Backcountry ski bindings are critical for any backcountry tour. Unlike resort bindings, they release your heel, allowing for fluid strides on uphill climbs & through deep snow. Without that, you’d have to pick up each ski with every movement: a heavy & cumbersome nightmare. The best backcountry bindings allow movement uphill & dependable downhill support.
There are several types of backcountry ski bindings, and they each excel in different ways. In order to avoid buying confusion, I’ve organized the best bindings by their uses below. Armed with this information and our handy buying guide below, you’ll be able to pick the binding that fits your needs.
My Review Process
I’ve been skiing for the better part of 30 years. I’ve been a resort skier, ski instructor, and backcountry shredder. I love all aspects of the sport and understand the advantages of picking the right gear. My goal here is to get you the information you need so you can find the right gear for your next adventures.
For me, the biggest things to look at are downhill durability, weight, freedom of uphill movement, cost, and ski boot compatibility. With those things in mind, let’s check out my top picks.
The best overall backcountry ski binding is the Salomon S/LAB Shift MNC. Salomon bought fellow gear manufacturer Atomic, and they market the same binding. So, if you see an Atomic Shift, it’s the same. Simply put, this is a phenomenal piece of gear. It changed the binding game when it came out several years ago and continues to deliver exceptional performance.
The shifts are a heavier binding than other hybrids, and they can be pricey. If you are stringing together long touring days, I’d opt for something lighter. But, the hybrid appeal of the Shift shouldn’t be overlooked. It works with any MNC-compatible boots and provides superior downhill support and efficient uphill travel.
The Salomon S/LAB Shift MNC 13 works by locking your boots into a resort or alpine-style heel for the downhill. When you want to skin uphill, the binding converts to a toe-pin design. This allows for unparalleled freedom of movement. If you want to rip a few backcountry lines and then get back into a resort lift line, these are the perfect 50/50 options.
The Dynafit ST Rotation is my choice for the best freeride backcountry ski bindings. The Rotation’s ski mode supports hard-charging descents for aggressive skiers while maintaining uphill efficiency via the swivel toe-piece. The swivel feature also gives you a wide range of motion and quicker edge-to-edge transitions.
While the swivel feature is nice, it does make stepping into the bindings tougher. Boot placement has to line up exactly with the bindings. In high winds or low visibility, it makes the process a bit frustrating. But, once you find the right boot placement, you can enjoy consistent performance and a stellar 10-year warranty.
The Marker Alpinist is my choice for the best ski touring bindings. They provide reliable downhill performance in a lightweight design perfect for long days on the skin track. These minimalist bindings are also adjustable and come with 3 heel riser options to match steepening terrain.
I love the three heel rise levels, but I wish there was an easier way to change the angle without turning the binding 180 degrees every time. Is it a deal breaker? No, but it does take more effort than other options. Overall, these alpine touring bindings are fantastic for longer adventures but won’t ski as aggressively as a frame binding.
My choice for the best lightweight touring bindings is the Black Diamond Helio 350 Bindings by ATK. These alpine touring bindings only weigh 350 grams per piece, making them the lightest bindings in this review. They provide exceptional uphill performance and also have 5 heel risers to match different climbing levels.
Because of the design & quality, these lighter bindings will cost you a bit. But you get what you pay for in terms of weight savings and maneuverability. And while they aren’t the most durable bindings, they are perfect for uphill travel & provide better downhill performance than similar models. To top it all off, you get 4 ski brake width options to match your favorite skis.
Before the Salomon Shift, backcountry bindings were split between two camps, pin and frame. Frame bindings were clunkier and heavier but offered rock-solid support on the downhill. The Marker Baron continues that tradition. If you love shorter backcountry or sidecountry laps, these durable bindings are what you want.
Like most frame bindings, the weight is noticeable. If you are looking for efficiency on long tours, I would want something lighter. However, if you’re an advanced or aggressive skier, the Marker Baron is the burliest backcountry binding out there. They’re reliable in fresh powder, hardpack, and anything in between. And the downhill stability can’t be beaten by pin bindings.
If you want a great all-mountain backcountry ski binding, I recommend the Dynafit Radicals. These backcountry skiing bindings offer solid uphill touring and downhill performance. They also come with a DIN certification. To top it all off, they are relatively lightweight (1 lb. 2.3 oz. per binding), which makes uphill touring much less cumbersome.
While these Dynafit bindings are a little easier to step into than the Rotations, it’s still a bit of a pain to get the boot placement right.. Barring that, these are reliable bindings for a majority of skiers seeking a compromise between weight and support.
The Atomic Backland (a.k.a. the Salomon MTN Pure) is my choice for the best beginner backcountry ski bindings. They are lightweight, adjustable, and have three different heel rise options. They’re easy to step into and durable, providing reliable power transfers through your turns. Alpine skiers looking to dabble with backcountry skiing will love them.
Like some lightweight tech bindings, the Backlands are not DIN-certified. DIN represents an industry-adopted scale measuring force release settings on bindings. Some skiers avoid non-certified bindings because they aren’t tested by this scale & can't be adjusted much. However, the limited range of adjustments won’t matter to beginners and intermediates.
For beginner backcountry skiers who don't care about release adjustments, you’ll love the Atomic Backlands. They check all the right boxes, with consistent performance and stability leading the charge. A pair of these will boost your confidence as you explore the backcountry.
My choice for the best budget backcountry ski bindings is the Tyrolia Ambition 12. These durable bindings are much more affordable than other options, have 3 heel riser options, and are crampon compatible. Like the Marker Barons, the extra weight of the bindings provides fantastic downhill support.
