The Backland Tour from Atomic, in its tested configuration (with optional brakes), is the lightest "full function" touring binding we have found. What we consider "full function" is important to enumerate; our deep and strong team of expert backcountry skiers has clear values that inform our preferences. We consider a full function touring binding to be one that has adjustable release value, multiple heel lifter levels, adjustment for boot length, and ski brakes. Many potential features don't make this list; however, we are confident that our values reflect those that should be important to most ski tourers. Of paramount importance is weight, and weight is lower with fewer features.
If skiing is good, more skiing is better. If more skiing requires more energy, save that energy by carrying lighter equipment. Bindings are the best place to save weight on your backcountry kit. The Atomic Backland is an ultralight product with all around appeal.
Touring performance of AT ski bindings is a function of just a couple things. First, we are currently at a historical crossroads of sorts. Recent history holds a far wider range of touring performance than is current. For dedicated ski touring, so-called "frame bindings" are making their last gasps of relevance. As long as something like the Marker Duke is on the market, all tech style bindings (including this, the Backland) will cluster near the top of the scoring charts. We've not eliminated all frame bindings from our review.
The difference in touring performance between frame bindings and tech bindings is so vast that frame bindings are bound for obsolescence. For now, we have to mention the differences, because folks are still using, considering, and selling frame bindings.
Within the tech binding sub-category, there are some touring performance differences. Mainly, we look at heel risers, propensity for icing, and touring lock mode. Having a few heel riser options is beneficial. The Atomic Backland has three different levels. The simple construction of the Backland binding minimizes icing. Finally, the toe piece must be locked out for touring.
As compared to the other tech style bindings, the differences are more subtle. Some other heel lifters are superior to those on the Atomic, mainly because they cover a wider range of options. The lowest level on the Atomic is higher than that on the others, while the highest isn't as high as the others. The only other bindings we tested that are as resistant to icing problems as the ultra simple Backland are the ultralight race style.
Finally, toe piece lock and release must be discussed. Simple bindings like the Backland have toe pieces with two distinct modes; the Backland binding has uphill mode, in which the toe piece is completely locked, and downhill mode. With the toe piece of the Backland in downhill mode, but the heel free, the ski would release, but there is not enough retention for normal function. Essentially, you must tour on the Backland binding with no expectation of release. Some others have toe pieces that can be configured secure enough for touring, but with at least some level of release value in that touring mode. These others are better this way than the Backland.
The Atomic Backland bindings employ a downhill boot retention style and standard that is widely proven to be more than adequate for the vast majority of backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. A full tech-style binding like this, especially one as simple and light as the Backland Tour, has its limitations, to be sure. The retention is secure and tight but has limited release function and limited "elasticity". Without diving into it too much, realize that anything that can be skied has been skied on tech bindings just like the Atomic Backland. The skiing may be slower than on alpine bindings, but the inherent risks of the backcountry environment requires this conservatism more than the equipment does. Another consideration in downhill performance is the binding's "ramp angle" or toe-heel delta. The Atomic Backland has relatively little delta. This is a good thing.
The full tech style bindings have far more in common, in terms of downhill performance, than they have differences. The simple construction and limited release adjustment of the Atomic Backland puts it at the bottom of the heap, but it is still fully functional.
The Backland binding in ski mode with our Top Pick Scarpa Alien RS boot.
Regardless of these differences, realize that a full tech style binding is not intended for the burliest and fastest of skiing. It isn't until you "step up" (mainly in weight; almost double the weight) to a hybrid tech/alpine binding that you get real advances in downhill performance. These hybrid bindings are legitimately better in downhill performance, offering more release modes, greater adjustment of release values, and each offering release elasticity that is more similar to resort alpine gear. The downhill performance of the frame style bindings is yet another step up from that of the hybrid style bindings. The level of performance you get from a frame style binding is unlikely to be of use to any but the most aggressive skiers. If you ski hard enough to truly require the downhill performance of a frame binding, you also should have a rescue helicopter standing by.
The backland heel piece, in downhill mode. For uphill mode, the bar labeled "ski" folds rearward to cover and contain the center of the ski brakes, thereby holding the brakes up off the snow.
