Touring Bindings

Gear > Ski > Ski Touring > Touring Bindings


A backcountry binding has four main requirements:

  1. A free heel for climbing, this can be locked down for the descent
  2. Lightweight for climbing performance
  3. Robustness
  4. Automatic release to prevent injuries

Unfortunately there is something of a conflict between each of these so all the bindings currently on the market are more or less a compromise. A final constraint is price, the binding should retail for no more than 200 to 300 €

Firstly, what do we mean by a free heel? Well this is the crux of a touring or randonnée binding's climbing ability. The free heel enables the toe of the boot to pivot upwards, the ski can then be slid forward until the boot is once again flat with the ski and the skier can progress onwards and up the mountain in more-or-less a walking movement. To stop the ski sliding backwards special climbing skins are glued to base of the skis. These are made of mohair or mohair/nylon mix and have lots of tiny bristles. The ski can glide forward but the bristles engage with the surface of the snow to stop the ski moving backwards.

For the descent the skins are removed and the heel latched down (except for telemark bindings). The skier can then descend just as a piste skier.

Free Heel Skiing

Skinning with free heels

Weight if a major issue. Current bindings range from the lardy 2.3kg Naxo nx01 to the anorexic Dynafit TLT Speed at 660 grammes. The biggest issue governing the weight of alpine touring (AT) bindings is how you hold the heelpiece when climbing. The majority of designs, Fritschi, Silvretta, Naxo use a pivoted rail. This has the big advantage of allowing adjustment to a wide range of different boot sizes and it also means that when locked down the bindings look pretty much like alpine gear. This can be reassuring for beginners. The bindings will also accept all boot types, from ski touring, to downhill and even lightweight plastic mountaineering boots. To combat the weight penalty exotic materials are used but these can have an impact on reliability. Remember that a binding breakage a long way from civilisation can turn a pleasant day's skiing into an epic.

Dynafit Comfort Bindings

Dynafit Comfort ski bindings

Dynafit have adopted a different strategy with their Tourlite Tech (TLT Speed) and Tourlight Comfort bindings. These use special hardened steel inserts in the boot, the toe is held in a pincer and this enables the heel to pivot free. The heelpiece is then bolted firmly to the ski. Apart from static weight you don't have to lift the heel piece and link bar with every step. As a general rule ski mountaineers say a kilogramme on your feet is worth three in your rucksack. Talking of which, don't forget for many tours you will have to carry your skis for an approach march, particularly at the beginning and end of the season.

Approach march in the Ecrins Massive

You may have to carry your equipment

Surprisingly the most robust of the current bindings is also the lightest. The Tourlite Tech has been on the market since the late 1980s. There are still people putting in tens of thousands of meters of vertical every year on bindings they bought over a decade ago. However it must be said that all bindings will break. We've covered breakages in some detail on PisteHors and last season received reports of problems with the Dynafit Comfort, Tourlite Tech, Naxo nx01, Silvretta Pure and Fritschi Freeride. One thing is sure, AT bindings are not as robust as downhill alpine ski bindings and should be treated with respect.

Which binding you select depends on what you want to use them for. For longer ski tours and ski mountaineering lighter is better. If you are happy with the range of ski touring boots offering the Dynafit inserts then either the TLT Speed or Tourlight Comfort, for other boots the Silvretta Pure is not much heavier at around 1300 grams. None of these bindings is suitable for heavy inbounds-use. For one thing the release in case of falls is not as advanced as alpine bindings. Both the Dynafits and Pure offer lateral and vertical release from the heel unit after which the toe can release.

Skiers who will be climbing short distances from lifts in order to access the outbound skiing a resort has to offer will be more concerned with performance than weight. For serious backcountry freeriders using big mountain skis the eponymous Fritschi Freeride and Naxo nx01 are good choices, along with the Fritschi Diamir Explore, they offer similar toe and heel release to alpine bindings. You could get away with a single pair of skis for resort and backcountry use. Strapping your avalanche beacon on at the start of the day and with a pair of climbing skins in your sack the whole mountain is your playground.

Binding Models

<< Touring Race Skis | Ski Touring | Touring Boots >>