Whether you're new to backcountry skiing or have been earning your turns for decades, selecting an alpine touring binding can be a particularly intimidating task. In 2021, the market is absolutely flooded with options, ranging from ultralight tech bindings for the uphill-focused crowd to capable designs that play double duty in the resort and backcountry. No two models are the same and there’s something for everyone, so the main task is matching your style and needs with the right binding. To help you choose, we've compiled a thorough breakdown of the best touring bindings on the market, including a comparison table and detailed buying advice below the picks. To complete your set-up, be sure to check out our articles on the best backcountry skis and backcountry boots.
Weight: 1 lb. 4.8 oz. (without brakes)
Release value: “women,” “men,” and “expert”
What we like: Reliable, easy to use, and great all-around performance.
What we don’t: Only three predetermined release settings.
For the majority of skiers, the best backcountry ski binding is a tech design that deftly balances uphill and downhill performance, weight, ease of use, and durability. With these metrics in mind, the Salomon MTN Pure (previously the Tour) is our overall favorite, especially for those that put a premium on user-friendliness and well-rounded performance. Tech bindings can come with a steep learning curve, but the MTN is easy to step into and a breeze to transition in with a heel piece that rotates separately from the risers (there are a number of benefits to this, including a one-and-done 90˚ rotation and the ability to tour in ski mode). And the binding showcases its simplistic nature with just three release value settings and an included leash (a version with brakes is also available). Finally, Salomon nailed the build quality with well-built, metal-heavy heel and toe pieces that have held up impressively well throughout our testing.
All that said, the MTN Pure isn’t ideal for everyone, and expert skiers in particular might not like the inability to customize the release settings. For $50 less and a few ounces lighter, the Marker Alpinist 12 below performs even better on the descent with a gapless heel piece that lends a smooth feel and consistent release. And if you’re looking for a burlier binding that prioritizes power, stability, and safety on the downhill (at the cost of added weight), it’s worth stepping up to a tech design with an alpine heel like the Fritchi Tecton or all the way to a resort-capable model like the popular Salomon Shift MNC. However, whether you’re a recent backcountry convert, experienced powder hound, or somewhere in between, the MTN Pure puts it all together better than most, earning our top spot of 2021-2022... Read in-depth review
See the Salomon MTN Pure
Best Hybrid Binding for Resort and Backcountry Skiing
Weight: 3 lbs. 14.4 oz.
What we like: Full downhill performance in a touring binding and compatible with a variety of boots.
What we don’t: Expensive and heavy compared to simple tech bindings.
Immediately after its release, Salomon's Shift changed the backcountry ski binding landscape. Simply put, it was the first tech binding that provided legitimate performance and safety while hitting big lines or bombing laps at the resort. The magic formula here is a fairly standard alpine-style heel piece paired with a wildly innovative toe piece, which functions like a pin-ready set-up for uphill travel and converts into a traditional downhill toe clamp in ski mode. The net result is impressive versatility in terms of performance and boot-sole compatibility: you can wear your downhill boots and put down the power in hardpack and crud, or go lightweight with your touring set-up on a backcountry adventure.
What are the downsides to the S/Lab Shift? The binding’s two-mode toe piece and beefy heel do add some weight, so ultralighters likely will want to stick with a binding like Salomon’s MTN above or the Marker Alpinist below. The Shift also is not compatible with alpine touring boots that don’t have full toe and heel lugs, including the Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour and Arc’teryx Procline. And in testing, we found that the heel’s locking lever occasionally pops out while in tour mode, which releases the brakes. But this is fairly minor for a game-changing backcountry binding, and we've never had issues quickly re-securing the brakes. All told, the Shift lives up to the hype and—despite new competition from Marker's Duke PT—still stands out as the best hybrid binding on the market. Of note: it’s also sold under the Armada and Atomic brand names, with the only difference being color... Read in-depth review
See the Salomon S/Lab Shift MNC
Best Ultralight Backcountry Ski Binding
Weight: 10.6 oz.
What we like: Great performance and feature set in an ultralight build.
What we don’t: Non-adjustable heel piece requires numerous rotations depending on riser height.
The majority of backcountry skiers will opt for an all-rounder like the Salomon MTN Pure above, which for most intents and purposes is very lightweight at just 1 pound 5 ounces for the pair. But decidedly uphill-focused skiers—including ski mountaineers, skimo racers, and endurance enthusiasts—can streamline their kit even further with a design like the Dynafit Superlite 150. It should come as no surprise that the Superlite shines on the ascent, with a scant 10.6-ounce build and the ability to tour in ski mode (“race style”) by quickly flipping a riser over the heel pins. But downhill performance is where the Superlite stands out in its weight class, with a nice balance of retention and release safety paired with a wide 4-13 DIN range. And the binding just keeps getting better: compared to its predecessors (the Superlite 2.0 and 175), the 150 features improvements in weight, durability, and release range, and tacks on an additional riser (totaling four).
