Big 3 Splitboard Binding Review 2017/18

Words By: Simon Coward

NOTE:  All prices are in Canadian Dollars and EXCLUDE 5% GST.<éb>

Last season we did our first ever full softboot binding comparison, after looking at the page stats we were blown away by how many people utilized it.  With that in mind we figured it was a valuable resource for the Splitboard community at large so here is our updated 2017/18 version. 

The manufacturers continue to step up their games and weight is coming down and the reliability is improving every year.  In short, they are learning from small mistakes and listening to the community in their design phases.

This post is a detailed softboot Splitboard binding comparison from the ‘Big 3’ split specific binding manufacturers; Spark R&D, Karakoram, and Voile.  As a Splitboard retailer, education provider, and warranty center, we are in the fortunate position to have a lot of insight into these bindings.  We get to use them, talk to people who use them or are thinking of using them, and see issues that may arise on a regular basis.

We ride regularly and spend a lot of time ‘on snow’ with our local Splitboard community so we are excited to share what we have seen, heard, and experienced over the last few years or so in regard to these bindings.

* Needed to ride price refers to what you NEED to be able to ride/tour with this brands setup
** Total setup price refers to comparing all brands ‘apples to apples’, including everything (brand specific) that comes in the Karakoram setup

MENS BINDINGS<éb>

MENS SPECIFICATIONS

* Weight includes medium bindings and is the total of bindings, pucks/baseplates, heel lockdown and touring mode hardware.  All weights correct within 100 gms and were measured by taking all items out of the box and weighing them.

WOMENS BINDINGSAll these bindings have been built for women.  Not simply made pink and smaller.  They are well thought out with the female splitboarder in mind!  Women’s specific features may include lighter weights, narrower heel cups, lower highbacks, and more.

WOMENS SPECIFICATIONS

* Weight includes XS/S bindings and is the total of bindings, pucks/baseplates, heel lockdown and touring mode hardware (NOTE:  heel lockdown N/A for Speed Rails) All weights correct within 50 gms and were measured by taking all items out of the box and weighing them.

INCLUDED COMPONENTS – BY BINDING

Voile Speed Rail:  2 x pinless splitboard bindings, 2 x dual height heel risers, touring toe piece
Spark R&D ARC:  2 x pinless splitboard bindings, 2 x dual height heel risers, touring toe piece, 1 x spark tool
Spark R&D Surge:  2 x pinless splitboard bindings, 2 x dual height heel risers, touring toe piece, 1 x spark tool
Karakoram Prime SL:  2 x pinless splitboard bindings, 2 x dual height heel risers, 2 x touring toe piece, 2 x (built in) ski heel lockdown mode, 2 x ride mode base plates, 2 x flex lock touring mode stiffening systems.
Karakoram Prime-X :  2 x pinless splitboard bindings, 2 x dual height heel risers, 2 x touring toe piece, 2 x (built in) ski heel lockdown mode, 2 x ride mode base plates, 2 x flex lock touring mode stiffening systems, new x-type heel cup, both Air-form and Air-strap toe stray systems, new Dupont Reactive Highback.
Karakoram Prime-X Carbon :  2 x pinless splitboard bindings, 2 x dual height heel risers, 2 x touring toe piece, 2 x (built in) ski heel lockdown mode, 2 x ride mode base plates, 2 x flex lock touring mode stiffening systems, new x-type heel cup, both Air-form and Air-strap toe stray systems, new infusion moulded Carbon Highback.


EXTRA COMPONENTS – DESCRIPTIONS

VOILE SPLITBOARD PUCKS (Regular) - $72.00 + gst  | MORE INFO HERE
The original and still awesome Splitboard puck system.  Combines bomb proof design and a good price point to get you out in the mountains whilst saving money.  Splitboard pucks are required to mount Spark R&D or Voile bindings to your Splitboard in ride mode. Available in both flat or canted. Also available for burton/voile channel system boards.

SPARK R&D SPLITBOARD PUCKS - $104.95 + gst  |  MORE INFO HERE
Spark have created their own proprietary puck system which allows for greater adjustability than traditional pucks.  They also have an aluminum insert which reduces weight from full plastic construction pucks.  Splitboard pucks are required to mount Spark R&D or Voile bindings to your Splitboard in ride mode. Now also available in 3 degree canted version.

SPARK STRAPPY STRAP - $28.95 + gst  |  MORE INFO HERE
A simple camming system that you attach to your boot and binding highback when touring to take the ‘sloppiness’ out of the system.  Really useful on long traverses or icy days when you really need to be able to get an edge.

SPARK R&D T1 HEEL LOCKER - $49.95 + gst  |  MORE INFO HERE
Sparks very simple and easy to use after market heel lockdown system for ARC and SURGE bindings (only).  With this piece, you can quickly lock your heels down in ski mode to help on long ski descents or short side stepping sections.

