"What touring binding?" is a classic question on the ghey ski forums that I sometimes spend too much time frequenting.
The very simple answer these days is DYNAFIT for ski-touring and MARKER for resort based skiing...
However read on to explore the various options! As ever with ski touring kit its all about compromise between going up and skiing down - there is no single perfect solution, unless perhaps you TELEMARK? Here is the haggis trap ski-geek guide to touring binders...
Marker Duke / Baron
Marker Dukes (or Barons) are the best option for people who want a robust strong binding for no compromise descending. You can happily ski tour on marker bindings - but it is fundamentally a downhill binding, that also has the ability to tour. After more than 600m ascent, or a couple of hours, even the fittest / strongest skiers will find them heavy. The Duke has an eye watering DIN of 16, whilst the Baron goes to 13. Unless you planing a cameo in the latest TGR ski movie then the Baron is plenty binding for most mere-mortals. Solid bindings, but best suited for lift accessed skiing and side-country excursions, as opposed to proper ski touring.
Weight : 1.3Kg (duke) per binding
Best for : Lift accessed off-piste skiing that only requires short skins.
Dynafits bindings are amazingly minimalistic and light. They use toe and heel clamps to secure the boot directly to the ski. The weight saving might not seem like much compared to other options.... However your leg is a long lever, so removing weight from the skis, boots or bindings makes a huge difference (1kg on your foot is equivalent to 5kg in your pack!). The weight saving, when added up over several strides, is equivalent to moving a tonne during a 600m skin. For ascent dynafit is, quite simply, a game changer (in exactly the same way that fat skis make powder skiing easier!). Another big advantage of dynafit is that the pivot point is at the front of your boot, next to the toe, which feels much more natural when skinning. Plus, its well accepted, that these bindings perform really well on the downhill. The only downside is that you need touring boots that have dynafit inserts (which can be an expensive purchase). Additionally the safety release, in event of a crash, isn't DIN rated - both the toe and heel release, just not vertically or as smoothly as a other bindings might.
Weight : 300g (Dynafit TLT, no brakes) per binding
Best for : Skiers who prefer skins to ski lifts. When touring 90% of time is spent going up hill, so you might as well enjoy it!
Partner dynafit with light skis and you will be climbing like a goat on red-bull!
Swiss company Frtischi have been making great touring bindings for 20+ years. They are much heavier than dynafit, and also have significant stack-height (i.e the skier is standing on top of a metal bar) which reduces edge control on wider skis. However the main advantage of Fritschi bindings is that they can be be used with regular alpine boots. These are bindings that can do most things well. Plus they are very easy to step into for resort based skiing (unlike dynafits). Some people complain that they can be sloppy, but that is usually because they are badly set-up. This is a great binding for people looking to use one pair of skis for a mixture of resort based skiing and longer tours. A tried and tested classic.
Weight : 1Kg (Fritschi Diamir Freeride) per binding
Best for : Skiers looking for a versatile touring binding that can also be used with alpine boots for resort skiing
The NAXO binding was released as a Fritschi competitor.
It defining feature is a dual pivot toe section that gives an improved touring action on ascent. Despite some good initial reviews NAXO went bankrupt in 2009.
The good news is you might be able to find a cheap pair on the internet, the bad news is that spares will be hard to come by... The people we know that ski them have no complaints!
Weight : 1.1KG (NX21) per binding
Best for : Skiers looking for a bargain discountinued binding
The Marker F10/F12 were released in 2010/11. They are fundamentally a competitor for Fritschi bindings, as opposed to an alternative to the stronger Dukes / Barons - i.e a step in touring binding that can be used with normal alpine boots for resort based skiing or longer tours.
They have had great reviews and come with a DIN rating of upto 12.
The only real downside is that you need to take them off to switch into touring mode. Which could be a real hassle on undulating terrain.
Weight : 1Kg (Marker FT12) per binding
Best for : Skiers looking for an interesting alternative to Fritshci bindings
Alpine Trecker Adapter
Trecking adapters fit into conventional alpine (downhill) bindings so that they can be used for ascent. In theory its a great solution, and they are ok for short distances. We have even toured up 1000m ascents in the alps on them - However the hassle factor is high. They are a paff to set-up, heavy, and take up room in your backpack. Plus it like going up hill on stilts. They get called Alpine-Tour Wreckers for a good reason! Maybe 5 or 10 years ago they were a good option for resort skiing and short skins, and add lots of flexability - but skiers on a budget might be better spending money on a second hand touring binding?
Weight : 650g (BCA trekker) per binding, plus 1Kg+ for alpine binding. So perhaps 1.6 Kg total.
Best for : Anyone that is looking to cheaply add touring capability to their alpine skis
Free the heel, free the mind ? Or half a binding, half a brain ?
You decide... However telemark is the purest form of skiing. Its has been around for 100s of years, and was how the original Norwegian skiers used to travel. If done properly it looks great. Plus the bindings are cheap, light, and simple - which is perfect for touring. An under rated option... The only downside is that you need special telemark boots, and your friends might think you have become a dirty hippy. Plus telemarking can be tricky in deep or variable snow conditions.
Weight : typ 750g (Rottefella R8) per binding
Best for : Purists, or anyone that is prepared to learn a new skill!
Hopefully this little summary helped someone....
Happy ski touring! When the snow is good the potential in Scotland is vast :-)