As with any ultralight gear, there are some tradeoffs inherent in the Superlite’s design. The most glaring is that there’s zero room for boot sole length (BSL) adjustment: once you mount the binding, you’re stuck with the size, making it difficult to share skis or swap out boots. Second, the 150’s minimum forward release is 7 (the lateral release value is still 4-13), which is a bit high for lighter or less aggressive skiers. And finally, you’ll have to reach down to manually spin the heel piece, and the tallest riser is just 51 millimeters (by comparison, a binding like the Fritschi Tecton below extends up to 89.5mm). But despite the compromises, the Superlite 150 is in a league of its own and an easy pick for the best ultralight tech binding of the year.
See the Dynafit Superlite 150
Best Budget Backcountry Ski Binding
Weight: 4 lbs. 5.1 oz.
What we like: Affordable, solid downhill performance, and compatible with a wide range of boots.
What we don’t: Heavy, clunky, and less efficient than most tech bindings.
We'll cut straight to the chase: backcountry bindings are expensive. In fact, the average model here is about twice as much as a standard alpine ski design (our top-ranked Marker Griffon 13 ID is a relatively affordable $230), which—along with pricey boots and skis—can make putting together your initial set-up rather daunting. One of the best ways to save is by opting for a frame binding, which offers versatility (they pair with a wide range of boots, including alpine models) and downhill performance in an affordable package. Of course, the most obvious downside to frame bindings is weight: the Tyrolia Ambition 10 here clocks in at a whopping 4 pounds 5.1 ounces, which is more than three times the heft of many of our favorite all-around tech bindings.
For uphill-focused skiers, weight is a major factor and can put a real dent in your efficiency. If you prefer to stay in the tech category, the Fritschi Xenic 10 (1 lb. 3.8 oz.) is one of the best budget options at just $430. But for casual weekenders, new skiers, or those who plan to split their days between the resort and backcountry, a strong case can be made for a binding like the Ambition here. In short, you get similar capabilities to the Salomon Shift MNC above for almost half as much (although keep in mind that the Tyrolia's walkability suffers with a pivot point in front of the toe). However, at just 10 on the DIN scale, aggressive riders will be better off with a heavier option like the aforementioned Shift, the Marker F12, or the 12-DIN Ambition ($449). But the Tyrolia is an affordable choice for beginners, budget-conscious skiers, or riders that don’t want to invest in a tech-compatible boot.
See the Tyrolia Ambition 10
Best of the Rest
Weight: 2 lbs. 15.8 oz.
What we like: Alpine-style heel provides security at a reasonable weight.
What we don’t: Heavier than pure tech designs and not as versatile as the Shift above.
Switzerland-based Fritschi specializes in backcountry bindings, with a streamlined yet impressive lineup ranging from the entry-level Scout below to the impressive Tecton here. The Tecton defines the “free-touring” category, combining a tech toe (like that of the MTN and Superlite above) with an alpine heel similar to what we see on the Salomon Shift. This hybrid design translates to safety and performance on the downhill—nearly on par with many standard resort bindings—with a reasonable uphill weight. And unlike most bindings in this category, the Tecton adds a lateral toe release (most release only at the heel), which comes with added safety benefits including potential injury prevention in twisting falls. With brakes included (you’ll likely want them for this kind of set-up), the Fritschi clocks in at just 2 pounds 15.8 ounces for the pair, which is almost a full pound less than the Shift above.
If you’re a hard-charging skier or like to spend the odd day at the resort, you might find yourself choosing between the Shift and a binding like the Tecton here. The main distinction between these two models is the toe piece: the Shift’s innovative design means you get a full alpine binding for the descent, which provides superior elasticity and feel and can also be paired with an alpine boot (it also earns it an official TÜV certification for DIN). The Tecton isn’t quite as versatile (it pairs with tech boots only) but still provides impressive performance for a tech binding without the safety compromises inherent in most of these designs (for more, see the section on Release Values in our buying advice). In short, we’d recommend the Shift for those who spend a lot of time in-bounds, but the Tecton offers our favorite combination of weight and performance for aggressive skiers who stick to the backcountry. Finally, keep in mind that Fritschi also makes the Vipec Evo, which combines the toe piece of the Tecton with a standard pin heel.
See the Fritschi Tecton 12
Weight: 1 lb. 1.3 oz. (without brakes)
What we like: Super lightweight; gapless design offers impressive downhill capabilities.
What we don’t: More plastic parts than the Salomon MTN and trickier to transition.
Marker’s relatively new Alpinist 12 goes head-to-head with the Salomon MTN Pure for the best lightweight tech binding here. A quick glance at the specs will show you that the Marker edges out the Salomon in both weight and price, but that’s not all it has going for it. Most notably, the Alpinist 12’s heel piece features a “gapless” design (also called a “kiss gap”) that moves along a track to compensate for ski flex, rather than the gap buffer more common in tech bindings. This translates to better downhill performance, including a smoother ride and more consistent release than a model like the MTN Pure. And the real kicker is that the Marker accomplished this at a truly impressive weight: at just 1 pound 1.3 ounces (1 lb. 7.6. oz. with brakes), the Alpinist undercuts the gapless G3 Ion 12 (2 lbs. 9.2 oz.) by a huge margin.
