Buying Snowboard Bindings: Critical Considerations in Your Purchase
Whether you’re purchasing your first set of bindings or looking for a way to up your game on the slopes, finding the right pair can be challenging. As you can see, there are quite a few options on the market, and they’re not all the same. How do you choose the best snowboarding bindings for your needs, in that case? We’ll walk you through some of the most important considerations below.
What Are Snowboard Bindings?
This is perhaps the simplest question to answer. Snowboard bindings are what attach your boots to the surface of the board. The serve the same purpose as the bindings on skis, although they look a lot different. The primary reason for the difference in appearance is that some of the components found on snowboard bindings, such as the highback, are built into ski boots but not into snowboard boots.
Snowboard bindings are what help you stay tethered to your board, but they also provide you with the right stance and help you tackle whatever terrain you might face on your way down the slope.
Your Riding Style
The first thing to consider will be your riding style. Different types of snowboard bindings have different amounts of flex, and are suited for different riding styles because of that. There are three primary types of riding style today, although they often blur between one another.
Freestyle: Freestyle riding is also called park riding, and it’s similar to park and freestyle skiing. In this type of riding environment, you’ll want lots of flexibility to deal with things like jumps and manmade obstacles. However, it’s equally important that you have a board with lots of flex, too. Pairing a stiff board with freestyle bindings isn’t going to deliver the riding experience that you really want.
All-Mountain: All-mountain is sort of an all-around style that encompasses a little bit of everything, from freestyle to freeride to backcountry and beyond. These types of bindings offer a good mix of flex and control, hitting that Goldilocks zone of “just right” for most boarders. If you’re not sure what camp you fall into when buying snowboarding bindings, this would be the recommendation, at least until you’ve developed other preferences.
Freeride: Freeride boarders are those who like to get off the beaten track. These bindings are much stiffer than freestyle or even all-mountain because of the need for greater control. Freeride bindings are also more durable than other types when subjected to the intense rigors found with freeriding.
As you can see, most of your decision will be based on how, where, and when you want to ride. If you’re more interested in getting out into the untouched powder, then freeride/stiffer bindings are going to be for you. However, if you’re going to be focused on tricks or park riding, freestyle/relaxed/flexible bindings are the best option. For everyone else, all-mountain bindings make a great starting point.
If you take a look at the various snowboard bindings on the market, you’ll see a number of different materials in use. Some of these materials are high-end, and some are low-quality. The more advanced a material is, the better it will perform and the happier you’ll be over time. Low-quality materials, on the other hand, can have a negative impact on your performance and on your experience.
For instance, inferior snowboard binding material may not be as responsive as better quality materials. Your board’s inherent flex may not come through well, or you may find that your durability over time is compromised (premature breakage). One area where it really pays to look for quality materials is in the ratchets and straps.
Binding Strap and Entry System
Speaking of straps – we need to talk about the binding straps and entry system used for various snowboard bindings on the market. There are several different options used, and they’re hard to tell apart in some instances. We’ll touch on each of the major systems out there below:
- Rear Entry – Rear entry is one of the newer options on the market when it comes to binding straps and entry systems. Flow is the pioneer in this area, but several other brands have their own version of the technology. In this setup, you are able to get into your bindings very fast, with as little fuss and hassle as possible. They work in a surprisingly simple way: There’s a hinge built into the highback that allows you to drop it down and away, as you slide your foot and leg into the binding. It’s very simple and easy to use. However, the drawback is that there is some loss of performance.
- Clickers – Clickers, also called step-in bindings (not to be confused with strap-in), are rarely used any longer, but they can sometimes be found. None of the bindings we featured in our list uses this technique. Basically, these bindings only work with specific boots. You put on the boots, step into the bindings, and they click into place as the locks engage.
- Strap-In – Strap-in bindings are probably the most commonly found and are the traditional option. The two straps combined with the highback offer excellent support and control, and many experienced snowboarders will use nothing else. Basically, these bindings require you to open the two straps, insert your boot, and then ratchet the straps closed once more.
