Dynafit has been synonymous with quality Alpine Touring (AT) equipment for many years, particularly their tech bindings, becoming the ‘de facto’ standard for lightweight and reliability. One can argue their successes have been partially due to a number of patents that effectively ‘muzzled’ the competition. That was at least, until their patents expired in late 2010. Since then the market has become increasingly saturated with similar other quality tech bindings, such as G3, Plum, Frischi and now Marker with their Kingpin. This all adds up to very good news for the consumer who now has a wider choice when searching for equipment suitable for their chosen pursuits.
The Marker Kingpin, new on the market in 2015, has received much attention, but how does this ‘new kid on the block’ stack up against the tried and tested Dynafit TLT Vertical ST? While one might argue that the two are ‘chalk and cheese’, in reality their application is quite similar, even the design has partial strong parallels. Having skied both (including about 100hrs on the Kingpin) in various snow conditions I have a reasonable idea of how they behave and yes - I have arrived at my favourite, but more of that later.
Both the Vertical ST and Kingpin toe pieces appear and are similar in operation. The KIngpin has six springs compared to the ST’s four, the theory being a more snappy and secure feel when stepping in and increased energy absorption during use. The incorporated toe guides on the Kingpin are designed to make it slightly easier to position your boot before clipping in. Both levers in front of the toe piece can be locked to prevent unwanted release while climbing/skinning. (note here that I have observed advanced skiers on Verticals who choose to also ski with the lever in the locked position - something I’d imagine Dynafit wouldn’t recommend). Both toe pieces accommodate crampons that perform well and are easy to mount/remove. The fit is the same, making their crampons interchangeable.
The heel piece is where the main differences can be observed. The Vertical ST has the traditional rotating “block” with dual pins engaging the heel of the tech boot during skiing. As previously mentioned this design has been tried and tested for many many years and it works. For optimal performance, including safety, it’s paramount that when the ST is adjusted to your tech boot, the correct gap is maintained between the heel of the boot and the body of the binding. Correctly set up, the two pins holding the boot in place during skiing may seem ‘flimsy’ and not strong enough to hold the boot in place. This is however, not the case - trust the pins, they will hold. The exception to the rule is if continually skiing very aggressively and/or within resort boundaries. The Vertical is a lightweight minimalistic binding (about 400g lighter than the Kingpin per pair) and is not really designed to be continually skied in this fashion, so if that’s your game, look at the more heavy duty AT bindings, or if ‘resorting’ get a regular alpine binding, they’re cheaper, simpler in design, and can take more of a beating.
The Kingpin’s heel piece is vastly different, almost appearing as a conventional alpine binding that similarly clamps the heel of the ski boot to the body of the ski/brake. Straight away, this makes the Kingpin seem solid and more secure in ski mode but more of this later. The Kingpin is the first tech binding that has achieved DIN approved release technology by German TUV testing facility, a major safety feature that equates to dependable release if and when required. The Vertical too has release settings and while it may not be DIN approved it appears functional and has been widely tested for many years. (note here that that several other Dynafit binding models were DIN approved during September 2015).
When climbing, the heel risers on both bindings work well, but via very different means. The Vertical’s heel piece rotates via the tip of your pole inserted into the hole in the top of the “dome” and two raised settings are available in addition to flat.. The Kingpin has two levers available on the heel piece, that can be flicked into position via the pole basket. Again there’re two raised settings in addition to flat.
Bottom line is both bindings ski very well and so they should. Both brands have decades behind them with Dynafit originally revolutionizing the sport of Alpine Touring with their lightweight binding systems. It’s however, no fluke Marker has developed the Kingpin - employing leading technology during three years of development and with no limiting patents in place, the Kingpin made its’ entry onto our market in 2015.
I prefer the Marker Kingpin for one main reason that has to do with the heel piece, which is more ‘conventional’ and solid, clamping the rear of the boot onto the ski almost like its alpine ‘cousin’. This makes it feel very stable and secure during skiing, an important aspect, because that’s what we’re here to do. That and the DIN approved release technology really inspires confidence and this binding can be skied hard, even within the resort environments. It’s also new technology and these days progress is rapid. Overall I feel that Marker has progressed the AT binding technology via a mix of proven and new technology in a package that is relatively simplistic but all round very appealing and user friendly.
The Vertical, which has been around for a long time, along with several other similar Dynafit incarnations will be stomping around the hills for a long time yet, but as mentioned it’s the heel piece that has me sold on the competition. In ski mode the heel doesn’t feel quite as secure as the Kingpin. There seems to be a slight degree of elasticity that can be felt during more aggressive skiing. It’s also more difficult to engage the risers, a degree of body ‘torque’ required to rotate the heel piece into the required position.
It is however, and always would be a close verdict. Dynafit has sold millions of AT bindings and with continuing innovation should continue to so. Marker similarly is a snow sports market leader and innovator. It’s the application that remains the key issue. There is a market for both bindings but before choosing ask yourself what realistically the intended use is. A lighter person that skis conservatively back country only should probably lean towards the lighter Vertical (or similar) while a heavier all rounder that favors the back country but regularly resort skis should favor the Kingpin. There’re lots of reviews and opinions out there, don’t let them confuse, just keep it simple and enjoy the outdoors.
- Jake Oskov
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