The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

The Best Bindings for Backcountry Skiing

What's the best binding for backcountry skiing? We tested eight models head-to-head across the globe and reported our findings here. Photo: alpine touring binding testing and comparisons on the Vedr del Gran Zebru Glacier  Ortler Range Italy.
Wednesday March 20, 2019
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Choosing AT ski bindings can be mystifying. To help, we kept track of the best backcountry ski bindings on the market, then purchased the top 9 models for 2019. We put them to the test for hundreds of thousands of vertical feet in Lake Tahoe and Colorado. Our assessment and scoring are built to reflect how you actually will and should use the equipment. We seek to use language and criteria that are logical and comprehensive and weight our assessment of the different performance attributes to reflect real-world priorities. The end result is authoritative reviews from which you can make confident conclusions and sound choices.


Top 9 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 9
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Awards Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award 
Price $500 List$429.00 at Amazon$574.95 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$402.50 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$349.95 at Amazon
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Pros Light, solid, just the right set of featuresSolid, reliable ski bindings, excellent toe piece entry and easy heel lifter transitionsSuper light, adjustable for length, proven design, widely availableSimple, reliable design, familiar usability, for long-time users of tech bindingsSurprisingly durable for how light they are, killer price, lighter than most
Cons Not ideal for truly hard-charging downhill skiersNo ski brake option, heavier than bindings with the same or more featuresNo brakes, limited release adjustment, no heel liftersOutdated and complicated transitions, limited customer serviceNo brake option, heel risers are more of a pain to learn
Bottom Line This minimalist binding has exactly what most of you should want, and nothing you don’t need.These Canadian bindings use a now-proven overall design and include the latest of the greatest usability benefits. We only wish they were lighter.The Helio bindings suffer none of the special problems we’ve encountered in other ultralight bindings. For this, they earn our Top Pick award.Solid ski touring bindings in a classic configuration; the overall design is proven, but other companies have made updates that enhance usability.A simple binding design that has been proven over decades now; with an economy of scale and few design changes in many years, these are available for a fraction of the price of others.
Rating Categories Atomic Backland Tour G3 Ion LT 12 Black Diamond Helio 180 Plum Guide XS Stopper Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0
Touring Performance (30%)
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Specs Atomic Backland Tour G3 Ion LT 12 Black Diamond... Plum Guide XS... Dynafit Speed Turn...
Weight (pounds for pair) 1.82 2.13 0.8 2.13 1.63
Release Value Range "Men", "Women", "Expert" 5 to 12 6 to10 3.5 to 7 4 to 10
Stack Height (mm. average of toe and heel pin height) 37 46 39 40 38
Toe/Heel Delta (mm difference in height between heel pins and toe pins) 10 12.5 11.5 17 17
Brake options 80, 90, 100, 110, 120 No brakes 100, 125mm 95, 105 mm No Brakes
ISO/DIN Certified? No No Yes No No
Ski Crampon Compatible? Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style With aftermarket part. Only G3 brand Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style Yes. Best with Plum brand. "Standard" Dynafit/B&D style ski crampons can be lightly filed to work Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style

Best Alpine Touring / AT Bindings for Backcountry Skiing Review


Atomic Backland Tour


Editors' Choice Award

$500 List
List Price
See It

86
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Touring Performance - 30% 10
  • Downhill Performance - 25% 8
  • Ease of Use - 15% 9
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Durability - 5% 9
Weight: 1.82 pounds | ISO/DIN Certified?: No
Light
Full function
Super reliable and simple
Has adjustable release, but does not have a release certification
Highest heel lifter is a little lower than others

We consider a full function AT binding to be one that has optional brakes, adjustable release, adjustable boot sole length, and three touring heel levels. The Atomic Backland Tour (and identical, but co-branded, Salomon Mtn) is the lightest binding we have ever tested with all four of these key attributes. It is lightest by quite a bit. That attribute means a lot. It was easy to grant this our Editors Choice award, and it is easy to recommend these bindings to you.

Now, this choice may be a little intimidating. First, these at bindings are fairly minimal in appearance. Fear not, as we have tested them thoroughly and have had no performance or durability issues. If anything, the simple construction is its greatest performance and durability attribute. Next, there is no certification of the release values. So-called "DIN" certification is something that alpine skiers are conditioned to look for. And this binding does not have that. In order to attain that certification, though, the bindings need to be almost double the weight. That is not worth it. These bindings release, but are not certified in that release by a third party. Further, if you feel you need certified release to ski as hard as you want, you are likely skiing harder in the backcountry than maybe you should be. The backcountry is a high consequence environment regardless of the certification your bindings have. Nonetheless, if you absolutely insist on having high-energy downhill performance and DIN certification, check out the Top Pick Black Diamond Fritschi Tecton.

