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Best Splitboards For Backcountry Snowboarding

Testing the Jones Solution on Carson Pass.
By David Reichel
Sunday October 15, 2017
To find the best splitboard for the backcountry, we bought 6 top models and tested them side by side. We used and rated them in powder, crust, corn, and ice. While we had one lead tester, we got feedback from six other riders ranging from experts who dropped steep High Sierra couloirs to more fun-focused riders who were just looking to make the best turns. We also have reviews of splitboard bindings and splitboard skins - climbing skins to complete your backcountry set up.

Top Pick for Climbing and Steep Lines

Jones Solution

The new colors and graphics of the late 2017 Jones Solution Splitboard
Editors' Choice Award

Stable and solid while remaining lightweight
Amazing on powder
Mellow Madnetraction
High price
Bindings difficult to adjust
The Jones Solution scored well in nearly every category of our review and is certainly deserving of its popularity. If you seek out big lines and steep challenging objectives, this is the board for you. The Solution is light, stiff, and reliable, and our most skilled and experienced riders gave the Solution some of their highest marks. The stiffness and light weight of the Solution helped it score the highest in climbing and firm snow performance. For riders who want to shave every ounce on the uphill, this is the board.

Read review: Jones Solution

Best Bang for the Buck

Jones Explorer

Jones Explorer Splitboard Late 2017
Best Buy Award

Amazing value
Lightweight, freestyle fun
Great powder performance
Employs Mellow Magnetraction improves edge grip
A bit soft for large riders
Poor performance on firm snow
Binding difficult to adjust
The Jones Explorer caught us by surprise with its light weight, fun factor, and affordability; that's a tough triple to hit and Jones nailed it. The Explorer has a different ride quality than its more famous sibling the Solution, but it was very well received by our review team. The Explorer occupies a lower profile spot in the Jones lineup, but that didn't stop it from earning our Best Buy Award, as it offers a great all-around value.

Read review: Jones Explorer Splitboard

Updates to Splitboards
We have not yet tested the 2018 models. Our reviews are of the older models but we add in notes in the individual reviews to highlight the changes between the boards we tested and the 2018 models.

up to 5 products
Score Product Price Tested Length Flex Weight
Jones Solution $899
Editors' Choice Award
158 Stiff 6 lb 4.5 oz
Jones Explorer $699
Best Buy Award
159 Medium Soft 6 lb 15 oz
Voile Revelator $650
159 Medium Stiff 6 lb 6 oz
K2 Ultrasplit $700
158 Stiff 7 lb 1.0 oz
Never Summer Prospector Split $1,000
160 Stiff 7 lb 6.2 oz

Analysis and Test Results

We reviewed seven splitboards over the span of two months; all were quality rides that functioned well in a wide range of snow conditions and in all types of mountain environments. We rode all competitors in the backcountry and also tested in-bounds to maximize the vertical and increase the opportunities for side-by-side testing. We ranked each model's performance in powder and firm snow, as well as their weight while ascending. We compared each contender on the same scale and created a weight per surface area, tested out the playfulness of each board, ranked the ease and adjustability of the bindings, and calculated a karma score, or any added features that caught our eye.

Selecting the Right Product

Looking up at the Cross on Mt. Tallac after shredding powder.
Looking up at the Cross on Mt. Tallac after shredding powder.
In order to find the best fit for you, consider what type of riding you enjoy the most and purchase a board that suits those needs. If you enjoy freestyle riding, the Jones Explorer, our Best Buy Award winner, should be high on your list. If tackling advanced terrain in the big mountains sounds appealing, consider the Editors; Choice Winning Jones Solution, or the highly regarded Never Summer Prospector. If you love riding everything, any and all of these boards will work well for you.

Recognize that how you experience a board will also depend on how much you weigh and how strong (both physically and in terms of skill) you are. Choosing a board that is smaller for your weight will make it feel softer and increase its freestyle performance, while somewhat compromising its firm snow performance and float in powder. Selecting a larger size will increase the powder floatation and stiffness, although you will be carrying a heavier board up the mountain. These tradeoffs are all a part of your buying decision.

