Buying a set of bindings can sometimes feel like an afterthought, but select wisely as they will affect your riding more than you may think. There are a lot of bindings to choose from, and they all look pretty similar; however, binding technology is actually fairly advanced and can make a huge difference in the way you control and feel your board. Use the following information to help guide you through the many binding options.
Note: Strap-ins are the most common type of binding, and most of the information listed in this article relates to their use. However, you’ll find a few descriptions and suggestions at the end that address alternate binding set-ups. Feel free to browse through that information if you want to round out your overall binding-knowledge repertoire.
Straps essentially hold your boots in place, keeping them snug in the bindings. Advancements in strap technology have made the materials and designs increasingly more comfortable and supportive, while eliminating the nagging pain of pressure points. There are several strap shapes, with padding to cushion the foot and ergonomic adjustments made to decrease the severity of said pressure points. For instance, one relatively new advancement in binding technology is the addition of a toe cap strap, which fits over the toe of your boot, further securing your foot and improving heelside turns.
Be sure to try on your bindings with the boots you intend to use before you actually go riding. Just strap your boot in as you would on the hill, and rock back and forth for a minute or two – from heel edge to toe edge and back. Note any pain caused by the straps when you tighten up the bindings; it takes two pounds of pressure to cut off the circulation to your foot, so make sure your boot fits snuggly but don’t crank down on the ratchets too much.
The ends of the straps fit into the ratchets, which are then adjusted to meet the tightness requirements of the individual rider. Ratchets are either plastic or metal (metal is more durable), and should be large enough to grip easily with gloved hands. In terms of how much you should tighten your bindings, you’ll need to find a good balance between the tension you need for control and the slack you need to keep blood pumping to your toes.
Heelcups secure your heel into the back of the binding. Look for a heelcup that is made with a textured, grippy material (such as rubber) to help lock the back of your foot into place, as heel-lift can be a problem in bindings as well as in boots.
The large, plastic binding feature that envelops your calf is known as the highback. The purpose of the highback is to increase support and control, particularly when leaning backward into a heel-side turn. For freestyle riders (pipe/park), a short highback allows you the mobility necessary to perform tricks. If you’re into all-mountain or freeriding, your binding will have a tall highback (though it should never extend as high as the top of your boot) for added control during high-speed or sharp turns. Short highbacks come to just above your ankles while tall highbacks reach further up the calf. Additionally, the highback will often have a forward lean mechanism to keep you comfortable and properly situated atop your board. The more the forward lean, the more responsive your board will be to heel-edge maneuvers, so adjust the highback to your personal riding preferences.
Baseplates are the layer between your boot and the board’s surface. Most bindings have baseplates, although there are some manufacturers that make base-less bindings for freestyle riders who want to feel their board a bit more. Baseplates are made with either metal or plastic, and deciding which material is right for you is a matter of personal preference. If you like a little more give, go for a plastic base. If you prefer the firmness of a hard surface underneath your feet, opt for metal bindings. Good bindings will come with padding on the top and underside of the baseplates, providing a comfortable cushion for your boots and dampening the force of a hard landing.
Ramps are built in to the design of the some baseplates to provide leverage to your feet. The best ones are adjustable.
You’re going to have to dole out some cash to secure a good pair of boots, so why not take the best possible care of them to ensure they last awhile? When you store your boots, make sure they’re dry to begin with – mildew is smelly and gross and can ultimately destroy your boot. Next, pick a spot that is warm to stash them, but not too hot or muggy, and definitely not cold. Follow these easy rules and the next time you’re ready to ride, you’ll slip into fresh, toasty boots and your feet will be hot to trot (and not rot).
The bindings you purchase will need to match the insert pattern on your board. There should be absolutely no overhang from the binding over the side of the board, so check the width of the board against the length of the bindings.
Once you stick your boot into the binding, you should feel the snugness, even without ratcheting down, as the heelcup should prevent any lateral movement. Strap in, tighten up and pay attention to any pinching or pain at pressure points. Also beware of any heel-lift and toe overhang as you make your decision. If you find that your bindings don’t fit as well as you’d like, you can always adjust the base of the straps (not at the ratchets, but where the straps meet the binding frames.) With these tips in mind, you should be able to find a binding that meets your needs while keeping you comfortable and firmly attached to your board.
WHICH TYPE OF RIDER?
Figuring out where to screw in your bindings is an important process. The pre-drilled holes for your bindings are called insert patterns, and the type of board you buy – freestyle, freeride or all-mountain – determines their location on the board. A rider who spends most of his or her time in the park or pipe may have a board with a centered insert pattern, because they want the benefit of balance when performing mid-air stunts and riding rails. A powder junkie, however, will opt for a setback insert pattern, which allows a rider to more easily lift the nose of their board above the snow. Thus, it is best to determine the type of riding you’ll be doing on the board first and then configure your stance as necessary.