Read review: Atomic Backland Tour

Best Bang for the Buck


Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0


Dynafit Speed Turn
Best Buy Award

$349.95
at Amazon
See It

74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Touring Performance - 30% 9
  • Downhill Performance - 25% 5
  • Ease of Use - 15% 8
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Durability - 5% 10
Weight: 1.63 pounds | ISO/DIN Certified?: No
Excellent durability
Affordable
Incredibly lightweight
Lacks a brake option
Difficult to engage heel risers
Limited size range

The Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 is the best deal available for a tech-style binding, costing $200-$300 less than most other models. It doesn't come with a brake, nor is it compatible with one. But at 1 pound 10 ounces, it's one of the lightest options that has adjustable release value (like the Atomic Backland, the release value of the Speed Turn is not DIN/TUV certified). It is pretty light; ski mountaineers who want to save weight can easily save money and sacrifice very little performance with this binding.

With its tried-and-true yet straightforward design, Speed Turn is built to last, and we wouldn't hesitate to use it on remote trips. However, because of its brakeless design, it takes more skill to deal with the nuances of skiing, transitioning without a brake, or considering and employing a leash in spring conditions. The Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 is the result of very incremental upgrades and refinements over 30 years of development. Speed Turn bindings don't look much different than the Dynafit tech bindings of the early 1990s. That is a good thing.

Read review: Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0

Top Pick for High Energy Downhill Skiing


Black Diamond Fritschi Tecton 12


Top Pick Award

$574.98
(12% off)
at Amazon
See It

67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Touring Performance - 30% 7
  • Downhill Performance - 25% 9
  • Ease of Use - 15% 5
  • Weight - 25% 5
  • Durability - 5% 7
Weight: 3.06 pounds | ISO/DIN Certified?: Yes
Great downhill performance
Incredibly durable for such a lightweight binding
ISO/DIN certified
Heavy
Not compatible with all tech boots

If you wish to only have one set up for everything, and you tour and resort ski roughly half and half, the Fritschi Tecton is the binding for you. First, we really try and discourage this approach. Excellent resort and excellent backcountry gear have less in common than you would wish. Nonetheless, we get this request and inquiry very often. The ski gear manufacturers must be getting it too. There are more and more products marketed for this "niche". In this category, the Tecton is best. Even if you only backcountry ski, the Tecton might have appeal. It is tied with the Marker KingPin for downhill performance, offering energy transmission and release performance that almost matches old school frame style bindings, at a fraction of the weight. In fact, it is weight that edges the Tecton ahead of the KingPin and therefore earns it this Top Pick award. The Tecton weighs about 100g less than the Kingpin.

The Tecton wasn't the runaway winner, receiving strong contention from the KingPin for this award. However, the Fritschi won because it features some of the best downhill performance while maintaining typical tech binding uphill efficiency and it is relatively lightweight (3.06 lbs). For resort experiences, the Tecton is one of the safer tech bindings with a DIN/ISO rated release. If you are planning on using the Tecton exclusively for backcountry applications, consider the weight more closely. When there are options out there that are literally 1/4 the weight, you need a real good reason to select this three-pound behemoth. In terms of downhill performance, the Tecton really does do better than lighter options. However, in our testing and the broad experience of our consulted team, the downhill performance attributes will not be realized by any but the absolute most hard-charging skiers. Even most expert resort skiers do not ski (nor should they ski) in the backcountry hard enough to realize the advantages of the Tecton and the KingPin. In these cases, cases that represent the vast majority of backcountry skiing, the extra downhill performance is really just extra weight.

Read review: Black Diamond Fritschi Tecton 12

Top Pick for Ultralight Applications


Black Diamond Helio 180


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Touring Performance - 30% 7
  • Downhill Performance - 25% 4
  • Ease of Use - 15% 10
  • Weight - 25% 10
  • Durability - 5% 9
Weight: 0.8 pounds | ISO/DIN Certified?: No
Light
Simple
Durable
No heel lift option
No brakes
Limited release value options

Among ultralight bindings, the Black Diamond Helio 180 is our favorite. It is a proven design, durable, and gave us no troubles. The heels adjust for different boots and all the limited functions work as advertised. Finally, Black Diamond's branding, customer service, and distribution network mean that these bindings are widely available and readily serviced. All lightweight gear is subject to issues. Having excellent support is crucial.

These are best compared directly to the former holder of this award. The Plum Tech Race 150 binding is essentially the same. All features are the same, and the weight is close enough. The major difference is that we had a major issue with the Plum Tech Race and then spent multiple months attempting to resolve the issue. We haven't had any issues with the Helio. For this reason, the Helio takes the award. We continue to test the Helio 180 and will continue to update this review so that you can make the choices you need to make.

