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How to Choose Ski Touring Bindings

Frame bindings, tech bindings...here we will explain all you need to know to be able to select your ski touring bindings.
Backcountry on Pasolobino, Benasque. Photo: Daniel Vega
Ski touring allows you to freely access the mountains, without any restrictions other than those imposed by the snow conditions, the environment, the weather and – more importantly - your level of technique and experience.

The mountains are where we play...an immense, wild habitat, that is far from what is found at a ski resort.

This activity is an essential part of winter mountaineering and alpine climbing; skis are either used as an end in themselves to ascend and descend a mountain, or they are used as a means of transport to move quickly through the mountains to reach the base of a climb. Either way, enjoyment is guaranteed.

Two ski mountaineers in the vast expanse of Barrancs, Benasque. Photo: Daniel Vega
For further information, we also recommend you read our articles on How to choose your ski touring boots y “How to Choose Touring Skis”.

Above all, the choice of boots is fundamental, as they work together with the bindings, and due to the numerous problems of compatibility, the choice of one almost necessarily conditions the other. Although we will talk about this later, we explain in depth all these incompatibilities in our article on Compatibilities and incompatibilities between ski touring boots and bindings.

Ski Touring Bindings

One of the most important pieces of gear, touring bindings keep you attached to the boards and are the transmission chain for your energy and manoeuvrability.

Since touring skis are used for both the ascent and descent, the bindings must allow the heel to separate from the board, pivoting at the toe to facilitate the walking action while the skis remain parallel to the snow on all gradients.

When facing the descent, the heel is fixed to the board so that it converts into a binding similar to that used for alpine skiing.

Types of Ski Touring Bindings

There are currently two very different types of bindings.

  • Frame bindings. Which look similar to a traditional alpine ski binding.
  • Tech bindings, the term used by many brands, but also known to many as “pin” or“Dynafit” bindings

1. Frame Bindings

¡¡NOTE!! Frame bindings come in different sizes. Make sure you purchase the right one.

A frame binding can be described as an alpine binding mounted on a plastic or metal chassis that joins the toe and rear, allowing it to pivot.

The boot is attached in exactly the same way as an alpine ski binding. The frame pivots from the toe in ascent mode and attaches to the skis at the heel to switch to descent mode.

Until not so long ago this was the most popular type of binding for ski touring. Many frame models were manufactured from the late 60's to the present day. Some of them deserve to be considered ski touring icons: From the Silvretta 300 in the 70's to the Silvretta 402 and 404, Tyrolia TRB and Marker M Tour in the 80's. In the 90s came the Diamir Fritschi Titanal (and many others after), the Baron/Duke by Marker in the last decade and, now, the Salomon/Atomic muscular Guardian/Tracker, which is undoubtedly the last great effort to revitalise a category in decline; at least in our Pyrenean mountains.

Nacho Ruiz, Ski and mountain guide with a frame binding

Benefits:

  • Few or no inconveniences regarding safety.
  • Easy to put on, especially on slopes and deep snow.
  • Most models on the market allow you to quickly switch from ascent to descent mode and vice versa. Being able to attach the heel with ease is an aspect that those faithful to this type of bindings often value.
  • The ski crampons are normally attached to the binding frame, so they lift with your foot and don't drag on hard snow with every step. Fritschi Diamir even offers retractable ski crampons.
  • They usually offer a generous size adjustment range.

Drawbacks:

  • Weight: There can be a difference in weight of over 2kg compared to tech bindings.
  • They are not compatible with many of the lighter touring boots.
  • Ski crampons from one brand are incompatible with those of another. Each brand has its own model.

Compatibility:

  • Frame bindings usually allow height adjustment of the toe, which makes it compatible with both alpine (ISO 5535) and touring (ISO 9523) boots.

Recommended for:

Although this system is in decline, we still consider the frame mount to be a good option, especially for:

  • Those who want an all-mountain or freeride system that allows for occasional skinning
  • Those who want to use their freeride skis with both touring and alpine boots.

2. Tech Bindings

By tech bindings we mean those with a separate toe and heel piece:
Dynafit Speed Radical, tech bindings

  • In ascent mode the boot pivots at the two pins of the toe binding, which are fitted into two pin inserts in the toe of the boot.
  • The heel binding also works differently from a conventional binding: Two bars fit into grooves in the boot to fix the heel for the descent.
Tech toe binding, with the two pins in the boot inserts
Tech heel binding. Note how the heel is not connected to the toe binding

Some History

In 1984 Fritz Barthel invented the pin insert system. This revolutionary system, designed specifically for touring, dispensed with the connecting frame, leaving the toe and heel area separate. But its main difference lay in the way it attached both the toe and heel with pins.

Shortly afterwards, due to its success, Dynafit decided to buy the patent and hire Fritz, who is still working for the Austrian brand.

In recent years, as the various patents protecting the Dynafit binding expired, multiple brands jumped on the tech bandwagon. First small, almost artisan brands like Plum and ATK. Then the frame binding giants Marker and Fritschi Diamir, and more recently the Salomon/Atomic group. All have contributed to the pin system, which has evolved enormously, creating new options. Perhaps, the end of the patents and the commitment of big brands to the Tech system partly explains the decline of frame bindings.

Benefits

  • Drastic weight reduction. Under 150 g in competition models. But whatever the field of use, the tech is always much lighter than its equivalent frame binding.
  • Ski crampon compatibility: There are some exceptions, but many bindings in this category still use the Dynafit standard.
  • Reliability: The simplicity of the mechanism means that you can find some of the most reliable bindings on the market in this category.

Disadvantages:

  • Reliability: Some models are a bit fragile. And, unfortunately, there have been some notable fiascos.
  • Less user friendly: Tech bindings are more difficult to step into than a conventional binding. Switching from ascent mode to descent mode can also be tricky.

