Ultimate binding quiver. We’ve got most of the bindings in play that we cover below, all were tested at one time or another. If I could wave a magic ski pole, I’d have every one of our WildSnow test crew enjoy this entire selection.
(Note, I couldn’t help but come up with options that overlap our arbitrary categories — inevitable, since tech bindings are in a mature state of design. In reality, with the exception of extremes at either end of the gamut, just about any binding works for any type of ski touring. When you think about it, that’s amazing and a credit to the design engineers who’ve sweated over this product category for thirty years.)
The uber-light solution (our Category 1) is a dilemma for us. Reason being, we believe _all_ bindings in a functional real-life quiver should have at least somewhat adjustable retention-release in both vertical (up at the heel) and lateral (side) modes. As well as ideally yielding somewhat “standard” heel lift options (flat; medium; high), necessary for much of North American ski touring. A number of contenders are thus disqualified as they lack adjustable release or only go to medium height. That’s not saying we’re totally against riding such bindings…they work for some folks, but using them should be an informed personal choice — something we can’t recommend in an overview post such as this.
Picking something exceptionally light but retention-adjustable leaves several choices. I find the most compelling to be the ATK RT and HT — 175,165 grams of yummy levitation. Bonus, RT includes an “uphill toe tension adjustment” we find useful for tuning the binding to allow touring without locking. Sadly, ATK is only broadly available in Europe, with a few North American options re-branded by Hagan.
Thus, in the ATK brand my pick for North American ultra-light has to be the Raider 12, available as Hagan Core. Our review here. I’d prefer this to be brake-less, but it still fits into our “lighter” category at 372 grams per binding. Note the brakes are easily removable, at about 50 grams. Run without brake at 322 grams.
Upon writing the above, I was still not entirely happy with my picks. So I kept meditating.
At the fringes of my consciousness, a gentle whisper persisted: AtomicSalomonAtomicSalomon… Yep, the Salomon MTN (Atomic Backland) binding can be run without brake at 296 grams per binding — and dropping farther down to a svelte 236 grams in the version without boot length adjustment. See our MTN-Backland FAQ here. With caveats noted in our next category. I’d leave it there, but MTN-Backland has that annoyingly limited choices of lateral release settings, due to swap springs. Back to meditation.
Plum got studied like I was evaluating the fine print for guided adventure travel in a war zone. Numerous models and configurations, shopping overload. The Plum Guide XS and M models come in at 345 grams catalog weight per binding (possibly a few grams below that, we weighed at 340 here in our studio). This is now a time tested grabber, which we’ve tested extensively. Current iterations are known to be reliable. Yeah, this is an overlap choice that fits several categories — especially if you bolt on the optional brake. But worth mentioning here, and perhaps even the winner in our “uber-light but still adjustable” category.
Our next category (#2) is the “standard” touring binding, with optional brake. Hands down no-brainer in that regard is the Salomon MTN (also Atomic Backland, we’ll call this the MTN-Backland for the sake of convenience). This thing is no joke. We’ve extensively tested, modded and otherwise abused. Available count of three swap U-springs unfortunately tunes vertical release in wide increments (we’d like to see at least one more choice of springs) — but at least you can set the release somewhere near reasonable, and perfect if you’re lucky, for your size and skiing style.
This is where I mention the pesky problem of binding heel “auto rotation.” Meaning that situation where you’re uphilling with gusto, enjoying your heel lifters, and next thing you know you’re limping along with one heel lower than the other. Or worse, a boot heel drops down into a rotated binding and snaps into alpine mode. Groan x 2. Nearly all tech bindings can have problems with this, some worse than others. An amazing feature of the MTN-Backland is the heel lifter tower doesn’t rotate so auto rotation is impossible. Check that annoyance off your list.
The MTN-Backland divorced brake is retro genius. When it’s up, it is up. When it’s down, it is down. Easily removed, though to do so you have to de-mount the binding heel and install a different heel baseplate (MTN-Backland also available without brake, as well as a superlight version without boot length adjustment). Our only severe critique is we, sigh, get tired of these same products under different badges. Gives me sore wrists from the extra keyboarding.
In view of the above, you’re probably wondering why I’d rule out the U-spring bindings in our uber-light category, and allow them in our “standard” category? I’ll admit that’s a bit lopsided. Sorry. To make up for it how about a couple of “standard” choices we have here on our wall?
