Bindings are often the most-overlooked piece of gear, but finding the right ones can take your setup to the next level in terms of comfort and control. Here are some things to consider when picking out your next pair.
The flex of a binding determines how effectively it transfers energy to your snowboard. Stiff bindings deliver the powerful feel and lightning-quick response preferred by many all-mountain riders but can be slightly less comfortable due to their lack of give. Softer bindings flex a little more which is great for tweaking tricks or comfy cruising, with the drawback of slower reaction times that can feel somewhat sluggish at higher speeds.
To dial in the stiffness of different designs, binding manufacturers use a blend of various materials in specific areas—polycarbonate is one of the most common, often reinforced with fiberglass/carbon fiber to achieve a particular flex pattern. High-grade aluminum is another popular construction material. The plastic vs. metal debate has inspired plenty of strong opinions and passive-aggressive marketing campaigns over the years—just remember that all reputable binding companies put a ton of research and engineering into their designs to make them as strong and lightweight as possible, and most back them up with a solid warranty.
Many binding manufacturers are reducing the amount of rigid materials in their baseplates in favor of adding cushioning materials like EVA or urethane. This allows your board to flex more naturally from tip to tail, with less of a “dead spot” than you’d get from bindings with bulky, rigid baseplates.
Most bindings also offer shock-absorbing elements (gel pods, air pockets, foam, etc.) built into the footbeds to help lessen impact from flat landings or choppy conditions. As you might expect, more expensive bindings tend to come equipped with the latest damping technology and higher-end cushioning materials.
Besides the area underfoot, straps and highbacks are the main points of contact with your boots. Altering the flex and shape of a highback drastically changes the way a binding feels and rides, even on identical baseplates. Some companies produce bindings with reclining highbacks designed to prevent you from having to strap in every time you get off the lift—just slide in your boot and lock the highback back into place. However, reclining-highback bindings are often heavier and bulkier with more moving parts. Many riders also find standard bindings more comfortable and better-fitting, which is why most binding companies stick with the traditional strap-in design.
Different straps tend to complement the intended use of a binding—softer and cushier straps for freestyle, stiffer and more responsive straps for all-mountain and freeride—and they get increasingly comfortable as you go up the price scale. Top-shelf models often have cored-out ankle straps to eliminate excess weight and conform to the shape of your boot with no pressure points.