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How to Choose Splitboard Bindings for Backcountry Snowboarding

Bindings that provide efficient uphill travel and transitions have a l...
Photo: ryland west
By Isaac Laredo ⋅ Review Editor
Thursday December 31, 2020
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Splitboard bindings get better and better every year, thanks to manufacturers listening to the needs of the broad user base, working to alleviate issues that were occurring. The solutions are shifting toward user-friendly and efficient designs to increase our quality of experience.

Splitboard bindings are also getting lighter and stronger through the adaptation of different materials and processes. What does this mean? It means splitboard bindings have gone hi-tech. The good news is, the product is better. The less good news, choosing which model became a lot harder. How do you choose? Well, that's where we come in. Bindings can work perfectly or be the root of your problems when conditions are not on your side. We're here to give you the advice to make a deliberate and informed decision.

Resort Bindings vs. Splitboard Specific Bindings



Resort Bindings


A resort binding is designed strictly for the downhill. They're offered in a variety of responsive levels to accommodate all styles of riding for the park rat to Travis Rice. Comfort and performance are driving forces in downhill bindings. Uphill specific features such as weight take much less precedent as it is less relevant to the goal of the product.

Splitboard Specific Bindings


Splitboard bindings are designed with up and downhill performance in mind. Therefore, they have a lot of jobs to accomplish. We expect them to be light and featured for the way up, efficient in transitions, and able to ride with the utmost response on the way down.

Most forego the cushy foam pads in favor of weight savings. Instead, split bindings often use a metal baseplate to create a responsive and lightweight product for the way down. They are specialized pieces of gear to enhance your overall experience.

Looks different right? The design principles work to reduce weight...
Looks different right? The design principles work to reduce weight and maintain the same performance as your resort binding.
Photo: Laredo

Do I Need It


It is possible to use a splitboard without a dedicated splitboard binding (by using Voile Slider plates attached to the bottom of a conventional snowboard binding). These are not recommended, especially based on the price point and performance of split bindings today. This setup will work okay for a few short trips, but even the heaviest splitboard binding is significantly lighter and worth the investment. Splitboard bindings are the biggest innovation to splitboarding since the splitboard and noticeably improve the overall experience.

Types of Splitboard Bindings


Currently, splitboard bindings can be lumped into two broad categories: puck based (passive) bindings, like those offered by Spark R&D, Union and Voile, and then the Karakoram system (Active). While large differences of quality and features exist between Spark R&D and Voile, fundamental differences in the design 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 weaknesses.

Types of Splitboard Bindings (Passive vs Active)


Passive

A passive splitboard attachment system is always associated with pucks. There are various transition systems under this umbrella, from pins to tight allowance closure systems. 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. Other models in the Spark R&D T1 binding line use a locking mechanism they call a Snap Ramp to secure the bindings onto the pucks. This Snap Ramp eliminates the need for pins and saves valuable time with each transition.

The Slider channel makes stances adjustments easy and quick.
The Slider channel makes stances adjustments easy and quick.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

Pros: Generally lower cost, fast, resistant to icing, and lightweight.

Cons: Pin systems can be inefficient and hard to handle in inclement weather; the binding sits on pucks rather than boards (arguably, it affects response).

Active

Active bindings have moving parts and pins that theoretically join the board halves together through created and captured tension. Karakoram bindings use an active system that represents a different type of mousetrap. The method of attaching and releasing Karakoram bindings relies on a mechanical locking system found in the base plate. Pins from underneath the binding engage, which lock down the binding to the Karakoram interface. The interface here provides the same function as pucks in the passive category. According to Karakoram, the active design of attaching their binding to the board pulls the two board halves together, thus improving ride quality.

The Prime 2.0's interface has reduced the icy issues of its...
The Prime 2.0's interface has reduced the icy issues of its predecessor.
Photo: Laredo

Pros: Fast, more binding contact with the board, and active joining of the board halves (arguably both these features improve ride quality).

