FREESTYLE BOOTS & BIND­INGS

Freestyle Boots & Bind­ings

Transworld Snowboarding - - CON­TENTS - Words: Tyler Ma­cleod + Prod­uct Pho­tos: Chris Well­hausen

Since its in­cep­tion four years ago, Tested + Ap­proved has swiftly and proudly estab­lished it­self as snow­board­ing’s most com­pre­hen­sive prod­uct test. With an end­less sea of gear to choose from—bind­ings and boots, hel­mets and gog­gles, gloves and lay­ers—it’s not get­ting any eas­ier to know where to spend your money when seem­ingly ev­ery­thing is touted as the next great in­no­va­tion. Our aim is to sort claims from com­pe­tence be­cause, like ev­ery­one, we get bummed when some­thing fails on its word.

We start the Tested + Ap­proved process by reach­ing out to brands with rep­utable prod­uct of­fer­ings, ask­ing them for sub­mis­sions across an ar­ray of cat­e­gories. We then dis­trib­ute this gear to in­sight­ful, diehard shred­ders across the coun­try with dis­tin­guished knowl­edge of prod­uct and an as­tute abil­ity to cri­tique it. Com­mit­ted to elim­i­nat­ing in­fe­rior items, blown out soles, gim­micky tech, busted zip­pers, and fogged up lenses, are sifted out.

This sea­son, these re­sults will be fea­tured across four is­sues, start­ing in this one, with the best in men’s and women’s freestyle boots and bind­ings— solid com­pan­ions to those Good Wood-win­ning park decks you hope­fully pored over. From icy win­ter hot-laps, to spring­time jump ses­sions, to sum­mer dig­ging on Mount Hood, our ded­i­cated crew of testers de­cided the most bul­let­proof boots and bind­ings with freestyle-ori­ented per­for­mance to match. Be­fore you tweak a grab or lock into a press this sea­son, see if some­thing in the pages to fol­low piques your in­ter­est, be­cause it might make these in­her­ently grat­i­fy­ing acts even more sat­is­fy­ing.

VANS IM­PLANT PRO $250

Like a Vans skate shoe, this is a sim­ple and re­li­able piece of footwear com­plete with time­less style and func­tion­al­ity. With a rugged sole ca­pa­ble of han­dling count­less days spent dig­ging or hik­ing, and a heat-mold­able liner that, al­though snug at first, ul­ti­mately packs in to the per­fect fit, the Im­plant Pro proves to be a no-frills boot with lim­ited pres­sure points, that holds up to harsh land­ings yet still pro­vides the tweak­a­bil­ity typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with a softer boot. Thanks to a tra­di­tional outer lac­ing sys­tem paired with an ex­te­rior an­kle Boa, these boots pro­vide the free­dom to dial in your fit each morn­ing, while also of­fer­ing the abil­ity to make on-the-fly ad­just­ments as the day pro­gresses.

RAD: Power strap on the liner is long enough to wrap around outer tongue, en­sur­ing a se­cure fit.

BAD: Very snug liner cre­ates longer break-in pe­riod.

ADI­DAS TAC­TI­CAL ADV $350

Clas­sic, clean, and sim­ple both in­side and out. Would you ex­pect any­thing else from footwear branded with three stripes? Right out of the box, the Tac­ti­cal proves to be cushy and com­fort­able, mean­ing the break-in pe­riod is short, sweet, and wel­com­ingly pain­less. The ex­te­rior is held to­gether with clas­sic, re­li­able laces, of­fer­ing sim­ple and highly ad­justable tight­en­ing op­tions, while the in­ner liner is kept snug with a draw­string sys­tem that does ex­actly what’s re­quired. If you’re seek­ing sup­port and re­sponse, know that the medium out-of-the-box flex will end up a tad softer than ad­ver­tised. This is a true freestyle boot.

RAD: Ar­tic­u­lated cuff min­i­mizes weird folds and pres­sure points. BAD: Testers found the flex to be softer than ad­ver­tised.

