While most of the snowboarding world uses strap bindings, in which they open and close ratchets to tighten or loosen pieces of plastic (ladders) that go over the feet. Other people, including the editor of this site, prefer to take the path taken by Flow bindings. Here is a photo of the NXT-AT, a higher end model, from 2008. It looks a lot like a strap binding, though with some extra webbing in-between the straps.
The key difference of the Flow style is that you don’t undo the ratchet (the two silver buckles visible in the photo); instead, you pull down or pull up a quick-release handle (the black that you see in the upper left corner of the photo). It makes for a quicker entry and exist. It also means, in most cases, that you don’t have to sit on the snow.
Why would anyone prefer these kinds of bindings?
Here’s what another adult rider had to say: “Until I got a pair of Flow bindings, I hated the threading and ratcheting straps, and pressure points over my instep. Flow’s bindings are more comfortable. They’re also so much easier to use, so I don’t waste my limited energy fighting with equipment.”
It’s common for snowboarders with strap bindings to sit down to thread the strap through the buckle. Not only can that lead to “wet butt syndrome,” it also means that when you’re done threading the strap, you have to stand up, from a sitting position, with both feet attached to the snowboard. Some people, especially older adults and those new to the sport, find that an unattractive idea. A second way of feeding the strap of a strap binding through the buckle is to stand up, but bend over, sort of like trying some clumsy shoelaces. Some people aren’t bothered at that prospect, but those who are enjoy using Flow bindings.
The key difference with the Flow binding is that you lock into it by moving the highback into the upright position. Now, you may have noticed some buckles on the photo of the Flow NXT-AT. You don’t need to use those on the hill. You set them in place on dry land, in the warmth of your home or a shop. (You can of course use your bare fingers out on the snow if you’d like!). But when it comes to lock into the binding, you use the highback. It has an embedded, which you move into position. No threading required!
Thanks to the ease of use of Flow bindings, you may find that you can spend more time riding and less time messing with your gear. But again, some people prefer strap bindings, so give both a try before you buy. You might also wish to check out the Cinch model from K2, which operates on a slightly different principle.
Ask “are Flow bindings any good?,” and you will get a range of answers.
Simple to Use
Some people switch to Flows bindings because they find that straps are too complicated. If you’re interested in enjoying time on the hill rather than fiddling with your gear, then perhaps Flow bindings are for you. They can be especially helpful when you’re starting to learn how to ride: There’s no need to fiddle with strap bindings in cold weather, or step on the straps while you’re skating around.
Like a Pair of Loafers
What do so many Grays on Trays like about Flows? They’re not strap bindings! No need to ratchet down after every run. Getting into the binding is quick: slide in foot, push lever from its open position to a closed one, and go. It’s like putting on a pair of loafers compared with lacing up tennis shoes. While other riders are messing with their straps at the top of the hill, I’m already sliding away. Sometimes I even start sliding before I put the lever into place. It’s that easy.
Minimal Bending Over
A bonus is that you don’t have as much bending or crouching–good for the aging body. After you’ve been snowboarding for a while, you may find that you’ve gotten yourself into better shape. If that’s the case, the fact that you can save energy by using Flow bindings isn’t as significant. Then again, why make extra work for yourself?
Oh yes, there’s another benefit from the Flow model of In, Up, Go: no “wet butt syndrome” from sitting on the snow to strap in.
Some people have praised Flows for eliminating pressure points that they got from straps.
Enough Control? Yes!
There are several raps against Flows. Some of it is style prejudice–the “you’re not a REAL snowboarder unless you do this” nonsense. You may also hear that they are somehow less secure than straps. If you believe that, just remember that the Flow professional team regularly medals at freestyle events, suggesting tha the binding style is quite suitable for jumping in the air, if that’s your thing.
The most legitimate knock on Flows used to be that they tend to be heavier than a strap binding. But in the last several years the Flow people have made their gear much lighter than it used to be. So now it’s mostly a matter of preference.
Flows would be good for a beginner (and many other riders), since it simplifies time on the snow at a point when so many things are new and different, if not difficult.
But there is one time when Flow bindings might have a disadvantage: When you’ve got one foot out mid-way down the hill and you then want to get back into your bindings to head downhill.
At that point, the highback lever that slips into the powerstrap can get in the way. It’s hard if not impossible to get your foot under the powerstrap, since the highback lever can’t fully recline. So you have two options. One, you could dig a small shelf into the hill and clear enough space to stand up. Or you could do a turtle roll and end up with your toeside.