Choosing the Right Backcountry Touring BindingPublished on 03/26/2021 · 5 min readWhether it's your first set or you're looking to upgrade, Ski expert Connor Hult shares the essentials on finding the right touring binding for your next adventure.
Photo by Connor Hult
So the resort hasn't opened yet, is closed for the season, or you just want to skip the crowds and see what freeing the heel and earning your turns is all about. Backcountry skiing has skyrocketed in popularity since its inception. Whether you're dropping in on the hype for the first time, or just looking for an upgrade, we have you covered on backcountry bindings.
Although we can set you up with ease to get you out in the backcountry, it’s important that you are aware of the inherent risks and well educated in navigating avalanche terrain.
What are Alpine Touring Bindings?
Your traditional alpine bindings serve their purpose to get you down the hill, but they only work with the assistance of a chairlift. AT bindings put the legwork in your own legs by freeing the heel on the way up but still providing the ability to lock back down as your normal ski bindings would for downhill performance. If you want to open up your skiing to wherever your legs can take you, some AT bindings are in store for you. Depending on your preferences for performance on the uphill, downhill, or a bit of both, there are plenty of options to suit your needs.
Elements of Backcountry Ski Bindings
Touring performance encompasses your heel riser range, touring range of motion, and the bindings' resistance to getting snowed or iced up.
Downhill performance lies at the forefront of most skiers’ minds – it's why we ski in the first place, isn't it?
Release Value or DIN is the measure of how much force is required to eject your boot for a safe release. Some pin bindings aren't indemnified (approved and backed by the manufacturer for liability) and don't truly have one, whereas a frame binding can be pushed as hard as any regular alpine binding.
Weight: One pound on your feet is five pounds on your back, you may become a gram counter if you want a long tour.
Ease of use is an easy one to break-down, looking at how easy they are to transition from tour to ski mode, ease of stepping in and out, and adjusting the release value.
Durability: How many turns can I get out of these things?
Heel risers or climbing bars are to be used for steep terrain and skin tracks; they lessen the strain on your calves. Some bindings only have one riser and others two for extra steep ascents.
More Factors to Consider for the Skin and Ski
Where do you plan to ski? This question matters anytime you're buying skis, but it is pertinent for bindings as well. Whether that be on the east or west coast, or skiing in-bounds with the occasional tours out of bounds. The more time you plan to spend on the uphill, the higher the chance you will want a lightweight binding.
Your current ski boots may work for you depending on which bindings you choose. Tech bindings do require pin inserts at the toe of your boot to be compatible and most alpine ski boots do not come with these. Boot and binding capability is something our experts can help you lock down!
Ski crampon compatibility is something to consider if you plan to do any ski mountaineering and/or steep, icy ascents. Not every AT binding will fit a crampon.
Your current skis or the setup you plan to acquire is another factor to keep in mind. Generally, the lighter the ski (backcountry specific) the lighter the binding you want to put on and vice versa. A light pin binding is not going to drive a heavy resort ski well.
The Types of Touring Bindings
Tech or Pin Bindings
Tech/Pin bindings get their name from the pins in the toe piece (and sometimes the heel) that secure your boot. This allows your boot to pivot off of these pins and provides a natural walking motion. These are more of a minimalistic design to get you far in the backcountry, whether you’re a ski mountaineer or just wish to shed weight, after all, a pound on your feet significantly more on your back. There are a wide range of pin bindings to choose from within the category including: G3 Zeds, Dynafit Speed Radicals, Marker Alpinists, and Atomic Backland Tour bindings.
- Lightest option available
- Toe piece allows for smooth transitions between tour and downhill modes
- Natural Pivot point and tour angle when skinning
- More costly
- Require boots with pin inserts
- Not as burly or indemnified
- Some worries of pre-ejection or not releasing when you would like
Frame Touring Bindings
Picture your current bindings on your resort setup with a rail connecting the heel and toe piece – these are your frame bindings like the Marker Barons. Because they are typically modeled after a resort binding, these are much burlier than other touring setups, with the added expense of a significant weight gain and some clunkiness. They are a great budget option that are safe and reliable for skiing at a resort or out in the backcountry.
- Your resort boots will work (although not as well)
- Burly construction for the downhill performance
- Fully indemnified bindings with higher DIN max
- Heaviest of them all
- Pivot point is less efficient and ergonomic for the uphill
- Sit much higher from the ski
- Can interfere with flex of the ski
Hybrid Touring Bindings
The latest innovation in ski bindings today, hybrid bindings meet the demands of the resort skier and backcountry powder-hound. These transforming bindings ditch the weight of the frame on the uphill, and hold onto the performance and safety standards of an indemnified resort binding for the downhill. If you are in search of a true 50/50 do it all resort/backcountry binding or freeride setup, look no further. Hybrid bindings like the Marker Kingpin, Marker Duke PT, or the Salomon Shifts can truly make the right planks a solid one-ski quiver.
- Experience the best of both worlds
- Better pivot point for touring
- Lighter than a frame binding
- Heavier than a tech binding
- Need boots with pin inserts
- Lots of moving parts
- Less efficient transitions
If you have any questions on finding the right binding for your backcountry touring, please feel free to reach out to me or a fellow Ski expert on Curated.