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Splitboarding with Hard Boots: A Great Overview

For all those considering to switch

by Anselm K√∂hler ‚ÄĘ 03/08/2022
Splitboarding has definitely come of age in recent years. Even if there are still astonished onlookers at the conversion at the summit, the systems are now all very mature and are also widely represented on the market. With ski boots on your feet, however, you still amaze people. Although splitboarders who use a so-called hardboot or AT setup are also becoming increasingly common, they are still a vanishingly small minority.

A hard boot setup has many advantages for ambitious splitboarders, but switching from soft boots to hard boots is not always easy.

While all parts of the soft boot setup, from the binding to the interface, now work very well, this is only true to a limited extent for the AT setup. The soft boot combination is where the development of binding systems has progressed the furthest. In the case of hard boots, the development towards ready-to-buy, well-functioning boots is much slower, but there has also been some movement in this area in recent winters. For the most part, existing ski touring boots are used and often slightly modified.

We have written this overview to make it a little easier for you to make the decision to switch. The available hard boots, binding systems and the main technical requirements and arguments in the ascent and descent sections are presented below to give you as comprehensive an overview as possible of the current state of hard boot splitboarding.

We are enthusiastic splitboarders

Tobias has tried everything after the snowshoes - from a sawn-up DIY splitboard to a complete wooden construction with a cabinet wall flex, to good, current splitboards with very stiff K2 Aspect and Spark R&D Surge bindings. In all this time, however, he has always looked enviously at the légèren pin binding skiers and has not been able to get rid of the feeling of wanting to go up just like that. But what about the descent? Admittedly ... that was hard to imagine. So he delayed the switch for quite a long time, but didn't regret it.

Anselm failed 15 years ago on Mont Blanc with his splitboard, which he bought second-hand for ‚ā¨100, due to the breakage of the self-made hardboot binding and has been looking for revenge ever since. Although he has not yet made it back to the highest mountain in the Alps, he has experienced some innovations in the splitboard sector. He has been travelling exclusively with hard boots for about 5 years now and lends his Spark Surge to visitors and friends when needed.

After his first winter with snowshoes (MSR is still a clear recommendation), Patrick travelled on various splitboards and pretty much tested his way through the whole range of harder soft boots. A few years ago, he did a few tours with a converted Scott, which were a dream in terms of ascent and okay in terms of descent. I should have continued tinkering, but then I got back to work and so I'm currently travelling with soft boots again. However, if it finally works out with off-the-peg hard boots, he would be willing to give it another go at any time.

Jonathan has a constant desire to optimise his snowboard touring set-up in order to improve the fun factor and the possibilities on tour. From the obligatory snowshoes to the first splitboard with Voilé setup from mr.splitboards (www.splitboards.eu), an upgrade to a Spark Burner followed and finally the switch to hardboots in 2015 with the purchase of a Phantom Alpha. Even though he has been riding his Phantom exclusively on hard boots ever since, the optimisation process is not yet complete. Fortunately, there have been more and more good options for splitboard-specific hard boots in the last 1-2 years. The (only) disadvantage of a hardboot setup? If your fellow skiers run away from you, you can no longer blame it on the equipment!

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The key point: choosing the right hard boot

If you want to switch to a hard boot setup, the most difficult task is to find a suitable boot. Until recently, splitboarders were forced to use ski boots that were not specifically developed for the needs of snowboarders. For this reason, the boots usually have to be modified to a greater or lesser extent in order to bring the downhill performance of the boot closer to the needs of snowboarding. Here are the main differences:

The requirements of skiers and snowboarders are the same on the ascent - you want great manoeuvrability forwards and backwards and as little lateral flex as possible in order to be able to edge up well.On the descent, however, the requirements differ enormously. When skiing, you want a boot that is as direct as possible - i.e. little flex forwards and backwards and no lateral flex at all. When snowboarding on the other hand, we want a  softer or harder flex to the front - depending on personal preference - and also need lateral flexibility for weight transfer.

Accordingly, the aim of the modifications is to maintain the boot's capabilities as far as possible on the ascent, but to allow greater lateral flex and more movement forwards and backwards on the descent. This is often done by allowing more flexibility in the shaft overall, but this means that the heel no longer sits as well in the boot. Accordingly, the second modification - a heel that is as firm as possible (often by moving buckles) - is a consequence of the central need for more flexibility in the upper part.

So which boot is specifically suitable for use as a snowboard touring boot? We have listed the boots so that you can move from the currently available "complete solutions" (Phantom, Key Equipment, Gignoux) to the boots that are more likely to be modified.