WHICH FOOT FORWARD?
Now it’s time to see which foot will be your lead. If you skateboard, surf or wakeboard, you may already know your preferred stance. If you’re not sure, try this trick to figure it out: ask a friend to push you gently from behind and then note which foot you step on to catch your fall. You’ll probably find that this foot is the most comfortable front foot when snowboarding. If it’s your left foot, you’ve got a “regular” stance. If it’s your right, you ride “goofy.”
HOW FAR APART?
Your bindings should be spaced a bit more than shoulder-width apart. When riding, you should be in a crouched position, bent at the knees, and you should feel comfortable and balanced in your stance. Most people set their bindings between 18-24? apart, but again, this is a preference thing. Do what feels right. If you need a starting-off suggestion, this table shows typical stance widths by height:
|Your Height||Stance Width|
|less than 5'||17" - 18" wide|
|5' to 5'5"||18" - 21" wide|
|5'5" to 5'10"||19" - 22" wide|
|5'10" or more||20" - 24" wide|
WHICH ANGLES ARE BEST?
Again, we are looking at a matter of riding style and personal preference. Most snowboarders, especially beginners, will find themselves most comfortable with their front foot angled out and their back foot pointed straight ahead or angled inward slightly. However, if you plan on riding switch-footed regularly (opposite your normal stance), you should set your bindings so that they are both angled outward; this is known as a “duck” stance, and it allows you to ride comfortably in either direction.
There is a removable disc in nearly all binding baseplates with angle measurements marked around the edges. To get an idea of what angle you’ll want, start off with your back foot at 0º and your front foot at an angle of 20º or so. Bindings are pretty straightforward to adjust, so experiment with their placement. Front angles usually fall between 10-30º with back angles between -10º (negative = duck stance) and 15º. Keep a snow tool in your pocket when you’re on the slopes and mess around with your stance when you have the time. Trial and error will help you determine the best stance for your body and riding style.
Once you’ve figured out where to put your bindings, it’s time to screw them in and go ride! First, align the baseplate holes with those inserts that best match your desired stance. Many riders want their stance to be balanced over the board’s center, so keep that in mind when you are placing your bindings into position. If you ride a lot of powder, you may want to be set-up with your weight shifted toward the tail, but check the specs on the board first – if it is designed for powder riding, the inserts may already be setback enough.
Next, rotate your binding around the disc until you’ve reached the angle you want. Making sure that the base of your binding is centered across the width of your board (with no part overhanging), carefully screw the bindings into place.
Some bindings may require messing with ramps or extra screws, but these directions will get you started.
Binding prices typically range from under a hundred dollars to upwards of $400. As with most snowboard gear, the pricier the equipment, the more tech features it has. In the case of bindings, higher-end products are more adjustable, ergonomic and lightweight, so decide which factors are most important for you as a rider, and prioritize them as you seek out a binding set in your price bracket.
REAR ENTRY (ie. FLOW)
The manufacturers of the proprietary Flow binding system sought to fuse the control achieved with strap-ins with the ease-of-use we associate with step-ins. Now, there are a couple of companies following their lead and making their own variations of this hybrid binding.
At first glance, rear-entry bindings look like typical strap-ins, but look hard and you’ll notice that there is only one, large strap (or net of webbing) extending across the frame. This strap holds the boot in place, providing all the control a rider needs. To get into the binding, you simply fold down the highback, shove your foot into the webbing and close the highback behind your boot.
The drawback to rear-entry bindings is that they are not as easy to adjust as strap-ins, so some beginners could conceiveably have trouble setting up and fine-tuning their gear.
STEP-IN (virtually obsolete)
Snowboarders require a bit of time at the top of the lift as they stoop down to strap on their boards. This perceived inconvenience is really not as big of a hassle as some would make it out to be, but it did cause the short-lived surge of alternative bindings that were click-and-go fast. Clickers or step-in bindings make the lift to slope transition quicker and the easy entry appealed to the rental market.
Step-in boots have a mechanism on their sole that is compatible with a particular type of step-in binding (these boots/bindings are not mix and match). The boot locks into place with a click and you’re off.
The trouble with this set-up is that, unlike normal strap-ins, the step-in mechanism is prone to getting packed with ice. Chipping away at the ice can take time and can be especially frustrating when you’re sitting in deep powder somewhere. In addition, some riders insist that step-ins don’t provide enough support or durability, which can make advancing your skills difficult
Keep in mind that if you opt for step-in bindings, you must purchase the corresponding step-in boots, which can be difficult as the market for them is slowly becoming obsolete. Upgrades are possible, but you need to be prepared to buy another set of bindings if you change your step-in boots.