|Price||$385 List||$540 List||$629 List|
$595.00 at Amazon
$503.97 at Backcountry
$569.49 at Amazon
|Pros||Uphill and downhill performance, lightweight, good value, efficient transitions, lean adjusters||Lightweight, easy to transition||Lightweight, fast transitions, responsive, great straps, easy to use buckles||Improved interface, downhill performance, comfortable straps, easy to deploy heel risers||Easy to deploy heel risers, comfortable straps, reduced icing issues|
|Cons||Heel risers can be challenging to deploy with softer baskets||Have to buy heel lock separately, soft pole baskets can struggle with riser bar||Might be too stiff for lighter riders, high back catches on heel cup between walk and ride modes||Expensive, weight of entire system||Expensive, heavy field weight|
|Bottom Line||Top-notch performance that keeps your wallet in mind||The best of the best for all the lady splitboarders out there||Meticulous engineering to make the good even better||Enjoyable for the up, down, and in between||A capable and versatile offering that is a little more friendly on the wallet|
|Rating Categories||Spark R&D Arc||Spark R&D Arc Pro -...||Spark R&D Surge Pro||Karakoram Prime-X||Karakoram Prime Nomad|
|Uphill Performance (20%)|
|Downhill Performance (30%)|
|Straps, Lean, Risers (10%)|
|Specs||Spark R&D Arc||Spark R&D Arc Pro -...||Spark R&D Surge Pro||Karakoram Prime-X||Karakoram Prime Nomad|
|Measured Weight (pair)||2.8 lbs||2.4 lbs||2.7 lbs||3.18 lbs||3.18 lbs|
|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||Spark Pucks, Voile Pucks (Regular or Canted), Burton Channel Pucks, One Binding System, and Ibex Crampons||Karakoram Splitboard Clips, Prime Crampons||Prime Crampons, Ride Mode 2.0|
Best Overall Splitboard Bindings for Men
Spark R&D Arc
The Arc is great; however, we noted a few things to be aware of with this product. 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 and fluid. 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 Overall for the Ladies
Spark R&D Arc Pro - Women's
Delivering an equally impressive performance, Spark makes a ladies-specific version of our all-time favorite splitboard bindings, the Spark R&D Arc Pro. These lightweight bindings are simple and easy to use, offering a relatively painless transition with a fun and comfortable ride — both up and down. They aren't prone to icing up, and it's easy to swap modes even while wearing gloves, which we were very thankful for when riding on stormy days. You get an efficient stride when skinning up, and plenty of control on the way down, making them the perfect option for just about every condition.
We honestly had a hard time identifying flaws with this particular pair of bindings. Like their male-focused counterparts, we also found that it isn't the easiest to activate the riser bar with softer pole baskets, but that's about it — the softer highback didn't present itself as an issue for the Women's Arcs. If you are a lady splitboarder looking for the best of the best when it comes to bindings, we highly recommend the R&D Arc Pro.
Read review: Spark R&D Arc Pro - Women's
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 while saving 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 transition system. If not, the Blaze TR will get the job done.
Read the 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 appealing to those with ambitious and technical objectives. Objectives where every gram matters, the Surge Pro is an excellent fit.
The Surge Pro is 10% lighter than the standard Surge but costs more; however, the price increase makes sense with the added engineering and materials used. If weight reduction is important to you, this is a solid value, especially when compared with other bindings with custom-made hardware (to shave weight). Another thing to be aware of is that the highback catches on the heel cup when transitioning between tour and ride mode. The allowance between the modes is a little tight, which results in the highback catching; a firm pat will free the high back. While this isn't the biggest deal, it does impact the user experience.
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 the 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 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. For the ladies-specific models, we enlisted the help of Marissa Fox. Marissa has been snowboarding for over 25 years and splitboarding for close to 10. She has ridden terrain worldwide, ranging from shredding in the Swiss Alps to Heli-boarding in Canada. She has spent copious amounts of time in the backcountry and is a former professional athlete in big air snowboarding competitions.
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 occurring 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 have large indications. 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: How to Choose Splitboard Bindings for Backcountry Snowboarding
Value is important to consider in every purchase, especially when the market has a big price range. It can be expensive to get into a variety of outdoor pursuits, and splitboarding is no different. As consumers, we want to get the highest performing product for the best price — in other words, we are looking for the best value.
