The Best Splitboard Bindings
Best Overall Splitboard Bindings for Backcountry Snowboarding
Spark R&D Arc
We had few complaints with this binding. It's great; however, the heel riser is tricky to deploy with soft baskets. It requires a fair amount of accuracy, but once you figure out the technique, it is more consistent. The highback can be soft for larger riders or those looking for a very stiff binding; these individuals should check out the Spark R&D Surge Pro.
Read review: Spark R&D Arc
Best Bang for the Buck
Spark R&D Blaze TR
The Spark R&D Blaze TR comes in at a low price and even lower weight, representing a solid value for those tight on cash. 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 comfortable straps. The above features make it a worthwhile binding to get you in the backcountry…and save some money.
At this stage of the market, we find pin binding to be outdated and a hassle. 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
Best Ratio of Response to Gram to Dollar
Spark R&D Surge Pro
The Spark R&D Surge Pro is one of the lightest, most responsive bindings on the market. Outfitted with the Spark R&D T1 system, it relays efficiency benefits in transitions. The response, weight, and price make this binding appealling to those with ambitious and technical objectives - where every gram matters.
The Surge Pro is 10% lighter than the standard surge but costs more. The price increase makes sense with the added engineering and materials used. If weight reduction is important to you then this is a solid value, especially when compared with other bindings that have custom made hardware to shave weight.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our tester Isaac Laredo has committed his life to enjoying and facilitating the creation of special moments in the outdoors. These gear reviews hope to be a manifestation of that. In hopes that you can find the perfect piece of gear that will put a smile on your face for years to come. Isaac is an avalanche and outdoor educator and is also pursuing his AMGA Splitboard guide certification. In both of these professions, gear needs to perform like clockwork so that he can focus on the safety, quality of experience, and learning outcomes of the students. Isaac graduated from Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe. After moving to Tahoe in 2014, Isaac has enjoyed consistent 100+ day seasons.
We researched the market's top splitboard bindings and purchased the top models to objectively test them side by side. You read that right, purchased. We understand bias is the quickest way to threaten a data set, so we nip that right in the bud, and pay the same price as you. We aim to provide the most scientific reviews available, and the reliability of scientific findings is driven by the quality and quantity of the data. To accomplish this, we purchase the product and extensively test it, with testing occuring on the snowy slopes of the Sierra Nevada. The world-class access and terrain results in large amounts of qualitative data. Our findings are presented below in an objective review to help you find your perfect binding.
Related: How We Tested Splitboard Bindings
Analysis and Test Results
We have diverse demands from our uphill gear. It must perform in a variety of categories to provide us with a well-rounded, high-quality experience. Certain performance distinctions are incredibly subtle and others are like entirely different ends of a spectrum. To help sort out the nuisances and highlight the distinctions, we've rated and tested each binding in the following metrics: uphill performance, transitions, weight, downhill performance, and the quality of their straps, lean adjusters, and heel risers.Related: Buying Advice for Splitboard Bindings
Value is important to consider in every purchase, especially when the market has a big price range. It's pretty expensive to get into splitboarding and its critical that we get the best performance for our dollar. The Editors' Choice Spark R&D Arc is an incredible value for class-leading performance at a next to Best Buy price. The Spark R&D Blaze TR is our Best Buy Award winner, as it's fairly lightweight and offers a fun, enjoyable ride on the descent. Its lower price comes with a pin system that is out of date at this stage in the progression of splitboarding; however, the overall performance of the binding makes it the best value priced option. If you can, we would recommend spending the extra money to purchase the Spark R&D Arc.
The foundation of splitboarding is walking uphill. Our gear spends 90% of its life in touring mode, and the touring component can make or break our day. If our gear performs poorly in challenging conditions, we spend significantly more energy on the way up, and have less for the way down. Because it makes up a large component of our backcountry experience, we need it to perform well.
We evaluated the bindings on specific aspects that make up our uphill experience. We looked at the quality of stride, comfort, and sidehilling ability of each binding. Our tour up was spent finding conditions that put these components to the test.