With all that praise, why do we have the Marker ranked here? In short, the Salomon is the more approachable option for the majority of skiers: it’s easier to step into and transition with a 90-degree heel piece rotation (the Marker’s is a full 180˚), and it provides a bit more assurance in terms of durability with more metal parts (the Marker uses a lot of carbon-reinforced plastic) and slightly beefier build. That said, for the more experienced skier who’s familiar with tech bindings and doesn’t need a gentle learning curve, the Marker’s combination of downhill performance, weight savings, and value is truly hard to beat. And it doesn’t hurt that you can tweak your DIN anywhere between 6 and 12 (or save some cash with the 8-DIN or 10-DIN models), while the MTN only offers three release settings.
See the Marker Alpinist 12
Weight: 2 lbs. 10.7 oz.
What we like: A TÜV-certified tech binding that offers proven performance at a low weight.
What we don’t: Heavier than the MTN Pure and not as downhill-savvy as the Tecton.
Dynafit is credited with starting the tech binding craze—some still refer to the category simply as “Dynafit bindings”—and their core offering is the ST Rotation. An update to the popular Radical line, the ST Rotation’s standout feature is its pivoting toe piece, which offers elasticity and consistent release like an alpine binding (unlike the vast majority of tech bindings, this earns the Rotation a TÜV certification for safety). Compared to the aforementioned Radical, it drops a bit of weight and is significantly easier to step into thanks to a catch that keeps the toe piece gently locked into a centered position. Finally, many will appreciate the ability to choose between three release options depending on size and skiing ability: 7-DIN, 10-DIN, or 12-DIN.
The ST Rotation isn’t nearly as light as options like the MTN Pure and Alpinist above, but the next-level downhill performance and safety are well worth it for some. On the flipside, hard chargers or those who frequent the resort can step up even further to a binding with an alpine heel (such as the Fritschi Tecton or Marker Kingpin), with weight being the most obvious tradeoff. But in the end, the Rotation fills a nice gap between the two categories and slots in as one of the most refined touring designs on the market, including easy transitions between ski and hike modes and smooth performance on both the ascent and descent. Finally, we'd be remiss not to mention that Dynafit’s durability and expertise are time-tested, and their bindings seem to take a beating significantly better than most offerings here.
See the Dynafit ST Rotation 12
Weight: 3 lbs.
What we like: Impressive combination of power, safety, and usability.
What we don’t: More expensive and not as versatile as the Salomon Shift.
Like the Fritschi Tecton above, the Kingpin is a free-touring binding designed for skiers who don’t like to hold back. It’s also one of the only set-ups here that earns a TÜV certification for DIN, giving the Kingpin the credentials to stamp its mark in a crowded and highly competitive market. For the descent, you get the safety and secure feeling of a quality 13-DIN alpine binding that releases both vertically and laterally at the heel. On the uphill, the reasonable 3-pound weight easily undercuts most other hybrid models. It’s true that the Kingpin is overkill for all but the most expert-level skiers, but if you’re dropping big lines reminiscent of the most recent Matchstick Productions’ film, it’s one of the most capable tech bindings money can buy.
The Kingpin wasted no time in becoming one of the most popular tech bindings ever made, but it hasn’t kept pace with recent improvements in the market. Compared to the Fritschi Tecton above, it’s a bit heavier and doesn’t include the added release mechanism at the toe, which could be a deal-breaker for aggressive skiers (the Tecton doesn't have an official TÜV certification, but it's very confidence-inspiring overall). And held up against the Shift, you give up alpine boot compatibility and the true alpine toe, which are great features for those who dabble both in and out of bounds. But these are all fairly small nitpicks for such a highly capable design, and there's a reason it's garnered so much attention over the years. Importantly, Marker recently expanded the line to include the Kingpin M-Werks, which combines the trimmed-down toe piece of the Alpinist, the heel of the standard Kingpin, and a host of other upgrades. The result: a fairly sizable drop in weight (the 12-DIN model is 2 lbs. 11.7 oz.) but a very steep $730 price tag.
See the Marker Kingpin 13
Weight: 2 lbs. 9.2 oz.
Release value: 4-10
What we like: Very user-friendly and great power transfer on the downhill.
What we don’t: Heavy and G3 bindings are known for durability issues.
G3 shook up the tech market with its Ion bindings, which have arguably the most user-friendly design in the business. Tech bindings are known to be finicky when stepping in—particularly in powder—but the Ion’s tall stand height makes it easy to clear out snow with a ski pole, and the pins hook up consistently with your boots thanks to a built-in bumper at the front. Once you’re in, transitioning between modes is pretty seamless and quick: the heel rotates 90 degrees in either direction, and the large riser bars are easy to flip with your pole’s basket or grip. We’ve mastered the art of switching into ski mode by levering the heel piece with our pole as we stomp down (and then ripping the skins) and are consistently the first skier in our party ready to hit the slopes at transitions.