Types of Splits

Our splitboard review fleet consisting of: Jones Solution  Never Summer Prospector  Jones Explorer  Burton Landlord  K2 Ultrasplit  Voile Revelator BC  Voile Revelator.
Our splitboard review fleet consisting of: Jones Solution, Never Summer Prospector, Jones Explorer, Burton Landlord, K2 Ultrasplit, Voile Revelator BC, Voile Revelator.
The downhill heritage of the splitboard can be traced from the snowboard, to the skateboard, and ultimately, to the surfboard. While skateboards and surfboards certainly are wonderful tools for creativity and enjoyment of gravity, they do not excel at upward travel. Once cut in half, a snowboard actually functions as a decent ski for traveling over and up snow-covered terrain. With practice and a good attitude, you can even ski them downhill, which is actually quite useful when exploring deeper, more complex backcountry terrain.

The seven models that we've compared are popular and widely available. We've included performance ratings that are important to you in deciding which board to choose and we've reviewed all-around type models that could serve as the one splitboard in your quiver. While none of the boards handle bottomless powder to the T or have a powder-specific swallow tail or fish type board, all the boards we reviewed ride powder quite well and will handle any other type of snow you are likely to encounter in the backcountry.

The base view of our splitboard review fleet consisting of: Jones Solution  Never Summer Prospector  Jones Explorer  Burton Landlord  K2 Ultrasplit  Voile Revelator BC  Voile Revelator.
The base view of our splitboard review fleet consisting of: Jones Solution, Never Summer Prospector, Jones Explorer, Burton Landlord, K2 Ultrasplit, Voile Revelator BC, Voile Revelator.
While all the boards rode well while in-bounds at a resort, most riders will still prefer a traditional snowboard for resort laps. Splitboards weigh more than resort boards and over the course of a day riding chairlifts with the added weight can become fairly noticeable performance wise. Splits are also more expensive, with the risk of hitting a rock (at a resort) better taken on a cheaper, and far easier to repair, solid snowboard.

For folks starting out, the Jones Explorer and Voile Revelator are more affordable options that scored well in most categories. The Jones Solution is a great choice for experienced snowboarders looking to tackle steeper lines that require a precise and reliable ride.

Different Systems

Our accompanying review of bindings delves more deeply into comparing the Voile Light Rail, Karakoram Prime, the Spark Arc, and the Spark Blaze. For the boards themselves, it is important to note that Burton, Never Summer, K2 Ultrasplit, Voile Revelator and Voile Revelator BC use Voile split hooks (at the mid points between bindings and the board nose and tail) as well as Voile "whale clips" at the nose and tail.

Voile "whale" tip connector.
Voile "whale" tip connector.

Jones boards use Karakoram "whale clips" at the nose and tail and Karakoram split clips at the midpoint between the bindings and the nose or tail. The Karakoram clips resemble a ski boot buckle and pull the two halves of the board together.

Karakorum split clip.
Karakorum split clip.

In our testing, there was zero noticeable difference between the Voile and Karakoram "whale" clips at the nose and tail; they look similar and function identically. The critical part of functional whale clips takes place during the manufacture and installation of the whale clips. The distances need to be precise in order to achieve the correct amount of tension to ensure the clips stay closed.

Karakorum "whale" tip connector.
Karakorum "whale" tip connector.

The Voile and Karakoram split clips look and function differently. As is the case with the competing binding systems, the Voile system (also used by Spark), is simpler to use, but doesn't provide active clamping of the board halves.

Voile split hooks.
Voile split hooks.

The pros and cons of these systems are discussed in-depth in the binding review. In our testing we did not find the difference between the clips and hook systems to be significant in either direction. The speed and simplicity of the Voile system is nice, but the extra steps to line up and close the Karakoram split clips were relatively minor. On the other hand, any performance gain from the Karakoram split clips was so minor that testers were not confident they could even notice it. In short, this type of clip or hook is not a significant enough feature to strongly influence our board buying decisions (but if it were, the hole patterns for both systems are identical, making it a fairly simple DIY project to switch them out if so desired).