Read review: Black Diamond Helio 180


The Backland Tour binding in action on a typical low angle backcountry powder run.
The Backland Tour binding in action on a typical low angle backcountry powder run.

Why You Should Trust Us


To test AT ski bindings, we assembled two of our most knowledgeable testers for all things snow: Ian Nicholson and Jediah Porter. Ian is an internationally certified IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide, holds an AIARE level 3 certification, and instructor certification for AIARE level one. Jed is also an internationally certified American Mountain Guide. Both Jed and Ian spend an enormous amount of time skiing in the backcountry for both personal and professional adventures. Their collective knowledge and experience make our expert panel uniquely suited to evaluating backcountry ski equipment.

Testing backcountry ski bindings involved some lab time, and then a whole lot of skiing. We obtained measurements of the stack height and binding delta for each binding, in order to get a numerical idea of the edge-to-edge leverage and forward-to-back weight distribution. Next, things got fun. We skied tens of thousands of vertical feet in these bindings, both up and down, in all types of conditions. Our team put each of these bindings through the wringer in order to take the guesswork out of your decision-making experience.

Related: How We Tested Alpine Touring (AT) Bindings


Analysis and Test Results


This is our biggest AT Ski Binding review overhaul in years. We are at a turning point with binding reviews and in the binding business in general. In our opinion and observations, the "Frame style" bindings are taking their last gasps. Lead test editor and IFMGA Mountain Guide Jed Porter recently did the risk management for a human-powered ski and snowboard photo shoot in Grand Teton National Park. One of the pro skiers on the shoot, between giant cliff drops and front flips, was overheard saying "frame bindings are obsolete". If someone skiing with this sort of energy says so, it is definitely true for the rest of us. This year's selection does not include any frame bindings. Some are still on the market, but, given our review agenda and style, we do not have any here for full comparison.

Related: Buying Advice for Alpine Touring (AT) Bindings

We tested, and review here, bindings for backcountry skiing. The definition of "backcountry skiing" can be many things. We define it pretty broadly, taking a variety of things into account. We consider world-wide and historical usage patterns but also weight more heavily the current style of backcountry skiing in the United States. For us, backcountry skiing is at least mostly human powered. You may take a lift to start your day, but you will spend hours skinning uphill. Short boot packs and wild snow accessed from mechanized means don't really factor in.

Backcountry ski gear tester Jediah Porter riding light bindings in the Teton Pass backcountry. For most reasonably-paced applications  minimalist bindings are suitable and desired for their light uphill weight.
Backcountry ski gear tester Jediah Porter riding light bindings in the Teton Pass backcountry. For most reasonably-paced applications, minimalist bindings are suitable and desired for their light uphill weight.

Any skier skiing near or at his or her downhill ability is operating at the limits of our definition of "backcountry skiing". Wilderness skiing is high consequence skiing. Pushing the limits with speed, air, steepness, or tricks brings a high likelihood of injury or worse. High consequence and high likelihood make for high-risk skiing. A backcountry skier considers risk carefully. This deserves mention here because of the downhill performance attributes of different AT ski bindings. Regardless of your actual downhill ability, skiing within your limits is totally possible in even the simplest of touring bindings. Only when one is at or near his or her downhill ability do the retention and release characteristics of the more sophisticated bindings come into play. Those skiing at or near their abilities in the wild are taking risks likely more significant than those mitigated by more sophisticated bindings.

Ian Nicholson and Chris Marshall getting ready to start booting it up the 1500 ft tall Aussie Couloir on Mt. Joffre.
Ian Nicholson and Chris Marshall getting ready to start booting it up the 1500 ft tall Aussie Couloir on Mt. Joffre.

Some will want to own just "backcountry" ski gear for all their skiing. This is a very common desire. We get requests and inquiries in this vein more than almost any other type. First, we really try and discourage pressing ski hardware into use for both backcountry and resort. Good backcountry gear and good resort gear have less in common than you would hope. That being said, some will insist. Depending on your ratio of in-bounds to backcountry skiing, this may work ok for you. If your resort visits are less than 20% of your skiing and your bindings include ski brakes, using backcountry gear for everything is likely ok. If you want lighter gear for touring or ski the resort a ton, get dedicated resort gear and dedicated touring gear.

Not all AT bindings are created equal  some offer superior downhill performance while others are ideal for the uphill. Some meet in the middle and are good at everything but not excellent at anything. Deciding what your primarily going to be using them for is key to choosing the correct product for you. Ian Nicholson skinning up the Easton Glacier during a winter ski descent of Mt. Baker.
Not all AT bindings are created equal, some offer superior downhill performance while others are ideal for the uphill. Some meet in the middle and are good at everything but not excellent at anything. Deciding what your primarily going to be using them for is key to choosing the correct product for you. Ian Nicholson skinning up the Easton Glacier during a winter ski descent of Mt. Baker.