KARAKORAM FLEX LOCK - $79.95 + gst  |  MORE INFO HERE
Now comes standard with all Karakoram Bindings. Karakoram’ state of the art touring mode stiffening mechanism.  Makes sidehilling on icy terrain much less challenging and will improve your tour mode exponentially in those harder/icy conditions.  Super quick and easy to use and can be used on most splitboard binding models.


OUR THOUGHTS – BY BINDING

VOILE SPEED RAIL  |  MORE INFO OR BUY HERE (MENS)  |  MORE INFO OR BUY HERE (WOMENS)

PROS:  Price, simple system, Voile history of high quality Splitboard gear, durable, dependable design.

CONS:  On the heavy side, the least streamlined design of all the models included (also the model we have had the least experience with to be fair) Can generate annoying squeak on skin stack in cold temps.

SUMMARY:  Last Season’s new design moved Voile forwards and into the pinless binding system in both mens and womens models. Addition of Crampons and heel locks for 2017/18 improves on the overall package of this sturdy binding.

Overall feedback from other riders has been very positive towards the speed rail. An obvious overall improvement over their previous pinned light rail binding.  Simple, solid, backcountry is their motto and the Speed Rail definitely fits this slogan.  Voile didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with the speed rail, just improve on what was already working well. A simple, functional and well priced binding option for getting out in the backcountry and riding.

With the addition of what appears to be a good heel lockdown, without having to part with the reliable traditional Voile dual height heel risers, we definitely give Voile a thumbs up for their off season efforts.

Overall these are a simple and more than capable backcountry Splitboard binding.  They come in at a great price point and sure beats having a binding system with the icing up issues that pin bindings come with.


SPARK R&D ARC  |  MORE INFO OR BUY HERE (MENS)  |  MORE INFO OR BUY HERE (WOMENS)

PROS:  Lightweight, easy to use, good uphill performance (improved with use of strappy strap), great downhill feel and riding, simple and easy to use (aftermarket) heel lockdown mode, highback ride/tour mode transition is seamless and adjustable. New pillow line straps make the lightest weight binding even lighter! Also, not having to shell out $30 for the once aftermarket Whammy Bars is great. These really were a must have last season and now come standard on the Arcs and Surges.

CONS:  A more flexy binding compared to the Surge and Primes, not great for bigger/more aggressive riders. While being a solidly built binding overall we find ourselves replacing parts that wear out over time too often.

SUMMARY:  The T1 system that the ARC is built around is super simple, easy to use and, for the most part holds up to all kinds of backcountry abuse.  At the shop we recommend these guys to lighter riders, or those looking to ride shorter pow laps.  From our testing, the softer flex profile of the ARC’s doesn’t ride as well in variable, hard and poor snow conditions compared to most other binding options.

The machined out baseplate, does bring some weight savings to the table which is super nice, though they are not super dramatic over the Surges.  The new pillow line straps on the Arc’s are a smaller lighter option than those found on the Surge, although the weight savings are nominal. The choice this year between the arc’s and surges will come down less to strap comfort and performance and will be more based on the ride/dependability of the baseplates.

The (optional) heel lockdown mode is super easy to install, and once installed very quick and easy to use, as a warranty center for Spark we get to see most of the breakages etc of Spark products here in Canada. Overall the Heel lockers have been holding up much better than the first iteration of these found on the Magnetos/Afterburner models. We highly recommend putting a dab of strong bond thread locker on the heel loop screws as well as t1 locker screws to prevent the locker from loosing over time and moving about on the base of the board. Also, don’t forget to lube up those whammy bars regularly!

Overall it is tough to beat the simplicity and performance of the ARC’s, you do sacrifice a bit of stiffness from the Surge and Prime series, though super stiff bindings and burly terrain/riding isn’t for everyone.  If you are a bigger rider we would recommend looking at Surges or one of the Prime series.


SPARK R&D SURGE  |  MORE INFO OR BUY HERE (MENS)  |  MORE INFO OR BUY HERE (WOMENS)

PROS:  Still lightweight even with increased stiffness of solid baseplate, easy to use, good uphill performance (improved with use of strappy strap), great downhill feel and riding (especially in steep terrain and unruly/junky snow), simple and easy to use, offset pillow link ankle strap should offer better support compared to those found on the Arc’s.

CONS:  Can lack a little of the softer feel/flow on mellower terrain, likely too stiff for smaller or mellower riders, a bit more expensive than the ARC and Speed Rails.

SUMMARY:  For riders looking for a binding to tackle steep lines at high speed Spark have hit the nail on the head with the Surge.  Although not for everyone, these bindings are built with the bigger and/or more aggressive rider in mind.  The T1 interface is incredibly well thought out, and is super easy and quick to use/transition.

