When the Marker Duke landed—with a heavy thump—on the backcountry binding scene over a decade ago, skiers discovered they could finally explore the backcountry on foot without tech fittings, flimsy boots, or telemark equipment.
Since then, brands have continued to innovate with variations of heavy-duty tech/alpine binding hybrids which work with normed ski boots that have tech inserts. The technology evolution hit a new high-water mark this year with the introduction of the Salomon/Atomic SHIFT binding, which the companies claim to be their most extensively tested modern product. Yet, if you chase adventure out-of-bounds, there are still plenty of reasons to also consider frame bindings and tech bindings. The decision depends on how much you ski in-bounds, and how much you ski out-of-bounds.
Tyrolia Adrenalin 13
Frame bindings, which are essentially an alpine binding on a track that allows for touring, are still relevant for skiers who refuse to ski in anything but plastic-soled boots (or boots without tech inserts). The Tyrolia Adrenalin’s unapologetically burly track connecting the heel and toe pieces provides solid energy transfer with minimal elevation over the ski. An ergonomic front pivot point makes touring simple, but the heavy heel piece provides little incentive to tackle long climbs and all-day backcountry adventures. [$425, tyrolia.com]
- Pro: Can tour without tech fittings
- Con: Weight
- Weight: 5 lbs., 6 oz.
Atomic/Salomon SHIFT MNC 13
The new option from Atomic and Salomon—both owned by the same parent company—matches the stability, performance, and micro-vibration absorption of an alpine binding in ski mode, but transforms into an efficient pin binding in uphill mode. If you spend more time in-bounds than out—and already have an ideal boot and ski for both resort and backcountry adventures—the SHIFT is likely the missing ingredient for the one-ski, one-boot, one-binding Holy Grail set-up. [$650, shift-bindings.salomon.com]
- Pro: Alpine/downhill performance
- Con: Need tech fittings to tour
- Weight: 1 lb., 14.5 oz.
Read more: Shop Talk - Salomon S/Lab SHIFT MNC 13
Marker Kingpin 13
The primary difference between the Kingpin and the SHIFT is the toe piece: The Kingpin’s tech-toe piece provides more precise energy transfer in ski mode than any step-in binding. But this energy transfer can travel from ski to leg in hard snow, which can rattle some skiers in icy conditions. Skiers who skew more towards backcountry than resort—and live in places that have soft snow more often than hard—will still be happy with the Kingpin, especially considering its efficient transition capabilities from uphill to downhill mode. [$650, marker.net]
- Pro: Efficient uphill mode
- Con: Requires tech fittings at all times
- Weight: 1 lb., 10.5 oz. with brake
Read more: Marker Announces All-New Backcountry Binding
Fritschi Tecton 12
Fritschi’s answer to the Marker Kingpin hit shelves in 2017, and has since proven to be a lighter, capable contender with a similar tech toe/alpine heel set-up. As the lightest binding on this list, the Tecton 12 saves weight by incorporating a lot of plastic, which leads to concerns about durability for skiers who tend to be rougher on their equipment. Fritschi's hybrid option remains a solid choice for skiers looking for the reliability of an alpine-style heel but still spend enough time beyond the ropes to necessitate a lightweight set-up. [$650, blackdiamondequpiment.com]
- Pro: Lightweight
- Con: Durability
- Weight: 1 lb., 3 oz. without brake
Dynafit ST Rotation 12
The original tech binding company offers the Rotation 12 as a TÜV-certified, backcountry-purist binding that can get by in-bounds, but, for all intents and purposes, is made for the skin track. The brand's bayonet heel is built to withstand the forces specific to tech-style heels, but it’s still hard to feel the reliability that comes with the alpine-style heels of the other bindings on this page. If you’re a backcountry purist who spends more time going up than down but wants the safety that comes with a TÜV certification, this is the best choice.[$650, dynafit.com]
- Pro: Lightweight
- Con: Tech heel
- Weight: 1 lb., 8 oz. with brake
Stay on topic: Gear of the Year 2019 - Backcountry Equipment
Originally published in the January/February 2019 print edition of SKI Magazine.