Only some AT ski bindings are "DIN" certified. All bindings release in some way or another, for injury prevention, but not all have that release function certified by a third party. For some, the "DIN" certification is crucial. This is likely an emotional or business/liability choice. In practical terms, our highly experienced test team can assure you that DIN rating is not required for even the most extreme of backcountry and ski mountaineering. Nonetheless, you have expensive and weighty DIN certified options.

Finally, before we dive into our review criteria, we implore you to use all backcountry skiing equipment according to the manufacturer's recommendation. As it pertains to ski brakes, leashes, toe piece locks, and mounting, a manufacturer's instructions are specific and essential. Think critically about your risk exposure in all aspects of your backcountry skiing, but abide the manufacturer's recommendations throughout.

The selection of tested ski bindings.
The selection of tested ski bindings.

A quick check-in and update in mid-winter 2019. As much of the ski business winds down, we keep charging ahead. We started examining bindings in South America in September and can make significant changes to our review for the end of winter. We have another set of bindings underfoot already, making sure we get appropriate mileage on them before publishing. Basically, the binding review business never stops. For this 2019 update, we kept testing our favorites and added a new one that has won an award. Long-term testing is crucial for ski bindings, as they are subject to wear and degradation more than in other ski hardware. We continue to be impressed by most of our award winners (we put the most time in on our past award winners, just to really question our conclusions). Long term testing has confirmed some of our suspicions and revealed some issues we didn't readily see in the early months. For this round of updates, we added a whole new product that takes our Top Pick Ultralight award. The Black Diamond Helio 180 displaces the problematic Plum Tech Race 150 for ultralight ski gear aficionados. If your binding needs are simple and your desires are light, the Helio is the one for you. We put in most of a season on a pair of these bindings and will continue to test them into the spring ski mountaineering season.

Value


AT ski bindings span a wide range of prices. Price increases in two directions. As bindings get lighter, they get more expensive. In the other direction, bindings get both more expensive and heavier with safety and downhill performance. The least expensive bindings are simple and light, but not super light. Paradoxically, there is an inverse relationship between price and durability. Normally we might expect more expensive products to last longer. With ski bindings, though, the most proven and long-lasting bindings in our review are those that are the absolute cheapest. Subtract weight from something like the Best Buy Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 and it gets more expensive and less durable. Add features to that same binding, and it gets more expensive and less durable.


Touring Performance


For our touring comparison, we tested and compared the pivot point of each binding, touring range of motion, and the binding's resistance to icing up during wet or stormy days. We kept weight and ease of use separate for this comparison category even though these things also affect touring performance.


Touring Range of Motion

Some touring moves require more hinge range at the toe than others. A "normal" touring stride just requires a little bit of heel lift and all the bindings we tested allow enough for this. Steep uphill terrain requires specialized "kick turn" technique. The most efficient kick turners get the tip of the ski to their knee (and the top of the toe of their boot, therefore, near the top sheet of the ski) during a kick turn. Most bindings we tested allow all the range of motion you need. However, there are notable exceptions to this rule. The complicated toe piece of the Top Pick Fritschi Tecton has bulk and parts that limit the range of motion. In efficient kick turning this compromised range of motion is noticeable and unfortunate. The close competitor Marker KingPin has less range of motion than other bindings but more than the Tecton. All the other award winners, including the Editors' Choice Atomic Backland Tour, have all the range of motion you need.

Resistance to Icing

We compared how each contender resisted to icing. All bindings ice up to some extent and need to be chipped free from time to time. The simplest, lightest bindings in our review are also the least prone to icing. The Tecton and KingPin bindings have more moving parts that collect ice. Any binding with brakes is more prone to icing than those without brakes. The brake locking mechanism of the Plum Guide XS collects ice in such a way as to disengage said brake lock. What this means is that, while touring, sometimes the ski brake is deployed. This requires taking the ski off, scraping the ice, and re-locking the brake away.

How resistant they are to icing up should be a factor you consider when purchasing Randonee bindings. There is a large difference between the best  most resistant products and the ones you need to bring an extra 3mm scraper for while touring on any warmer storm day.
How resistant they are to icing up should be a factor you consider when purchasing Randonee bindings. There is a large difference between the best, most resistant products and the ones you need to bring an extra 3mm scraper for while touring on any warmer storm day.

