How to Choose Touring Bindings

The number of touring bindings available to skiers has exploded in recent years, with diverse offerings specifically designed to accommodate all the different types of backcountry skiers. Our How to Choose Touring Bindings Guide breaks them all down in detail, while exploring the potential strengths and weaknesses of each type of touring binding.

Types of Touring Bindings

Backcountry skiers are spoiled for choice when it comes to the amount of touring bindings available. From fast and light bindings fo As you choose a touring binding, it’s important to be realistic about the type of backcountry skiing you’ll be doing and be aware of the pros and cons of each type of binding, since each has its strengths and weaknesses.r ski mountaineering to heavy and durable frame bindings for skiing in the resort and backcountry, touring bindings are designed for specific disciplines within backcountry skiing.

Frame Bindings

Frame bindings utilize the same heel and toe as traditional alpine bindings, with the major difference being they’re connected by a frame (or rail) that allows the binding to pivot at the toe piece while in tour mode. Frame bindings are easily the most durable touring bindings available, but they’re also the heaviest. Because frame bindings have the same heel and toe (with a height-adjustable AFD plate), they can be paired with either traditional alpine, touring, or GripWalk ski boots, which makes them great for beginners or skiers who may only tour a handful of times each season. The major benefit of a frame touring binding is it offers the safety and downhill performance of a traditional alpine binding.

The Guardian MNC gives you ultimate confidence on the downhill. Image courtesy of Salomon.

Tech Bindings

Tech (or pin) bindings have become the standard touring binding among more uphill-focused backcountry skiers over the last 30 years. This is largely due to their lightweight, minimalist designs and dependable downhill performance. When choosing a tech binding (or touring binding in general), it’s important to note that many tech bindings do not conform to the same DIN/ISO safety standards of traditional alpine bindings or frame touring bindings. However, more and more tech bindings are now TUV certified, meaning they do meet DIN/ISO 13992 safety standards and provide reliable, consistent release force settings when set up by a trusted ski shop. As a result, any non TUV-certified tech binding will not have standardized DIN values, but rather general “release values.”

The Dynafit ST Rotation 12 offers a more lightweight design than a frame or tech hybrid binding.

Tech bindings connect to ski boots via tech fittings and pins at the heel and toe. As a result, you’ll want to be sure your touring boots have the necessary tech fittings to be compatible with your bindings. As tech bindings have become more popular, many manufacturers are adding tech fittings to both dedicated touring boots and more traditional alpine boots. The advantage of the tech (or pin) boot-to-binding system is you don’t have to lift the entirety of the binding, as you would with frame bindings, while skiing uphill. Tech bindings also allow for more efficient transitions, since you don’t have to lock the heel or binding in place before skiing downhill—simply transition the heel from walk mode to ski mode, step in, and ski.

Tech Hybrid Bindings

The tech hybrid binding has become a popular option for more aggressive backcountry skiers that want the power of an alpine binding and the touring capabilities of a full tech binding. The tech hybrid binding (Shift, Marker Kingpin, Fritschi Tecton, and Marker Duke PT) uses a similar pin-style toe piece as tech bindings, but with a traditional alpine heel for more power transmission during the descent. The combination of a tech toe and alpine heel results in a binding with more downhill security than a full tech binding.

The Marker Kingpin is designed to optimize performance both on the way up and the way down. Image courtesy of Marker.

Binding Compatibility

We should preface this section by saying that a truly complete breakdown of boot-to-binding compatibility would need to be specific by brand, model, and year, while also accounting for all models and years from each brand, and any possible inter-brand combination. Generally speaking, most touring boots have an ISO 9523 standard touring sole compatible with tech, frame, hybrid, and even MNC (Multi-Norm Certified) bindings.

Frame bindings with a height-adjustable AFD plate are compatible with boots with either ISO 9523 touring soles or ISO 5355 alpine soles. If you’re considering a tech hybrid binding, you’ll want to be sure that your boots have the appropriate tech fittings and heel welts to work with the binding. It should also be noted that there are many ultralight touring boots that are non-compliant with ISO standards and will only work with corresponding tech bindings, which will need to be verified on an individual basis.

What Type of Touring Binding Is Right for Me?

Touring bindings have come a long way in recent years, and backcountry skiers have a wide range of touring bindings to choose from. What type of touring binding is for you? Well, that depends almost entirely on the type of skiing you do. Touring bindings are incredibly specific and designed for a narrow range of uses. In order to get the right binding for you, it is important to think about your style of skiing and what you hope to ski in the future.

Beginner and Part Time Resort Skiers

If you’re just getting into backcountry skiing and plan to ski in the resort and backcountry, a frame binding is a great choice. Frame bindings have been around for a long time, and most backcountry skiers at one point or another have hauled frame bindings around the mountains. Frame bindings are ideal for newer backcountry skiers because they are compatible with alpine and touring boots and ski similarly to a traditional alpine binding. Increased safety and downhill performance, however, does come at a price. Frame bindings are by far the heaviest type of touring binding, and the rail system means that with each step, you pick up the entire binding. This can get tiring over a long day of touring.

Touring up Guardsman Pass in Park City, Utah.

Intermediate and Full Time Backcountry Skiers

For those who have been backcountry skiing for a while, or those who are looking to ski the backcountry exclusively, tech bindings are above and beyond the most common choice. Tech bindings are lightweight, efficient, and tour extremely well. Where frame bindings have to be picked up with every step, Tech bindings allow completely free movement of the foot, making each step easier and more efficient.

Tech hybrid bindings are also an excellent choice for the intermediate backcountry skier and beyond. Tech hybrids are great for those who occasionally ski committing terrain, where you want the enhanced confidence that the resort heel piece gives you. These bindings are light enough to get you to the top of any peak and will inspire confidence on terrain where falling is not recommended. Ultimately, tech hybrid bindings are best for the backcountry ski enthusiast who doesn't mind sacrificing a few grams for downhill security.