Tip

No matter which boot you choose, a thermoformable liner can provide a completely different level of comfort. So if you have the opportunity to try your favourite hard boot with a Palau liner (already included in the Key Disruptive) or an Intuition liner (already included in the Phantom Slipper), be sure to take advantage of it.

Key Equipment "Disruptive"

The Disruptive from Key Equipment is new on the market, designed exclusively for snowboarding and 100% made in the EU. Two players who have been involved in the splitboard business for a very long time have joined forces for design, production and marketing: Tal Etallaz, who was instrumental in developing the splitboard binding at Plum, and Hampus Cederholm, who has been driving innovation at Furberg for years (tongue and groove system).

The Disruptive promises the flex of a classic, hard soft boot and is completely modular. It has a soft tongue for a progressive forward flex and a wide strap over the ankle, which is designed to reliably fix the heel. The tongue and strap should also allow the forward flex to be influenced somewhat. The forward lean mechanism has a similar structure to a soft boot binding, i.e. there is no forward flex fixation (as is the case with the typical locking mechanism of any ski boot or Phantom Link levers, for example);

The upper part of the boot, which corresponds to the highback of a soft boot binding, is designed to allow plenty of medial flex, making the boot very comfortable on the descent. The boot is rounded off by a high-quality liner from Palau, which is thermally customisable, dampens vibrations and is also produced in Palau, France. Key Equipment describes the fit as comparable to the Atomic Backland. The only key difference is a slightly wider toe box in the Disruptive. 

The shell of the Disruptive is made of thermoplastic polyurethane (PU) and can therefore also be customised to your own foot through controlled heating.

In addition, all individual parts are replaceable, which means that the shoe should last a long time and be easy to repair yourself. Key Equipment states that all future improvements will be backwards compatible, so you don't have to buy a completely new shoe to stay up-to-date. If the shoe does reach the end of its life, Key Equipment is planning a recycling programme in which the old shoe will be taken back and recycled in return for a discount on the purchase of a new shoe.

We like the concept of Key Equipment. A first test of the Disruptive is sure to come.

Phantom "Slipper"

The aforementioned company Phantom Snow has not only developed the Dynafit Mods, but has now also launched a hard shell boot specially developed for splitboarding, the Phantom Slipper (and now the new Slipper HD). The Phantom Slipper is basically a highly optimised Atomic Backland, which has ultimately been given its own character and thus clearly stands out from the original boot. The shaft has been modified and appears lighter and more flexible. In addition, the Backland's forefoot buckle has been removed in favour of a buckle around the heel. The most obvious difference, however, is the walk-ride mode lever, the Link-Lever.

With the Link-Lever, Phantom Snow has invented a new locking mechanism for the downhill mode. The link levers are spring elements and replace the lever at the back of the boot. They offer a decisive advantage because they can now be moved forwards by the spring but are not as open as the pure walking mode. There is also a little more flex at the rear. This simulates the flex that snowboarders are used to from the combination of soft boot and highback.

Tip

Phantom Snow also sells the Link-Lever individually so that you can upgrade your Atomic Backland with it. The Link-Lever generates a pleasant flex to the front, whereby the hardness of the flex can be individually adjusted to preferences and body proportions by changing the spring hardness. The link levers also have a rubber buffer as a rear stop to prevent the hard "stop" feeling of the original inflexible levers when edging onto the backside. This works surprisingly well in reality, allowing you to control the edge hold on the backside a little better in hard, steep snow. Last but not least, you can also customise the angle of the link levers, similar to adjusting the highback of a soft boot binding.

Gignoux Black Snowboard

Pierre Gignoux is a small, French manufacturer of carbon ski boots that mainly earns its money with optimised boots for competition ski mountaineering. But as it happens, he has also had an optimised snowboard boot on offer for a few years now. In terms of price - carbon sends its regards - it is more in the Porsche league and at least looks classy. Unfortunately, we can't say anything about the performance, except that the boot seems to be more for racing use, as it looks very light and delicate.

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Touring ski boots for tinkerers 

Dynafit

Basically, the Dynafit TLT boots are the mother of the whole thing. With the "frogs" (the green TLT1 from 1984) many of the early attempts at hardboot splitboarding were made. However, the TLTs were usually modified so that they could not be converted back to ski boots afterwards. Phantom even put together a ready-made kit for modifying the TLT 6 and Speedfit models and offered them for sale. Unfortunately, Dynafit boots are quite narrow-cut, which is why they are not an option for many people.