Puck Options

Up until a few years ago, almost all pucks (for a split) were flat. This has recently changed and more models are coming with canted pucks (or at least providing that option). In our review, the Voile Revelator and Voile Revelator BC arrived with 2.5 degree canted pucks.

2.5 degree canted Voile channel pucks.
2.5 degree canted Voile channel pucks.

These cants are angled inwards to help move the knees closer together. Some riders find this more comfortable and those will knee issues may find it a requirement. Other riders prefer a flat attachment to the board. In our testing, the 2.5 degree canted pucks from Voile were pretty minimal and very few reviewers commented on them negatively or positively. Some reviewers only noticed when sliding on or removing their bindings, but couldn't really perceive much influence while riding. Our 40-something-year-old reviewer (with good knees) found he liked the canted pucks for a touch more comfort. One of our 30-something-year-old reviewers (with bad knees) was happy to try anything that eased the strain on his knees. We were generally pleased with the canted puck options, but if you find you don't like them, flat options are readily available as well.

Criteria for Evaluation

We developed multiple criteria to structure our side-by-side tests. We identified questions that we were curious about and then we devised tests to investigate those questions. The results of our hands-on review follow the chart displaying the comparative performance score of each product overall.

Performance on Powder

Every model that we tested was super fun in powder. Our review quiver did not disappoint E.en all-around boards, like what we tested, would be a blast on a powder day. We rode as many as we could during the same resort pow day, managing to get on about half the boards during a single pow day. Over time, we did ride all of the boards on multiple powder days both in-bounds and in the backcountry.

For powder performance, we preferred the Jones Explorer. It was a bit softer in overall flex than some of the other boards in the test; while this can be an issue in firm or cruddy conditions, it rated high in powder performance. It features fairly similar nose and rocker dimensions but forgoes the taper in favor of twin tip and tail widths. Essentially, the Explorer is trading a smidge of powder performance for switch riding chops. If you ride switch a bunch and know you prefer twin tip boards, you might prefer the Explorer or K2 Ultrasplit over the other splits in our review. In soft snow performance, the Explorer was closely followed by the Voile Revelator and Jones Solution.

Mountain guide Tim Mincey kicking up the powder while splitboard testing in the Tahoe backcountry.
Mountain guide Tim Mincey kicking up the powder while splitboard testing in the Tahoe backcountry.

Performance on Firm Snow

Firm snow was widely available in early season at the resorts and we dodged rocks while testing the ability of our boards to maintain edge grip on steep and firm conditions. While our winter was filled with plenty of soft snow, the backcountry was variable. Winds stripped snow from certain slopes, while loading other slopes. These firm windward slopes present great opportunities to evaluate how well each competitor handled firm conditions.

Some of the design features that reward powder performance (like a big nose and softer flex), penalize firm snow performance. None of the boards that we tested flail at firm snow riding, but the softer boards, like the Jones Explorer, feel more comfortable at slower speeds when edging on truly firm snow. Our pick for riding firm snow was the Jones Solution. The stiffer flex pattern, fairly long effective edge, and magnetraction all combined to help the Solution grip well when the wind or sun has done damage to soft snow. Other stiff splits, like the Never Summer Prospector or the K2 Ultrasplit, also performed admirably on hard snow.

Side slipping through the wind scoured entrance guarding the powder below.
Side slipping through the wind scoured entrance guarding the powder below.


Testing the Jones Solution on Carson Pass.
Testing the Jones Solution on Carson Pass.

Splitboards spend most of their life ascending; the ratio of skinning to descending is not even close. What about skinning on sidehills? How well did they break trail in powder when skinning? We investigated how all contenders in our review handled these particular conditions and activities and reported on our findings below.

