as the lightest but go downhill, with some practice with each, marginally better.

All the bindings we tested go downhill just fine. We've skied 50 degree, no-fall high altitude lines on the lightest race bindings tested here. Sure, something beefier would be better in that instant. But overall, the beefier bindings just weren't the right choice. That is likely your situation as you investigate your purchase. The certifications, springs, retention, and associated mass are appealing; you want to enjoy that downhill part. Further, heavier bindings look more like the resort bindings you are accustomed to. This perception and familiarity and its biasing role in your decision-making cannot be ignored. Familiar-looking equipment might make you feel better about the equipment, but is that based in reality? Can you do something else to be comfortable with proven and effective equipment? After watching hundreds of skiers of all abilities use dozens of different bindings, we can say on good authority that more minimalist bindings enhance your experience more than beefier ones do, all else equal.

The Marker Duke PT is the best performing downhill binding we&#039;ve...
The Marker Duke PT is the best performing downhill binding we've tested. But do you need all that performance? Enough to justify the complications, weight, and other potential issues? Think hard on that. Each answer will be different.
Photo: Jediah Porter

The absolute best case to be made for this might be in what Grand Teton National Park's guide pool is using. As we envision the entire team of human-powered ski guides in the Teton region (arguably the most voluminous ski touring guiding community in the whole US), we can't envision a single guide regularly using bindings that weigh more than 300 grams per foot. And all are skiing downhill (a lot) at a high standard, in legit terrain, with high energy and confidence.

Ease of Use


Ease of use is summed up (you guessed it) by how easy the bindings were to use. First, we looked at how easy they were to step into and out of and how easy it was to transition to touring or downhill again. We also compared how easy it was to make adjustments to release value and boot length.


Ease of entry for tech bindings is hands down where the G3 bindings take the cake, and it's the feature that impressed us the most about their two tested bindings. 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, both G3 bindings feature two vertical levers that, when lightly pressured, engage the side pins. We think the ION or Zed is the answer for folks who struggle with getting into tech bindings. The toe piece of the Fritschi Tecton is engineered entirely differently, but the result is similar in terms of ease of entry. 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. Once accustomed to it, getting into the Tecton goes smoothly.

The Marker toe piece locks with a familiar lever. Getting in and out...
The Marker toe piece locks with a familiar lever. Getting in and out is similar to any other typical tech binding.
Photo: Jediah Porter

The Marker Kingpin was likely the next easiest of the tech bindings to get into. Similar to the Dynafit TLT Speed, it features two "posts" that help line your boot up correctly. The toe piece of the Atomic Backland Tour has a sort of guide that helps you to line up the toe pins. 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.

From up to down matters more, and nearly every backcountry tour will have at least one of these types of transitions. 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, soft snow, where if you step down with a "ski-less" foot, you will plunge that leg to your hip.

On the flip side, it is challenging 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" 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.

Fritschi Tecton. The advanced performance of this binding requires...
Fritschi Tecton. The advanced performance of this binding requires more bulk and moving parts than usual. This collects snow and ice more dramatically than other products.
Photo: Jediah Porte

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. You can also buy and mount this award winner without brakes. The Fritschi Tecton snapped between walk and tour mode very easily, whether below our feet or in our hands. Transitions with the  Dynafit Expedition, Plum R170, and Pika are quick and easy.

Transitions with the Plum Summit and Dynafit Rotation ST are very similar and about average. Salomon Shift and Marker Duke transitions are among the more onerous. Disengaging the Shift brake from tour to ski mode can be downright dangerous. One tester lost a fingernail early in the testing process. Further, you absolutely have to remove the Shift from your boot to go either direction between tour and ski mode.  Transitioning the Marker Duke involves, in some cases, completely removing the toe piece and stowing it in your backpack. In just one year of availability now, we have heard multiple stories of people ending on top of their ski run with no Duke toe pieces. This is annoying, at best.

Transitions eat up valuable non-skiing time. Choose bindings with at...
Transitions eat up valuable non-skiing time. Choose bindings with at least a slight nod to transition efficiency. The good news is that the bindings that are good at transitions are also the lighter bindings.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Ski Crampons

Depending on where you ski and how much springtime touring and ski mountaineering you do, ski crampons can matter a tremendous amount or very little. We rarely bring ski crampons mid-winter while conditions are consistently cold, and we often ski at or below treeline while basically looking for only powder snow. However, once the melt-freeze cycle starts (or between storms in windy climates) and you start thinking about skiing corn or higher elevation mountains, ski crampons can save you a tremendous amount of effort. In very windy climates (High Sierra, California, you listening? Also, Colorado 14ers skiers, you dig?), you will use ski crampons all year long. Ease of use rating considers the option and complication of employing ski crampons. G3's proprietary ski crampon system is excellent but heavier and bulkier than others. Marker's heavier bindings use special crampons, as do the Shift bindings. The remainder of the bindings on the market use a similar (if not exactly the same) method of attaching ski crampons. It isn't super convenient, but it is simple, light, and proven.

