Which pair of splitboard bindings are the best? We evaluated over 30 of the top pairs before purchasing the best 6 for testing in 2019. Splitboard bindings strive to function exactly like regular snowboard bindings on the down, but must also transform to allow for climbing up; this adds complexity to design. We compared our test bindings in how well they rode downhill and how easily they transitioned; we also analyzed weight, straps, and forward lean. Read on to discover the results of our testing!
The Best Splitboard Bindings
|Price||$385.00 at REI|
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|$575 List||$929.99 at Backcountry|
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|$285 List||$374.95 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Exceptional uphill and downhill performance, lightest model in our review, affordable, simple attachment system, speedy transitions, high quality toe and ankle ratchets and straps||Lightweight, stiff, responsive, great straps, easy to use buckles||Beautiful carbon highback, improved ease of use, tight board connection, convenient forward lean adjuster||Inexpensive, lightweight, exceptional downhill performance, slightly above-average straps, lean, risers||Innovative, simple transitions, affordable, cool forward lean adjuster|
|Cons||Can be tough for some riders to engage the climbing bar from a standing position, high back not particularly stiff||Expensive, might be too stiff for lighter riders||Expensive, heavy, snow and ice can complicate transition to ride mode||Slider pin is outdated, not the most convenient forward lean adjuster||Heavy, slightly awkward buckles, snow in touring interface an issue|
|Bottom Line||This is the best binding we have used and comes at a great price.||The R&D Surge Pro is an amazing but spendy binding.||The Prime X Carbon is the best offering from Karakoram.||A classic contender in our fleet, it comes at an excellent price, with decent performance across the board.||The Speed Rail is a creative binding in an affordable package.|
|Rating Categories||Spark R&D Arc||Spark Surge Pro||Karakoram Prime-X Carbon||Spark R&D Blaze TR||Voile Speed Rail|
|Uphill Performance (20%)|
|Downhill Performance (30%)|
|Straps Lean Risers (10%)|
|Specs||Spark R&D Arc||Spark Surge Pro||Karakoram Prime-X...||Spark R&D Blaze TR||Voile Speed Rail|
|Weight in g (per)||675g (medium)||610g (medium)||715g (medium)||733g (medium)||770g (medium)|
|Weight in lb (per)||1 lb 8 oz||1lb 5.6 oz||1lb 9.2 oz||1 lb 9 oz||1lb 11.2 oz|
|Compatible systems||Spark Pucks, Voile Pucks (Regular or Canted), Burton Channel Pucks, One Binding System, and Ibex Crampons||Spark Pucks, Voile Pucks (Regular or Canted), Burton Channel Pucks, One Binding System, and Ibex Crampons||Karakoram Splitboard Clips, Prime Crampons||Spark Pucks, Voile Pucks (Regular or Canted), Burton Channel Pucks, One Binding System, Sabertooth Crampons, Ibex Crampons||Spark Pucks, Voile Pucks (Regular or Canted), Burton Channel Pucks, One Binding System, and Ibex Crampons|
Best Overall Splitboard Bindings for Backcountry Snowboarding
Spark R&D Arc
The Spark R&D Arc binding consistently received high scores in every category of our review. It is one of the lightest binding in our test. To put the cherry on top, it's one of the most affordable product in our review. Talk about impressive dominance! Losing the pin through the use of the Snap Ramp system saves an appreciable amount of hassle during transitions. This improvement is a significant evolutionary step that improves speed of transitions, reduces the hassle of fiddling with a pin and cable retention leash while maintaining the speed and simplicity of the puck system.
The Spark R&D Surge is very similar to the Arc, but features a few stiffer components and weighs a little more. The Spark R&D Pro Series bindings improve on the excellent qualities of the Arc and Surge, but these gains are spendy. If the extra coin is not a deterrent, the Pro Series does offer a higher performing option.
Read review: Spark R&D Arc
Best Bang for the Buck
Spark R&D Blaze TR
The Spark R&D Blaze TR is the least expensive binding in our review and offers a great value — even the cheapest dirtbag should gladly shell out the cash for this one. This binding features the classic (though inferior) slider pin and is lightweight, easy to transition, and rocks awesome straps.
If possible, we would recommend eating ramen for another month or two and saving up for a pinless binding, like the Spark R&D Arc or Surge, but the Blaze TR will absolutely get the job done.