Three bindings stood out for their uphill performance. The Spark R&D Surge Pro, Spark R&D Arc, had the highest quality stride due to their class-leading amount of negative lean and low friction touring bracket. This allows for longer strides on flatter terrain. Ultimately, you have to take fewer steps and are traveling more efficiently. The Karakoram Prime-X offers the best sidehilling performance due to its taller and longer sidearms. For even better performance, it is offered with flex lock, which works to stiffen your boot when sidehilling. The Union Expedition was the most comfortable underfoot thanks to its padded base plate.
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.
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. The numbers reflected reference the weight per pair, while field weight factors in everything needed for touring; every screw, bracket, and puck.
The Spark R&D Surge Pro is the featherweight champion and receives a Top Pick Award for its ratio of stiffness to weight to price. Not too far behind is the Spark R&D Arc. The standard Spark interface weighs 442 g and the pro interface clocks in at 434 grams. The Karakoram Prime X is a light offering from Karakoram at 800 grams. The binding itself is well designed to be light and robust. However, its total weight increases when we factor in the 839-gram interface and risers.
Changing between climbing mode and snowboarding mode can be a hassle; anyone who has toured with efficient backcountry skiers have 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 have a simple design that increases efficiency, reliability, and usability in adverse conditions, and 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. It's also resilient to icing due to its passive system. When you slide the bindings on the pucks, it naturally clears snow and ice from the channel. Karakoram has increased its ease of transitions, but we prefer the Spark system for its simplicity. 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 system 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. Downhill performance is a matter of response, comfort, and overall feel of the binding. We spent our descents turning hard, tweaking, and shifting our weight tip to tail to see how the binding would respond.
We found that every binding performed quite well on the downhill, each for different reasons and has a certain rider in mind. The Union Expedition is very comfortable and had the fluid and responsive feeling that Union is known for. This is good for the snowboarder who loves their Union bindings and what's a more freestyle feel on the way down. We loved the feeling of this binding aside for the 2-3 degree swivel that is inherent in the interface. Supposedly, Union has fixed this for 2020 for the 2.0.
The Spark R&D Arc and Spark R&D Blaze TR have a responsive yet playful character, especially when talking about a splitboard binding. They offer plenty of response for any objective, but if you are a larger rider, you might find the highback soft for demanding riding. The Karakoram Prime X, Prime X Carbon, and Spark R&D Surge Pro have a responsive and reactive character derived from their stiff highbacks and baseplates. Each uses premium materials to provide a stiffer binding at a lighter weight. This is great for larger or more demanding riders who are looking for a stiff and responsive ride to fit their objectives.
Straps, Lean, and Risers
The straps, forward lean adjusters, and heel risers are features that we directly handled multiple times while touring. It's important for these to perform well for your efficiency and peace of mind. We handled, toggled, ratcheted and flipped these features countless times to determine which systems were our favorite.
The straps were awesome across the board. The Spark Arc and Surge Pro use the pillow line strap, which is a one-piece injection-molded plastic strap that is bombproof, lightweight, and stunningly comfortable.
The Karakoram Straps were pressure point free, easy to maneuver, and genuinely cozy.
Most of the bindings have specially designed forward lean adjusters to encourage zero or negative forward lean for more efficient flat land touring.
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. The Spark Rip N Flip lean adjuster offers the widest range of negative and forward lean.
Heel Risers are very helpful when traveling up steeper skin tracks. As many avid backcountry users say, they have their uses and abuses. If they're a hassle to deploy, then you're wasting time that could be used moving, gather relevant avalanche observations or skiing. Karakoram had the easiest to deploy heel risers while remaining upright; every system is kind of tricky until you figure out the technique. Give it time and you should be able to tune in to whichever system you have.
Splitboard bindings have a lot of jobs to do. We broke down the entire experience into key metrics designed to help you make the best decision for your needs. Pay particular attention to the models that stood out in your prioritized metrics and make your decision accordingly.
— Isaac Laredo & David Reichel