Atomic Backland

In the meantime, the Atomic Backland has become quite popular for splitboarding. You could almost say that the Backland is the successor to the Dynafit TLT5/6 among splitboard hard boots. The current models with Boa on the instep work just as well as the older ones with the plastic tongue. Maybe you shouldn't go for the carbon models, they are even stiffer. The Backland has a slightly wider, comfortable footbed for medium-width feet. All parts are screwed together and not riveted, which is a huge plus. You can disassemble and reassemble the shoe pretty much completely without destroying it. If the experiment fails, you could turn it back into a ski boot. Some even RIDE this boot completely without modification. Here you can find pictures of an extreme example of a Backland modification.

Tips from the editorial team

Jonathan rides a Backland Alpine he bought in April 2017 (the plastic model without carbon in blue/orange). After countless attempts to modify the Backland and improve its downhill performance, here's a short list of what modifications have really made a difference: 

  • The Phantom Link-Lever (see above) and a strap over the ankle have undoubtedly brought the greatest advantage in terms of downhill performance.

  • The Velcro strap can be used to make this strap over the ankle, similar to how Phantom solved this with this buckle on their slipper.¬†

  • The upper buckle is important for closing the shoe. ¬†In my opinion, you can do without the lower buckle and the short wire rope. ¬†

  • I use the tuck-in tongue, but you could also leave it out to get a slightly softer flex. On the other hand, the tuck-in tongue keeps the snow out of the boot better in the long term.

Tobias rides the successor model, the Backland made of dark blue plastic without carbon. After countless attempts at optimisation, these are his key findings:

  • upper strap gone

  • upper buckle stays

  • lower buckle and rope gone

  • this buckle mounted on the shaft and built with a Dyneema sling heel strap

  • half tongue fixed with Voil√© strap

  • new PALAU liner, All Track Power model, works wonders again

The whole thing with him without link-lever. He finds the direct response quite strong, but has not yet tested a link-lever. The disadvantage of the half tongue: the protective fabric underneath is rubbed off. That's why Tobias recently applied SeamGrip all round the glued seam. It looks pretty stable.

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Arc'teryx Procline

Anselm is still using the carbon version of the Arcteryx Proclines, or has been for about 4 years. After 200+ days in the snow, the boot will be deservedly retired. For him, the boot has improved over time after the shaft "wore out". He has modified the fastening on the shaft: he has replaced the buckle with a PG Skistrap in order to get some flex at the front. He likes the very free walking mode and the quick switch between super-comfortable and downhill-proof. He is currently considering changing boot model and is leaning towards Backland with Link-Lever.

In addition to the boots mentioned above, there are many other touring ski boots that have potential for use as snowboard touring hard boots. What all potential boots have in common is that they are generally two-buckle boots. This means that they are ascent-orientated ski touring boots with a rather soft flex. Some splitboarders even say goodbye to one of the two buckles and replace it with a flexible strap or Velcro fastener. They work if they fit well and the boots are modified to suit personal requirements. Examples include the Fischer Travers, Scarpa Alien/Gea and La Sportiva Sideral. However, we have no personal experience with these shoes. If anyone can contribute something here, please let us know and we'll add it to the article.

Ascending - the easier the better

Once the shoes are on your feet, it's time for the ascent. This is where the AT setup really comes into its own. With a slim pin binding on the toes, you stand comfortably low and directly on the board halves and climb like a chamois with a weight advantage of up to 1.5kg per foot. Basically, the board halves are slightly wider than most touring skis, so the same power transfer is not achieved when traversing. This is also due to the significantly harder flex of the skis, which can therefore transfer power better, and the smaller radius of a splitboard outer edge, which makes it more difficult to edge up with this edge than with the straight inner edge or a touring ski.

Nevertheless, the ascent with hard boots is a new level. Crampons are needed much later. Power saving, comfort and safety also tend to be significantly improved compared to hard soft boot systems. On the ascent, the direct connection between the fixed boot and ski via the Dynafit binding and your own ascent technique are decisive. It is therefore fair to say that a current hard boot setup works just as well on the ascent as a current freeride ski setup with approx. 110 mm wide skis. You can ascend similarly well on hard snow and put on the crampons almost at the same time as your skiing colleagues.

In addition, hard boots are simply the better footwear for demanding terrain. Steps can be negotiated in hard snow without any problems, automatic crampons fit and the boots are often somewhat lighter than comparable soft boots.

Sounds good, so you can just buy an old Dynafit binding and fit the front parts? Yes, you can, but only with an adapter. The binding manufacturer Spark R&D responded to the needs of this market early on and produced adapter plates for Dynafit toe pieces. With the help of the adapters, you can use the three standard Voilé inserts and then screw the toe piece of a pin binding onto them so that you don't have to screw into the board.