There are several variations on strap placement, too. All of them have an ankle strap, but some vary where the second strap is placed. On some bindings, it is over the toe, while others put it across the toe. The primary downside to strap-in bindings is that they are often cumbersome to get on and off, and you may find that you need to sit down to tighten your straps before starting a run.
There really isn’t one system that is better than another. They all have their pros and cons. Rear-entry bindings are often seen as the better choice because they are easier to get on and off, but strap-in bindings are just as good in their own way, such as improved performance and control.
Your Preferred Fit
Another important consideration when buying snowboard bindings is your preferred fit. What does that mean and how do you go about determining what your preferred fit might be? While there’s no way to really show you what your preferred fit might be within this guide, we can provide you with some tips to help make sure that you get the right one.
First, you’ll need to make sure you have the right size. In most cases, snowboard bindings come in small, medium, large, and extra-large sizes. Those correlate to standard shoe sizes, but each manufacturer is slightly different. Always refer to the binding manufacturer’s size chart before making a purchase. Never assume that one binding will be the same as another in the same size rating.
Next, you need to physically match the bindings to your boots. This is where many people drop the ball. There is a good chance that while your boots might fit your foot, the exterior may be wider or narrower than what the bindings were intended for. To check the fit, you need to actually put your boots on, and then put your foot and leg into the binding, just like you were about to go boarding. There are a few things to watch for once your boot is in the binding, including:
- A loose heel fit
- A swaying boot
- A boot that will not flex
- Boots hanging off the binding
- Slack in the straps
Finally, and this has nothing to do with fit and everything to do with making sure that you’ve got the right bindings for your needs, you need to check that the bindings are compatible with your board. Just because a manufacturer states that their bindings will work with all major mounting systems does not mean that they do so without a hitch or two. For instance, some bindings are compatible with most boards, but they do not come with the disc needed.
Now that we have those out of the way, we can turn our attention to some fit-related terms that apply to your snowboard bindings.
Flexibility: We’ve discussed flex several times between the snowboard bindings reviews and our buying guide, but we need to touch on it once more. Many bindings have flex ratings between 1 and 10, similar to the flex ratings of snowboard boots. Other manufacturers state high, medium, or low flex. It’s important to understand that two medium flex bindings may feel very different when worn due to factors such as the boots and the board being used. Manufacturer flex ratings are really just a guide. In most cases, park riding will dictate going with more flex, while more rigorous conditions will require greater rigidity.
Baseplate: The baseplate is the portion of the binding that comes into contact with the board’s surface. This is essentially where the connection between the two is made. You’ll find that some baseplates allow lots of flex, while others are very strong. You’ll want to find the right combination of flex and strength for your riding style, as well as for your board and boots.
Butter: Butter is a strange term for some, but it applies to fit, enjoyment, and performance. Really, it’s a term that describes how much flex the board allows. For those attempting to do tricks, such as heel presses and spins, softer bindings will deliver better butter.
Style and Color
Ultimately, style and color have little or nothing to do with your overall riding experience or your performance. However, they are important for aesthetic reasons. From our list of the snowboarding bindings, you saw that many were available in multiple colors and color combinations, ranging from sleek black to bold white, and everything in between. Likewise, many manufacturers offer different stylistic takes on snowboard bindings, with some resembling fashion footwear and others resembling nothing so much as spiderwebs.
When everything is said and done, there are many factors that go into choosing the perfect snowboard bindings for you. Your riding style must be considered. Your experience level and where you want to improve will also play a role. Your sense of aesthetics, your gender and age, your boots and board – all of these will impact your selection. Our guide has provided you with not only the 12 best snowboard bindings, but also the information necessary for you to make an informed decision when it comes to the bindings you ultimately purchase. Whether you are looking for pure butter, or something capable of holding up through years of harsh use going from snowpack to sleet, you have the means to choose the right bindings.