Another strong suit of the Ion 10 is its kiss-gap heel design, which translates to great downhill performance (the Marker Alpinist is another pin binding with this feature). However, at 2 pounds 9.2 ounces, the Ion is far from a weight leader. If you're going this heavy, you might as well bump up to an alpine heel design like the 2-pound-15.8-ounce Fritschi Tecton 12 above (even the TÜV-certified Dynafit ST Rotation would be a better option). But the biggest knock against the G3 is durability: we’ve lost track of how many times we’ve heard about the Ion (or it’s lightweight sibling, the ZED) breaking in the field, which is particularly grim if you’re ski mountaineering or venturing into remote areas. That said, if you’re gentle on your gear and prioritize ease of use above all else, the Ion 10 (also sold in a 12-DIN version) is worth a look... Read in-depth review
See the G3 Ion 10
Weight: 5 lbs. 15.2 oz.
What we like: A legitimate competitor to the impressive Salomon Shift above.
What we don’t: Very hefty; convertible toe is a polarizing feature.
The immediate popularity of the Salomon S/Lab Shift has proven that there’s a strong market for all-in-one resort/backcountry bindings, and Marker has thrown its hat into the ring with the Duke PT. Like the Shift, the Marker design is highlighted by an innovative toe piece that functions like a tech design in tour mode and a sturdy alpine binding on the downhill (it’s also compatible with both boot types). The models differ, however, in that the Marker’s alpine toe needs to be moved out of the way for climbing either by flipping it back or removing it completely, while the Salomon’s toe stays in place. This adds time to transitions, although the Duke PT is a decent climber overall, easily beating out frame options in both efficiency and comfort.
Who is the Duke PT best for? With a sturdy heel, 16-DIN release, and the aforementioned alpine toe, the binding is well-equipped for aggressive skiers that split their time between resort days and freeride touring. But to be clear, this burly construction does come with a significant weight penalty: with the toe piece in place, the Duke PT is nearly 2 pounds heavier than the Salomon Shift (note: this 16-DIN model has a much higher release value than the 13-DIN Shift). Removing the toe pieces saves you about 1 pound 6 ounces for the pair, but the Duke PT still can’t match the Salomon in this department. In the end, ultra-aggressive riders with true big-mountain ambitions may prefer the Duke PT, but the lighter and more streamlined Shift remains the gold standard for most skiers.
See the Marker Duke PT 16
Weight: 1 lb. 1.9 oz.
Release value: 7-9
What we like: Great downhill performance and safety in a feathery package.
What we don’t: DIN cannot be adjusted and toe piece takes some getting used to.
Designed and manufactured in the resort town of Bormio, Italy, the Titan Vario.2 boasts an excellent combination of performance and retention at a fast-and-light-ready weight. One unique touch is its toe piece, which has its resting state in the clamped position—opposite the market standard. This means you have to depress the lever to step in, but once you’re in, you’re not going anywhere (the jaws also work independently of each other, which further reduces the chance of accidental release). But the biggest news here is the Titan's gapless heel piece, which uses a spring and flexible track to deliver a whopping 43 degrees of elasticity. Added up, you get remarkable downhill capabilities and safety for a tech design at a low weight of just 1 pound 1.9 ounces per pair.
Very few bindings match the cult-like following of Ski Trab’s Titan Vario.2, but there are some notable tradeoffs to the niche design. Namely, the Ski Trab can be hard to track down in the U.S. (Skimo.co carries it), the optional brakes max out at 94 millimeters, and the DIN isn't adjustable, despite what the listed 7-9 range might imply (it also comes in fixed 5-7 and 9-11 models). Additionally, the reverse toe piece can take some getting used to, although most tech bindings have some amount of learning curve. In the end, most skiers will be just as satisfied with a binding like the Marker Alpinist, which will save you $20. But there’s no denying the standout retention, downhill savvy, and durability of the Titan Vario.2, which should be near the top of the list for avid ski mountaineers and endurance enthusiasts who like to charge on the descent.
See the Ski Trab Titan Vario.2 7-9
Weight: 1 lb. 7.6 oz.
Release value: 5-12
What we like: Extremely durable for the weight with an all-metal build.
What we don’t: Expensive for a standard pin binding and you’ll have to purchase ATK’s Freeride Spacer separately.
On the heels of Ski Trab, ATK is another Italian brand that knows how to make a solid binding. A traditional tech design, the Raider 12 goes head-to-head with models like the MTN Pure and Titan Vario.2 above, but a few details set it apart. ATK has always cared about uphill performance—the previous Raider 2.0 had brakes on the toe piece in the event it came unhinged on the skin track—and the current iteration allows you to tweak the pin tension to really lock in your boot on the steeps. Durability is also best-in-class, with CNC-machined pieces, aircraft-grade aluminum, and a smattering of carbon throughout the components (ATK’s bindings are almost fully metal). It’s a big investment at $700 and the priciest standard pin binding here, but the ATK Raider 12 is undeniably premium and built to last.
The Raider doesn’t have a gapless heel piece like the Alpinist above, so you do give up a bit of the smooth feel and consistent release that we love about the Marker. ATK does allow you to add their “Freeride Spacer,” which slides in between your boot sole and ski to bring the binding’s downhill performance up to speed, but that'll run you an additional $75. In the end, the Raider 12 is a tough sell when high-quality, durable alternatives like the aforementioned Alpinist and Salomon MTN Pure cost around $200 less, but committed riders that get out often and are hard on their gear might be able to justify the added investment. For a lighter and cheaper option from ATK, check out their C-Raider 12, which uses a carbon-composite base plate under the toe piece (1 lb. 5.5 oz.; $630).