The ultra-low profile heel piece of the Top Pick Black Diamond Helio 180 collects virtually no ice. In sticky snow conditions, the Best Buy Dynafit Speed Turn gathers ice that simulates informal "heel lifts", even when the binding is in low tour mode. Almost all "traditional" tech toes collect ice under the center of the toe piece. This manifests as toe pins that won't close entirely. In this case, the ski needs to be removed, turned upside down, and the ice cleared out. It may appear that your boot toe holes are full of ice or dirt, but the more likely culprit is ice beneath the toe piece. The Dynafit Speed Turn and Plum toe pieces are especially vulnerable to this problem. For some reason, the G3 Ion LT seems less prone to icing than nearly every other binding we have used. The Atomic Backland Tour and Black Diamond Helio also gave us virtually no icing problems.

While backcountry touring you expend a ton of effort going uphill and the last thing we feel most users want to do is waste effort trying to get into bindings. We compared how easy each one was to get into and out of through a series of side-by-side tests. Here Ian Nicholson skins up the Boston Glacier on the Forbidden Tour  North Cascades WA.
While backcountry touring you expend a ton of effort going uphill and the last thing we feel most users want to do is waste effort trying to get into bindings. We compared how easy each one was to get into and out of through a series of side-by-side tests. Here Ian Nicholson skins up the Boston Glacier on the Forbidden Tour, North Cascades WA.

Downhill Performance


For our downhill performance score, we compared how well each AT binding performed on the down. We divide our assessment into two main categories: how does the binding perform in "routine" downhill, and how is it designed and built to work when a release is required? While most felt great in softer snow, we made sure to compare them in harsh, icy, and variable snow and at higher speeds where our testers could feel more of a difference. There are several factors contributing to downhill "routine" performance that include but aren't limited to the overall rigidity of the design, amount of elasticity of a binding, its stack height, and the ramp angle/heel-toe-delta. A more rigid connection between ski and boot lends better downhill performance. Binding "elasticity" is the distance your boot can move, within the binding, before it is released. Some binding elasticity allows the boot to get deflected by normal skiing forces and then return to center for the next turn.

With theoretical zero elasticity, every lateral boot force past some threshold would result in a complete release. This is undesirable, as normal skiing forces "appear", to a binding, to be the same as the forces associated with an injuring fall. Your binding cannot "decide" which forces are leading to an injury and which forces are just "normal". Elasticity gives you some time, measured in split seconds. If the force is short lived, you won't get injured and the elasticity of the binding will pull your boot back in line. If that force continues, the ski comes off and the force is relieved before it is transmitted to your bones and connective tissues. Of course, binding release isn't perfect and people get injured all the time. This is a risk you must be willing to take.

Steep and high energy skiing  under an expert practitioner  on ski bindings without DIN/ISO certification. Good idea? Or accident waiting to happen? We think the former.
Steep and high energy skiing, under an expert practitioner, on ski bindings without DIN/ISO certification. Good idea? Or accident waiting to happen? We think the former.

Release performance is difficult to objectively assess, as we can simply not crash enough to collect reliable data. What we look for here first are certification standards. Then we consider the range of adjustment and type of non-certified release methodology.


AT bindings that have a more positive connection as well as more surface area (touching both between the boot and the binding) within the binding itself, and between the binding and the ski, generally perform better. Only the Fritschi Tecton and Marker KingPin have the sole of the skier's pressing onto the ski. They also provide some "forward pressure" that assists in the elasticity of the binding. The G3 Ion LT also provides some simulated "forward pressure" that, theoretically at least, lends some elasticity. In our testing, the remainder of the bindings have the same downhill performance, as it pertains to positivity of connection and elasticity.

Overall mass and boot-binding connection play the biggest role in downhill performance. While ramp angle  mounting patterns and stack height play a role in performance we felt it was much less. Testing on a stellar corn day near Mt. Rainier WA.
Overall mass and boot-binding connection play the biggest role in downhill performance. While ramp angle, mounting patterns and stack height play a role in performance we felt it was much less. Testing on a stellar corn day near Mt. Rainier WA.

Binding geometry varies from one product to the next. Each binding puts your boot sole a different distance from the ski, and each binding has a different "heel-toe-delta". The distance between the boot sole and ski top sheet is called "stack height". While some ski racers like more stack height, most skiers, especially backcountry tourers, prefer to be closer to the ski. This gives the user better balance and "feel". Generally speaking, most manufacturers compete to see who can get the lowest stack height possible. The more sophisticated tech bindings have a greater stack height. The Kingpin, Tecton, Plum Guide, and G3 Ion LT all have stack heights over 39mm. The simpler Speed Turn and Atomic Backland bindings keep your foot closer to the ski. The lightest bindings have the lowest stack heights. Both the Top Pick Black Diamond Helio 180 and the Plum Tech Race 150 are more than a full centimeter lower than the other Top Pick Tecton.

