How to Choose Snowboard Bindings
Finding the right set of snowboard bindings can take your setup to the next level in terms of comfort and control. Backcountry Expert Gearhead Dan Gates reviews some things to consider when picking out your next pair.
Snowboard bindings are the direct interface between you and your board. A good binding should enhance the natural flex pattern of your board as well as provide all-day comfort, because when the goods are good, you don’t want to have to head to the lodge with hurting feet while your buddies are scoring lap after lap of freshies.
When picking a binding it is important to match it to your riding style. Most bindings are rated by flex, and the flex can indicate what style of riding that binding is designed for. Most brands rate their bindings on a 1-10 scale, 1 being the softest and 10 being the stiffest. My riding style is all-mountain and freeride, so my daily driver is a medium-stiff binding. If it’s a warm spring day and I’m just having fun with my friends I’ll grab my setup with a softer binding.
Binding Flex by Intended Use
Park and Freestyle: When picking a binding for the park it is important to have a binding that is soft enough to tweak tricks and apply pressure to certain parts of the board when jibbing. For that reason most park bindings are going to have a soft or mid-soft flex pattern. Softer bindings are also a little more forgiving when you over-rotate that last big hit on the jump line.
All-Mountain: All-mountain bindings have a medium flex pattern and are intended for use from the summit to the park. The medium flex gives you enough support to power through crud and hardpack, but is still soft enough for park laps in the afternoon.
Freeride: These bindings are going to have a stiff flex for the fastest response time and the most power transmission. Freeride bindings are meant for the aggressive rider who is always searching out the steepest lines and charging through any terrain.
Splitboard: While many splitboard systems work with regular snowboard bindings, many riders opt for dedicated splitboard bindings. These bindings are designed specifically to work with splitboard setups, and are preferred by some because they offer a closer-to-the-board, more responsive feel; it’s also generally faster and easier to switch them between ride and walk modes, thanks to the specific design.
Materials and Flex
The materials used in baseplates will affect the flex:
- Urethane, used mostly in highbacks, will be the softest and most tweakable material. You’ll find it primarily in park and freestyle bindings.
- Polycarbonate, which is commonly used, will also be fairly soft and forgiving.
- Glass-reinforced nylon is also very common, and the higher the percentage of fiberglass (up to 45%), the stiffer the baseplate will be.
- Aluminum is used by several manufacturers, either in the entire baseplate and/or the heelcup. It’s slightly stiffer and fairly light, but for the most part it’s just a matter of manufacturer and rider preference.
- Carbon is used in high-end bindings, both in the highback and as a composite in the baseplate. It makes bindings stiffer, lighter, and more responsive, as well as more expensive.
There is a lot of variety in binding features. Choosing between them comes down to what you’re trying to get out of your bindings, your personal preferences, and of course, how much you want to pay.
The baseplate of the binding interfaces directly with the top of the board and transmits the energy from your foot into the board. A current trend in baseplate construction is to reduce the overall bulk of material used, creating a more direct connection with the board. This also helps get rid of “dead spots” between the board and bottom of the base plate.
Cushioning in the baseplate can help dampen the bindings and absorb vibration, making the board more comfortable to ride. Cushioning will generally be found both under the baseplate and on top, lining the footbed. Usually made of EVA pads or sometimes gel pods, cushioning can be full-length or selective spots.
Canting in the footbed creates a tilt that naturally adjusts your stance to a more ergonomic position. Canting helps reduce fatigue on the knees during a long day of riding.
The highback is the vertical piece of the binding that extends from the heelcup to the lower calf of the rider. The highback is critical in providing support for turning as well as helping push you back to your center of gravity after a sketchy landing.
Stiffer highbacks have little flex and sometimes use material such as carbon. Stiff highbacks are usually found on top end freeride bindings and are not a good choice for the beginning rider. A soft highback will allow you tweak out a grab or press, but still provide support to your calf. On park/freestyle bindings the highback is not only softer, but often shorter to allow for more flexibility and range of motion.
Many bindings include some kind forward lean adjustment, and can often be rotated for a more ergonomic fit.
Rear-entry (or reclining) highbacks allow for the boot to be slipped in from the rear and the high back snapped back into place. These bindings are faster to get into after each chair ride, and are great for the rider looking for efficiency and comfort. Many riders find these also offer excellent response, since the cables create a triangular connection between highback and binding, rather than L-shaped.
Flow’s rear-entry system in action.
Straps secure your foot into the binding and help transmit power into the highback and baseplate. It is important to adjust the straps to your boot model to get a proper fit. I have two different boot models to choose from pending on the day and conditions, and adjust the straps accordingly since the volume between the two is much different.
Traditional toe straps go over the top of the boot; these are usually found on less expensive bindings and youth models. They cannot be used as a toe cap strap and don’t seat the boot into the heelcup as well.
Toe cap straps wrap around the front of the boot’s toe, which helps push the boot back into the highback and heel cup, creating the most responsive fit. Toe cap straps are also more comfortable for a long day of riding. Some toe cap straps can be used as a hybrid in the traditional over -the- foot method as well as directly over the toe.
Ankle straps secure the top of the foot and ankle and keep your boot positioned in the binding. This strap is crucial in providing response and power to the binding. These can be heavily padded for comfort, or very thin and flexible for better response.
One-piece straps are usually found on rear-entry bindings. They cover from the ankle to the end of the lacing area on the boot near the toes. Generally, they do not have as much adjustment as a toe and ankle strap combo. The benefit of these is that they’re more of a set-it-and-forget-it type of system.
Sizing & Fit
It is important to size your binding to match both your boot and your board. You don’t want your foot sliding around in a too-large binding, nor do you want your boots hanging off the front of the binding, or your binding hanging off your board. Each brand sizes a little differently so be sure to check the sizing guide or talk with an expert here at Backcountry. Most bindings offer several strap-length and heel-cup-angle adjustments to allow for a customized fit. It is important to play around with these adjustments to dial in your fit and optimize performance.
Board and Binding Compatibility
Most bindings use a 4×4 hole mounting pattern; Burton uses a 3D hole pattern, and all new Burton boards feature the EST channel system. While it might sound complicated, most manufacturers make it easy by offering a universal mounting disc. If you are purchasing a Burton board with the EST channel system the best choice is a Burton EST-specific binding. These bindings offer the best fit and performance. Other brands offer mounting discs that are compatible with the EST channel system. Check the tech specs on each binding for details on binding compatibility.
If you have any other questions on picking out the perfect binding for your new board, please get a hold of me and I will help get your board and binding setup dialed in.