After a full week of testing splitboarding bindings in Crested Butte, Colorado, last April, four pairs were decidedly the best for backcountry snowboarding. Testers reviewed bindings based on criteria like weight and durability, comfort and responsiveness, transition ease and speed.
– A Colorado tester who gets 80-plus days per year in the backcountry called the straps "burly," the transitions "quick as can be," and said he "never once had to reach down and re-ratchet mid-descent."
– With few moving parts, durable straps and ratchets, and minimal gaps to collect ice while skinning, one tester called it "the most reliable binding for backcountry missions."
-"Love the riser system and the puck adjustability accessible through the binding while in shred mode," one tester said.
– “Designed for aggressive riders that spend most of their time inbounds." The keyword is most; these are the only bindings that can claim to perform on both sides of the rope.
That’s just a sampling of feedback we received about this year’s best splitboard bindings. Once you’ve glanced through the photo gallery above, take a deeper look into what puts these models on top. The following reviews appeared in our 2017 Gear Guide. Study up. Strap down. Drop in.
Voile Speed Rail – $350
Voilé finally removed the slider pin from their Light Rail binding. The new model transitions much more quickly, hence the name Speed Rail. Testers were more than stoked to see the upgrade and returned from tours with stamps of approval. Opposite the Light Rail, the Speed Rail slides into ride mode heel-first.
The locking mechanism lives beneath the heel, making it impossible to strap in without first securing binding to board. Testers loved how fast they transitioned into tour mode and back, and complimented the two sky-facing hooks at the front end of the aluminum slider track that grabbed onto the toe axle.
Voilé uses their standard heel risers, which have become a favorite among many testers, especially those still unconvinced that risers should be attached to the binding itself. "Love the riser system and the puck adjustability accessible through the binding while in shred mode," one tester said. Strap cushioning is light, but the minimalist design was fine for a split binding and still comfortable.
According to one Lake Tahoe tester, "Stellar responsiveness kept me confident in my riding and in control of my board." He wanted more forward-lean options for the steepest terrain, but still said he enjoyed this binding the most when riding downhill.
Burton Hitchhiker – $400
Now with a single climbing wire and an even easier forward-lean adjustment than last year, this bad boy was a force to be reckoned with during testing. The padded highback form-fitted to boots, and all who rode the Hitchhiker were pleased with the smooth-sliding ratchets. "I've always been a fan of Burton bindings, so to feel a similar, close connection with my splitboard as I do my solid boards was comforting, to say the least," one tester said.
The ankle strap is thin and rigid, and support is strengthened by a tough nylon brace to improve response time. Juiced on the combination of Spark R&D durability and efficiency with Burton comfort and ratchet reliability, the fact that the toe-cap strap didn't fit completely snug on all boots wasn't enough to deter anyone from taking it for a tour.
A Colorado tester who gets 80-plus days per year in the backcountry called the straps "burly," the transitions "quick as can be," and said he "never once had to reach down and re-ratchet mid-descent." Another joked that the system was so efficient, "if it weren't for my free heel, I could've beat those spandex guys—maybe not on the skin track, but in transition."
Karakoram Prime Connect – $399
Last year, we featured the Prime SL as a top binding for splitboarding. This year, the same binding's power transfer and robust feel went unmatched during testing. However, Karakoram's big story for Winter 2016/2017 is the Prime Connect binding and their new Quiver-Connectors, the first mounting system to perform on both sides of the rope by taking the brand's backcountry innovations and tweaking them into a resort-friendly package. Quiver-Connecters work with any Karakoram Prime binding–including the Prime SL–and testers raved about the new technology.
If you aren't familiar with Karakoram's high-end splitboard bindings, including but not limited to the Prime SL model, they tend to be: a) stiffer than Clint Eastwood's upper lip b) more expensive than most snowboards c) lighter than a premature puppy d) Despite point B and due to points A and C, they are beloved by axe-wielding, gram-counting, peak-bagging, splitboarding mountaineers (à la Jeremy Jones) 2+ Boards, 1 Binding Building a snowboard quiver makes perfect sense. Pow board, park board, all-mountain board, splitboard. But is a quiver of bindings necessary? For $399, Karakoram's got an answer: the all-new Prime Connect (820 grams). The idea behind it all? To craft a pair of stiff, performance bindings that's easy to swap between boards and rides well both in and out of bounds.
Karakoram's Technology: First, although designed primarily for inbounds riding on a solid board, the Connect Prime doesn't have a typical disc interface. Mind blown? Who does that type of thing? Karakoram. That's who. Instead of disc plates, they use Quiver-Connectors ($75). Karakoram's proprietary Quiver-Connectors are essentially spiked metal interfaces that bolt into your solid's four-hole pattern so that you can attach your bindings to your solid board(s) like you would a splitboard.
This is a long gear review. Click here to read the rest.
Spark R&D Surge – $415
If there were a category for Best Splitboard Binding, the Surge would take the crown. Oh, wait…there is such a category, and this is it. Spark R&D's most responsive binding for backcountry snowboarding (Spark's Arc binding is better suited for freestylers and those seeking more flex) offered our testers' favorite style of forward-lean adjustment, the best fit with most snowboard boots, and the quickest transition from tour mode to ride mode and back.
The Tesla T1 system is the industry-leading pin-free binding system, which requires no more than lifting the toe ramp and sliding the binding sideways half an inch to remove it from the toe brackets. To enter ride mode, slide the baseplate onto the pucks and push down on the toe ramp to secure it with the board. The flush fit and wide contact points transfer energy directly from binding to board, delivering an almost immediate response time, thus top-shelf ride performance.
With few moving parts, durable straps and ratchets, and minimal gaps to collect ice while skinning, one tester called the Surge "the most reliable binding for backcountry missions." This year, Spark added a Whammy Bar ($25) to their line of splitboard accessories. It's essentially a lightweight lever welded to the side of a climbing wire that engages with a quick flip of the fingers. The tool was useful on steep skin tracks and slippery slopes when testers didn't enjoy being off-balance and having to fidget with touring poles.
*Editor's Note: Never taking a break from R&D, Spark improved the Whammy Bar in the short time window between testing and final production. If you saw our Gear Guide in print, you might have noticed the Whammy Bar handle looked different from the one pictured here. The new version engages by pushing down rather than pulling up, and it's now shorter and straighter. Spark also added Baseplate Padding Kits ($20) to their accessory line, to appease those seeking more cushion underfoot for really big days or long traverses.