Recommendations and advice for backcountry touring bindings.
Safety Disclaimer: Recreating in the backcountry is inherently dangerous. It is the responsibility of all users to inform themselves of proper backcountry safety protocols, especially in regards to avalanche conditions. It is your responsibility to make your own decisions. This is not a complete guide to avalanche safety or backcountry skiing. I assume absolutely no liability or responsibility for the use of information provided here.
Affiliate Disclosure: All opinions presented here are my own and have been formed through years of experience and rigorous testing. There are product links where I may earn a small commission from purchases made through those links (at no charge to you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
In order to skin uphill, you’ll need some sort of gear that allows your toe to be locked in but not your heel. Along with skins, this will allow you to go uphill!
Touring on Cameron Pass, CO with the Dynafit Radical tech bindings
There are four main binding options:
1. Tech bindings: These are common bindings to see on dedicated backcountry setups. They have pins that lock your toe in for the uphills, and mechanism on the heel that lock your foot in place for descents (check out this article from WildSnow for more information).
The advantage here is less weight and increased range of motion compared to other binding options. However, you will need ski boots that are tech binding compatible - they have special inserts (another good WildSnow article about them) that make them compatible with the tech binding pins.
In general, these are great bindings for backcountry skiing. I do not recommend them for resort skiing for a few reasons:
#2 Tech bindings are designed for backcountry skiing, not hard laps at resorts and big jumps. They are just overall less burly than alpine bindings so will be more prone to breaking or malfunctioning. You technically can use them at resorts still but just be mindful of what equipment you are on and ski accordingly.
Grant using the G3 Ion binding as he breaks trail in some super wet snow.
2. 50/50 Bindings: These bindings have some elements of alpine/resort bindings and some elements of tech bindings. Generally, they are compatible with alpine and tech boots (although you’ll need tech inserts to tour in them). The goal is for them to be a binding that you can ski in the resort and also use in the backcountry. The clear advantage is that you will have a solid binding for two activities which saves money at the end of the day. But, these bindings will not be the lightest so you are sacrificing a bit in order to have the added versatility. I have personally never used these bindings so I can’t speak from personal experience but I can speak to the experiences of people I have toured with who use them.
Shift Bindings: In general, they work fine as a binding that you can ski confidently at the resort, and also tour with. However, they seem to experience more frequent issues than other bindings. I know I am just one data point but every person that I have toured with who has Shifts has had some sort of issue on the tour whether it was brakes popping out or components icing up. With that said, there are people out there that love them and do not have issues- I just haven’t met someone like that…
Marker Duke PT: I do not have direct experience with them and have not toured with anyone who has them. I have spoken with a few people that have them and they seem to really like them though!
CAST Touring System/Look Pivots: I have spoken with a few folks that use this system and they absolutely love it. Essentially it is a system where you swap out the toe piece on your Look Pivot 15’s or 18’s for a tech toe piece. Then, when you are ready to descend you just put the Pivot toe back in place and you’re ready to go.
3. Frame Bindings: These used to be a lot more common but you don’t see these as much nowadays. They are basically alpine bindings that have a mechanism that allows the whole binding to be picked up and rotate about the toe or be totally locked in for downhill skiing. The advantage here is that unlike tech bindings or even 50/50 bindings, you don’t need a boot with tech inserts. When I first got introduced to backcountry skiing, I used the Marker Tour F12 frame bindings and they worked great for resort and backcountry use (this is the current version).
However, after my first solid season in the backcountry I was eager for a lighter setup (as with almost everyone I've ever skied with). I transitioned to tech bindings and haven’t gone back. There really is a huge and noticeable weight difference between the two.
Luke with his heavy frame binding setup that he has since replaced with Dynafit Radical bindings. He's attempting to use pine boughs after forgetting his skins- let's just say it doesn't work well...
4. Convert your alpine bindings: A final option is something like the Daymaker which converts alpine bindings into touring ones. These are similar to the BCA Alpine Trekkers which are no longer sold. These are great because all you need are skins and this device in order to convert your kit to being ready for the backcountry. No need to remount anything or purchase new skis and boots. Plus, if you are a really hard charging skier, you can still use your high DIN alpine bindings in the backcountry. The clear downside is that these are heavy and cumbersome (it’s a lot of extra weight on your skis on the ups and you’ll need to have room in your pack to carry them down). However, for getting into the sport for (relatively) cheap, there’s not a much better way!
Mega throwback to one of my first backcountry tours, circa 2010ish in the Montezuma area. I'm using Marker frame bindings (right) and my brother is using BCA Alpine Trekkers (left).
If you are unsure about what the best bindings are for you, then feel free to contact me through Curated! It’s a free to use service (I make money through sales commission and optional tips), and I love helping folks find the best gear for their exact needs.
See you on the hill!