Voile | Spark R&D | Karakoram Splitboard Binding Review 2016/17

Words By: Simon Coward

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

We wanted to do up 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 particular bindings.  We get to use them, talk to people who use them, and see any issues that 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 year or so in regards 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

MENS SPECIFICATIONS

* Weight includes medium 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.


WOMENS BINDINGS

All 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 include lighter weights, narrower heel cups 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 park tool
Spark R&D Surge:  2 x pinless splitboard bindings, 2 x dual height heel risers, touring toe piece, 1 x park tool
Karakoram Prime 1: 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 1 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.
Weight saving materials take 125 gms per binding compared to Prime 1.

                                                                                                                                                                                                               

EXTRA COMPONENTS – DESCRIPTIONS (click on titles to see items on our website, will open in new window)


VOILE SPLITBOARD PUCKS - $74.25

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.


SPARK R&D SPLITBOARD PUCKS - $104.95

Spark have created their own proprietary puck system which allows for greater adjustability than traditional pucks. These allow you to fine tune the forward or backward position on the board to help reduce toe/heel drag.  They also have an aluminum insert which reduces weight and adds stiffness vs full plastic construction pucks.  Splitboard pucks are required to mount Spark R&D or Voile bindings to your Splitboard in ride mode.


SPARK R&D STRAPPY STRAP - $29.00

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

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

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 (click on titles to see items on our website, will open in new window)


VOILE SPEED RAIL


PROS:

-  Price
-  Simple system
-  Voile history of high quality Splitboard gear

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)
-  No ski crampon compatibility.

SUMMARY: 

Voile have at last moved forwards and come out with a pinless binding system in both mens and womens models. 

From first opinions and feedback from other riders it seems like a really solid effort.  Simple, solid, backcountry is their motto and the Speed Rail definitely seems to fit into this slogan.  No bells and whistles, just a simple, functional and well priced binding option for getting out in the backcountry and riding.

It is a bit of a bummer that there is no option for a heel lockdown, though the flipside of that is, they still use the ultra classic and reliable traditional Voile dual height heel risers.  I personally still use these on my setups and am happy getting around with no heel lockdown, an opinion we see mirrored by a good percentage of people visiting the store and demoing gear.

Overall these appear to be 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

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.

CONS: 

-  A more flexy binding compared to the Surge and Primes
-  Not great for bigger/more aggressive riders
-  Some people struggle with heel riser system but this can now be overcome with their new “Whammy Bar” heel riser upgrade.(a replacement for their current risers that adds an easy to see and push bar to the side of the binding)

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.

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 slightly lighter duty to straps (than the Surge) have been holding up well, though we certainly prefer the beefier, wrap around style toe straps on the Surges.

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 and, to date we haven’t seen one broken T1 heel lockdown mechanism which is a hug improvement from the first iteration of these.

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

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)
-  Wrap around toe strap is great for secure fit of boot
-  Simple and easy to use (aftermarket) heel lockdown mode

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 warrant center for Spark we get to see most of the breakages etc of Spark products here in Canada and, to date we haven’t seen one broken heel lockdown mechanism which is a hug improvement from the first iteration of these.

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 1

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
-  Built in heel lockdown is solid

CONS:  

-  They are on the expensive side
-  Overall they are not super light
-  Some people find transitioning a bit finicky (you have to be careful to prevent icing up preventing smooth transitions)

SUMMARY: 

Karakoram engineer and build incredibly good Splitboard binding systems.  The way I 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.

Now, 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.  Also, the heel risers are a little awkward to use to start with, though with practise it becomes seamless. Make sure you are using the heel risers correctly to prevent damage to the riser system.

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 1 SL

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
-  Built in heel lockdown is solid
-  Air form ankle and toe straps are comfortable and bomb proof
-  Lightweight for such a high performing binding

CONS:  

-  Price is a bit higher than other similar weight bindings
-  Some people find transitions, heel lockdown and heel risers a little tricky to use.

SUMMARY: 

Basically, all points from the Prime 1’s reiterated, these guys are just 125 gms per binding lighter. New this year is that the Prime SL’s come with both the Air-form toe Straps and the ultralight Air Straps.

“Karakoram engineer and build incredibly good Splitboard binding systems.  The way I 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.

Now, 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.  Also, the heel risers are a little awkward to use to start with, though with practise it becomes seamless. Make sure you are using the heel risers correctly to prevent damage to the riser system.

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.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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.

Alternately check out all te bindings on our website by clicking here

Happy Riding

Simon and the Splitboard HQ Team