Cons: Heavy interface, more things to go wrong, icing can be more of an issue (it has improved in years past), and cost.

This lever controls the active pins that connect to the ride or heel...
This lever controls the active pins that connect to the ride or heel lock interface.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

How to Choose


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. Each system has its trade-offs, and both work great. There is a much bigger gradient of transition systems in the passive category. We find the downhill performance of passive and active systems to be incredibly similar. It largely boils down to cost. Spark's top of the line binding, the Surge Pro, is more affordable even after buying pucks then Karakoram's introductory split specific binding, the Prime Nomad.

If you can notice the micro details of your ride's performance and have some extra cash lying around, then consider the Karakoram Prime X. If you are just looking to splitboard a few times a year, then a pin-based puck binding like the Spark R&D Blaze TR will suit your needs. If you're an avid splitboarder seeking a high-performance binding and like the idea of saving some money, then take a look in the Spark R&D Arc. After you have identified which system you are leaning toward, you should consider the factors broken down below.

The Spark R&D Blaze offers a great value for casual splitboarders.
The Spark R&D Blaze offers a great value for casual splitboarders.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

Weight


Weight on our feet has a much larger effect on our bodies than weight on our back by a 1 to 5 ratio; this means that saving one pound off of our feet is similar to saving five pounds in our backpack. In addition to the weight for one binding, it's important to look at the weight of the entire setup, brackets and all. Remember that splitboard bindings are tools for climbing (and descending) mountains; weight matters. Less weight to carry will save energy on the climb, which will leave you with more stamina and stoke to enjoy the descent. If you are looking for a lightweight and responsive model, the Spark R&D Surge Pro would be an excellent choice based on its custom made hardware and premium materials.

Photo: David Reichel

Flex and Response


Like resort bindings, splitboard bindings come in different flex ratings and offer varying degrees of response. Most products feature a stiffer highback than the average rider normally uses. The Stiffer the highback and baseplate, the more responsive the binding will be. If you are looking for a stiff reactive binding, then check out the Karakoram Prime-X. For a responsive binding with some play, we like the Spark R&D Arc. If you're not into stiff, the medium flexing playful and freestyle Union Expedition 2.0 is a good choice.

The Highback of the Prime Nomad offers plenty of response for any...
The Highback of the Prime Nomad offers plenty of response for any line or condition.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

Passive Transition Systems


There are many ways to transition onto a puck system; some are faster than others. Union uses a pin system and certain Spark and Voile bindings, but at the current state of the market, pins are outdated. They are slow and harder to do in inclement weather, especially with gloves on. If you plan on infrequent and good weather touring, with limited transitions, then a pin binding could be reasonable. It was worth the marginal price increase to get the Spark Arc, which has the snap ramp. The snap ramp is a toe ramp with a vertical movement that opens like a door to slide on or off the pucks. It then snaps down to lock in place; this can be done with mittens on in a blizzard and is very simple, as well as our favorite system.

The Spark R&D T1 system is intuitive, simple, and reliable.
The Spark R&D T1 system is intuitive, simple, and reliable.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

Features to Favor


Splitboard bindings are always refining their straps, forward lean adjusters, and heel risers; this is because we are constantly using them. They have to be user-friendly, or we would blow time and quickly become frustrated. The straps should be durable, comfortable, and light, and the heel risers should be easy to deploy with your pole. The lean adjuster should be easy to flip back and forth between walk and ride mode. The more negative lean, the better; this gets the highback off of your calf and allows you to maximize your stride.

A simple solution to change from ride to tour mode but is...
A simple solution to change from ride to tour mode but is challenging to adjust the quantity of forward lean.
Photo: Isaac Laredo

Conclusion


Treat yourself to the bindings you want that is within your price range, though we recommend spending the extra money to avoid a pin-based binding if possible. When touring, you handle the binding very often, switching from the tour to ride modes. It's in your best interest to make an intentional decision. Look at your usage pattern and read about each product with that in mind. Focus on the metrics that matter most to you and decide as such.

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