Nov 27 2012

Review: G3′s Onyx


G3′s Onyx. Easy to operate, less fiddling.

When the concept of the Onyx was first floated across my path it sounded enticing. After all, what’s not to like about taking the best features of the AT bindings out there and combining them into one binding. In case you’re wondering, that would be a lightweight binding that didn’t sap your strength while skinning, had an easy to operate mode switch and held you in solidly for aggressive downhill skiing with a reliable safety release.

To be sure that mix of qualities is bound to impose some compromise in at least some, if not all of those features. Which begs the question, did Onyx achieve that? It depends on what your priorities are, but based on the response of the alpine touring market so far, that would be a big en-oh, as in NO!

Did G3 misread the market, or simply not execute well? I’ll venture to say a bit of both, but perhaps more importantly, maybe they had the right idea, but poorly targeted marketing. Their reputation is with core backcountry skiers vis-a-vis the Targa binding, skis and climbing skins. After using the Onyx it appears to be perfectly aimed at the budding backcountry aficionado who doesn’t need to be fanatical about weight, doesn’t want any tech binding fiddle factor, and wants to trim excess binding blubber. IOW – not the hardcore backcountry skier – not yet anyway.

Does that mean Onyx doesn’t have any redeeming features? Hardly. Allow me to explain.

Fiddle Factor
Stepping in at the toe on the Onyx has received a bad rap from the get go and it is high time to set the record straight. G3′s Onyx earned demerits among the AT faithful when it was introduced for being the heaviest tech binding on the market, with a toe piece that requires you to actively hold the toe jaws open with a ski pole while aligning your boot. The problem was, it took too much force and there were no brakes to hold the ski still.

Alignment between pins and inserts is easier when they’re closer together.

After using Onyx a few times, this time with brakes and a reduction in the pressure needed to open the toe jaws, I can say the initial impressions are history. Because the pins of the Onyx toe are much closer together when open, a straight down, or flat alignment with your boot toe is noticeably easier than with a classic Dynafit, or La Sportiva binding. Certainly easier than the classic, fiddly method of hooking one side then angling down to the other side (where you miss the tooth and close it anyway – ooops, dang! – reset, do it again). A rank beginner had zero issues latching in to an Onyx but I see frustration all the time with novices using Dynafit.


Switching Modes

Onyx offers 4 climbing positions:
flat, slight, moderate, and high.
(click to animate)

Not only is Onyx easier to get in to, it is far easier to switch from turning to touring mode, and back. With most tech bindings you need to exit the binding or learn the secret Dynafiddle mojo move to release the heel. With Onyx, you simply push the red lever behind the heel piece down with a ski pole handle to free your heels, or lift it back up to lock ‘em again. That’s it! Even newbies can figure that one out. When going from free to locked just remember to lift your heel so the binding heel piece can move forward without the boot getting in the way – then you can step down and lock it in place for ripping turns.


Matters of Weight

G3 Onyx touring range of motion

As with any tech binding, Onyx’s touring range of motion is superb.

Without a doubt even the heaviest Dynafit binding, the Radical FT, weighs 30% less than Onyx, so if grams really matter, Onyx isn’t the answer. However, if you’re used to a plate binding that weighs anywhere between 4½–6-plus pounds, reducing binding weight to under four pounds can look rather appealing, especially if it costs an extra $100 (or more) to get below three pounds. You can reduce the weight of Onyx to three pounds by eliminating the brakes, but that’s an unacceptable compromise for most skiers.

One of the factors contributing to the higher than average weight of the Onyx is the use of a plate mounting system which has benefits, but not ones that are easily tabulated in a comparison spreadsheet like weight. The plate mounting system allows you to adapt to different sized boots over 3–4 sizes compared to two sizes with most Dynafit bindings. Perhaps more valuable is the ability to easily swap the Onyx between multiple pairs of skis outfitted with the mounting plate.

The beef with weight might easily be addressed by trimming the mounting system on the Onyx. Unless you use that mounting system on a second pair it only offers a potential advantage, and until you do, a weighty disadvantage.

If you’re not in a rando race where ounces matter, nor can you see yourself lugging three pounds of binding per foot up the hill, you can chop that significantly and enjoy Tech caliber skinning with Onyx. Even though the Onyx may weigh more than a Dynafit, it’s lighter than the next closest contender and also eliminates the lifting of the binding heel piece with each step. The touring efficiency may be less than other tech bindings, but it’s in a different league altogether compared to plate bindings.

Downhill Performance
One of the factors that remains a concern with all tech bindings is their ability to release reliably when needed, and not fold when you want them to hold. In that realm Onyx is a solid notch up from the standard tech binding offerings. The difference is due to a combination of factors. First and foremost are the toe jaws that want to be closed, which eliminates the ability for them to pop open with enough lateral stress and improves return to center force, the core component of alpine bindings exhibiting good elasticity and immunity from pre-release.

G3 Onyx ramp angle

The ramp angle on Onyx is a minimalist 2°, give or take, depending on how big your boot is.

In addition the brake on the rear adds a solid platform that the heel rests on creating further confidence, rather than just being suspended between the toe pins and the spring steel tangs at the heel. Which is another point in favor of the Onyx, it has a lower ramp angle between the heel and toe, for a flatter, more neutral stance. Reports from the few who have used them consistently claim Onyx is the only tech binding that can be skied hard in-bounds without worry – even for the few, the brave in the air-corps. Onyx is certainly acceptable in moguls and steeps without being tempted to lock-out the toe.

This video was made to show off G3′s District ski, but the invisible binding is the Onyx which holds on despite some pretty aggressive skiing.


Quality Issues
To date there have been some issues with Onyx, so you are cautioned to beware on the used market. The pins in the toe have been changed from 5 mil to 6 millimeters in diameter to give them more muscle in their bite, and strength to prevent breaking. The plastic on the climbing posts has been upgraded as well, again, to reduce breakage. How can you tell? The climbing posts were a light gray, they’re a dark gray on the improved version.

And they still don’t tele for squat, but then, what AT binding does?

If you’re standing on the fence about making the leap from a plated passport binding for jaunts in- and out-of-bounds, and you have a pair of boots with tech fittings then you owe it to yourself to give Onyx a closer look. It skins great, skis well, is easy to operate, and can be swapped among skis.

Why would you chose Onyx over a plate binding? To save weight and improve touring efficiency. The closest plate binding in weight and functionality is Fritschi’s Freeride. By comparison the Onyx is lighter, laterally more rigid, and it eliminates lifting the entire binding when touring.

Why Onyx over lighter weight tech bindings? It’s easier to latch in to, the mode switch is easier to operate, and it’s easier on the budget (for comparable features). Even though the retail price is equal to plate bindings, its unfair reputation has pushed the street price down to more palatable levels.


And for the ladies – Ruby with release values from 5 – 10

MSRP: $490
Weight/binding w/brake: 1 lb., 15 oz. (879 g)
Brake widths: 85mm, 95mm, 110mm, 130mm
Crampons available: 85mm, 95mm, 110mm, 130mm
Release Range: 6 – 12

MSRP: $490
Weight/binding w/brake: 1 lb., 14.5 oz. (869 g)
Brake widths: 85mm, 95mm, 110mm
Crampons available: 85mm, 95mm, 110mm
Release Range: 5 – 10

Related Posts
Onyx reviewed w/telemark eyes.
Toe Pins breaking w/Onyx (old news)

© 2012