Stiff vs. Soft Snowboard Bindings: Which is Best for You?

Published on 06/08/2023 · 9 min readIt'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.
Gaelen Mast, Snowboarding Expert
By Snowboarding Expert Gaelen Mast

Photo by Benjamin Hayward

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! Bindings come in standard (Re:Flex for Burton, channel system compatible for Burton boards [Burton EST bindings]), Burton step-on/step-in bindings, and rear-entry bindings/speed-entry bindings (which Flow bindings are very popular for).

Crucial factors in getting the most out of your bindings are how you set up your stance and always making sure you get the right binding size. Luckily, bindings fit a range of boot sizes. If you aren't sure what your right size is, please refer to a sizing chart for the brand of binding you're researching/purchasing. 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. Just like with snowboards and boots, there are different flex ratings to consider when picking out your bindings.

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 the image below).

Binding flex selection ultimately comes down to the personal preference of the snowboarder and their riding style. Each style has its own pros and cons and is best suited for certain rider profiles. Many people like to match their snowboard flex to the flex of their bindings. For future reference, torsional flex refers to the flex a snowboard has across its width, and longitudinal flex is the board's flexibility from tip to tail. 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 snowboarders. Many times both beginners and freestyle riders will have softer boards to be able to either feel the board under their feet as they progress or have the ability to really dial in their maneuverability in the park.

Beginners

Before diving into this, for clarity's sake, I am classifying beginner/low-intermediate riders as snowboarders who are still working through green-circle-rated trails.

Soft flexing bindings are a great choice for beginner/low-intermediate riders because they are forgiving toward mistakes and aid with progression, just like a softer flexing board or a soft boot. 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 them 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 and unforgiving.

Freestyle Riders

Photo by Fabian Schneider

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 the snow, like butters, and on rails/boxes. They'll also make it easier to do grabs and/or tweak your board in the air and allow for easier landings on jumps. Softer bindings allow for greater room for error in general.

I would advise against soft bindings if you foresee yourself mainly focusing on large jumps (40-plus feet from takeoff 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. These types of riders will generally ride a stiffer snowboard to have the most responsive experience on the mountain.

Aggressive Riders

Photo by Patrick Hodskins

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 and give an overall better response. Because of this, riders who enjoy fast, steep terrain, excellent edge hold, and hard carves will benefit from stiff flexing bindings as they provide the most responsiveness and stability when riding aggressively and effectively channel that energy transfer. Stiff boards, stiff bindings, and stiffer boots tend to go hand in hand.

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

Photo by Holly Mandarich

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 with a comfortable medium stiffness. Quite honestly, the majority of a snowboarder's needs will be met with a medium stiff flex binding because they offer the most versatility on the mountain.

All-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-rated 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.

Other Considerations

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.

Another 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, the durability of the baseplate and highback.

One last thing that's helpful to know is what all the parts of a binding are in case you need to replace a part because things break, especially with cold temps or frequent use over a period of time.

Binding parts:

  • Straps: Ratchet or ladder straps as they're known. These feed into the main part of your ankle or toe straps and are adjusted with screws and a buckle to provide the most secure fit. Ladder and ratchet straps are usually the first parts to break, but are luckily only a couple of dollars at your local board shop and take a moment to replace.
  • Highback: The large piece in the back that cushions the back of your boot and gives support to your calf. Its forward lean can be adjusted to have more pressure on your toes or straight up and down to keep it even between your heel and toe.
  • Footbed/gas pedal: The piece (sometimes covered with foam) that sits directly under your boot. It helps transfer energy from your boot and binding to the board.
  • Baseplate: A binding's baseplate is its main connection point to the board and where energy transfers and the most stress to the equipment occurs. This component needs to be extra strong to last for a long time. Some companies like Burton even guarantee their baseplates for a lifetime (and have an easy warranty process in case there's a break caused by a manufacturer's defect).
  • Mounting discs: These come with all bindings (different ones to accommodate different binding/board mounts) and are usually made of a composite plastic or aluminum.
  • Mounting screws: These usually come with washers in a set of 8 (some bindings will come with extras to mount a Burton EST binding to a channel board) and are the perfect length to mount into the screw holes on your board. Shorter screws will not sink into the board's holes, and longer screws can damage the board/base.

Make It Easy On Yourself

Photo by Memed

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 Snowboarding 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!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Shop Snowboards on Curated

Union Flite Pro Snowboard Bindings · 2023
$101.97$169.95
CAPiTA Defenders of Awesome Snowboard · 2024
$384.97$549.95
Salomon Sight Snowboard · 2024
$279.97$399.95

Browse more Snowboards

Salomon Sleepwalker Snowboard · 2024
$279.97$399.95
Bataleon Whatever Snowboard · 2024
$299.97$499.95
Ride Shadowban Snowboard · 2024
$384.97$549.95
Salomon Pulse Snowboard · 2024
$258.97$369.95
Bataleon Evil Twin+ Snowboard · 2024
$383.97$639.95
Lib Tech Cold Brew Snowboard · 2024
$384.97$549.95
K2 Gateway Snowboard · 2024
$269.97$449.95

Browse more Snowboards

Read next

New and Noteworthy