Ski Boot and Binding Compatibility Explained

Ski Expert Nils Aberg gives the rundown on the differences between alpine and touring ski boots and bindings, as well as listing the main types in each category!

Two skiers standing at the top of a snowy mountain.

Photo by Nils Aberg

Every year, more and more ski equipment pops up on the market. New brands try their hand at the industry, old brands put out new products, and standards change. Especially when it comes to something like boots and bindings, buying something that’s incompatible can cause serious issues on the hill or result in a loss of money. This guide is intended to help you get the right boot and binding combo that best fits your skiing style.

So why don’t all boots and bindings just work together? There are two main answers to this question; some are intended for different types of skiing, and new technologies have created slight differences in both boots and bindings. Luckily, there are a few industry standards for boot sole types and binding types to keep variability to a minimum.

If you’re hoping to skip the reading and explanations, scroll to the bottom to get a basic breakdown chart.

Boot Standards and Types

The first piece of info that’s important to boot and binding compatibility is boot soles. Three standards exist in modern boots; International Standards Organization (ISO) 9523, 5355, and 23223. These numbers aren’t something you need to remember. Generally, all you need to remember is that ISO 9523 refers to touring boots and ISO 5355 indicates a resort or alpine boot. The third standard, ISO 23223, refers to GripWalk (GW) soles, which we’ll get more into later. For the most part, these boot sole standards are the greatest indicators of what kind of binding is compatible.

This brings up another common question. What’s the difference between alpine and touring boots? Alpine boots are intended for downhill skiing only, whereas touring boots are designed to work for both uphill and downhill skiing. Touring boots are most often equipped with a locking mechanism in order to allow for more natural walking when skinning uphill. Bindings have similar differences, which are explained in the following sections.

The small metal-lined divot in the toe of a tech boot.

The small metal-lined divot in the toe of a tech boot is where the binding holds the boot in place. Photo by Nils Aberg

GripWalk Boots

The Lange RX 120 ski boot.

The Lange RX 120 is one of many alpine boots with a GripWalk sole. Notice the shape of the sole under the toe. Rather than a flat piece, it’s rounded off to allow for more natural walking

So what is GripWalk, and how does it pertain to boot/binding compatibility? GW refers to a new type of sole that is rockered—or rounded—to allow for more natural walking when you’re out of your skis. It’s a recent technological advancement for boots, and the vast majority of touring boots are also equipped with a GW sole. The difference between a GW and a classic alpine boot is just in the shape of the sole (flat versus rockered), but their compatibility with bindings changes as well.

The toes of GripWalk soles don’t sit perfectly flush with a classic alpine binding, therefore changing how the toe piece releases in a crash. Because of this, GW boots are only compatible with GW alpine bindings. However, touring bindings with a tech toe (discussed later) aren’t affected by the modified sole shape. Check out the official GripWalk FAQ if you’re looking for more information on compatibility or the technology in general.

Walk-to-Ride

One more exception to these standards that’s important to mention is Walk-to-Ride (WTR). This technology was used by Salomon and Atomic for a few years, and it was fairly similar to GripWalk. These WTR boots only worked with WTR-specific bindings, which caused even more confusion in the industry. Luckily, WTR is not being manufactured anymore, and brands have agreed to follow GW standards instead. If you come across older WTR products, keep in mind that they aren’t nearly as universal as other boot types.

Alpine Bindings

Classic and GripWalk Bindings

Alpine bindings have a toe and a heel piece that keep downward pressure on the boot to hold it in place.

Alpine bindings like the LOOK Pivot have a toe and a heel piece that keep downward pressure on the boot to hold it in place 

Alpine bindings lock your boot in for downhill skiing purposes only. This is the type of binding that almost all skiers start with when they learn how to ski on-piste or at ski areas. Boots are held in these bindings by small ledge-like portions of the boot and overlapping pieces of the binding. This creates a very rigid and reliable connection between your foot and your ski, but it doesn’t allow for any uphill travel.

As we discussed above, GripWalk boots can only be used in GripWalk bindings. When you’re shopping for bindings, their GW compatibility will be stated either in the title or the description. These GW bindings are also compatible with classic (flat) boot soles, so buying a GW binding is generally a good choice to ensure that your future boots will work.

