For 2022 there’s a new splitboard binding on the market, the Union Explorer Binding, an upgrade to Union’s Expedition 2.0 Binding. To be honest not a ton has change aside from the name and some fun new colors. Why would you change something that works?
What is that makes Union Bindings different from Spark Bindings? Let’s start with the pin? In touring mode the Union Explorer Bindings attach to the board by sliding a metal pin through the tip of the binding. Union made this area smaller in width which helps the pin go through the rivets with less friction.
Once the pin is pushed through the touring brackets it locks into a slot on the side of the binding. The ability to lock the pin into place with stronger plastic is a great improvement Union has been working on the past few years.
One pro tip we have learned, ALWAYS carry an extra pin with you. The same way you ALWAYS want to carry extra screws and ladders.
Spark R&D vs Union
Spark R&D really made splitboarding what it is today. From their first pin binding to the pinless bindings over the last few years they are truly innovators. So when Union used a pin binding, and continues to use pins in the Union Explorer Splitboard Binding it’s understandable some people thought the brand was taking a step backwards.
Union Explorer Heel Riser
For the heel riser, the Union Explorer Splitboard Binding is similar to Spark R&D Bindings as the heel riser is built into the binding. The main difference is Union was able to forgo the climbing riser pad that’s normally screwed onto the board under the climbing wire by using thick plastic for the climbing riser that sits directly on the board when in up mode.
This means 4 less screws than Sparks as you don’t have the riser pad attached to the board, the tradeoff becomes only 1 climbing riser height on the Unions. I found this to be fine as I rarely use my climbing wires! You should try getting get used to not using yours. For the most part if the skin track is so steep that you need to be up on wires, perhaps it’s time to put a more mellow track in?
The Medium Union Explorer Bindings have a weight of 1.78 lb. (810 g) per binding. If we want to get technical the total weight with all the hardware including 4 split disks + 4 adapter plates+ 4 washers and all the screws the weight is 288g 2 touring brackets + screws weight is 90g which adds an additional 378 grams to the entire setup.
I mention this often but I ride light, fast and surfy. I find myself dancing on snow never really putting too much weight in one place at a time. For this style of riding, a softer flexing plastic highback like what’s found on the Explorer work’s wonders.
If you’re riding some gnarly hold on for dear life line in AK, perhaps consider opting for a stiffer binding from Spark R&D. Or meet in the middle and try the Union Explorer FC Binding, however I found the highback to be a bit to stiff for my liking.
To make things simple, think of the Union Binding Company as what the freestyle guys are using. And Sparks as the bindings the big mountain guys are using and we just easily simplified the difference between Sparks vs Unions.
For ride mode the binding gets put onto the pucks and spun for 90 degrees. After that you take the pin and insert it through the middle of the binding and then it locks into place on the side.
Union has the whole comfort thing dialed. It’s going to be darn near impossible for any of the other splitboard binding manufactures to compete. Union was the first to have a padded base plate. Both Burton and Nitro are doing the same now on the bindings Spark is building for them. That’s one of the reasons Union Splitboard Bindings work equally as well at the resort.
Union makes snowboard bindings first and foremost, all their bindings have foam padding, bushing in the corners to dampen vibration. They understand what a snowboard binding should feel like. And that in turn makes your splitboard respond with a natural board feeling. The goal is to not notice the board or bindings, and just ride with gravity.
The Explorer Binding rides, looks, feels and performs like a traditional snowboard binding. Union knows this and now includes a kit with every Explorer Binding and Explorer FC Binding so you can mount these to your solid board for resort and backcountry riding too.
If you remember from my Expedition Binding review, I took them cat skiing and heli skiing in BC. Unions Splitboard Bindings are as good as any regular snowboard binding I have ridden over the years.
Please note: Union Splitboard Bindings are not currently compatible with the Burton Splitboard Channel Hardware.
Comfort is king here, if we want to get super technical Union uses their Exoframe 4.0 ankle strap and TS 2.0 tow strap. All you really need to know is these hold your feet into place and won’t hurt even if spending long days in the mountains.
The only downside to these bindings you may find is they are going to be heavier than Spark’s. They may not be the best for the longest steepest tours.
So depending on your objectives, think fun powder freestyle increasing your fun for the Union Explorer Bindings ($399.95), and long burly mountaineer days for Sparks.