RIDE FUSE $350

Unique in func­tion­al­ity and styling—es­pe­cially in this Lick the Cat col­or­way—the Ride Fuse blends tried and true tech­nol­ogy with a bit of mod­ern flair. Fea­tur­ing an in­ner liner free of lac­ing, the Fuse de­pends on tra­di­tional ex­te­rior laces and a unique tongue-in­cor­po­rated Boa sys­tem to main­tain a snug, solid fit, morn­ing through last chair. With a Miche­lin-branded sole, these boots pro­vided am­ple heel cush­ion­ing and full-sea­son dura­bil­ity while keep­ing the over­all weight to a min­i­mum. As an added piece of in­sur­ance, Ride even in­cor­po­rated a water­proof layer be­neath the laces of this medium-flex­ing, all-ter­rain boot, mean­ing your toes will re­main cozy and dry even when you find your­self rid­ing into the spring and sum­mer months.

RAD: An­kle Boa con­nected to the tongue keeps feet se­cure all day.

BAD: Low pro­file spine felt nar­row in some bind­ings.

THIRTYTWO ZEPHYR $220

The Zephyr is ready for the park be­fore you even try it on. It’s a ba­sic-look­ing boot free of un­nec­es­sary frills or gim­micks—only ex­actly what you need to get to jib­bing and tweak­ing. And while the liner is, in fact, heat-mold­able, it might be a step worth over­look­ing con­sid­er­ing how soft this boot al­ready is. In a freestyle sense, that’s a com­pli­ment for this set of kicks that fea­ture an even flex and not a hint of pres­sure points. If you’re the type of rider who spends day in and day out jib­bing through the park, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bet­ter op­tion than the Zephyr.

RAD: Com­fort­able right out of the box.

BAD: Break-down pe­riod is on the quicker end of the spec­trum.

SALOMON LO-FI $400

Salomon has long been rec­og­nized for pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity boots. The brand’s cult-like footwear fol­low­ing has of­ten cited the boots’ propen­sity to hug nar­row feet and an­kles, with a liner that forms well to unique con­tours. The LO-FI per­fectly fits this archetype but sports a tra­di­tional lac­ing sys­tem that has largely been re­placed by more tech­ni­cal op­tions in Salomon’s line for the last decade. Com­bined with a Boa dial, the LO-FI is a mod­ern, best-of-both-worlds ap­proach to a freestyle boot—its ex­cep­tion­ally com­fort­able and sup­port­ive, yet not over­bear­ing, pro­file are at­tributes rid­ers who value freestyle-in­spired flex will en­joy.

RAD: Foot-hug­ging com­fort.

BAD: Some felt the boot looks cheaper than it rides and costs.

THIRTYTWO WOMEN’S LASHED ME­LAN­CON $240

At­ten­tion all speed demons and flame fa­nat­ics: feast your eyes on the Lashed by De­siree Me­lan­con—one heater of a boot that rides even bet­ter than it looks. Sim­ple, com­fort­able and re­spon­sive, this ThirtyTwo sta­ple pos­sesses a clas­sic style and de­sign built around a tried and true tra­di­tional lac­ing sys­tem. Testers noted a medium to stiff flex pat­tern for the freestyle cat­e­gory, mean­ing these ver­sa­tile boots not only held up to mul­ti­ple styles of rid­ing but also hinted at the con­struc­tion’s longevity. With zero gim­micks, thick laces, and the op­tion to insert heel hold­ers for po­ten­tial lift is­sues, this boot is a hot com­mod­ity for the hard-charg­ing chick.

RAD: Tra­di­tional laces are sim­ple and re­li­able. BAD: Re­quired a bit of a break-in pe­riod.

DC LO­TUS $250

Testers im­me­di­ately took note of this boot’s out-of-the-box com­fort, prais­ing the Lo­tus for its pres­sure point-free de­sign. Fea­tur­ing a footbed com­prised of small, gel-like cir­cles on the sur­face, these boots not only re­duced fa­tigue but also made for a se­ri­ously damp ride. While they were one of the softer of­fer­ings in the test—lead­ing some to ques­tion their longevity—the Lo­tus cer­tainly had it all for fans of a hy­per-flex­i­ble boot. And with a lac­ing sys­tem that fea­tures an ex­te­rior Boa on the tongue, a pul­ley sys­tem on the liner, and Vel­cro for ad­di­tional sup­port, testers found the Lo­tus to be a de­tail-ori­ented yet min­i­mal­ist boot.

