Most backcountry skiing these days is either chasing pow or chasing summits. Both are incredibly enjoyable, but I also crave a more multi-dimensonal experience. Long ski traverses can be this, as they incorporate descents, ascents, route finding and good wilderness technique into an immersive multi-day experience. An extreme example of this is a currently in progress winter thru-hike attempt of the Pacific Crest Trail, which will use skis for much of the 2660 mile trail.
Presently 80% of backcountry gear is aimed towards the powder chasing crowd, which means fat skis and feature laden heavy boots and bindings. Ski mountaineering or ski racing co-exist to occupy the other, more sparse, end of the gear spectrum with skinny skis and super light equipment. The weights are great, but most of this equipment has a race background which means it isn’t designed for horizontal travel nor multiday trips. Skins work poorly when you’ve got 10 miles of flat to cover, while many skimo boots provide wholly inadequate for weather protection for multi-day use. The solutions respectively seem to be fish scale alpine skis (with skins too), of which few are made, and light but full coverage boots.
Such a setup entails unique binding considerations, which is the focus here. “Tech” or “Dynafit” bindings are the obvious choice, but the options are numerous and all have pros and cons. Thankfully Skimo.co sells Dynafit, Plum and Kreuzpitze toe and heel pieces individually, which enables mixing and matching to create an ideal binding.
Toe pieces are more or less the same aside from a few pure race bindings that unavoidably lock the toe (i.e. Dynafit Low Tech Race). There are a few other considerations (DIN, adjustable toe pines) but essentially for long ski traverses you want the lightest toe pieces without autolock, which means something like Dynafit Speed Superlite toes (78g, $164 ea). I wouldn’t stray from Dynafit here as the smaller competitors are more expensive, no lighter and less proven.
Choosing heel pieces is more multi-faceted. For serious traverses with fish scale skis, you want a flat heel mode, which rules out Dynafit’s light options (Low Tech Race, Speed Superlite). You might also want an adjustable boot length if you’re not firmly decided on your boot, and you also may want riser height options. Lastly, you don’t want titanium pins as they’re designed for race use and your steel boot fitting will wear out notches in the ti pins if you put on serious miles.
Plum offers two nice options, the Race 145 (62g, $85 ea, rotates for flat heel mode, steel spring) and Race 165 (83g, $110 ea, adds adjustable boot length). The only thing missing is riser height options. There’s just one modest heel lift setting which is inadequate for gaining vert in a hurry. However, these bindings come with two holes drilled in the heel lift flap, which you can add threads to with an M4 tap and then bolt on something to raise the height. With this, you have flat position (90 deg), new high position and you can rotate the binding 180 and step on the bottom of the U to still have a medium lift position.
Kreuzpitze is one step ahead here and already offers option risers ($55) that bolt to the back of their heel pieces (61g, $99), so flipping the flap is a modest lift, rotating 90 is flat and rotating 180 is a high lift. It’s an excellent option if you don’t need boot length adjustability but the price does add up. For a set of heel pieces with risers the cost is $253 when you could buy a set of Plum 145 heels for $178 and make your own risers as described for the cost of 2 bolts and a tap.
Overall, the Plum 165 (or 185) heels are the only good option for those desiring length adjustment. For fixed boot length bindings, mod’d Plum 145 heels are the budget choice while fully spec’d Kreuzpitze heels are the ideal solution. Mount them up with inserts if you want to use them on multiple skis.