Selecting The Right AT Bindings
Recent changes in AT bindings have revolutionized the sport of Alpine Touring. Gone are the days of big clunky bindings and marginal release capabilities. Binding manufacturers are definitely getting their products dialed. Innovation has really gone in two directions - lightweight and high performance. With some step in bindings, you can get up to a DIN of 14, and most Dynafit bindings weigh under 2 pounds, so the primary questions is 'Do I go Dynafit or step-in?'.
Dynafit has designed an incredibly lightweight binding system which requires a slightly modified boot (see 'selecting AT boots'). These bindings literally weigh a fraction of other AT bindings (a mere 1 lb. 4 oz. for the TLT model compared to 4 lbs 7 oz. for the Fritschi Eagle). Dynafit bindings can make climbing uphill tons easier, and have a solid and reliable boot retention system for the way back down. They do require an extra step to switch from hike to ski mode and 'clicking in' can take some getting used to, but many skiers find this a small price to pay for faster climbing and reduced effort. The difference between different Dynafit bindings is mostly in weight. The toe mechanism is pretty similar between models, but the heel mechanism can have a variety of options from 3 different climbing heights (TLT Vertical) to an incredibly streamlined ultra lightweight version (Low Tech Race).
The new TLT Vertical FT has a plate that connects the front and back part of the binding giving more torsional response to a lightweight package. The Vertical ST is similar in construction to the FT, but is composed of stainless steel instead of titanium. The Low Tech Race is incredibly efficient weighing in at a mere 160g-if you're into rando racing or 24 hour races, you should check these out. The TLT Vertical ST and the TLT Vertical FT are our best selling Dynafit bindings offering three different climbing heights and all of the standard amenities. Keep in mind that Dynafit bindings do not include brakes, so if you need a stopping mechanism, make sure to add one to your order.
The design of the ONYX binding is focused on the best combination of lightweight, high performance and usability. The Onyx utilizes an enhanced Tech system toe attachment that provides a rigid and secure boot interface, an easy step-in experience, and a high level of retention. They also have an added heel mechanism that shifts fore and aft to allow for an easy switch between ski and tour mode without having to release the boot from the binding and an easy to adjust mounting plate system so that one mount fits multiple boot sizes.
Step In Bindings
Fritschi has driven performance innovation in the other direction. Three years ago they introduced the Freeride Plus binding. Weighing in at 4 lbs. 8 oz., this binding is quite a bit heavier than a Dynafit, but has alpine style step in convenience and a DIN setting of 12. While still not designed to withstand endless terrain park sessions or jaw dropping airs, the Freeride comes very close to Alpine binding performance. Ski and walk modes can be switched easily with your pole, so you never have to step out of your bindings, and a ski brake comes standard. Fritschi also makes the Eagle binding, which offers all of the features of the Freeride in a lighter weight package (4 lb. 7 oz.), and a din of 10 instead of 12.
Marker released the Duke in 07/08, and it's designed for the modern freerider. With a max DIN of 16, this binding is really meant for cliff jumpers, huckers, and big mountain riders. Marker essentially took a 'freeride' binding and added a touring feature, and weighing in at 5.9lbs, it caters to those that are really hiking to get to the 'sickest' terrain. In 08/09, Marker added the Baron, a lighter weight version of the popular Duke.
So Which Binding Should You Get?
Your biggest decision is definitely whether to go Dynafit /Tech system or step-in. If you choose a Dynafit binding, make sure you've got a boot that will be compatible. Not all AT boots will work in Dynafit/Tech bindings - but Dynafit, Scarpa, Black Diamond and Garmont all make Dynafit compatible models. Generally (though certainly not always), skiers who choose Dynafit bindings are also opting for lighter weight boots and a usually lightweight ski.
If you are a cross-over area skier looking to make backside runs, hike backcountry kickers, or ski big/steep lines, you'll probably want a step-in binding. Check out the individual features of each binding as you shop on our site, and be sure to read our reviews as you make your decision. As always, we are happy to give you our advice and help you pick a binding that is appropriate for you skiing type, boots, and skis.