See the ATK Raider 12
Weight: 10.2 oz.
Release value: 10
What we like: The lightest binding to make our list.
What we don’t: Extremely barebones design.
Black Diamond’s Helio binding collection has been well-received thanks to its combination of crazy-light weight and no-nonsense performance. The lightest model on our list, the Helio 145 tips the scales at just 10.2 ounces for the pair, placing it somewhere between a true skimo binding (these can get as light as 3.5 oz.) and a lightweight tech design like the Marker Alpinist above. But despite the streamlined build, you still get a surprisingly good maximum release value of 10, a tough all-metal construction, and step-in and transitioning processes that are fairly easy to master. And importantly, all of BD’s Helio bindings (they currently offer the 145, 200, and 200 LT) are rebranded ATK bindings, which speaks volumes about their overall quality and durability.
To be clear, however, the Helio 145 is a specialty piece and lacks the versatility of the tech bindings above and below. The laundry list of missing features includes brakes or a leash, adjustable release settings, a tall heel riser (it maxes out at 42.5mm, which is not ideal for steep pitches), and much more. And it doesn’t help the Helio’s cause that for just a few extra grams, the Dynafit Superlite 150 tacks on an adjustable DIN setting and four riser heights compared to the BD's three. But the Helio 145 has its place for missions where weight savings are paramount and the terrain is not overly challenging or technical, especially if you want a bit more performance than most skimo bindings offer.
See the Black Diamond Helio 145
Weight: 2 lbs. 2.9 oz. (without brakes)
Release value: 5.5-12
What we like: An all-metal design that's very user-friendly.
What we don’t: Not a standout in terms of safety or performance.
As backcountry skiing continues to rise in popularity year after year, the binding market has followed suit. And as we've seen above, many of the best designs consistently come out of the European Alps from names like Dynafit, Ski Trab, ATK, Fritschi—and Plum Tech. Handcrafted in France, Plum sells a range of high-quality, all-metal backcountry bindings that run the gamut from ultralight skimo offerings to the Summit 12 here (they even make splitboard bindings). A traditional tech binding, the Summit goes head-to-head with some of the more downhill-capable tech options here, including the Dynafit ST Rotation and G3 Ion above.
However, in this increasingly competitive market, the Summit simply doesn’t stand out in any major way. You don’t get lateral elasticity in the toe like we see in the Fritschi Tecton and Dynafit Rotation, and the Plum’s traditional tech heel is no match for the performance of an alpine heel (it’s not a gapless design either). On the bright side, the Summit is simple to operate, and the heel risers are particularly well-designed, including lifters that toggle easily with a ski pole and three distinct levels (the 84mm is one of the tallest here). And there’s no denying the added assurance you get from an all-metal design: we know a lot of skiers who turn to Plum’s lighter-weight offerings (like the Oazo or Pika) for spring missions into remote mountains.
See the Plum Tech Summit 12
Weight: 3 lbs. 8 oz.
Release value: 4-11
What we like: The versatility, performance, and affordability of a frame binding in a relatively light build.
What we don’t: More expensive than the competition and maxes out at a DIN of 11.
The last binding to make our list is the Fritschi Scout, a frame binding made by one of the best in the business. As we saw above with the Tyrolia Ambition, frame bindings are among the heaviest options available for backcountry skiers, but the tradeoff is excellent downhill performance and versatility with a range of boot types. The Scout here is no exception: it’s fully DIN-certified, compatible with touring and alpine boots, and checks in at 3 pounds 8 ounces, which is over 13 ounces lighter than the Tyrolia. For backcountry-curious resort skiers or those who don’t want to spend upwards of $600 on a tech design, the Scout is a really nice option.
There are a number of other frame bindings worth having on your radar, including the aforementioned Tyrolia Ambition, Marker F10/F12, and Salomon Guardian. Although the Scout is much lighter, it doesn’t quite measure up to the Tyrolia and Marker price-wise ($349 and $350 respectively), and you don’t get as much wiggle room in terms of release value (both the Ambition and F-series come in 10- and 12-DIN options). On the other hand, the Guardian is a great option for resort skiers that go on the odd tour, but at 6 pounds 9.5 ounces, it’s simply too heavy for dedicated backcountry use. In the end, if you’re willing to spend up a little for the Scout, you’ll be rewarded with one of the lightest frame bindings on the market. For versatility and performance alongside savings, it’s an intriguing choice for many.