Incompatibility

When Firtz Barthel invented the pin system, as he was no boot manufacturer, he had to buy his boots from Dynafit and adapted them to his bindings by inserting the front pin holes and adapting the heel.

The boots he used complied with ISO 9538, which indicated the exact measurements that the sole, toe and heel needed to have for use with frame bindings. These were the only ones that existed and Barthel reused them but there was no need for them to meet ISO requirements.

The fact that tech binding boots did not have to comply with the ISO 9538 and there was no other standard regulating them, meant that over time, this led to numerous incompatibilities, not only between boots for tech and frame bindings, but also between boots for tech bindings themselves.

The issue of incompatibilities is so complex that a separate article could be dedicated to this subject: between the different brands, up to 7 types of bindings and 8 types of boots were manufactured.

And so we recommend you consult the article on Compatibilities and incompatibilities of ski touring boots and bindings before choosing your equipment, in order to avoid problems.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING SKI TOURING BINDINGS

1. Are Tech Bindings Less Safe?

The simple answer is: NO

This said, there are certain subtleties:

Many tech bindings sacrifice some safety-related mechanical aspects to reduce weight. But don't panic: they ARE SAFE. You just have to choose wisely, and consider factors that are not usually taken into account when choosing a frame binding:

  • Elasticity: Most Tech bindings are less elastic than frame bindings (the boot travels less distance in each direction before releasing).
  • And what is the reason for this lack of elasticity?

    • The lack of the pivoting base plate, found on the frame models.
    • The mechanism for horizontal and vertical heel release
    • The U-shaped pins on lighter bindings

    How does this lack of elasticity affect the skier?

    If you are a heavy skier or aggressive freerider, if you use reactive skis and powerful boots or enjoy reaching high speeds on-piste, an inelastic binding can lead to unwanted boot release, unless you raise the preload of the release mechanisms above your normal values.

    But that is not a solution. It's better to opt for an elastic binding. And fortunately there are already several Tech models on the market focused on solving this issue.

    If you are not the king of aggressive skier, mentioned above, you can opt for any multi-purpose, slightly lighter tech binding (at the cost of sacrificing the range of elasticity).

    How do you adapt this lack of elasticity?

    It's easy; if you are used to alpine, or frame bindings, it simply requires a little adaptation.

    Familiarise yourself with the settings by starting with a low setting and ride on easy terrain where a fall caused by early release is acceptable. This way you and the binding will gradually get to know each other.

    What about the more minimalist tech bindings with fixed settings?

    Ultralight and race bindings usually have a fixed vertical release value (a metal "U-shaped pin"), with no possibility of adjustment. Some models, such as Salomon MTN, are supplied with 3 replaceable U-pins that can be swapped depending your weight and ability, but others have only one.

    U-pin system. But in this case, the Salomon MTN, comes with 3 interchangeable U-pins, based on your
    Is this less safe?

    A binding with a fixed release value of say, 7, is safe, if this is the value that suits your weight and ski level. It’s as simple as that. If it's not your value, it will be less suitable.

    If you do not have much experience with tech bindings or are unfamiliar with their settings, you will inevitably have to find a technician to set up your ultralight or race bindings.

    Fortunately, horizontal release mechanisms are starting to become standard, although they tend to be so minimalist that they sometimes lack an adjustment dial.

    2. Use and Different Disciplines

    • Competition frame bindings went out of fashion almost 30 years ago, swallowed up by the newer tech bindings. If you're thinking about racing, tech bindings are your only option.
    • Frame bindings are not the best choice if your idea is to go fast on long ascents, mainly because of the uphill weight.
    • For everything else, from easy touring to aggressive freeriding, both types of bindings are an option. The choice is yours.

    3. Types of Ski

    We always recommend you ensure there is a certain harmony between the different elements that make up your touring gear:

    • A racing ski should always go with a racing binding and boot.
    • All-round skis: Avoid ultralight or freeride bindings.
    • Freeride skis: Not compatible with ultralight bindings or those designed mainly for uphill.
    • The ski waist is equally important. A super wide ski works better with a binding with the widest possible base.

    And if you are going to use brakes, rather than a leash... check first that they fit the ski width!

    4. Brake or No Brake?

    Most tourers prefer the brake to the leash, even though it is more expensive, adds weight, is often the weak point of the assembly and, on top of that, is not infallible.

    Tech heel with brake. The brakes turn down as the boot releases from the binding, to prevent the ski
    The leash may be the best solution for skiers traversing steep terrain where losing a ski is not an option... but in the event of an avalanche you run the risk of your skis becoming an anchor and pulling you down.

    You also run the risk of getting injured by the ski edges in the event of a fall.

    If you have a leash, always wear a helmet.

    And, of course, whether you use a leash or brakes, always beware of avalanches.

    Tech toe with leash

    5. Heel Lifters

    When using bindings in ascent mode, the heel binding offers options for elevating your heel.

    Most bindings on the market have three positions:

  • Zero elevation
  • Mid elevation
  • Second elevation

Ultralight models, for competition, have just the mid or mid and second positions. They rarely have the zero elevation option.

A binding with heel lifters that are easy to use is the best option if you are a newcomer to ski mountaineering.

The heel lifter is flipped over with your ski pole to facilitate skinning up steep slopes. This allows the boot to rest in a more horizontal position on the ski.

Use the heel lift to ski up steep slopes. The boot stays more or less horizontal as it falls onto th

6. Size Adjustment

Some touring bindings have a large adjustment range, while others, such as those for competition are non-adjustable.

It depends on you. You may not need it for competition, but for most of us, it is useful to be able to have some degree of adjustment, to have the option of using different boot lengths, if necessary.

On-line store: www.barrabes.com

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