RAD: Gel-like in­soles make for a damp ride and fa­tigue-free com­fort. BAD: Likely too soft for 100-day sea­sons.

SALOMON LUSH $350

The Lush was praised for its im­me­di­ate pre­dictabil­ity and nat­u­ral com­fort. Prov­ing to be one of the soft­est boots in the test, its light­weight con­struc­tion and slim de­sign ap­pealed to testers who en­joyed surf­ing through tran­si­tion and keep­ing things loose in the park. Plus, its form­fit­ting pro­file fea­tured a soft, im­pact-ab­sorb­ing footbed, which was a wel­comed at­tribute on those oc­ca­sional harsh land­ings. And al­though the quick-lace sys­tem, fea­tur­ing up­per and lower ad­just­ment latches with a pul­ley on the liner, re­quired some heavy pulling to ef­fec­tively tighten, the Lush’s over­all per­for­mance proved top-notch, es­pe­cially for those in search of a soft ride.

RAD: Nat­u­ral and cozy fit out of the box.

BAD: Some testers ques­tioned the dura­bil­ity of the quick-lace sys­tem.

BUR­TON FELIX BOA $350

Stiff out of the box—sig­nal­ing a long life­span ahead of them—these boots were light and sup­port­ive while also pro­vid­ing a nat­u­ral feel when lap­ping through the park. The ag­gres­sive flex didn’t in­hibit per­for­mance, but rather en­cour­aged it, re­sult­ing in higher ol­lies, more stomped land­ings and an over­all in­crease in con­fi­dence. With a heat-mold­able liner for a cus­tom­iz­a­ble fit, and a dual-Boa sys­tem for efficiency and on-the-fly ad­just­ments, the Felix’s de­sign proved to be di­aled and user-friendly. And al­though re­sponse and con­trol were para­mount through each turn and hit, one tester did find that long days on-hill re­sulted in the emer­gence of a few aches and pains.

RAD: Stiff, durable de­sign sig­nals a long life­span ahead of them.

BAD: Some testers noted foot aches and pains af­ter a long day.

NITRO MONARCH $240

Land­ing near the top of the list for our testers, the Monarch’s lac­ing sys­tem, while ini­tially in­tim­i­dat­ing, proved in­tri­cate, ef­fi­cient, and strangely sat­is­fy­ing once fig­ured out. These beefy boots with their snug, se­cure fit also served up ex­cep­tional, im­me­di­ate com­fort. But even with­out a no­tice­able break-in pe­riod, the Monarch never felt mushy. In fact, its mid­dleof-the-road flex com­bined with a nat­u­ral and re­spon­sive boot-to-board con­nec­tion re­sulted in in­stant fa­mil­iar­ity, cre­at­ing an at-home feel across any con­di­tions or ter­rain.

RAD: Enough com­fort to last from morn­ing through happy hour.

BAD: Not the warmest boot of the test.

BUR­TON MALAVITA $320

There’s a rea­son the Malavita graces the decks of Bur­ton team rid­ers and un­known lo­cal rip­pers alike. Its well thought-out de­sign pri­or­i­tizes com­fort and per­for­mance, and the ver­sa­tile medium flex makes it fully ca­pa­ble in any ter­rain. Testers were im­pressed by the asym­met­ri­cal strap, which pro­vides the op­tion to ac­tu­ally flip the an­kle strap de­pend­ing on sup­port pref­er­ence. Run them in the out-of-the-box set­ting for op­ti­mal re­sponse, or flip them over for max­i­mum tweak­age. Whether it’s laid­back park laps or hard-charg­ing freerid­ing, the Malavita is equipped to adapt and de­stroy.

RAD: When un­strapped, an­kle straps fall open and out of the way for easy en­try and exit.

BAD: While said to be min­i­mal, one tester re­ported un­de­sired pres­sure points from high­backs.