Read review: Spark R&D Blaze TR
Analysis and Test Results
Price, ease of use, and overall performance are the most obvious features that folks will consider when making this investment. We not only considered these features but also dug a bit deeper into what goes into a modern splitboard binding. One of the biggest attributes of a splitboard binding is its weight, and those continue to decline. If you are willing to pay premium prices, the most expensive models are often the lightest. Splitboards still need to transition more often that BC skiers, but the hassle associated with our bindings continue to reduce. Both Karakoram and Voile bindings offer new options that promise simplified transitions. Spark R&D continues with smaller refinements to their highly efficient system.
We reviewed contenders from Karakoram, Spark R&D, and Voile. Within this group, the major differences worked out to be between Karakoram on one side and Spark R&D, Voile on the other. While large differences of quality and features exist between Spark R&D and Voile, fundamental differences of type and interface exist between Karakoram and the others. These differences can be thought of as choosing an ecosystem, perhaps like an iPhone versus an Android phone. Both function fine, but present different strengths and provide plenty of ammunition for online fanboy arguments. The primary differences are covered in general in the Pucks vs. Karakoram section below and in more detail in the Karakoram Prime 1 section. For 2019, we found that the Karakoram Ride Mode 2.0 improvements to the Karakoram interface were a definite step forward. These advancements reduce the hassle and speed the transition of the Karakoram bindings.
To help illustrate how the bindings in our test stacked up against each other in terms of value (which we defined as the overall performance of a product compared to its list price), we put together an analysis of price compared to performance. The Spark R&D Blaze TR is the best value. The Spark R&D Pro Series bindings are interesting additions to the value discussion. They improve upon the already good Spark R&D bindings, but that improvement does come with a price penalty.
Pucks vs. Karakoram
The first commercial splitboards manufactured by Voile featured pucks that were made for sliding bindings on and off when transitioning from touring mode to riding mode. Although Voile has made incremental improvements, modern pucks largely resemble the earliest versions. Spark R&D recently released their own puck, and while it is demonstrably easier to install and adjust, and arguably stiffer than Voile pucks, it too represents a modest evolutionary improvement on a long existing standard. All versions of pucks are compatible with puck style split bindings.
Historically, locking pins were inserted in front of the pucks to secure the binding in place. These pins are still found on the Spark R&D Blaze TR. While completely functional, the pin can be a bit of hassle during changeovers, and the thin cable that prevents the pin from being dropped can get in the way when putting your boot into the binding. The Spark Arc and Surge and Pro Series use a locking mechanism they call a Snap Ramp to secure the bindings onto the pucks. This Snap Ramp removes the pins and saves valuable time with each transition.
The Voile Speed Rail binding deserves credit for thinking outside the box. While still using the puck system the Speed Rail completely loses pins and offers darn near drop in performance. In the field, we did not perfectly execute the transition from ride to tour mode every time, but when we got it on the first try, we were seriously impressed.
Karakoram bindings represent a different type of mousetrap; their system does not use sliding pucks. The method of attaching and releasing Karakoram bindings relies on a mechanical locking mechanism within the binding itself, which locks down and then releases the binding to the Karakoram interface (that is attached to the board). According to Karakoram, the clamping action of attaching their binding to the board pulls the two board halves together, thus improving ride quality. Presently, the choice of setting up your splitboard with pucks or the Karakoram system is likely the most significant choice you'll make in outfitting your board.
To determine how well these contenders climbed, we took them splitboarding. When climbing up, we engaged the heel riser(s), adjusted the forward lean, and evaluated how well the products navigated challenging skin tracks and sidehill sections.
While all of the heel risers functioned, none were absolutely perfect. Helped by its lightweight, the Spark Arc blew the rest away in this category with a score of 8; all the other contenders scored in the 4-5 range. Adjusting the highback forward lean (forward for shredding, backward for skinning) is an area that nearly every binding has recently improved.
Weight is the most objective evaluation available to us; it also happens to be one of the most critical features when climbing mountains. We weighed all of the models on the same scale. To understand the total weight of each system, we weighed the respective interfaces. It is widely believed that weight on your feet that moves with every step, saps more energy than the same weight on your back, which moves less with every step. This means that saving weight on your bindings can potentially lead to significant gains while climbing. Serious road bikers will spend amazing amounts of money for minimally lighter weight wheels, in the belief that reducing rotational weight offers significant benefits. Similarly, reducing binding weight should provide significant benefits for splitboarders.
The Spark R&D Surge Pro was the featherweight champion at 610 grams and received a score of 8. Not too far behind was the Spark R&D Arc at 675 grams. The Karakoram Prime X Carbon is the lightest offering we've seen from Karakoram at 715 grams. Carbon and advanced materials drop the weight, but also increase the cost.