If this adapter solution is too fiddly for you, or you simply want to save a little more weight, there have been some complete solutions available to buy since the Dynafit patent expired. This means: a tech toe piece designed for the Voilé insert pattern. The special toe pieces/tech toes for splitboarding are available from Spark R&D , Phantom, Plum and Voilé. These can be screwed directly onto the board. Technically, only the parts from Voilé stand out, as they work with a manual, lateral locking mechanism instead of a spring. This means that the parts are much shorter and allow more room for manoeuvre when placing the pucks. Somnit is a good choice for small people with a short stance. However, with cold fingers in the morning, getting started with the Voilé brackets can be a challenge.

Crampons:

All Dynafit toe pieces and the special tech toes from Spark R&D and Phantom have the same standardised mount for crampons. Therefore, all common Dynafit-compatible crampons can be used. The choice therefore also depends largely on how wide the splitboard halves are. The Spark R&D model D Rex is available for normal width (up to 130 mm) and extra wide (up to 140 mm) splitboard halves. The same crampon is also available from Phantom. Not quite as large, but just as suitable are the crampons for ultra-wide freeride skis. There are crampons from Dynafit in 130 mm width and from ATK in 135 mm width. A nice side effect of Dynafit or ATK crampons is that they are somewhat smaller and lighter (and Dynafit's are also cheaper) than those of the splitboard manufacturers. For the Plum and Voile toe pieces, the mount does not seem to be compatible with Dynafit and the manufacturers offer their own crampons. 

Splitboard type:

Two-piece splitboards are by far the most common, as the choice has become very wide. Even on a two-piece, a hardboot setup brings decisive advantages on the ascent. For many splitboarders, a two-piece splitboard represents a good compromise between suitability for the ascent and simplicity/speed when converting to downhill mode.

However, the advantages of the hardboots on the ascent are increased even further if a three or four-piece splitboard is used.

This significantly reduces the width of the skis on the ascent, as the centre section is carried on the rucksack. However, this advantage can only be fully utilised with hard boots, as otherwise the width of the soft boots relativises the advantages of the three-piece.

With a little more work when converting, these splitboards work well, as can be seen in the detailed test of the Salomon Premiere. So far, there is still only a small market for these speciality boards. The Salomon Premiere, the solid wood eye candy from Phenix and Splitboard-Power have also specialised in the construction of multi-piece splitboards. There is even one that can be used as an optional downhill ski. A visit to their website is definitely worthwhile.

Tip:

In stormy or cold situations, Tobias wants to be able to quickly convert and pack safely. That's why he has a carabiner on the outside of his backpack, so that the binding is within easy reach and doesn't have to be squeezed into the rucksack with other, perhaps more delicate items. Anselm also quickly hangs the binding on his backpack when he waddles out somewhere in ski mode without skins.

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Departure -  it is all about the down!

But you also want to get down the mountain - after all, getting down is somehow the main thing about our wonderful hobby. After all, what good is a better ascent performance if I can't enjoy the vertical metres I've climbed on the descent with a good feeling? This is where opinions differ, partly due to the different levels of knowledge about the state of the art. 

In general, you can probably say that even with the best combination of hard boot and binding, the downhill feeling still differs slightly from a soft boot setup. However, the differences have become quite small. One issue is the direct response to edge loading - some people like this and others dislike it. In any case, it is very pleasant to have to apply less force for crossings. For those who prefer visual rather than argumentative persuasion: It doesn't look that bad.

If you ride a strong duck stance, you will have to change your angles a little with hard boots, but you can stay in a kind of duck stance. The back foot moves more into the -3¬į range, the front foot turns up towards 20¬į or more. In addition, you cannot do without the so-called canted pucks. These are tilted inwards by 3¬į to make the leg position more linear and take pressure off the knee. Which brings us to the bindings.

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Bindings

Hardboot bindings are similar to softboot bindings: Depending on the basic system (Voilé, technical bindings á la Plum, Karakoram), there are now corresponding hardboot bindings from all the "big" manufacturers. The classic puck bindings are also represented here, for which you need the canted pucks.

Spark R&D has had the Dyno DH in its programme for a long time. Proven system with the same technology, works with two bomber straps instead of a highback, heelcup and straps;

Voilé has always been joined by the Mountain Plate, which has been facelifted for the current season. Here, however, you stand very high above the board, as the Mountain Plate is screwed onto the slider. In contrast to the Dyno DH, the plastic Mountain Plate allows a little lateral flex from the binding.

