How To Choose a Splitboard Binding
Unlike ski-touring, your options for split board bindings are limited.
While options for purchasing a split board binding are slowly starting to increase, for us the choice is still really clear. It comes down to Karakoram, Spark R&D or investing in a hardboot setup such as the Dyno or Phantom technologies. Read on the see which binding is right for you and if you still have questions, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org We look forward to getting you dialed!
For touring efficiency, the best option is hands down a hardboot setup. For a soft boot setup, we have found Spark R&D to have the most reliable and easy to use system for touring.
A uni directional two-pin system on the toe piece slides into the front of the base plate, and then a lever clamps down to close it shut. This allows the binding to pivot freely from the toe so the user can drag the board uphill. Spark has two bars that can be easily deployed for two risers heights. Located on the bottom of the binding, the riser heights are easily adjusted on the fly with your pole. After abusing this system on demo boards across our shops, this system has proved to be very reliable for us.
Karakoram features a step in toe piece that latches to a steel rod, thus connecting the binding for the uphill. While the step in feature can be a convenient option, we have found lining the toe up to be difficult when snow ice buildups up in the binding. The heel risers on Karakoram’s are drilled into the board, instead of the binding like they are on Spark R&D bindings. We have found the riser heights more difficult to change on the fly.
The beauty of a hard boot system is that you get all the advantages of a ski boot/binding interface. Step into a pin toe just like you would if you were skiing, lock the toe and off you go. Not only is the weight of the binding significantly less (as low as 100 grams if you go with a full race setup), but you are only lifting the weight of your boot every step- as opposed to a full binding. Speaking of boots, your hardboot will weigh less and offer significantly more range of motion for the uphill. For touring, the choice isn't even close. Harboot are significantly more efficient than their softboot brethren.
When compared to spandex clad ski tourers, your transition times won’t be all that impressive. But with the right gear and a little practice, you can be efficient too on one plank too. Just ask Josh Jespersen, a splitboarder who holds the speed record for skiing all of Colorado’s 14,000 ft. peaks.
After stepping out of your binding, you lift the lever to unlock your toe, and then slide the uni lateral pins out to release the binding. With your board put together, the Spark R&D puck system features two 'rails' for your binding to slide over. You slide the binding all the way on to the pucks and then push the lever down to lock in place. We have been impressed with the reliability and efficiency of the Spark transition from tour to ride mode. For days that require multiple transitions, the ease and efficiency of the Spark system is well appreciated.
The selling point for Karakoram bindings is that the rider does not need to come out of their bindings to transitioning from ride to tour mode thanks to the step in feature. You simply use your pole to pop the binding out of tour mode, reconnect your board, and then step in for the descent. While it certainly is a cool feature, we haven't found it to be all that time saving when you factor in the time to confirm your attached correctly. When you are on top of a summit ridge, this is always a good idea, and usually requires coming out of your bindings anyway.
Hardboot (Spark R&D Dyno)
Once you step out of your tech toe, the transition of the Dyno Binding is much the same as the Spark system. Once your board is together, the bindings slide over and lock onto the pucks the same way. The boot/binding connection features a toe bevel and the old school tele style heel (if you’ve ever gone snow blading, the system is essentially the same). We’ve found the system to be simple and effective, just be sure to completely clear your boots of packed snow.
Karakoram has the edge in downhill performance over Spark with their metal on metal interface and four points of contact. Hardboots on the other hand, require an acquired taste.
Spark uses a puck system to “slide” the binding into place to a point where the toe piece clamps down locking the binding in ride mode. When in ride mode the Spark binding transitions power via two points of contact, on the inside and outside of each foot. While we feel Spark is superior to Karakoram in terms of usability and efficiency, there is no denying that the plastic on metal interface and two points of contact, transfers power less efficiently on the downhill. For most riders this difference is negligible, but something to note all the same.
Karakoram attaches at the toe piece first then two bolts lock the binding in ride mode when the heel lock bolts are correctly positioned. Ride mode in Karakoram has four points of contact, two at the toe and two at the heel on both sides of the foot. The four points of contact, in addition to the metal on metal interface, translates to a more efficient transmission of power. For those looking for a techier and stiffer binding, the Karakoram binding delivers impressive power transmission on the down.
Hardboots, even the modified versions we implement for our splitboarding purposes, tend to be stiffer than a soft snowboarding boot. As a result the ride is somewhat of an acquired taste. Gone is the buttery smooth progessive flex of a traditional snowboard boot, but instead you get a stiff and super reactive ride.
In the world of splitboard bindings, we feel there are three options that should dominate your attention. For the casual user, the ease of use and reliability of the Spark R&D system outweighs the slight drop in downhill performance. For those harder charging backcountry riders, or those people who want the ability to step into their board, the Karakoram is a great system. Lastly, for those who really want to get deep into the mountains and be as efficient as they can in the backcountry while still staying loyal to the snowboard turn, a Hardboot setup is the way to go.
View our complete intro to ski touring guide here.
- Thomas Bull