Gear Review: 2021 Union Expedition Splitboard Bindings & Skins
The Seattle-based binding brand challenges Karakoram & Spark for the splitboard binding throne with boardfeel and familiarity
Field Mag's benevolent overlord, formerly of the PNW and now residing in NYC. We apologize in advance for his many mispellings.
Combining the zen-like approach of backpacking, the physical workout of hiking, and the joys of powder boarding, splitboarding is a decades old subgenre of snowboarding that has really made the move from niche to mainstream in the last handful of years.
For a primer, a splitboard is a snowboard that separates into two ski-like halves that, when used with climbing skins for uphill traction, can be used to ascend a slope like a traditional ski touring setup. Key to the setup is a special set of bindings that can be detached from the snowboard and reattached in a forward facing position on the board is in split ski mode.
In the past decade two main splitboard binding brands have emerged to own most of the market—Spark R&D and Karakoram. Both use novel designs and largely metal components. Allegiances are so strong, any mention of a third brand is often met with a quick scoffing dismissal. That said, we’re here to raise the controversial opinion that the Union Expedition Splitboard Binding is in fact, the best splitboard binding out there.
2021 Union Expedition Splitboard Bindings
I tested a wide range of Spark and Karakoram bindings. Each has its pros and cons. After spending the past month testing the 2021 Union Expedition Binding with the FJELL MT1542s splitboard in Montana’s Tobacco Root Mountains and various backcountry zones around Jackson, Wyoming, we’ll trade the lightweight metal of Karakoram for the familiar feel of Union’s carbon fiber injected nylon-base binding anyway. And Spark's puck system? Union offers their own take with a circular puck and pin design that easily and intuitively transitions in seconds.
In hike mode, the locking pin easily latches with the touring bracket, creating a smooth and secure interface that came naturally, even on first attempt straight out the box. Engaging the heel riser for steep ascents is a breeze too—even flimsy trekking pole baskets had the power to flip down the riser underneath the baseplate from a standing position.
"If you value the experience of snowboarding above all else, then look no further than the Union Expedition splitboard sinding."
In ride mode, the Expedition felt like a normal binding, unlike the metal baseplate designs I’ve tried in the past. The pin and disk created a secure lock with no play, and the durable highback and extruded aluminum heel cup allowed for some flex without feeling like a park binding.
Now, I’m a long time Union binding user, so the feeling of familiarity was the real selling point for me—I even ran the bindings on my solid powder board while hiking in the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort backcountry for a day and honestly, they rode just as well as my regular snowboard bindings do. Try doing that with your Erector Set binders.
All that said, my style of snowboarding certainly leans freestyle and surfy. It's about the snowboarding for me, not just the hike in. If you’re a hardbooting ski mountaineer, these may not be for you. If you haven’t ridden a chairlift in a decade and exclusively split, the warning may apply to you too. But, maybe not. The key question is—how important to you is the ride down? If you value the experience of snowboarding above all else, then look no further than the Union Expedition Split Binding.
Union Splitboard Climbing Skins
Skins allow the uphill movement of said splitboard. There’s a few main OG brands that make skins, and the best are based in Austria or Switzerland. Union has teamed with Innsbruck-based Kohla to manufacture their skins, ensuring each set is made of eco-conscious materials (65% mohair, 35% nylon) and glues. Each set comes with a utility knife and clear instructions, making the custom fitting process as simple as can be. Angled tail clips also work for both popsicle and fishtail snowboards.