The company Splitboard-Power from France has had a puck-based aluminium and titanium binding on the market for over 6 years, which is significantly lighter but also more expensive. However, Splitboard-Power only has direct sales, so we don't know more about the bindings than the website reveals. The manufacturer writes that the aluminium binding offers slightly more lateral flex than the Dyno HD and that the toe box is wider.

If you don't want to spend a lot of money straight away, you can also make a functioning hardboot binding yourself to get started. Take a slider and an old race binding and you're ready to go. Tobias has made a binding from an old Wombat binding. Here the holes are already suitable for the Voil√© sliders¬†and with a bit of luck the stirrups fit directly to the sole length. He had to file and connect two holes in the slider to get some clearance. Cost approx. 50‚ā¨, it weighs as much as the Dyno DH to the gram. Thanks to Markus from Wildschnee, who gave him the crucial tip during last year's winter of shortages. By the way, canted pucks are not a new invention. This Wombat binding from the 90s (?) already had canted plastic pucks in it, which achieve exactly the same effect.

Just like in the soft boot sector, there are technical bindings that are not based on pucks. The two manufacturers Plum and Karakoram offer the Plum SOK and the Karakoram GUIDE HB as corresponding hardboot models on their own interfaces. With both bindings, you even have the option of dispensing with the tech toes on the ascent and using the normal interface. Here, however, you lose a good part of the weight advantage.

With the M6, Phantom Snow probably has the best thought-out technical binding on offer, designed for splitboarding with hard boots. Here you are virtually standing directly on the board, the binding itself is already canted and the mechanism is fully developed. The Phantom and Karakoram bindings try to generate some lateral flex in their own setting. Here you can find a test of the slightly different predecessor binding Alpha.

The only thing that speaks against the technical bindings is the question of faith: puck or non-puck. Non-puck bindings are not always directly compatible with multi-part splitboards. The usually high price and the fact that Phantom is not marketed in Europe can also be a deterrent.

What do the authors ride?

Tobias rides the Dyno DH binding from Spark R&D. It works with pucks and with Spark's tried and tested Tesla system. This binding is sufficiently light. Tobias is a big fan of pucks because of their reliability. The binding sits snugly on the boot and rides great. He also uses them on his solid board in the ski resort.

Anselm also rides the Dyno HD, as it works on two and multi-part beds. It is not indestructible, it warps over time and moving parts wear out - make sure to check the tight fit of the shoes regularly! He was also lucky to get a current Dyno this (shortage) season, as the baseplate of the 5-year-old broke. It is simple, functional and sufficiently robust, and also puck-based.

Jonathan has been using a Phantom Alpha binding since 2015, and even after many seasons it still works reliably in every situation, both on numerous long and steep tours in the Alps, in endless deep snow on Hokkaido and also on absolutely lonely tours in the Norwegian Alps. For him, the long service life puts the high purchase price into perspective. With the Phantom binding you are comfortably close to the board and the board halves are very well connected as the binding creates a lot of overlap. However, depending on the conditions, you may have to scrape away some ice when putting them together. In comparison, the Spark Dyno DH also works very well, although you stand a little further away from the board, but the Dyno DH is a little cheaper, more readily available in Europe and the puck system is self-cleaning, so less susceptible to icing. All in all, both binding systems are mature and Jonathan can recommend both Phantom and Spark. 

And now?

Hard boots are certainly not the first choice for the ever-growing number of splitboarders. And making the switch is a challenge, because it takes a bit of courage and curiosity and the willingness to sometimes have to turn back or endure pain until the boot fits well. It is still a problem for those brave enough to change that there are virtually no hard boot set-ups available to try out and a changeover starts with a major investment.

Who is this interesting for? Anselm wrote in his last overview here on PowderGuide about upwardly mobile splitboarders. This is certainly still a big part of the switch motivation, but especially with the backlands and the link levers you see more and more professional splitboarders and guides who are quite downhill-intensive, keep their style (if it is important) and just snowboard really well. This concise pro-con overview gives a similar perspective. And for style, the guys from Helvetic Backcountry have a tip from minute 14:06...

We searched through many forums, articles and read testimonials before making the switch. Unfortunately, the reference forum "ErsteSpur" no longer exists. Splitboarding.com also seems to have fallen asleep a bit in recent years. Unfortunately, the information on hardboard splitboarding is spread over many different forums.

It is striking that splitboarders who have switched to hard boots often say that going back to soft boots is no longer an option, at least for touring.

Like everyone else, we just had to give it a try. Switching to soft boots is no longer an option for us at the moment...

Have fun crafting!

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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