The great debates continue to be waged. Coke versus Pepsi. East Coast versus West Coast rap music. AT versus Telemark. (Backcountry skiing versus park and pipe?)
All great debates involve subjects that are fundamentally the same but with subtle differences. All involve zealots who extol the virtues of their favorites and trumpet the shortfalls of their rivals. Usually, the supporters’ rants are marked by incomplete knowledge of the rivals’ position. Here, at WildSnow.com, we realize that knowledge is power and would like to insure that both sides in the Naxo/Fritschi debate are well informed, so that they (individually) can settle the dispute as to whether the Naxo NX21 or Fritschi Freeride is the superior step-in AT binding — once and for all. Therefore, we present a head-to-head comparison of the two backcountry skiing bindings.
|My setups for this test. Same skis, different binders for backcountry skiing.|
For the showdown, I mounted two pair of Stockli Stormriders with both the NX21 and the Freeride, so as to remove the variability of test ski from the equation. As with any true contest, one must keep score. Therefore, I tested each in four categories: Stats, Climbing, Descending and Miscellaneous. Since each category would in theory have a distinct winner, a head-to-head would result in clarifying which is the superior step-in AT binding.
1. Vital Statistics
|Stats||Naxo NX21||Fritschi Freeride|
|Stack Height||44 mm||43 mm|
|Weight (per binding)||1191 gr, 39.8 oz||1022 gr, 36 oz|
As I mentioned in my review of the NX21 last year, initially I had been concerned with its stack height. This turned out to be a non-issue. I include it here because my research included a helpful discussion with Mike Marolt and he expressed some interest in the stack heights. More importantly, the Freeride takes the weight prize by a mere 169 grams or just shy of four ounces per clamp. I typically am a single day (or half day) user and for me this is a negligible difference and a wash. Though some may say this is a significant difference, I disagree. More, four ounces of weight savings can easily be had with ski or boot choice. Therefore, Round One results in a tie.
|Climbing||Naxo NX21||Fritschi Freeride|
|Climbing Lift Adjustability||X☼|
These are AT backcountry skiing bindings, so arguably, the way they climb is their most important attribute. Neither binding proved to be dominant in all aspects of ascent and, in fact, I could tell very little difference between the two when climbing steeper angles. Therefore, I looked at the strengths of both.
The dual pivot design of the NX21 is dynamite for approaches and the flats. Even in alpine boots, it creates a stride that is natural and comfortable. Honestly, I could walk for days on these things without feeling it in my calves or hips. This design also aids with trail breaking and kick turns. Because of the forward position of the front pivot, gravity pulls the ski tails down when the skier lifts his foot. This causes the tip to rise up through the surface when trail breaking and clearing the slope when reversing course during a kick turn in steep terrain.
It should be noted that some Naxo reviewers have had difficulty doing kickturns with the Naxo. I attribute this mostly to technique, but the balance point of the ski also plays a part. If your ski tail doesn’t drop when you pick up your toe in touring mode, doing a kick turn can be awkward. If you go with Naxos, check this at home when doing your “carpet test.”
The dual pivot is the Naxo strength but it is also its Achilles heal. When traversing a steeper slope on hard snow, the dual pivot’ lack of lateral stability makes it more difficult to hold an edge. Since the Freeride has a single pivot under the toe, it doesn’t twist laterally allowing the user to set an edge and provide more security on sketch traverses. The Freeride also has a simpler heel lift system that is easier to adjust; simply lift the ascender and the heel is released. Then it is simply a matter of raising or lowering the ascender to one of three heights to match slope angle. The Freeride provides a higher platform than the NX21 for steep skinning (Naxo claims a higher heel lift is unnecessary because of the dual pivot, but I feel the Naxo heel lift could be a bit higher). The NX21 lock and ascender system is a little more complicated and not as user friendly as the Freerides.
In summary, the NX21 excels on the flats, trail breaking and kick turns, while the Freeride provides superior edge-hold on traverses and the locking mechanism, adjustability and height of ascender is much more user friendly. Both handle direct fall-line skinning well. Again, no clear cut winner. Perhaps, the NX21 should be your choice for routes with long approaches, while the Freeride might lend itself better to laps from the car.
Both ski great. When Lou updated his Backcountry Binding Flex test last fall, he found little difference in the lateral stiffness of the NX21 and the Freeride, while in ski mode. My unscientific testing this winter confirms it. My 230 pounds in Lange Race boots couldn’t feel a difference while descending. One of the great fears with AT bindings is the heel releasing to touring mode while descending, otherwise known as “insta-tele.” I can say that I am lucky enough to have never experienced this phenomenon and would rank both the NX21 and Freeride equally in insta-tele avoidance. Round Three again produces no absolute winner.
So it all comes down to the miscellaneous features/observations about the two bindings.
|Miscellaneous||Naxo NX21||Fritschi Freeride|
|Simplicity in Design||X☼|
|Liberal Use of Metal||X☼|
|Ease of Entry||X☼||X☼|
Freeride has the simpler design than Naxo. It has only one pivot, which provides great lateral stability while climbing but leads to frankenstride on flat approaches. The heel locking mechanism is much easier to engage and disengage as is the ascender lift. Thumbs up to the Freeride.
While the Freeride’s design is simpler, the NX21 gets the nod for adjustability. Forward pressure and sole length can be adjusted with NO TOOLS. The clamp and well marked slide makes these adjustments a breeze on the NX21. Props to the NX21.
The NX21’s toe piece is almost all metal. It is bomber, but you pay a little in weight. NX21 wins for liberal use of metal.
The Freeride has a more satisfying click when you step into it. Winner.
BOTH are easier to get into than Dynafits!
So there you have it. In short, both descend remarkably well. The difference is climbing. Both have strengths and both have weaknesses. Interestingly, none of these strengths and weaknesses parallel one another. So the decision between the two comes down to which strengths are most important to your style of skiing. Both are fantastic bindings. My choice? As long as I can keep the WildSnow.com loaners I’ll use ’em both. After that, I’d be happy with either one.
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