Words By: Simon Coward
This post is more of personal opinion and weighing of pros and cons than an official comparison (like our softboot comparison, see it here). For a little background here is a run down of my splitboard / backcountry experience and my interactions with both softbot and hardboot setups.
I have been snowboarding since around 1996, where I started on a small club field in Taranaki on the west coast of the north island of New Zealand. I have spent many days riding and teaching from my snowboard since then and am now fortunate enough to teach Avalanche Safety Courses through Avalanche Canada and Splitboard HQ. This is a passion for me, introducing new skiers and riders to the basics of getting into the mountains safely.
My personal riding is largely done in the rockies close to our home in Calgary, where, we are blessed with easy alpine access and a lifetime of peaks and icefields to explore. Getting on summits, and longer tours are definitely my go to, and with that focus, for the most part I have chosen to ride a hard boot setup.
- Tour mode is infinitely superior to all softbot setups, edging, traversing etc is all more or less comparable with those on ski touring setups
- Your ‘carrying on your feet weight’ is really low, especially if you have light boots such as Dynafit TLT’s etc
- Quick, easy transitions
- With hardboots on your feet bootpacking, kicking steps, putting on crampons etc are more efficient and less fatiguing.
- There is no real way to get into it with quality gear for an inexpensive price.
- The ride mode does feel different than a softbot setup. Some people can’t get past this.
- You can alleviate some of the ride mode differences by modifying your boots, this can be a little soul destroying taking power tools to a brand new pair of $900 boots.
- Die hard snowboarders (of which I am one) have a really hard time wrapping their heads around wearing ski boots (said with disgust) whilst surfing pow
WHO (I THINK) THEY ARE RIGHT FOR
At the shop we kind of try and talk to people about the 80% rule.
What are you planning/hoping to do out in the mountains 80% of the time. For many people, the cost and getting used to hardboot setups are simply not worth the expense or time. However, if you want to spend lots of time in the alpine, covering long distances, potentially bootpacking, climbing with crampons and reasonably regular ticking off Splitboard mountaineering type objectives then the time and financial investment may well be worth it. Where the pay off will be is in touring performance, energy saving on long days in the mountains and saved toe nails on long kick stepping climbs (harder toe cup than even stiff snowboard boots).
Your comfort and enjoyment of the ride mode will improve quickly and each little modification you make after each trip will help with getting back to that ‘surfy feel’ we all crave when the snow is deep.
Also, as a closing note, using hardboots doesn’t mean you need to set your setup to both 25 degrees forward and rip racing board style. With correct adjustments to your boots and canted pucks/binding options you can ride duck stance if you choose.
- Duh…... they are snowboard bindings, and we snowboard, so this is what we ride!
- Modern splitboard bindings are designed for splitboarding. Simple and easy to use interfaces, different stiffness options depending on your riding style.
- A more inexpensive option than hardboot setups
- You can use your existing snowboard boots
- Have more user friendly heel lockdown modes than hard boot setups
- Retain (and in some cases, enhance) the surfy pow riding feel of regular resort bindings that most snowboarders are used to.
- Don’t require boot modifications to work as they are designed.
- Even with Flex Locks or Strappy Straps touring mode is sloppy and inefficient compared to hard boots.
- Weight, as you have your bindings on your feet in touring mode your feet are carrying more weight
- Pivot point on touring mode is more restrictive than hard boot setup
- More moving parts than hardboot setups, means higher likelihood of parts wearing out, screws loosening etc.
- Unless you have Splitboard specific boots you will wear out boots quite quickly.
WHO (I THINK) THEY ARE RIGHT FOR
Again, going with the 80% rule (as mentioned above), if, as a rider you wanna go rip pow in the trees and get he odd day up high then there is no good reason to switch to a hardboot setup. If not simply for the fact that you wont get a million questions asking why you are riding a snowboard in ski boots.. ha ha
Seriously though, for most splitboarders a Splitboard specific softbot setup will more than do the trick. If you are doing some longer traverses or days, you can always look at picking up a Karakoram Flex Lock or Spark R&D strappy strap to help stiffen the touring mode.
So, in a nutshell, if you don’t see yourself doing multi day traverses, climbing steep/technical mountains, kicking steps or using crampons with much regularity you are really safe in sticking with a traditional snowboard boot and soft Splitboard binding.
SOFT BOOT BINDINGS
HARD BOOT BINDINGS
Spark R&D Dyno DH: Spark R&D’s simple, functional and high performing hard boot binding option. They work on the same pucks as soft boots, and use the T1 system for locking into ride mode. Touring mode has you putting the plates in your pack and climbing using Dynafit toe pieces mounted using adapter plates.
- Splitboard Pucks (Voile or Spark R&D)
- Dyno DH Bindings
- Dynafit Toe Pieces
- Dynafit Toe Piece Adapter Plate
- Voile Dual Height Heel Risers
Overall System Weight: 1,799g / 3.99lb
Climbing Mode Weight: 957g / 2.11lb
TOTAL SYSTEM PRICE: $791.50 + gst
PHANTOM ALPHA: Much talked about and my favored hardboot binding setup for a few years (now I am 50/50 on the Dyno DH and Phantoms). Super technical, well designed and built, the Phantom Alpha Tour Ride mode was where technical hard boot binding setups began and they continue to innovate and build great, high performance setups
- Phantom Alpha Tour / Ride (everything you need is included in this setup)
Overall System Weight: 1,589g / 3.49lb (Medium)
Climbing Mode Weight: 689g / 1.51lb (Medium)
TOTAL SYSTEM PRICE: $850 USD (at CAD exchange right now $1147.50 + shipping and brokerage)
VOILE MOUNTAIN PLATES: The original hard boot riding option from Voile. With the technology and options available from Spark and Phantom these are now really just a lower price point option. The mountain plates are mounted on the old (DIY kit) slider plates, and typically the rider tours up with plates on their feet. You could now buy Spark R&D dynafit adapter plates and dynafit toe pieces and carry the plates on the up if you chose.
- Voile Mountain Plates
- Voile Slider Track
- Voile Touring Bracket (x2)
- Voile Slider pins (x2)
- Voile or Spark R&D Pucks
- Voile Dual Height Heel Risers
- Dynafit Toe Pieces (optional if you want to carry plates on uphill)
- Dynafit Toe Piece Adapter Plate (optional if you want to carry plates on uphill)
Overall System Weight: 1,899g / 4.18lb
Climbing Mode Weight: 1,899g / 4.18lb (when touring with plates and Voile touring brackets)
TOTAL SYSTEM PRICE:
- $350.90 + gst (without Dynafit toe pieces and adapter plates)
- $649.95 + gst (with Dynafit toe pieces and adapter plates)