Weight is the single biggest factor in climbing mountains with a splitboard, though some technical features are significant. Our measurements factor in the board as unweighted; the boards' nose heights actually increase a centimeter or two when someone is standing on the middle while skinning or riding. We weighed all the boards (without pucks, but with the standard clips and hooks and slider screws on the channel boards) on the same scale and factored this into the climbing score. We created a rough weight per surface area calculation for all of the boards in order to understand how they measured up, literally. Since some of the boards are slightly longer or shorter than others, comparing only the weight would not entirely be fair. While the weight per surface area measurement is not perfect either, it does complement the weight measurement.

6 lb 8.2 oz weight of Jones Solution.
6 lb 8.2 oz weight of Jones Solution.

Since splits are tools for climbing mountains, weight does matter. We measured each contender on the same scale and created a weight per surface area measurement; this allowed us to fairly compare boards that might have a couple centimeters difference in overall length and/or have a slightly narrower or wider waist dimension. The weight per surface area information is included in our metrics and the weight was factored into the climbing scores. Overall, the weight range is relatively narrow, but it is interesting to note the outliers.

In the real world, our boards collect powder on their top sheets that we then carry up the mountains with us; this can actually add a nontrivial amount of weight to the board. Many manufacturers try to solve this with some sort of slick topsheet or slick treatment on the surface of the board. White or light colored top sheets can minimize the amount of snow that clings to the top of the board; they are less likely (when compared to darker colors) to heat up and refreeze. None of the boards in our review found the secret to making a slick surface on which snow slides off and in under certain conditions they all carried excess snow. We would like to recognize the Never Summer Prospector for having the lightest colored topsheet. The texture of the Prospector topsheet also helped shed snow easier than the other boards in our review.

Ultimately, the single most important quality that improves climbing ability is minimal board weight. Our winner in this metric is the Jones Solution. It is the lightest board in total weight that we reviewed, and is just slightly behind the Voile Revelator in weight per surface area. The Solution is fairly stiff, which is appreciated when skinning on steep sidehills; this helps maintain both edge and skin grip in these situations. The traditional camber under the bindings (which maintains solid skin grip) adds to the lightness of this model. Based on these metrics, the Voile Revelator and Jones Explorer followed closely behind the Solution in climbing prowess. The Revelator and Explorer boast incredibly lightweight measurements, which is highly welcomed when faced with a long ascent.


Airing out the Jones Explorer.
Airing out the Jones Explorer.
Weight aside, the primary draw is the joy of riding down snow-covered mountains. All of the models that we reviewed performed well, but certain boards excelled in different ways. Some boards were incredibly fun and invited us to try tricks and jump off terrain features. Other boards, such as the Voile Revelator, were stiffer and provided confidence at speed in challenging or firm snow conditions. None of the boards scored the highest in both of the aforementioned categories and these are the types of tradeoffs that board manufacturers are faced with. Knowing what performance features matter the most to you will help in getting the most benefit from this review.

Perhaps we should have called this metric "freestyle" since the boards that scored highest were definitely the ones with the most freestyle DNA in their design. The Jones Explorer was the clear winner in this category. While no split makes sense for urban jib missions, the Explorer, with its softer flex and turny radius, rode like the freestyle inspired board that it is. Several reviewers found the Explorer's freestyle inclinations more fun than they expected. This model was softer in terms of flex (when compared to the rest of the review quiver) and this was the primary quality that generated the higher scores in the playfulness category.

Binding Adjustability

Splitboard pucks with the traditional insert pattern.
Splitboard pucks with the traditional insert pattern.

Up until the last few seasons, manufactured splits basically shared the same insert hole pattern (it works with both Voile, Spark, and Karakoram systems). In the past couple of seasons, they have started to adopt channel systems for attaching the bindings. Single channel designs have been used on some solid snowboards for a number of years, with splits having two separate channels on each ski. In our review, Voile, Burton, and K2 (half of our review fleet) all used channel systems.

Splitboard pucks and the channel system.
Splitboard pucks and the channel system.

Previously, none of our reviewers had used a channel system on a splitboard; since reviewing means constantly changing over stances, we quickly became experienced. The channel systems varied a bit between manufacturers (and K2 was the only channel board not to arrive with pucks), but they all function similarly. Flex patterns felt normal and no reviewers singled out the channels as influencing the ride quality of a board.