Choice 2 in our “standard” bindings would be the G3 ION LT. That’s the one without brake, that’s otherwise an ION without the boot toe bumper intended to facilitate clipping in (not essential). Our favorite thing about ION? Due to the toe unit geometry and spring rate you can often tour this binding without locking the toe. That’s useful in avalanche terrain, or during mellow uphills when the fiddly process of locking binding toes is gratefully avoided. (Note: Ion is sold in two versions, max release value 10 or 12). If you don’t need to go above RV 10, both bindings work fine. That is unless you’re seeking best performance for touring unlocked, or you’re a larger individual. In those cases I’d recommend the 12 as in our testing it had significantly more spring tension in the toe unit.
We’re also impressed by the overall build quality of the ION. While it’s had a recall due to a factory assembly problem, with that out of the way we’re confident this is one of the more reliable rigs you can run. Weight of LT Ion is 456 grams (without runaway leash). Again, more overlap. Read on.
Our Category 3 is the “crossover” binding that’s beefy enough for free touring, release-retention fully adjustable, fixed brakes. Stiff enough toe springs to tiptoe around in avy terrain without locking your toe. Reasonable weight. We can’t get past the G3 ION 12 for this position. To the best of our experience, all bugs are worked out but be sure you buy product out of later manufacturing runs (check serial numbers here). The ION brakes have always been slightly quirky, sometimes popping open in touring mode. After quite a bit of experience my take on that is you simply need to take extra care clearing ice and snow while switching to uphill mode — and if they do spring open it’s not a daybreaker — other brands are known to do this as well. ION 12, 623 grams per binding.
Category 4, for those of you running the biggest boots you can, as fast as you can, perhaps at a resort: The freeride or free touring option. This is a tough one. I’m of the opinion that the side-release-at-toe bindings are the future of this category. But I don’t feel available options in that genre are quite there. Fritschi Tecton needs a season of consumer vetting. Trab TR2 is an option, but we don’t like the “hold down to open” entry at the heel.
Pick one for free touring: Marker Kingpin has been around for a few years now. In tech binding years, it is middle aged and that’s good. No midlife crisis here, just something thoroughly tested. Several caveats. Note this is still a binding that provides most of its side release action at the heel, same place you “thrust” sideways with your heels when controlling your skis. Thus, release and control are “coupled,” if side retention-release isn’t set above the power transmission level you impart in a ski turn (or receive from vibrating skis), pop, accidental release. Also important, Kingpin doesn’t function with every boot out there, its “hybrid” heel unit has excellent vertical elasticity, but it needs a DIN standard boot heel shape or an adapter. Even then, we’ve found boots that don’t smoothly exit the heel in lateral release. Thus, shop from a reputable dealer who can check the compatibility of your boot choice.
Our second free touring choice is the latest iteration of the Dynafit Radical 2.0, the Radical Rotation. While the “coupled” heel retention issue is still present here, Rotation offers a toe unit that rotates a few degrees, thus allowing elasticity from the heel unit without the boot toe tech fittings riding partially out of their attachment to the binding toe pins. Idea here is this prevents a certain mode of accidental release. Rotation is nearly identical to Radical 2.0, difference is a small change in the toe rotation turntable, a detent that holds it centered while fooling around during binding entry. Sadly, due to the rotating toe neither binding can be toured without locking the toe. Overall, these are very solid bindings that are totally reworked from earlier Radical versions. Some of our Rotation coverage.
Or, be sure to check out Cripple Creek Backcountry — especially if you need advice, or service such as mounting.
Circling back, I know some of you guys will never let it rest if I don’t include Fritschi Tecton. I’ll give it an honorable mention, with caveat that we need a season of consumer vetting since this is overall such new technology. I do have high hopes.
The pick list, in weight order (final weights vary due to manufacturing variations and brake widths, I tried to normalize for a 90 mm brake):
ATK HT, 165 gr
ATK RT, 175 gr
Salomon-Atomic MTN-Backland, no boot length adjust, 236 gr
Salomon-Atomic MTN-Backland, no brake, 296 gr
ATK Raider 12 no brake, 322 gr (sold in NA as Hagan Core)
Plum Guide XS & M, 345 gr
ATK Raider 12, with brake, 372 gr (sold in NA as Hagan Core)
Salomon-Atomic MTN-Backland, w/ brake, 385 gr
G3 ION 12 LT, 456 grams
G3 ION 12, 623 grams
Dynafit Rotation, 624 grams
(Fritschi Tecton, honorable mention, 678 grams)
Marker Kingpin, 730 grams
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.