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How to Choose Splitboard Bindings for Backcountry Snowboarding

Efficients binding have a large positive impact on your touring experience
Monday November 25, 2019
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Splitboard bindings get better and better every year. With binding manufacturers listening to the needs of the broad user base to alleviate issues that were occurring, they are shifting toward user-friendly and efficient designs to increase our quality of experience. Splitboard bindings are getting lighter and stronger through the adaptation of different materials and processes. What does this mean? It means splitboard bindings have gone hi-tech. The good news is, the product is better. The less good news, choosing which model became a lot harder. How do you choose? Well, that's where we come in. Bindings can work perfectly or be the root of your problems when conditions are not on your side. We're here to give you the advice to make a deliberate and informed decision.

Resort vs. Backcountry



Resort


A resort binding is designed strictly for the downhill. They're offered in a variety of responsive levels to accommodate all styles of riding for the park rat to Travis Rice. Comfort and performance are driving forces in downhill bindings. Uphill specific features such as weight are not considered as they don't have a stock interface to connect to a splitboard.

Resort setups can only go where gravity allows.
Resort setups can only go where gravity allows.

Splitboard Specfic


Splitboard bindings are designed with up and downhill performance in mind and have a lot of jobs to accomplish. We expect them to be light and featured for the way up, efficient in transitions, and able to ride with the utmost response on the way down. Most splitboard bindings forego the cushy foam pads in favor of weight savings, instead using a metal baseplate for a lightweight response on the down. They are specialized pieces of gear to enhance your overall experience.

Looks different right? The design principles work to reduce weight and maintain the same performance as your resort binding.
Looks different right? The design principles work to reduce weight and maintain the same performance as your resort binding.

Do I Need It


While it is possible to use a splitboard without a dedicated splitboard binding (by using Voile Slider plates attached to the bottom of a conventional snowboard binding), at this point, it is not recommended. This setup will work ok for a few short trips, but even the heaviest splitboard binding is significantly lighter and worth the investment. Splitboard bindings are the biggest innovation to splitboarding since the splitboard and noticeably improve the overall experience.

Types of Splitboard Bindings


Currently, splitboard bindings can be lumped into two broad categories: puck based (passive) bindings, like those offered by Spark R&D, Union and Voile, and then the Karakoram system (Active). While large differences of quality and features exist between Spark R&D and Voile, fundamental differences of type and interface exist between Karakoram and the others. These differences can be thought of as choosing an ecosystem, perhaps like an iPhone versus an Android phone. Both function fine, but present different strengths and provide plenty of ammunition for online fanboy arguments.

Types of Splitboard Bindings (Passive vs Active)


Passive

A passive splitboard attachment system is always associated with pucks. There are a variety of different transition systems under the umbrella from pins to rails, to tight allowance closure systems. Historically, locking pins were inserted in front of the pucks to secure the binding in place. These pins are still found on the Spark R&D Blaze TR. While completely functional, the pin can be a bit of hassle during changeovers, and the thin cable that prevents the pin from being dropped can get in the way when putting your boot into the binding. Other models in the Spark R&D line use a locking mechanism they call a Snap Ramp to secure the bindings onto the pucks. This Snap Ramp removes the pins and saves valuable time with each transition.

The passive puck based system.
The passive puck based system.

Pros: More affordable, fast, resilient to icing, and light.

Cons: Pin systems can be inefficient and hard to handle in inclement weather, binding sits on pucks rather than boards (arguably it affects response).

The underside of a puck based binding has a channel system to slide on to the pucks.
The underside of a puck based binding has a channel system to slide on to the pucks.

Active

Active bindings have moving parts and pins that theoretically join the board halves together through created and captured tension. Karakoram bindings use an active system that represents a different type of mousetrap. The method of attaching and releasing Karakoram bindings relies on a mechanical locking mechanism within the binding itself. Pins from underneath the binding engage, which locks down the binding to the Karakoram interface (that is attached to the board). According to Karakoram, the clamping action of attaching their binding to the board pulls the two board halves together, thus improving ride quality. Presently, the choice of setting up your splitboard with pucks or the Karakoram system is likely the most significant choice you'll make in outfitting your board.