Changing between climbing mode and snowboarding mode can be a hassle. Anyone who has toured with efficient backcountry skiers has likely noticed that splitboard transitions can take longer than skier transitions. Add in some refrozen snow that has become stuck to the small parts of the interface and transitions can occasionally turn into ordeals, whether or not anyone is waiting on us. While some of this is unavoidable, it is desirable to reduce the transition time as much as possible. Faster transitions translate to more time riding, and that's the whole point.
Experienced splitboarders develop strategies to streamline this process. Pro tip: it helps to have an organized pack with gear accessible in the order that you want it. Being consistent with your transition process builds speed as you become more proficient with each step. Splitboard transitions do not need to take drastically longer than ski transitions, and it helps if the splitboard binding (and splitboard too) facilitate quick changeovers.
The best design takes this into consideration and creates a binding that is easy to manipulate with gloves on, requires minimal clearing of snow from the interface, and reduces the number of steps to release or attach the binding. There is a massive difference between operating binding systems in a warm living room and performing the same steps on a windy summit with cold fingers battling refrozen snow and ice clogging the interface system.
The products that scored highest in our Transition section excelled at facilitating changeovers. The Spark Arc and Spark Surge Pro received our highest score of 7 because they consistently received the best reviews from testers for ease of transitions. The Snap Ramp system found on the Arc/Surge is the easiest to operate with or without gloves. Karakoram has increased the ease of transitions, but still somewhat trails what Spark is delivering. Certainly, an organized, experienced boarder can switch over quickly using any binding, while a newbie might struggle using the most efficient model in existence; we found the Spark Arc was consistently faster than the others.
Riding downhill is the fun part; this is your reward! The whole point of climbing the mountain is to enjoy the shred down, so it is critical that the bindings work well for this. Once attached to the board, they should look and function very similarly to regular snowboard bindings. We tried to evaluate whether attaching the binding actually influenced the ride quality.
Our primary finding was that most of the contenders functioned great on the descents and that changing the binding did not significantly alter the ride personality of the splitboard. The small quibbles from reviewers focused on ankle strap and high back preferences but were not consistent across our group of reviewers. Some reviewers preferred the feel and performance of a particular high back. This is akin to choosing a particular shoe because it fits the unique shape of your foot.
Our downhill performance evaluation mostly focused on downhill snowboarding, but we did investigate the heel lock features of the Spark Arc, Karakoram Prime and Prime X Carbon, and Voile Speed Rail. These heel lock features offer the promise of improved downhill skiing performance by locking down your heel. In certain situations, locking down your heel can also help with short climbs as well. Locking in and then unlocking your heel is a bit cumbersome on all the bindings and potentially adds another small transition to a splitboarder's day, when it would be most desirable to reduce transitions. Ultimately, we did not factor these heel lock devices into the scores. We found that the heel locks are an interesting feature, but not yet functional enough to significantly influence one's buying decision.
Straps and Lean Adjusters
We cranked on buckles and slapped them off. We repeated this with cold fingers, with mittens, and on spring days will bare hands. One of our findings is that the buckles and straps have improved across the board, with the biggest improvements on the cheaper models.
Most of the bindings have specially designed forward lean adjusters to encourage zero or negative forward lean for more efficient flat land touring. Many snowboarders don't appreciate that zero or negative forward lean is highly desirable on longer and flatter tours.
Covering any significant flat distance with forward lead shortens each stride and quickly adds up to more exertion over the course of a day. Rocking zero or negative forward lean (and boots that allow your ankle to flex even backward) significantly improves our efficiency over the course of long touring days in both flat and rolling terrain. If your objective heads straight up from the trailhead, the benefit of this is less noticeable, but still present. The best forward lean adjusters easily switch to whatever amount of forward lean that riders prefer for snowboarding down. Currently, all the modern forward lean adjusters from Karakoram, Spark, and Voile work very well. This wasn't the case a few years ago, and it is encouraging to see manufacturers improving their offerings.
None of the models that we reviewed are specialized in terms of performance. They all tour up and shred down just fine. Perhaps in the future, splitboard-specific bindings will differentiate as backcountry ski bindings have based on their intended use, but this hasn't yet occurred. The biggest difference is between the puck-based system (Spark, Voile) and the Karakoram system. We did not find a significant performance distinction but note differences of weight, transition ease, and cost.
From ease of use to overall performance, we considered all of the features that go into finding the right pair of splitboard bindings for backcountry snowboarding. We hope our tests and observations have helped you narrow down the best product for your particular needs.
— David Reichel