The overall weight, at 2 lbs. 2.88 oz. per binding, is quite heavy. This limits the Ambition's performance on longer tours. But the weight also creates more durability for steeper and more challenging terrain. If you’re looking to exit resort gates & explore half-day backcountry runs, these affordable burly bindings are great.
Ski Binding Buying Guide
Due to the complexities of backcountry skiing and uphill travel, there are a wide variety of backcountry bindings out there. Before diving into an option, let's go over the most important factors to consider.
Curated backcountry ski bindings can cost a lot of money. Generally, the average range is between roughly $300-700. Budget backcountry skiing bindings can float between about $150-300. Premium ski bindings can go up to and over $1000.
Several big-name brands have become synonymous with backcountry bindings. The Salomon/Atomic partnership comes to mind. Dynafit, Marker, and Tyrolia are also quite popular and offer suitable alternatives.
The majority of skiers tend to gravitate toward certain brands. If that's you, it's worth seeing what your favorite has. However, don’t be afraid of experimenting with consistent and highly rated offerings from other companies.
Size & Weight
Generally, the lighter the backcountry binding, the easier it is to move uphill. Pin, tech, and hybrid bindings weigh much less than frame bindings. When comparing individual bindings, individual ounces matter, but they aren’t everything. Look for binding size and flexibility as important factors as well. The smaller a binding is, the less it will weigh.
One danger with lighter bindings is that they aren’t very durable. A common thread amongst veteran backcountry tourers is that their bindings can break. Sometimes, you can fix the problem in the field. But, in the worst-case scenario, you’re miles from your car, and your toe piece breaks. Then, you have to post-hole through waist-deep snow back to safety.
Downhill Performance & Durability
Heavier bindings provide more support on the downhill. This is true for most bindings on the market today. This is why hybrid and heavy frame-style bindings are still excellent options for the backcountry.
Hybrid & frame bindings are more durable because there's more material holding onto your boot. You can flex forward and backward without feeling like you’re popping out of your bindings. If you’re an aggressive skier & want to push through steep terrain, durability matters.
The drawback to more durability is extra weight and a lack of uphill efficiency. Can you still go on a long tour with heavier downhill bindings? Yes, but you'll be asking more from your legs, especially your calves, ankles, and feet, with every movement.
Uphill Performance & Adaptability
Pin & tech bindings are less durable than hybrids or frame bindings. However, they are the best for longer tours involving uphill travel. The small size and pin design grant unparalleled flexibility. Not only can you move forward, but the pins allow for rotation. This helps you cut tread, switchbacks, and change direction easily.
Another component is the heel riser options. Usually, you can get 1-3 climbing levels. With either a small metal bar or a plastic piece, you can adjust the degree of the resting position for your heel. The higher the angle of the riser option, the easier it is to deal with steep uphill terrain. The ability to change between climbing levels helps you adjust to many slope angles.
For long adventures or multi-day tours, flexibility and uphill performance become critical. The lightest bindings tend to provide this. However, for half-day tours or sidecountry runs, flexibility will take a backseat to downhill performance.
Backcountry bindings need to pair with compatible alpine touring boots, or they won't work. With several varieties of bindings and ski boot standards, it can get a bit confusing. For more information, check out our backcountry ski boots guide.
Standards are set by the ISO (International Standards Organization). There are 5 binding types that the ISO recognizes. There are also some non-compliant tech bindings out there. In all cases, make sure your bindings are set or can accommodate your boot sizes.
- Alpine bindings, a.k.a. resort bindings (ISO 9462): Resort/alpine bindings only work with resort boots (ISO 5355) unless it specifically states that it can work with MNC or Gripwalk.
- Touring bindings (ISO 13992): Bindings set to this standard work well with touring boots (ISO 9523). Tech inserts may need to be purchased separately. This is a backcountry skiing category that includes frame bindings, hybrid bindings, and some tech bindings, but not all.
- MNC (Multi-norm compatible): This is a hybrid category of bindings developed and used by Salomon, Atomic, and Armada. MNC bindings can work with several ski boot types, including resort/alpine boots (ISO 5355), touring boots (ISO 9523), and Gripwalk boots (ISO 23223). They DO NOT work with non-ISO-compliant boots.
- Sole.ID: Developed by manufacturer Marker as a versatile platform, Sole.ID works with resort (ISO 5355), touring (ISO 9523), and Gripwalk boots (ISO 23223). It’s similar to the MNC bindings, but if a boot is MNC compatible, it may not be Sole.ID compatible. They DO NOT work with non-ISO-compliant boots.
- GripWalk Bindings: Will work with any Gripwalk boots (ISO 23223) boots and any resort/alpine boots (ISO 5355). They won’t work well with anything else.
- Pin/Tech Bindings: Some backcountry tech bindings are not ISO-compliant. They’re versatile and slay on the uphills but don’t provide the downhill support of other bindings. They can work with any boot that accepts tech inserts. Most alpine-style boots and some touring boot models don’t, however. In that case, these will NOT work.
Some ski bindings come with useful add-ons. These include things like ski brakes, which are standard on downhill bindings and required for most resorts. If you plan to use backcountry bindings in both the resort and backcountry, ski brakes matter. However, ski brakes aren’t always included, so check first before buying.
Other useful add-ons include crampon compatibility. The ability to handle ski crampons means you can flip from uphill touring to full-on ski mountaineering. Most tech binding will also come with tech inserts to increase their compatibility.
My choice for the best overall backcountry ski bindings is the excellent Salomon S/LAB Shift MNC 13. If you want a lightweight binding for extended touring, I highly recommend the Black Diamond Helio 350. They're one of the lightest bindings found anywhere on the market.
For fans of burly bindings and superior downhill support, the Marker Barons are rock solid. And, if you’re looking for a great all-around binding at a lower price, the Tyrolia Ambition 12 is a great budget buy.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.