The ramp angle is the angle between your foot sole and the ski top sheet. This angle depends on boot size, insole choice, boot sole geometry, and binding construction. We focus here on the binding component of this equation. The binding affects your ramp angle in that different bindings have different relative toe and heel heights. We call the difference between toe and heel height "toe-heel delta" and we measured this by measuring the distance from ski surface to the center of the toe pins and to the center of the "effective" heel pins (not all bindings have heel pins). AT bindings tend to feature a greater toe-heel-delta than most downhill bindings to help make up for generally softer, less aggressive and forward-leaning boots. Unless you know you have strong preferences in ramp angle and you know your boot geometry and boot size (as it pertains to ramp angle), we don't recommend thinking too much about binding toe-heel-delta. If you know it matters to you, realize that the Plum Tech Race as really low binding delta and the Dynafit Speed Turn and Plum Guide XS both have a really high binding delta. Otherwise, the remainder are fairly similar to one another, falling in the middle and sitting within a few millimeters of each other.

Stack height basically refers to how far your boot is above the ski  while a handful of folks like more stack height as a whole most binding manufacturers compete to see who can have the least because most backcountry skiers prefer to be closer to the ski.
Stack height basically refers to how far your boot is above the ski, while a handful of folks like more stack height as a whole most binding manufacturers compete to see who can have the least because most backcountry skiers prefer to be closer to the ski.

There are three main categories of AT bindings, in terms of release. First, there are those that have no adjustment to the release. The Plum Race 150 is in this category. As is the Top Pick Black Diamond Helio. However, with the Helio, you have the option of choosing different release values at the time of purchase. Next, there are those with an adjustable release, but no certification. Most touring binding models are in this category. Finally, there are the bindings that have ISO/DIN certification of their release. The Marker KingPin and Fritschi Tecton are the only bindings we reviewed that have this external, third-party endorsement of their certification.

Overall durability is tough to determine  we talked to as many folks as we could  several backcountry shops and a handful of sales reps to help figure out where all AT bindings stood. What we do know is that you don't want to be several ridges back and have them catastrophically break.
Overall durability is tough to determine, we talked to as many folks as we could, several backcountry shops and a handful of sales reps to help figure out where all AT bindings stood. What we do know is that you don't want to be several ridges back and have them catastrophically break.

Ease of Use


Ease of use is summed up (you guessed it) by how easy the bindings were to use. How easy they were to step into and out of, as well as how easy it was to transition to touring or downhill again. We also compared how easy it was to deploy the heel risers.


Ease of Entry and Exit

Ease of entry for tech bindings is hands down where the G3 ION takes the cake and was the feature that impressed us the most about that binding. Instead of nearly all other tech bindings where you need to either "hook" one side, or line up your toe holes and use downward pressure to engage the front pins, the ION features two vertical levers that when lightly pressured, engage the side pins. For folks that struggle with getting into tech bindings, we think the ION is the answer. The toe piece of the Fritschi Tecton is engineered entirely different, but the end result is similar in terms of ease of entry. Its spring-loaded closure was very sensitive and when most folks first start trying to use it, their toe closes before their boot is in position. Once accustomed to it, getting into the Tecton goes smoothly.

The Marker Kingpin was likely the next easiest of the tech bindings to get into. Similar to the Dynafit TLT Speed, it features two "posts" that help line your boot up correctly. The toe piece of the Atomic Backland Tour has a sort of guide that helps you to line up the toe pins.

Ease of Transitioning from Up-to-Down and Down-to-Up

Different products have different advantages while transitioning, after skinning up to skiing down, and then once you've finished your run at the bottom while transitioning back to skinning up.

Where it Matters

From up to down matters more; nearly every backcountry tour will have at least one of these types of transitions. Many skiers regularly take their skins off without having to take off their skis; a binding that allows you to do this is an advantage, particularly while in deep snow, where if you step down with a "ski-less" foot, you will plunge up to your hip (we've all been there) in snow. On the flip side, it's extremely difficult to put skins on your skis while they remain on your feet, so being able to transition on this end more quickly is a slightly overrated, over publicized feature. The one time we dig being able to go into "cross country" mode where you want your heel free, but no skins on, is during the descent and while traveling on long, flat, snow-covered roads and frozen lakes.

Top Pick Fritschi Tecton. The advanced performance of this binding requires more bulk and moving parts than usual. This collects snow and ice more dramatically than other products.
Top Pick Fritschi Tecton. The advanced performance of this binding requires more bulk and moving parts than usual. This collects snow and ice more dramatically than other products.