The Spark R&D Arc — men's and women's versions — are both an incredible value for class-leading performance. Its excellent price comes with high-performance features such as the snap ramp. The Spark R&D Blaze TR is 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 an amazing 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. 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 available 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 tours up were 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 and comfortable straps.
It is widely believed that weight on your feet saps more energy than the same weight on your back. If you save one pound from your feet, it the equivalent of taking five pounds out of your backpack. 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 remarkable 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 an award for its ratio of response to weight to price. Not too far behind in weight is the Spark R&D Arc. The standard Spark interface weighs 0.97 pounds (442 g), and the Pro interface clocks in at 434 grams (0.96 g)
The Karakoram Prime X is a light offering from Karakoram at 1.76 pounds (800 grams). The binding itself is well designed to be light and robust. However, its total weight increases when we factor in the 1.85 pound (839 gram) interface and risers.
The Spark R&D Blaze is a light contender, which is impressive given the pin nature of this binding. This binding is one of the lightest pin based bindings. The ladies-specific versions are a bit smaller and thus weigh a bit less than their male versions. The Women's Spark R&D Arc is 2.4 pounds for the pair (1088 grams), while the Women's Voile Speed Rail weighs just a bit more at 3.2 pounds (1451 g) for the two of them.
Transitions from tour mode to ride mode can be a hassle or a streamlined process. Your binding system and fluency with the process can dictate it one way or the other. There's plenty of steps for a splitboarder to accomplish in transition. Our binding system should support efficient changeovers. The most efficient binding system will be easy to handle, resistant to icing, and have minimal pitfalls. These characteristics are desirable to make efficient transitions. Faster transitions translate to more time riding and less time using your crystal card as a scraper atop a snowy and windy peak.
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 the principles of ease and efficacy into consideration. This results in 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 frozen 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. The models 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 resistant 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.
The Voile Speed Rail — women's and men's versions — both can offer some of the fastest transitions we have seen, particularly going from riding to tour mode. However, this is only true when everything works correctly. These bindings don't have any pins, just two hooks that lock around brass bushings to hold it in place. It's insanely fast to snap them into position, but it can get bound up by ice and snow and very much feels like you could break something by forcing it.
Riding downhill is the fun part; this is your reward! The whole point of climbing the mountain is to enjoy the shred down. It is critical that the bindings work well and support a fun and responsive ride. 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 the 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 binding stood out 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 wants a more freestyle feel on the way down.
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 Women's Spark R&D Arc offers a similar playful and surfy ride for the descent, all while giving a quick response and plenty of control — even in firmer snow conditions.
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 handle 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.
The straps on the Voile Speed Rail can't quite match the comfort of the pillow line strap but do hold your feet securely to the board without causing undue discomfort.Lean Adjusters
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 lean shortens each stride and quickly adds up to more exertion over the course of a day. Zero or negative forward lean 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 from tour to ride mode. The ride mode adjustments ideally make it easy to achieve the desired amount of forward lean.
Currently, all the modern forward lean adjusters from Karakoram, Spark, and Voile work very well. The Spark Rip N Flip lean adjuster from Spark offers the widest range of negative and forward lean. It's very easy to swap between touring and ride modes while wearing even heavy gloves, and we liked that you can adjust the forward lean angle without the use of any tools.
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, gathering 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.
It's no secret that when it comes to gear, the needs of men and women are different. From sizing to stiffness, we all have different preferences. Most manufacturers have the same binding models and offer them in women's specific sizing. Spark and Karakoram have the most robust women's lineup.
Spark offers its core T1 bindings in Women's specific sizing. In addition to the Women's Arc Pro's that we tested, they also offer a women's-specific version of the Arc, Surge, and Surge Pro. These models have smaller and narrow baseplates to accommodate smaller boots to a US size 5. Spark has also lowered the heel cup and highbacks to achieve more ergonomic strap and highback placement.
Karakoram offers the Prime X, X Carbon, and the Prime Nomad in women's models. The bindings are the same in design and materials with modified women's specific sizing. In addition to the Voile Women's Speed Rail binding that we tested, Voile also makes a female-focused version of their Light Rail binding.
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, Marissa Fox, & David Reichel
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.Learn More