Splitboard pucks and puck systems.
Splitboard pucks and puck systems.

We were pleasantly surprised by the ease of setup and adjustment that channel systems provide. Dialing in the exact stance you want is much simpler than using the old standard insert pattern. If the heavens part and dump multiple feet of champagne pow on your local mountains, sliding your bindings further back to increase nose flotation is quick and easy with this system. Attempting these changes in the field would be easier with a channel versus traditional inserts, but are probably best tackled in the garage or driveway. Since one of our tester boards didn't come with channel pucks (ahem, K2), we did have to switch channel pucks between boards and thus had the opportunity to notice that without pucks, it is possible to lose the special screws that fit in the channels. Luckily for us, we always found them; if you keep pucks on the board, this won't be a problem, but it is something to be aware of and perhaps something to address by the manufacturers in the future. Channels were present on the lightest boards that we tested and did not add any additional weight when compared to the traditional insert pattern.

Our review period was not long enough to make reliable pronouncements about the long term durability of the channel system, but all channels performed as they should for the duration of our review. We found that all of the channel systems were functionally very similar; while the ease of switching over might not matter to some users, we did end up rewarding the boards that featured channel systems with a higher score for binding adjustability (although this category was not weighted very highly).

Karma Score

We half jokingly labeled the last part of the narrative description the Karma score. Here we described some interesting tidbits about the board that didn't fit into the scored part of the review, but still had some merit. This element did not influence the overall score of the board itself, but did highlight something about the board or company that caught our eye. For several of the boards in our review (like the Jones Solution and Explorer) we mentioned environmental efforts by the company. In other cases we focused on some that stood out, like the handwritten note on the Never Summer Prospector as shown in the photo below.

Handwritten note on the Never Summer Prospector.
Handwritten note on the Never Summer Prospector.

Best for Specific Applications

Three solid choices.
Three solid choices.
All the models in this review represent great all-around boards for exploring the backcountry. The Voile Revelator BC is the only niche board, while the regular Revelator remains a great all-around option. As with any category, certain models have different strengths. For a more powder focused rider, the Jones Explorer, Voile Revelator and Jones Solution are strong choices. If big mountain lines dominate your dreams, the Solution, Never Summer Prospector, and K2 Ultrasplit make strong choices. If bringing the park to the backcountry is a priority, go with the Explorer. Sizing up or down for your size and weight will subtly alter these generalizations, so do keep that in mind when making a purchase.

Know Before You Go

Knowing how to read avalanche terrain can make the difference.
Knowing how to read avalanche terrain can make the difference.

Splitboards are awesome tools to explore the backcountry with - when used properly. To use them properly, you need to know more about the winter mountain environment than can be learned busting out laps at the resort. The best untracked terrain lies outside the ropes, but venturing out can be incredibly dangerous. In addition to purchasing a board, you'll need to invest in an avalanche beacon. It is also a must to invest in an avalanche probe - something like the Backcountry Access Stealth Avalanche Probe, as well as an avalanche shovel - an affordable option is the Backcountry Access B-1 Shovel.

These are the essentials that everyone travelling in the backcountry needs to carry on their bodies. Since you are going to need a pack to carry this stuff, consider an airbag pack; we've got you covered with our Best Avalanche Airbag Pack Review. Just like the airbags in your car probably won't save you if you barrel into a tractor-trailer, an airbag pack can't save you in every avalanche, though they have been shown to improve your chances in avalanches. Once you've gotten all the gear together, make sure you receive training for such conditions. Seek out an AIARE 1 avalanche course and start learning about terrain from the avalanche's perspective. Follow that up by becoming a daily reader of your local avalanche center's avalanche advisory, paying particular attention to the specific avalanche problems of the day. The character of avalanches change throughout the season and we need to know where to expect each kind, so we can avoid them. With practice you should be able to get the picture of what is happening in the backcountry and learn how to get out of harm's way, while also knowing how to search out the goods.


Need a helmet? Check out our Best Ski and Snowboard Helmet Review to find one to fit your dome.

David Reichel
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