With more touring bindings than ever flooding the market, it is the tiniest of details that set them apart. Backcountry editor Martin Chester has the details on the tiny details with big implications.
Remember when we used to call tech bindings ‘Dynafit’ bindings? Ha! Well, the last few years have seen the range of tech bindings explode wide open, with every brand now having a pin binding of their own.
With so many bindings to choose from, the devil is in the detail as brands compete for market share. For some, new bindings offer marginal gains over the competition while, for others, this year has seen them correct the finer points and teething issues of products launched last year. 2020 is less about major game-changing developments and more about refinement and evolution.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin….
INNOVATIONS AND REFINEMENTS
The major new story for 2020 is the Fritschi Xenic 10 – our 2020 Binding of the Year. Once again, Fritschi offer a host of innovative features, like horizontal toe-pin action and a super-easy trigger mechanism. Could this be the releasable answer to light weight at last? We shall see this winter…
In terms of refinements, Marker have upgraded their Kingpin with experience and components from the Alpinist models and come up with the Kingpin M-Werks: tried and tested Marker products at race-tech weight, that promise to fix many of the niggles with this binding. Hurrah!
Of course, the Marker Alpinist offers some great details in its own right: the chamfered (rather than square) heel block prevents that annoying balling up of snow at the back of the binding when skinning in deep/soft snow. Nice touch!
The well-designed and high springs on the G3 Ion and Zed bindings prevent the toe springs from icing up and jamming, which plagues some other models. In really harsh conditions, you can even clear the gap with a tip of a pole.
The Atomic/Salomon Shift binding was the major revolution of last season, but has developed a Marmite reputation out on the mountain. I love mine, but I have seen clients fail to lock the toe into walk mode; and don’t be stomping those brakes into the locked position. Best to gently operate that mechanism by hand if you want them to last!
FAST AND LIGHT
Another development for the year is race-tech-weight bindings hitting the touring and mountaineering mainstream. This has been a subtle slide for a while, but even the ploddiest of my guiding brethren now use race bindings with leashes (not brakes) so super light is possibly becoming the new norm.
Plum are still quietly knocking out beautifully engineered and stripped-down tech bindings. They are the nuts for many clients, especially on the ski down. Keep your eyes peeled for the new Summit 12 this winter.
Dynafit have gone right back to their fast and light roots this year with the stripped back Low Tech Race 105 Auto. Right up their skin track, with none of the wacky extras that have confounded recent models, these are tried, tested and to be trusted.
Arguably the most significant news coming out of Snow Leopard HQ right now is that Dynafit are now offering a lifetime guarantee on all bindings purchased after the 1st of November 2019 that are then registered online. If that doesn’t demonstrate confidence in a product then we don’t know what does!
While ATK might not be a familiar brand, they have been making bindings for the likes of Black Diamond (the Helio range) for a while. The new free-touring-oriented R12 looks amazing! With no more weird brakes at the toe, ATK have taken their place as a serious mainstream binding contender.
GET TO A RETAILER!
On a shelf with too many choices, it is these tiny details that set the best bindings apart. That is why you need to buy from a reputable retailer, to help you choose on more than just looks and price.
My go-to guru for all these is Phil at Backcountry UK. I don’t know anyone who fits more pairs or picks up more pieces when the bindings come back (with a variety of issues) than this guy. Seemingly no one brand is exempt from first generation snagging issues and no amount of pre-production testing can replicate what happens when we all get our hands on them out in the field!
Before we wrap up, a final word of warning. In the past, almost any boot with toe inserts would fit into any tech binding on the market. But no more! With so much niche and nuance to the wide range of bindings on offer, boot/binding compatibility is becoming a really hot topic, as there are so many variations and combos to choose from. No-one has been exempt from this and even the big players have had some serious issues.
Once again – a good reason to buy a well-tested combo (with a second generation of binding) from a well-respected and specialist retailer.