It is important for us to make a note about Atomic's release value nomenclature. In a move that is simultaneously strange, welcome, and difficult-to-interpret, Atomic equips the Backland with adjustable release values in the form of three interchangeable springs. This isn't the strange part. The weird thing is how they label the different retention values and respective springs. They call them "Expert". "Men", and "Women". This leads to many questions and potential jokes. Basically, they could just as easily be called "High", "Medium", and "Low" retention, in that order. You might wonder, "well, what does that translate to in DIN numbers?". You're not wrong to wonder, but the answer shouldn't actually matter to you. Without the actual DIN certification (and no lightweight tech bindings have it) any DIN comparison is moot. The release value of all non-DIN bindings requires a process of trial and error, regardless of how the manufacturer labels them. Atomic just happens to be a little less precise, but no less accurate, in their calibration. The labels? That's just weird.
Ease of Use
Simplicity equals ease of use. Once you are accustomed to the function of the Backland Tour binding, it is straightforward to use. All the modes function as intended, with no "features" you don't need. Stepping in and out is on par with the other products, changing modes is clean and simple, and adjustments are reasonable and clear.
In terms of transitions, again, simplicity reigns. Tens of thousands of accomplished skiers over decades of use on all the continents and mountain ranges prove that this basic form is fantastic. The transition from uphill to down or vice versa is about the same as that which a skimo racer does in mere seconds. The only additional step is the activation or stowage of the Backland brakes. So far, in our weeks of testing, the brakes stow and deploy predictably and handily.
Stepping in and out of the toe piece of tech bindings requires a learning curve, regardless of how the binding is built. That being said, some differences smooth out the process. The Atomic Backland is about average in this regard.
The simple, clean toe piece of the Atomic Backland.
With practice, the Atomic Backland transitions almost as easily as any other in the test.
This is the Backland in tour mode. The greenish lever under the boot heel holds the brakes out of the way as well as preventing the heel pins from engaging. Pretty simple and clever. On the brakeless version of the Backland, one must use the lower lifter for tour mode.
Weight is king for human-powered adventures. Weight matters a great deal to us when it comes to ski bindings. With skis, there is a direct relationship between weight and performance. The weight of a ski is a performance attribute; all else equal, and to a point, heavier skis ski better. Bindings, though, have no such relationship. Aside from the features they can add, heavier bindings offer no advantage to the human-powered skier. At OutdoorGearLab, we consider very carefully the features that are added to or subtracted from backcountry bindings. For performance, more features are better. For efficiency, fewer features are lighter. We like lightweight, and therefore prefer fewer features than many. As noted above, the Backland has the right selection of features.
The only lighter bindings in our test do not have ski brakes. Our lead tester doesn't use brakes on his skis, but he recognizes their value. The Backland Tour bindings, with the optional brakes, are the exception to his preferences. The brake is light enough and simple enough to change his habits.
When we correct for features, no non Editors Choice binding is even close to the Atomic in weight. Remove the brakes from the Backland, and it is much lighter than others with adjustable release and length. Leave the brakes on, and it is much lighter than similarly featured non-award winners. The hybrid alpine/tech bindings are almost twice the weight of the Atomic. Choose the Atomic for its features and enjoy it for its weight. Or vice versa.
While the Atomic Backland Tour binding is a new product, its technological foundation is decades old. This style of binding has literally billions of vertical feet of testing behind it. We have not yet tested the Backland to failure, but we are 100% confident that it will stand the test of time and mileage.
Like with ease of use, simplicity is durability. The tiny components of the Backland may appear sub-par, but the fact is that they are more than ready for whatever abuse you may dish out. The many moving parts and extensive use of plastic in the bulkier and heavier bindings are, in our experience, more vulnerable to failure than the simple but small components of the Backland Tour.
Ultralight gear like the Backland Tour bindings are made for your typical low-angle backcountry powder skiing. You don't need anything more than this binder!
For what you get, we consider this a good value. It is worth pointing out that the Best Buy is quite a bit less expensive, and only really omits the ski brakes. If ski brakes are not important to you, the Dynafit Speed Turn is a closer competitor and a much better value.
The Scarpa Alien RS boot and the Atomic Backland are a great combination. Light and fast.
The Atomic Backland Tour shakes up the market with its throwback design, executed really well. Note that the Atomic Backland Tour is exactly the same, aside from color, like the Salomon Mountain binding. Salomon and Atomic, as companies, are intertwined. They brand this same binding design with different model names. All we say about the Atomic can be said about the Salomon Mountain.