The Atomic Backland Tour transitions pretty easily but requires an extra step with the brakes. The brakes must be manipulated by hand every time you switch from down to up or vice versa. The Fritschi Tecton snapped between walk and tour mode very easily whether below our feet or in our hands. Transitions with the Plum Guide XS require turning the heel piece and dealing with a button-and-slider mechanism that contains the brakes during tour mode. Transitions with the super simple Plum Tech Race 150 and Top Pick Black Diamond Helio are quick and easy.

We compared the performance of each products heel riser as well as how easy they were to deploy and stow. Heel risers are important useful features  but remember don't use them on terrain that's not steep enough to warrant them  because it will keep your leg from being able to straighten out completely and will wear you out more quickly.  Ian Nicholson breaking trail on his way up to Bro-Bowl on peak 5500.
We compared the performance of each products heel riser as well as how easy they were to deploy and stow. Heel risers are important useful features, but remember don't use them on terrain that's not steep enough to warrant them, because it will keep your leg from being able to straighten out completely and will wear you out more quickly. Ian Nicholson breaking trail on his way up to Bro-Bowl on peak 5500.

Heel Risers

We also compared how easily each heel riser engaged and disengaged. All but two of the products we tested for 2018 have three levels of touring mode. All the bindings we tested have a "flat on ski" mode, except for the Top Pick Black Diamond Helioand the Plum Race 150. We compared how easily the heel risers were to engage and disengage while using our poles, ideally so we wouldn't have to bend over when we wanted to use them. As a whole, manufacturers have taken note of the consumer desire for easier and quicker to engage heel risers and have answered with continuously easier-to-use designs. The G3 Ion LT, Fritschi Vipec, Fritschi Tecton, Atomic Backland Tour, and the Marker Kingpin had by far the easiest to engage and disengage risers. The Dynafit TLT Speed has three levels of heel risers, and they flip back and forth to change. However, the difference between lowest and highest is more like the difference between lowest and middle of the Plum Guide or Dynafit Speed Turn and the flipped heel livers are difficult to "grab" with your pole.

The Plum Guide and Speed Turn both require twisting the heel piece to change modes. This is seen as "outdated" and is indeed more complicated to learn, and it is much harder to change between mid and high levels on the twist style than on the flip style. We'd like to point out a critical examination of these twist style lifters. If your most common heel lifter change is (and it should be) between low and mid, and you practice extensively with your chosen bindings, our test team can confidently report that the twist style heel lifters are actually faster to change than the flip style lifters.

Ski Crampons

Depending on where you ski and how much springtime touring and ski mountaineering you do, ski crampons can matter a tremendous amount or very little. We find ourselves rarely bringing ski crampons mid-winter while conditions are consistently cold and we are often skiing at or below treeline while basically looking for powder. However, once the melt-freeze cycle starts and you start thinking about skiing corn or higher elevation mountains, ski crampons can save you a tremendous amount of effort. Ease of use rating considers the option of employing ski crampons.

Ski crampons  while not necessary for every tour especially during mid winter  during spring and ski mountaineering trips they can save an incredible amount of time  energy  and frustration when the slope is just too steep and firm to skin  but booting would involve punching in.
Ski crampons, while not necessary for every tour especially during mid winter, during spring and ski mountaineering trips they can save an incredible amount of time, energy, and frustration when the slope is just too steep and firm to skin, but booting would involve punching in.

Weight


While weight is a factor regarding touring performance, we kept it separate for our OutdoorGearLab scoring purposes. More than most other types of gear, the difference in weight from one binding to another is quite large. Look at the 2.5 lbs difference between our review's lightest binding, the Plum Tech Race (.7 lbs), and the heaviest, the Marker KingPin (3.2 lbs). That 2.5 lbs of difference is the weight of a tent!!!! The Marker, while the heaviest in our review, isn't even the heaviest touring binding on the market, nor is the Tech Race the lightest. Overall touring on lighter bindings is noticeably easier. The old saying of "A pound on your foot is like five on your back" runs at least slightly true, as people can endure noticeably more vertical gain with less weight on their feet.


Weight is where most tech style bindings have a significant advantage over their frame style counterparts, as there is always less mass. On top of absolute binding weight, you are not lifting the weight of the frame (which is attached to your boot) every step with tech binders, which is providing better efficiency. There is also a significant difference among tech bindings, especially when comparing our Editors' Choice, the Atomic Backland Tour (1.8 lbs), to the Marker Kingpin (3.2 lbs), and the G3 Ion LT (2.1 lbs). The Kingpin and Tecton have all the same major features as the Backland but weigh much much more. The G3 includes fewer features and weighs more.

We compared the performance on the down of all of these bindings both in the backcountry as well as inbounds skiing at the resort. Here Chris Marshall airs it out in "The Duffy" BC Coast Range.
We compared the performance on the down of all of these bindings both in the backcountry as well as inbounds skiing at the resort. Here Chris Marshall airs it out in "The Duffy" BC Coast Range.