UNION STRATA $280

The Strata may be Union’s new kid on the block, but it spared no time im­press­ing testers with its dy­namic per­son­al­ity and all-ter­rain dom­i­nance, and the in­no­va­tive Va­por­lite Fused Bush­ing Sys­tem is par­tially to thank. This unique de­sign, which one tester likened to a vul­can­ized skate sole, elicited max­i­mum board feel and un­ri­valed damp­en­ing prop­er­ties. And with the in­cor­po­ra­tion of Union’s Mini Disc mount, rid­ers found that the Strata min­i­mized hard sur­face con­tact be­tween bind­ing and board, max­i­miz­ing the deck’s nat­u­ral flex. Paired with a rel­a­tively stiff high­back that bal­ances well with the bush­ing sys­tem, the end re­sult is a lively and pre­cise freestyle-driven pack­age.

RAD: The bush­ing sys­tem cre­ates a damp, nat­u­rally-flex­ing ride that needs to be ex­pe­ri­enced to be be­lieved.

BAD: Size large base­plates may over­hang on nar­row boards.

BENT METAL LOGIC $240

The Logic is the soft­est bind­ing in Bent Metal’s lineup, but that’s not to say it lacks sup­port. Its er­gonom­i­cally cupped high­back wraps around the back of your boot, pro­vid­ing a se­cure feel coun­tered by a soft flex—you can give this thing a good bend by hand. This pli­a­bil­ity makes the Logic the ul­ti­mate in tweak­a­bil­ity, let­ting you for­get it’s there un­til you need re­sponse. That’s when it steps up to pro­vide sup­port. Testers wel­comed its sim­plic­ity and clear freestyle ten­den­cies. Art­work by Sean Gen­ovese is the fin­ish­ing touch on what testers con­cluded to be the ul­ti­mate in no-non­sense snow­board at­tach­ment.

RAD: Sim­plic­ity that any­one with an affin­ity for flex can ap­pre­ci­ate.

BAD: Some testers re­ported get­ting poked with the ratchet spring.

K2 FOR­MULA C $300

Yield­ing a stiff and re­spon­sive ride, the For­mula C has an ap­petite for ag­gres­sive park rid­ing and all­moun­tain pro­fi­ciency. With en­ergy-trans­fer­ring car­bon fiber in the chas­sis and a high­back equally stiff edge-to-edge and lat­er­ally, testers found the For­mula C ideal for rail­ing hard turns in an out of the park. But with the in­cor­po­ra­tion of canted footbeds and am­ple pad­ding, the stiff na­ture of the For­mula C is still bal­anced out by a com­fort-driven fit. It’s a sim­ple, light­weight, and ag­gres­sive bind­ing geared for speed and re­sponse wher­ever you choose to ride.

RAD: The car­bon fiber in the chas­sis makes for a re­sponse-driven per­son­al­ity.

BAD: Some testers re­ported snow buildup un­der­neath the snap-on footbeds.

AR­BOR HEM­LOCK $200

Testers im­me­di­ately took note of this bind­ing’s Stretch Arm­strong-like asym­met­ri­cal high­back that seemed to in­fin­itely twist in ev­ery di­rec­tion, won­der­ing if it would pro­vide sup­port. Well, this is why we test these things. Af­ter strap­ping in, rid­ers quickly dis­cov­ered the Hem­lock was adept at trans­fer­ring en­ergy while si­mul­ta­ne­ously pro­vid­ing un­re­stricted flex. Al­though mal­leable, the high­back was sup­port­ive in a surfy and un­con­strained way. On days when you feel like jib­bing ev­ery ob­ject in your path or scour­ing for ev­ery last side­hit, the Hem­lock will in­voke a flow­ing, cre­ative and skate-in­spired style to com­pli­ment the mood.

RAD: Asym­met­ri­cal high­backs come pre-ro­tated five de­grees for a com­fort­able and er­gonomic stance.

BAD: In some cases, snow would get lodged un­der­neath the footbed.