The Prime 2.0's interface.
The Prime 2.0's interface.

Pros: Fast, more binding contact with the board, and active joining of the board halves (arguably both these features improve ride quality)

Cons: Heavy interface, more things to go wrong, icing can be more of an issue (it has improved in years past), and cost.

This lever controls the active pins that connect to the ride or heel lock interface.
This lever controls the active pins that connect to the ride or heel lock interface.

How to Choose


The choice of setting up your splitboard with pucks or the Karakoram system is likely the most significant choice you'll make in outfitting your board. Each system has its trade-offs, and both work great. There is a much bigger gradient of transition systems in the passive category. We find the downhill performance of passive and active systems to be incredibly similar. It largely boils down to cost. Spark's top of the line binding the Surge Pro is more affordable even after buying pucks then Karakoram's introductory split specific binding, the Nomad.

If you can notice the micro details of your ride's performance and have some extra cash lying around, then consider the Karakoram Prime X. If you are just looking to splitboard a few times a year, then a pin-based puck binding like the Spark R&D Blaze TR will suit your needs. If you're an avid splitboarder seeking a high-performance binding and like the idea of saving some money, then look in the Spark R&D Arc. After you have identified which system you are leaning toward, then you should consider the factors broken down below.

Weight


Weight on our feet has a much larger effect on our bodies than weight on our back by a 1 to 5 ratio. This means that saving one pound off of our feet is similar to saving five pounds in our backpack. In addition to the weight for one binding, it's important to look at the weight of the entire setup, brackets and all. Remember that splitboard bindings are tools for climbing (and descending) mountains; weight matters, and saving energy on the climb will leave you with more energy with which to enjoy the descent. The Spark R&D Surge Pro is one of the lightest options in the category.

The Expedition is 803 grams per binding. Not too heavy but not too light.
The Expedition is 803 grams per binding. Not too heavy but not too light.

Stiffness


Like resort bindings, splitboard bindings come in different stiffnesses, most offering feature a stiffer highback then the average rider normally uses. The Stiffer the highback and baseplate, the more responsive the binding will be. If you are looking for a stiff reactive binding, check out the Karakoram Prime-X. For a responsive binding with some play, we like the Spark R&D Arc. If you're not into stiff, the medium flexing playful and freestyle Union Expedition is a decent choice.

Splitboard highbacks are generally stiffer than your average resort binding. Be sure to match the stiffness to your desires before purchasing.
Splitboard highbacks are generally stiffer than your average resort binding. Be sure to match the stiffness to your desires before purchasing.

Passive Transition Systems


There are many ways to transition onto a puck system; some are faster than others. Union uses a pin system as well as certain Spark and Voile bindings, but at the current state of the market, pins are outdated. They are slow and harder to do in inclement weather, especially with gloves on. If you plan on infrequent and good weather touring, with limited transitions, then a pin binding could be reasonable. It definitely was worth the marginal price increase to get the Editors' Choice Spark Arc, which has the snap ramp. The snap ramp is a toe ramp with a vertical movement that opens like a door to slide on or off the pucks. It then snaps down to lock in place. This can be done with mittens on in a blizzard and is very simple, as well as our favorite system here at OutdoorGearLab.

The Spark R&D snap ramp.
The Spark R&D snap ramp.

Features to Favor


Splitboard bindings are always refining their straps, forward lean adjusters, and heel risers; this is because we are constantly using them. They have to be user-friendly, or we would blow time and quickly become frustrated. The straps should be durable, comfortable, and light, and the heel risers should be easy to deploy with your pole. The lean adjuster should be easy to flip back and forth between walk and ride mode. The more negative lean, the better. This gets the highback off of your calf and allows you to maximize your stride.

Easy handling of the rip and flip system; one of the best in the industry.
Easy handling of the rip and flip system; one of the best in the industry.

Conclusion


Treat yourself to the bindings you want that is within your price range, though we recommend spending the extra money to avoid a pin-based binding if possible. When touring, you handle the binding very often, switching from the tour to ride modes. It's in your best interest to make an intentional decision. Look at your usage pattern and read our best in class review with that in mind. Focus on the metrics that matter most to you and decide as such.


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