Ski crampons, while not necessary for every tour especially during...
Ski crampons, while not necessary for every tour especially during mid winter, during spring and ski mountaineering trips they can save an incredible amount of time, energy, and frustration when the slope is just too steep and firm to skin, but booting would involve punching in.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Weight


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 1038 gram difference between our review's lightest binding, the Plum R170 (199 grams per foot), and the heaviest, the Marker Duke PT(1219g per foot). Overall, touring on lighter bindings is noticeably easier. The old saying of "A pound on your foot is like five on your back" runs at least slightly true, as people can endure noticeably more vertical gain with less weight on their feet.


There is a significant difference among tech bindings, especially when comparing a top-performer like the Atomic Backland Tour (286 grams) to the Marker Kingpin (737 grams) and the Black Diamond Tecton (694 grams). The Kingpin and Tecton have all the same major features as the Backland but weigh much more.

When you are carrying your skis on your back nothing matters but...
When you are carrying your skis on your back nothing matters but weight. Keep 'em simple.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Both the Atomic Backland Tour and Marker Alpinist earn our highest award in great part due to their weight. We have scoured the market and have found no lighter binding with the Backland and Marker Alpinist feature set.

&quot;Ski Mountaineering&quot; is often standing around with skis on one&#039;s...
"Ski Mountaineering" is often standing around with skis on one's back. In this case, the Plum Guide XS.
Photo: Jediah Porte

In scoring weight, we took the raw data and adjusted it for features. To compare "apples to apples", we corrected for optional add-ons. For instance, some bindings have optional brakes. When we tested with the brakes, their weight is indicated in the raw weight data.

Durability


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 few sales reps; we wanted to see what broke, how often, and on which models. Overall, there is a pretty strong correlation between durability and simplicity. Simple, proven products will last better.

The Dynafit ST Rotation, in use, in Wydaho&#039;s Teton westside.
The Dynafit ST Rotation, in use, in Wydaho's Teton westside.
Photo: Jediah Porter

The Atomic Backland Tour is a relatively new product, but it employs largely proven technology. In our extensive testing, so far, we have had no issues with the Backland. We are confident that the Atomic will be a durable legend. We have more than two full seasons now on the Atomic Backland Tour. Durability and function continue to be reliable. We have had zero issues with the binding.

The Dynafit Expedition is purpose-built to optimize for durability. Ease of use and release function suffers, but these bindings are truly bomb-proof.

Both the Tecton and the Kingpin had a few early, fairly significant issues with mechanical integrity, and both companies seem to have dealt with that issue. Some versions of the Marker KingPin are currently under recall. Marker seems to be standing by the product, but this is a real issue for some products in some circumstances.

The specialized Salomon Shift is a new design and incorporates more moving parts than typical for touring bindings. The Shift does indeed present some issues in durability and usability. In a few seasons now of use, certain patterns have emerged. The toe pieces can break. Also, the brakes engage while touring. Both of these are annoying, at best. In our testing, we have found that two major behavioral adaptations can mitigate both of these. Since the Shift looks like a resort binding, people use them like resort bindings. Two behavior patterns stand out. First, resort skiers are accustomed to cleaning the soles of their boots before entry by scraping or kicking their boot against the toe piece of the binding. Don't do this with the Shift. Next, we carry our skis around with their brakes interlaced. When you deploy so-stowed skis equipped with Shifts, do so by delicately de-lacing the brakes. Jerk them apart, like you can with regular resort bindings, and you risk bending crucial, low-tolerance parts in the brake stowing mechanism. Be gentle; these aren't resort bindings.

The Marker Duke PT snags an award from the Shift mainly due to durability. Early testing (and beyond) indicates that the Duke is exempt from the durability and functional issues of the Shift. This is what we would expect from a second-generation product in any given subcategory. Salomon/Atomic forged the way with the Shift, while Marker took time with a more refined product. Both, though, are heavier and more complicated than is necessary for most backcountry skiers.

The Fritschi Tecton is a little less robust feeling than the Marker KingPin, mainly because of the 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.

When selecting AT ski bindings realize just how much of your ski...
When selecting AT ski bindings realize just how much of your ski experience is going uphill. You want an awesome experience on the downhill, we know. But you absolutely need to have a favorable time going up.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Conclusion


Touring bindings offer an excellent opportunity to save weight, but choosing them is difficult. We review, compare, and report on bindings for human-powered backcountry skiing for this very reason. Climb up, ski down. Some or all of this gear can and will be pressed into other uses, but our reporting and scoring are based on classic, ever-more-popular, human-powered backcountry skiing. The bulk of our information is based on real-world, true backcountry skiing, conducted by a team with widely varying experience and skill to get you the best possible information.

Jediah Porter & Ian Nicholson

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