See the Fritschi Scout 11
|Salomon MTN Pure||$500||Tech||1 lb. 4.8 oz.||women, men, expert||No||Tech|
|Salomon S/Lab Shift MNC 13||$600||Hybrid||3 lbs. 14.4 oz.||6-13||Yes||Alpine, touring, tech|
|Dynafit Superlite 150||$550||Tech||10.6 oz.||4-13||No||Tech|
|Tyrolia Ambition 10||$349||Frame||4 lbs. 5.1 oz.||3-10||Yes||Alpine, touring|
|Fritschi Tecton 12||$650||Tech||2 lbs. 15.8 oz.||5-12||No||Tech|
|Marker Alpinist 12||$450||Tech||1 lb. 1.3 oz.||6-12||No||Tech|
|Dynafit ST Rotation 12||$650||Tech||2 lbs. 10.7 oz.||5-12||Yes||Tech|
|Marker Kingpin 13||$650||Tech||3 lbs.||6-13||Yes||Tech|
|G3 Ion 10||$539||Tech||2 lbs. 9.2 oz.||4-10||No||Tech|
|Marker Duke PT 16||$700||Hybrid||5 lbs. 15.2 oz.||6-16||Yes||Alpine, touring, tech|
|Ski Trab Titan Vario.2 7-9||$470||Tech||1 lb. 1.9 oz.||7-9 (non-adjustable)||No||Tech|
|ATK Raider 12||$700||Tech||1 lb. 7.6 oz.||5-12||No||Tech|
|Black Diamond Helio 145||$500||Tech||10.2 oz.||10||No||Tech|
|Plum Tech Summit 12||$599||Tech||2 lbs. 2.9 oz.||5.5-12||No||Tech|
|Fritschi Scout 11||$440||Frame||3 lbs. 8 oz.||4-11||Yes||Alpine, touring|
- What is a Backcountry Ski Binding?
- Uphill vs. Downhill Performance
- Backcountry Ski Binding Types
- Release Values and TÜV-Certified DIN
- Brakes vs. Leashes
- Transitioning and Ease of Use
- Durability and Materials
- Ski Boot Compatibility
- Pairing Bindings with Skis
- Buying Ski Bindings Online
Backcountry ski bindings, otherwise known as AT (alpine touring) bindings, are designed specifically for use when skiing in areas with no chairlift access. They differ from standard downhill (alpine) models in a few ways, the most notable of which is uphill capability. Whereas a downhill ski binding is only built to function with both your toe and heel locked in, a backcountry binding operates in both uphill mode (toe on a hinge) and downhill mode (toe and heel fully locked in). Additionally, they’re designed with an emphasis on weight savings—essential for uphill travel—and many are only compatible with backcountry-specific boots with tech fittings at the toe (there are a few exceptions to this rule).
Before we go any further, we want to make one thing clear: there is no one-size-fits-all backcountry binding. In other words, there is no one ideal binding for every skier—but there is an ideal binding for each skier. Your choice will come down to a number of factors, including uphill and downhill performance, weight, price, durability, ease of use, retention, safety, and compatibility with your current ski or ski boot. Read below to find out more, and be sure to also check out our top picks above, which line up with many popular backcountry skiing styles.
When shopping for a backcountry binding, one of the first questions you’ll want to ask yourself is: Where do I want this to perform best? Given the opposing demands of backcountry travel, bindings will usually excel on either the ascent or the descent, but rarely both. If you’re motivated by long ski traverses, endurance missions, and fast-and-light travel, you’ll want to look for a lightweight tech binding with an efficient pivot point under the toe. There are a few other factors to also keep in mind, including riser heights, ease of transition, and durability for remote environments. Bindings like the Salomon MTN Pure, Ski Trab Titan Vario.2, and Dynafit ST Rotation are some of our favorites in this category, although you can go even lighter with a design like the Dynafit Superlite 150.
On the other hand, for skiers who endure the uphill for rowdy freeride descents (including those who typically access terrain via sled, snocat, or helicopter), the ideal binding will have an alpine heel and prioritize safety features like lateral toe release and official TÜV certification for DIN. A few tech designs fall into this category—namely the Marker Kingpin—but hybrid bindings like the Salomon S/Lab Shift MNC 13 and Marker Duke PT really shine, with toe pieces that lock down to mimic the connection of an alpine binding. Keep in mind, however, that weight typically matters less for those who prioritize downhill performance, and many of these bindings are notably heavier as a result.
Also referred to as pin bindings, tech bindings are the most common form of backcountry ski binding and characterized by their skillful combination of uphill and downhill performance. These designs are the lightest of the bunch (most versions range from 1 to 3 lbs. for the pair), feature separate heel and toe pieces, and are compatible with tech boots only. Some even swap in an alpine heel (similar to a binding used for resort skiing) for the standard pin heel, which adds a lot of downhill capability without detracting from walkability or tacking on too much weight (the Marker Kingpin 13, for example, clocks in at 3 lbs.). Tech bindings are generally offered with either a brake or a leash, and the majority have adjustable boot-sole lengths and customizable release values.
Due to their lightweight builds and pivot point near the ball of the foot that allows for a natural stride, tech bindings are our first choice for skiers who spend most of their time in the backcountry and especially those who want to move efficiently uphill. Downhill performance ranges from serviceable to very good, with the highest-performing models bringing in design features like a kiss-gap/gapless heel, laterally releasing toe piece, or even an alpine heel. You can expect to see an increase in both weight and price with these options, which are primarily designed for particularly heavy or aggressive skiers.
