Visually, this is usually the first thing you notice about a binder. Most conform to a fairly standard size, although no two brands make them the same way.
Highbacks allow you to tilt to the board when making a heel edge turn, providing leverage when you lean the back of your boot against them. How they react depends on their size, shape, weight and flexibility; a stiff-as-hell highback will respond the quickest, and so will suit confident chargers, while a softer one is better suited for all-round riding. Meanwhile a taller one provides more support and stability than a shorter one, but will usually carry more weight as a result.
Some are 'winged' at the side, wrapping slightly around the sides of your legs. This gives you some surface area to press against while shifting your weight to the nose or tail of the board, so holding a nosepress or 5-0 will be easier than ever.
Another thing to note is the forward lean system. Should you prefer to tilt your highbacks forward in order to ride more aggressively – in a halfpipe, for example – then be sure to get something that’ll allow you to do so with minimal fuss.
These, naturally, strap your boot into the binding and hold it in place. The ankle strap tends to be a bit chunkier, as it bears most of the brunt of the forces generated while you ride.
Don’t assume more padding is better, though, as too much can reduce response. They’ve got to be comfortable and easy to fasten, but fortunately you’ll be hard pressed these days to find any that aren’t.
A relatively new development is asymmetric ankle straps, which put more material at either the upper or lower part of the strap. You can take these off and swap them over to the opposite foot, changing the location of the extra material and therefore altering the amount of support to suit your preference.
The toe straps are a bit more anonymous, but still vary a little in size and shape – especially seeing as some are designed to go over your actual toe, while others sit across the top of your boot. That one’s down to personal taste, and a lot of straps these days give you the option for either.
More than the highbacks and straps, the baseplate is what defines the binding. Variables include padding, weight and footbed size.
Some use one material for all elements, while others make one aspect - the heelcup, for example - out of something different. Usually it’s all in the name of increasing strength and comfort, or reducing weight, so shop around to see what best suits you.
These days a lot of bindings offer a canted footbed that places your foot at an angle, transferring more of your weight to the outside of your feet and therefore reducing unwanted pressure on your knee and ankle joints. Others minimise the amount of contact between the baseplate and the board, in order to allow the natural flex of your deck to remain as uninterrupted as possible.
Whatever model you go for, always check that it fits the board you have, or are eyeing up to buy. Nine times out of ten there isn’t an issue as most come with universal mounting discs, but there’s no harm in making sure!