The Atomic Backland Tour earns our Editors' Choice award in great part due to its weight. It is nearly as light as the Best Buy Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0, but it features a brake. Mount it without that optional brake, and it is much much lighter than most other bindings we assessed. We have scoured the market and have found no lighter binding with the feature set of the Backland.

For absolute lightweight performance, check out the Top Pick Black Diamond Helio 180. Unmounted, these bindings look more like jewelry than technical equipment. They are that tiny.

"Ski Mountaineering" is often standing around with skis on one's back. In this case  the Plum Guide XS.
"Ski Mountaineering" is often standing around with skis on one's back. In this case, the Plum Guide XS.

Durability


For our durability test, we did our best to compare how burly each product was. For this comparison, we not only pooled our own experience, but talked to over a half dozen reputable backcountry ski shops, mountain guides, and a handful of reps; we wanted to see what broke, how often, and on which models. Overall, there is a pretty strong correlation between durability and simplicity. Simple, proven products will last better. The Dynafit Speed Turn 2.0 shares the bulk of its working design with decades of lineage. It is a proven design and has been shown to go for literally millions of vertical feet of ski touring. In either direction, weight-wise, from the Dynafit Speed Turn, durability suffers. Go lighter, and you risk issues. Bindings heavier than the Speed Turn weigh more because of added features. Added features add more things to fail.

Our testers going on long, super remote tours still reach for the tried-and-true design of the Dynafit Speed Turn. It has proven its durability and has relatively few problems for the number out there. The Atomic Backland Tour is a relatively new product, but it employs largely proven technology. In our extensive testing, so far, we have had no issues with the Backland. We are confident that the Atomic will be a durable legend. (update, for 2019. We have more than a full season now on the Atomic Backland Tour. Durability and function continue to be reliable. We have had zero issues with the binding).

Both the Tecton and the Kingpin had a few early, fairly significant issues with the glue holding the front pins in position, though both companies seem to have dealt with that issue. Some versions of the Marker KingPin are currently under recall. Marker seems to be standing by the product, but this is a real issue for some products in some circumstances.

Competitors like the G3 ION and the Marker Kingpin haven't quite been around long enough, nor are the same numbers of them for us to see 100% how they compare in durability for the long haul. Thus far, the Kingpin has impressed us with how durable and long-lasting it could turn out to be. Most of its aluminum parts are sourced and produced by the climbing company DMM in Wales. This shows us that Marker cares quite a bit about the production quality of this product. The Fritschi Tecton is a little less robust feeling than the Marker KingPin, mainly because of the more extensive use of plastic in the construction. This plastic makes it lighter weight. We have yet to have any problems with the Tecton and durability.

We had one quality/durability issue with the Plum Race 150. On one very long ski tour, a tester had his boot get stuck in tour mode in the binding. Fortunately, we were skinning (miles and miles) back to the car when this happened. At the car, this tester removed his foot from the ski and left it all together. It required bench, vise, and a pile of tools to extract the boot. Apparently, our experience was not isolated. Rumors of issues like this and rumors of a replacement part that prevents this issue dot the internet, but securing said replacement part required patience and required tapping into our network of industry contacts. We are still not sure that the new part is actually different than the stock part and that it guards against the issue we experienced. Finally, we were only issued one replacement part. If the issue is inherent to the binding, both parts should be replaced. We did not have a favorable experience with US Plum customer service nor with initial quality control.

Top PIck Plum Race Tech 150  showing an issue we had early in our testing. The binding on the right is stuck on the user's boot. Removing it required miles of mandatory tour mode  a thorough drying out inside  and then tools  four hands  and some swear words.
Top PIck Plum Race Tech 150, showing an issue we had early in our testing. The binding on the right is stuck on the user's boot. Removing it required miles of mandatory tour mode, a thorough drying out inside, and then tools, four hands, and some swear words.

Conclusion


What's the best binding for backcountry skiing? We tested eight models head-to-head across the globe and reported our findings here. Photo: alpine touring binding testing and comparisons on the Vedr del Gran Zebru Glacier  Ortler Range Italy.
What's the best binding for backcountry skiing? We tested eight models head-to-head across the globe and reported our findings here. Photo: alpine touring binding testing and comparisons on the Vedr del Gran Zebru Glacier, Ortler Range Italy.

Before purchasing a pair of AT bindings, you need to determine where you will be using them and how much emphasis you place on the respective tasks of AT bindings. Think of uphill, downhill, and durability cost. The tests and ratings in this review are designed to help you make this decision and find the pair of bindings that best fit your needs.


Ian Nicholson and Jediah Porter