NITRO COS­MIC $200

This bind­ing ranked es­pe­cially high in the plush depart­ment. Ev­ery inch of the Cos­mic is cov­ered with soft cushi­ness. The an­kle strap feels like a mem­ory foam mat­tress and fea­tures a bit of grip, so it stays snug and in place. Testers noted these bind­ings’ bal­ance be­tween flex and re­sponse. Ad­just­ing the straps and high­back an­gle is eas­ier than ABC and can be done in one quick click. A few laps with the Cos­mic was enough to sell testers. The Cos­mic is a cushy, mid-flex­ing ride geared for re­sort rip­ping.

RAD: Su­per comfy and ev­ery­thing is easy to ad­just.

BAD: Testers re­ported oc­ca­sional stuck ratch­ets.

AR­BOR SE­QUOIA $200

Ar­bor is a new­comer to the bind­ing game and even newer to the women’s side. De­spite their ado­les­cent pres­ence, testers were im­pressed with the re­sult. Upon ratch­et­ing in, the an­kle and toe straps hug your boot, while the footbeds elicit a feel­ing like step­ping on lit­tle pil­lows. The com­fort fac­tor is all-time. With a fun, forgiving, and slight surfy feel, they re­main re­spon­sive enough for most rid­ers. Whether rid­ing jumps, rails, or even steeps, this bind­ing seemed to in­crease the prob­a­bil­ity of a good time. The Se­quoia pro­vides ul­ti­mate ver­sa­til­ity for all-around rid­ers.

RAD: You can take these pup­pies any­where.

BAD: One of the heav­ier bind­ings tested.

ROME FLARE $200

Testers were im­me­di­ately struck by the com­fort of the Flare. “Ev­ery part of this bind­ing felt like it was sculpted to fit my boot,” one said. The EVA tray pro­vides the right amount of cush­ion­ing. It’s forgiving and able to take im­pact but not too thick. Testers found these bind­ings to be among the stiffest in the bunch. They’re re­spon­sive, re­act­ing quickly and seam­lessly to sub­tle move­ments, and the toe and an­kle straps were sweet and sim­ple— sup­port­ive with­out pres­sure points. The Flare doesn’t leave much to com­plain about, which is why it landed near the top of the list for testers. With cat-like re­flexes and amaz­ing com­fort, this bind­ing might be your new fa­vorite.

RAD: The strap moves out of the way for easy en­try.

BAD: The siz­ing seems to run large.

UNION LE­GACY $280

The Le­gacy em­bod­ies the non-com­pro­mis­ing rep­u­ta­tion Union has estab­lished in the bind­ing mar­ket. Its per­for­mance backs up its badass aes­thetic, with a sleek de­sign as durable as it looks. Light­weight, with the per­for­mance and feel of a bind­ing suited for the most se­ri­ous of rid­ers, this bind­ing is seem­ingly in­de­struc­tible and re­spon­sive in ways that make the hard­est rid­ing feel nat­u­ral. Min­i­mal but ef­fec­tive pad­ding on the an­kle strap molds to your boot to pro­vide the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of sta­bil­ity and com­fort. The Le­gacy is a true per­for­mance bind­ing made specif­i­cally for fe­males. It’s light, rugged, re­spon­sive, and tough as you are.

RAD: You could run them over with a bus and they’d prob­a­bly be fine.

BAD: We’d like to see the same base­plate as the men’s Strata.

BUR­TON LEXA $300

A high-end orig­i­na­tor in the women’s bind­ing game holds its place in the pack of fe­male­friendly freestyle foot at­tach­ments. The Lexa has im­pressed rid­ers year af­ter year, and this sea­son their pli­able high­back cou­pled with quick heel-to-toe re­sponse did it again, with testers not­ing an im­pres­sively sturdy feel. The high­back fits nicely around your boot, of­fer­ing snug sup­port, and the min­i­mal­ist straps of­fer enough ma­te­rial for the job with­out un­nec­es­sary bulk. This is a low-pro­file hard­charger for fe­males who test the lim­its in all con­di­tions and in­vite a chal­lenge.

RAD: Sturdy as an old Ford truck.

BAD: Heel­cup isn’t ad­justable.

Tay­lor Boyd test­ing boot and bind­ing tweak­a­bil­ity at Cop­per.

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