The (optional) heel lockdown mode is super easy to install, and once installed very quick and easy to use, as a warranty center for Spark we get to see most of the breakages etc of Spark products here in Canada. Overall the Heel lockers have been holding up much better than the first iteration of these found on the Magnetos/Afterburner models. We highly recommend putting a dab of strong bond thread locker on the heel loop screws as well as t1 locker screws to prevent the locker from loosing over time and moving about on the base of the board. Also, don’t forget to lube up those whammy bars regularly!

Our opinion is that the Surge is a well thought out and implemented splitboarding binding system.  It does lack a little of the surfy, floaty, feel on mellower terrain (ARC’s do that like a boss) but for confidence in steeper/gnarlier terrain the Surge is the way to go.  Again, Spark have done a great job of engineering binding systems based on feedback from the people using their products.


KARAKORAM PRIME SL  |  MORE INFO OR BUY HERE (MENS)  |  MORE INFO OR BUY HERE (WOMENS)

PROS:  Stiff and high performing ride and tour mode (especially when used with included Flex lock), proprietary base plates have middle edge overhang which helps bind the board better than other systems, everything you need to get riding is included in the purchase price which is now much lower than it was for 16/17, built in heel lockdown is solid, air form ankle and toe straps are comfortable and bomb proof.

CONS:  Some people find transitions, heel lockdown and heel risers a little tricky to use although nice improvements have been made on all fronts for 17/18. Price is still on the high end.

SUMMARY:  For 17/18 the Prime SL takes over as Karakoram’s true backcountry price point binding, which is a bit hard to believe. You get one of the best bindings on the market for the price of last year’s much heavier Prime 1 binding.

Karakoram engineer and build incredibly good Splitboard binding systems.  The way we like to think of it is, if a stiff, high performance backcountry binding is what you are after, one of the Prime series is likely the binding for you.  If ripping big lines at high speeds is what you plan to do a lot of your time in the backcountry it is hard to look past these guys.

One of our favorite changes for 2017 is the new Dual Speed heel risers which should be a much more solid and easy to use heel riser compared to last years effort. The new baseplate system also seems to require less of a “break-in period” giving you a smooth transitioning binding out of the box.

With the included flex lock system, the uphill performs incredibly well too.  You do however have to spend a little time getting used to the transitions, locking heels down (in ski mode) and using the heel risers.  Because of the setup of their base plate system you must be careful to prevent snow and ice build up on the binding and baseplate during transitions.

Once you get that part of it dialled in you will have a downhill riding system that feels (in our opinion) as close to a resort board setup as can be hoped in a splitboard.

 

KARAKORAM PRIME-X and PRIME-X Carbon  |  MORE INFO OR BUY HERE

PROS:  Ultra lightweight with tall sidewalls around the heel loop, and the included flex-lock make for what we believe will be the best climbing and riding softboot bindings on the market. Solid new binding interface, multiple toe strap options, and much improved dual speed risers make for a great all-around package.

CONS:  Price is going to be the main deterrent for anyone looking at the Prime X. Some people find transitions, heel lockdown and heel risers a little tricky to use although nice improvements have been made on all fronts for 17/18

SUMMARY:  We have to say we like everything Karakoram has done with the Prime X. Overall the binding just feels and looks great. The new X heel cup is well shaped and lightweight. The new Dupont plastic highback on the Prime-X is a mid to stiff flex highback that looks as durable as it is light weight. There really is no other way of putting it… in the past Karakoram’s use of carbon has not been worth the extra cash. The same cannot be said for the Prime-X Carbon. These guys really upped their game and if you are looking for the stiffest binding out there this is it. There is virtually zero flex in their carbon highback this year and overall, they look great.

One of our favorite changes for 2017 is the new Dual Speed heel risers which should be a much more solid and easy to use heel riser compared to last years effort. The new baseplate system also seems to require less of a “break-in period” giving you a smooth transitioning binding out of the box.

With the included flex lock system, the uphill performs incredibly well too.  You do however have to spend a little time getting used to the transitions, locking heels down (in ski mode) and using the heel risers.  Because of the setup of their base plate system you have to be careful to prevent snow and ice build up on the binding and baseplate during transitions.

Once you get that part of it dialed in you will have a downhill riding system that feels (in our opinion) as close to a resort board setup as can be hoped in a splitboard.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Thanks so much for checking out our Splitboard binding comparisons.  We are super passionate about splitboarding and feel stoked to be in a position where we get to demo these systems, have some input into future improvements and to continue to help people get into the backcountry on great gear.  We want to thank #Karakoram #Voile and #SparkR&D for continuing to innovate and invest in this fantastic pastime.

Please feel free to contact us at info@splitboardhq.com with any questions or comments you may have

Happy Riding

Simon and the Splitboard HQ Team