Universal Bindings

Another important element to discuss with alpine bindings is adjustable toe-pieces. These are mostly constructed by Marker in their Sole.ID series. Bindings labeled with ID have an adjustable toe piece to either fill up or create space depending on the sole type. This bit of movement allows for a good fit for classic ISO 5355 alpine sole, an ISO 9523 touring sole, or an ISO 23223 GripWalk sole. These alpine bindings are great for those who want to use multiple boots and boot types in one ski, or those who are planning to add new boots to their collection often.

Of course, just to confuse shoppers a bit further, a binding type exists that fits with all three boot sole types. These are referred to as Multi-Norm Compatible, or MCN. A few brands, such as Salomon and Atomic, use MCN to widen their boot compatibility. These are also good for skiers who don’t feel like they can commit to one boot type for resort skiing.

Touring Bindings

Three skiers walking up a mountain.

Photo by Nils Aberg

Touring bindings are used in the backcountry or situations where uphill travel is necessary in addition to downhill skiing. In order to move uphill, backcountry skiers usually use a binding that allows their heel to move freely. Combined with climbing skins, these bindings basically turn skis into temporary snowshoes to move uphill. So when it comes to touring bindings, there are a few main types for different purposes.

Tech Bindings

The G3 Zed binding.

Tech bindings like the G3 Zed are best for minimalist setups and require a boot with a tech fitting in the toe

Also sometimes called pin bindings, these are almost always the lightest and most bare-bones of touring bindings. A set of pins hold the toe of a compatible touring boot in place, and a similar set of pins lock the heel to the ski when not in walk mode. They’re incredibly light and easy to use, but not all tech bindings have a DIN release or the same strength that other bindings provide. These bindings only work with boots with a tech toe (pictured below). However, this type of binding is also compatible with those non-conforming touring boots with a shortened toe and heel.

Frame Bindings

The Marker Baron ski binding.

Frame bindings like the Marker Baron are versatile, but heavier than other touring bindings

Rather than weight, these bindings focus on durability and universality. They can work with both alpine and most touring boots, and they hold boots using the same mechanisms as an alpine binding. The only difference between a frame binding and an alpine binding is in the name. The toe and heel pieces of a frame binding are attached, and using a locking mechanism, the entire binding can be lifted off of the ski. This creates the same uphill motion as tech bindings, but with quite a bit more bulk.

That being said, their compatibility with alpine boots and their strength makes them a perfect choice for some skiers. Depending on the model and brand, frame bindings can work with all boot types except for non-conforming touring boots. You should still be careful and make sure that your boot will work if you’re planning on picking up a frame binding. Models like the Salomon Guardian MNC will have the same multi-norm system as MNC alpine bindings, making them incredibly versatile.

Hybrid Bindings

The Marker Kingpin Binding.

The Marker Kingpin, which combines a tech toe with a alpine heel

For those who want something with a mix of minimal weight and durability, a great choice is hybrid bindings. They require a touring boot with a tech-compatible toe, but their mechanisms for downhill skiing are much more advanced. Some models, such as the Marker Kingpin, use a tech toe and a modified alpine heel. Others like the Marker Duke have a removable toe piece for uphill climbing; and when it’s time to descend, the toe piece becomes almost identical to an alpine binding. In addition, a few hybrids have only an alpine-style toe that simply moves out of the way when touring (e.g. Salomon Shift). Some of these bindings can be used on resort and even with an alpine boot, but for touring purposes, a hybrid or touring boot is required.

Check out the 10 best ski bindings here.

If you aren’t sure about what boots and bindings are compatible, you can always reach out to a Curated Expert! We’re happy to do the research for you, and it’s important to make sure that you’ve got the right gear—both for your safety and so you can enjoy your time on the snow!

Binding TypeClassic AlpineGripWalk AlpineMNCWTRAdjust (ID)Frame TouringHybrid TouringTech (Pin) Touring
Boot Type
Classic (Flat) Alpine ISO 5355YesYesYesNoYesSometimesNoNo
GripWalk Alpine ISO 23223NoYesYesNoYesYesSometimesNo
WTR AlpineNoNoYesYesYesNoNoNo
Touring ISO 9523NoAlmost alwaysYesNoYesYesYesYes
Ski Expert Nils Aberg
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Nils Aberg
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Written By
Skiing has been a part of my identity for longer than I can remember. I grew up pushing my parents to drive me to the hill and fell in love with the feeling of snow under my feet. I started skiing in the backcountry in 2017 but I still do a mix of both resort and touring. Living in Colorado, my life...

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