All that said, we’d be remiss not to mention the downsides associated with tech bindings. Given their unique design and intention, they do not have the same release attributes as alpine-style bindings, including frame bindings and hybrid designs. In fact, most tech bindings do not earn a TÜV certification for DIN (the Dynafit ST Rotation 13 and Marker Kingpin are two exceptions). The biggest reason for this is their fixed toe (alpine bindings have a toe that releases with lateral force), which offers no elasticity in the event of a fall and has been implicated in many leg injuries (specifically, spiral tib/fib fractures). In fact, professional skier Cody Townsend cites tech bindings as “expert only bindings” that should only be used in ski touring settings and never at the resort. If safety is of the utmost importance to you, it might be worth bumping up to a hybrid binding for this reason alone. For more on the topic, see our section on Release Values and TÜV-Certified DIN below.
Frame bindings are a crossover category that merge the design of an alpine (downhill) binding with the intention of a tech binding. As a result, you get many features standard to alpine bindings, such as official DIN certification, good downhill performance, and compatibility with most boots (including tech, touring, and alpine styles), along with the ability to detach the heel piece and head uphill. But the biggest selling point here is affordability, with price tags that amount to hundreds of dollars less than tech or hybrid designs.
The most notable compromise with frame bindings is uphill performance: they are very heavy (clocking in anywhere from 3.5 to almost 7 lbs.), and the placement of their pivot point in front of your toe results in an unnatural stride and reduced efficiency on the skin track. With more capable tech and hybrid designs on the market than ever before, frame bindings are at risk of becoming obsolete and aren’t our first choice for most skiers. That said, if you’re on a strict budget or ski mostly inbounds, a frame binding could be the best option.
Hybrid backcountry bindings are a relatively new category and defined by two key designs: the Salomon S/Lab Shift MNC and Marker Duke PT. Along with an alpine heel, these bindings feature an evolved toe piece that functions like a tech toe on the uphill but converts into a traditional downhill design when in ski mode. This means a few things: For one, you get incredible downhill performance and safety with a fully locked-in toe, on par with a standard alpine binding (both the Salomon and Marker are TÜV-certified for DIN). Second, hybrid bindings are incredibly versatile in terms of boot sole compatibility: you can wear your tech boots to seek out remote powder stashes (a pin toe is required for uphill travel) or strap in your alpine boots for a day in the resort. They’re heavier than tech bindings (the Shift is almost 4 lbs., while the Duke PT clocks in close to 6 lbs.) but the least compromised option for hard chargers or skiers who split their time between the front and backcountry and want to use the same set-up in both environments.
All backcountry skiers will benefit from a lightweight set-up, but ski mountaineers, skimo racers, and fast-and-light enthusiasts in particular will want to minimize weight. Tech bindings are our preferred choice for this group because of their minimalist build: the picks here range from 10.2 ounces for the Black Diamond Helio 145 to 3 pounds for the Marker Kingpin 13. Within this category, expect the heavier models to have more durable materials, safer retention and release features, better performance on the downhill, and improved ease of use. On the other end of the spectrum, frame and hybrid types like the Marker Duke PT (5 lbs. 15.2 oz.) are among the heaviest options, but they also offer the best downhill performance, are versatile with a range of ski boots, and excel for skiers who spend most of their time inbounds. In the end, deciding how much weight you're willing to shuttle underfoot will depend on a variety of factors, including your ski objectives, how much durability you need, what boots you plan to wear with your bindings, and more.
Each binding on our list comes with a manufacturer-specified release value (usually a range of values), which provides an idea of the amount of force that must be exerted on the binding before it releases your boot. The numbers generally range from 1 to 18, and the higher you go, the longer the binding will keep you locked in. Lighter and less aggressive skiers typically set lower release values, while heavier and powerful skiers will dial it in higher. Understandably, this is a very important number to get right, as a binding that releases either prematurely or too late can have pretty serious safety ramifications—not to mention impact performance.
Within the alpine skiing world, release value is referred to as DIN (short for Deutsches Institut für Normung) and is measured via a standardized test administered by the TÜV (an international testing group based in Europe). When a binding meets all the requirements laid out by the DIN ISO 13992 specification, it is often referred to as TÜV certified.
While all the hybrid and frame bindings here are TÜV-certified, tech styles are essentially the Wild West with just a few exceptions (namely, the Dynafit ST Rotation and Marker Kingpin). The reason for this is their unique toe and heel pieces, which prioritize durability, lightness, and strength over safety features like elasticity and release mechanisms. While alpine bindings release laterally at the toe, most tech bindings feature a fixed toe and release at the heel instead, which has been attributed to an increase in the risk of leg injuries. In other words, if safety is a priority, it’s not a bad idea to opt for a TÜV-certified binding like the aforementioned Rotation and Kingpin (the Fritschi Tecton also features a lateral toe release) or bump up to a hybrid binding like the Salomon Shift.
