Should You Ride Soft or Stiff Snowboard Bindings?
It's important to make sure you get a snowboard binding with a flex that matches the kind of riding you want to do. Snowboard Expert Gaelen Mast explains how to choose.
So, you’re ready to buy snowboard bindings. Maybe this is your first pair, or maybe you’ve outgrown your previous setup and are ready for an upgrade. Either way, you’re sure of one thing: you want to find the best bindings for yourself so you can progress and have as much fun as possible on your snowboard!
A crucial factor in getting the most out of your bindings is how you set up your stance. There are plenty of adjustments you can make to your current bindings to change their feel and performance, and I’d encourage everyone to explore different ways they can adjust their bindings. After all, you could select the perfect bindings for yourself but if your stance is incorrect and holding you back, they won’t perform as well as they should. With that being said, if you feel confident you’ve found a good stance for yourself and know it’s time for a binding upgrade, then read on!
There are plenty of unique binding options from dozens of companies. They each have their own special technologies that make them slightly different from their competitors’. However, instead of obsessing over these small details, there’s one important factor you’ll want to pay attention to when choosing your new bindings: flex ratings.
What Is Binding Flex
A snowboard’s binding flexibility rating is an essential consideration that plays a large role in how the bindings will affect the board control of a snowboarder.
Binding flex is typically broken down into three categories: soft flexing, stiff flexing, and medium flexing. The flex rating specifically refers to the stiffness of the highback of the binding. For those unfamiliar, the highback is a plastic plate that supports a rider’s calf (see image below).
Binding flex selection ultimately comes down to the personal preference of the snowboarder and her riding style. Each style has its own pros and cons and is best suited for certain rider profiles. With that being said, let’s break down the essentials of each type.
Soft Flexing Bindings
Soft flexing bindings are often classified as bindings with a flex rating of anywhere between 1–3 on a scale of 1–10. However, this isn’t an exact science, and different brands may classify their bindings slightly differently. Soft bindings have a variety of uses but are best suited for two types of riders: beginner/low-intermediate riders and certain freestyle riders.
Before diving into this, for clarity's sake, I am classifying beginner/low intermediate riders as snowboarders who are still working their green circle trails.
Soft flexing bindings are a great choice for beginner/low-intermediate riders because they are forgiving towards mistakes and aid with progression. Soft flexing bindings do not have as much precision and aren’t as responsive as stiff flexing bindings, which may sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually a positive aspect in this case. If a newer rider makes an error such as moving their body too quickly, soft flexing bindings aren’t going to punish him by bucking the rider to the ground. You can think of them as less reactive. Therefore soft bindings help new riders master smoother turns without being as jerky.
The next type of snowboarder who can benefit from soft flexing bindings is a freestyle rider. Specifically, freestyle riders dedicated to hitting tricks on boxes, rails, and other small features in terrain parks, but who do not plan on taking on huge jumps. In the terrain park, soft flexing bindings will make it much easier to perform various tricks on rails/boxes as well as make it easier to do grabs and/or tweak your snowboard when doing airs off of jumps.
I would advise against soft bindings if you foresee yourself mainly focusing on large jumps (40-plus feet to knuckle), as softer bindings are going to be unstable on high-speed, high-impact landings. You certainly can hit jumps with soft flexing bindings; I have hit plenty of medium-sized jumps on my Union Flite Pros (flex rating 4) in the park. But it's important to recognize the limitations of soft bindings if you’re planning on going huge in the air.
Stiff Flexing Bindings
Stiff flexing bindings are often classified as a binding with a flex rating of anywhere between 7–10 on a scale of 1–10. Stiff flexing bindings are a great option for aggressive riders who really want to focus on carving, powder/freeriding, or backcountry AND fall into the category of high-intermediate/advanced.
Stiff flexing bindings provide the most precision out of any binding option because they have a very quick response time. This means movement from the boots is transferred to the binding efficiently, resulting in the ability to turn your snowboard on a dime. Because of this, riders who enjoy fast, steep terrain and make hard carves will benefit from stiff flexing bindings as they provide the most responsiveness and stability when riding aggressively.
Powder and freeride snowboarders who need responsiveness should also look toward stiff flexing bindings. I would advise beginners to stay away from stiff flexing bindings, as they will make it very hard to learn and can be detrimental to your progression as a snowboarder.
A Middle Ground: Medium Flexing Bindings
Medium flexing bindings are often classified as a binding with a flex rating of anywhere between 4–6 on a scale of 1–10. They are a quality middle-of-the-road binding. Quite honestly, the majority of a snowboarder's needs will be met with medium flexing bindings because they offer the most versatility on the mountain.
If you like to ride a little bit of everything, medium-flexing bindings are going to be your best friend, even if you’re an advanced rider. Let’s say you like to ride groomed trails with your friends, dabble in the terrain park on softer days, and rip through the woods on a powder day; medium-flexing bindings are going to be perfect for you!
If You’re Unsure
Let’s go through another scenario: perhaps you’ve just mastered carving down green circle trails and are ready to move onto more difficult terrain. The only issue is you’re not sure what sort of more difficult terrain to pursue. If this is the case, the best option here is to go with medium flexing bindings which are going to let you explore your options and won’t hold you back. The bottom line is that unless you seriously resonate with the description of either the soft bindings or the stiff flexing bindings, medium bindings are likely your best option.
When choosing your snowboard bindings, you should also consider one more thing: your snowboard deck and your snowboard boots.
Snowboards and snowboard boots also have flex ratings. And in general, you want to try to match up the flex rating of your bindings to that of your boots and board. Otherwise, the effects of your binding flexibility will be minimal—which completely defeats the point of trying to decide on which type of bindings to use.
One last thing to consider is the build of the bindings. Oftentimes, soft or medium flexing bindings have a bit more focus on comfort and may have better cushioning on the toe and ankle straps. This focus on comfort is kinder to your ankles and knees. On the flip side, since stiff flexing bindings are used for more aggressive riding, they have a focus on performance and durability—specifically durability of the baseplate and highback.
Make It Easy On Yourself
If you’re still feeling unsure after reading through this article, that’s completely understandable; snowboarding gear is complicated! Why not get advice from a Snowboard Expert? At Curated, you can connect with a gear expert (like myself), answer a few quick questions, and get immediate recommendations on the right gear for you. The best part is it’s totally free and non-committal! What are you waiting for? Come say hi!