Whether you’re skiing at a resort or in the backcountry, it’s a good idea to use either a brake or a leash to keep your skis from going far if they detach from your boot. Most hybrid and frame styles come with built-in brakes, but tech styles often give you the option for leashes instead. On one hand, leashes are lighter and keep your skis much closer to you (brakes don’t always bite on icy terrain). On the other, brakes make it easier to step into your ski boot by holding your ski in place and don’t require you to bend over and attach them like a leash does. In our opinion, brakes are the most user-friendly solution for the majority of skiers, but we understand the appeal of leashes, especially for those focused on minimizing weight. If you opt for the latter, the B&D Ski Leash is our favorite: it features a coiled cord that stretches so that you can transition without unclipping and breaks under a certain force (you choose between 40 and 60 lbs.), which is a nice safety measure in the event of a serious fall.
If you opt for brakes, you’ll likely have your pick between a variety of widths. It’s a good idea to get a width that closely matches the waist width of your skis—part of the reason it’s always a good idea to select your skis prior to picking a binding. The typical recommendation is to choose a width that is no more than 10 to 15 millimeters wider than your ski's waist, and not slimmer than a few millimeters (a ski shop can bend the bars ever so slightly). Be sure to avoid buying a brake that is too wide, as it can drag when you’re carving on hardpack.
Backcountry bindings are fairly complex pieces of gear, and you’re bound to face some sort of learning curve no matter which design you choose. In general, we’ve found that frame bindings are the easiest to use, while tech and hybrid styles have more moving parts, especially during transitions. For us, a user-friendly binding is one that rotates quickly (ideally, with just the twist of our ski pole), offers a convenient transition from tour to ski mode without detaching from the boot, and uses risers to alternate between climbing modes (rather than rotations). And some subtler features can go a long way toward increasing efficiency, including easy-to-grab heel pieces that only require 90-degree rotation (we like taller and more rectangular shapes), climbing risers that toggle with your pole’s basket or grip, and rubberized components like the toe lever on the G3 Ion.
More than most gear, backcountry bindings truly take a beating, especially if you like to ski hard or venture deep into the mountains. We ask a lot from these devices, and most of the time, they hold up impressively well (although if you’re a ski mountaineer, it’s likely you have a story of your binding breaking at the least optimal time). Most tech bindings are made with predominantly metal parts, including aircraft-grade aluminum, titanium, and carbon, but we also see a lot of high-tech synthetic materials, especially in the hybrid and frame categories. While an all-metal design is certainly robust and confidence-inspiring (ATK prides itself on this), we’ve found the durability of bindings with plastic components to be almost equally as impressive (and plastic can help shave weight and cost, too).
More than the quality and type of materials (metal vs. synthetics), it’s important to consider the quantity—that is, the weight of your binding. Burly options like the Marker Duke PT are meant to charge hard and take a beating, while lightweight designs such as the Dynafit Superlite 150 should be treated with care and skied predominantly on mellow terrain. In other words, you’ll want to ski your binding well within its limits in order to maximize its lifespan (and importantly, take care to match it with an appropriate ski).
Ski boot compatibility is a big topic in the alpine binding world, and it's arguably even more consequential for backcountry bindings. However, the good news is that it's fairly easy to break down. Starting with tech bindings, which comprise the majority of the options on our list, you get compatibility only with boots with tech fittings at the toe, which come standard on most modern touring boots. In terms of the boot sole, tech bindings typically work with designs that have ISO 9523 soles or non-compliant soles (often found on streamlined, lightweight models).
Frame bindings and multi-norm hybrid bindings like the Salomon S/Lab Shift or Marker Duke PT are a different story: with these styles, you can ski a very wide range of boot types. These include most tech boots, crossover downhill/backcountry designs that have GripWalk and Walk to Ride soles, and standard alpine boots that do not have tech fittings (ISO 5355 Alpine). The benefit to this versatility is huge for skiers who want to ski one pair of skis with two separate boots—you can throw down on groomers in your stiff resort boots and strap on your light and flexy backcountry boots for the skin track. Of course, you’ll want to check the details for each binding before you commit to purchasing, as there are always exceptions to the rule (for example, the Salomon Shift does not accommodate tech boots like the Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour and Arc’teryx Procline due to their shortened heel and toe lugs).
Ski gear works best as an integrated system, so it's a good idea to research your skis, boots, and bindings all at once. Outside of the basic compatibility issues between boots and bindings that we touched on above, it’s important to ensure all parts complement one another. Put another way, don’t throw an ultralight tech binding on a heavy powder ski—it’s just a waste of a lot of cool technology (and cash). And the same goes with some of the heavier and more downhill-capable bindings here: we recommend avoiding an ultralight touring ski that isn't powerful or stable enough for carving. To help in the process, see our top picks for backcountry skis.
When ordering skis and bindings online, it’s important to know that the bindings will not arrive mounted. If you have a local ski shop or order from a retailer like REI, it’s as simple as paying to get the bindings mounted on the skis (you'll need to bring your boots along too). The typical cost is around $40 to $70, but REI will do the work for $25 if you purchase from them (this is the current price at the REI Flagship in Seattle, but it does vary by store). It's worth noting that there are some pretty good DIY mounting tutorials online, but given the safety element and risk (you'll be drilling into your own pricey skis), we think it's well worth having a professional technician do the job.
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