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October 17, 2015

Going Toe to Toe: Dynafit TLT6P CL and Atomic Backland Carbon

Finally, there's competition.

For a few years, people who wanted a 1200 gram touring boot with decent descent capabilities had one choice - the Dynafit TLT6 Performance. Until this year, the TLT6P was offered only with the heavier, more durable "Custom Ready" liner in North America, but it was the only game in town and almost everyone I know uses the TLT6 or its predecessor, the TLT5P.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Atomic burst on the AT market early in 2015 with a brand new line of superlight touring boots and skis, dubbed "Backland." I was lucky enough to get a pair of their mid-weight (actually feather-light at 1122 grams per boot) version, the Backland Carbon, and have been skiing on the boot since then.

As a longtime TLT6 and TLT5 owner, I'd long since taken for granted the superiority of these models for fast-and-light ski touring, even going to the extreme of cutting slots in four pairs of softshell pants to accommodate the Dynafit top buckles. The introduction of the Backland Carbon was a breath of fresh air; at last there was another choice that offered a higher volume fit, even better rearward cuff mobility, and lower weight than my TLT6P's. Another benefit of the higher volume fit of the Backland Carbon was being able to fit into a 26.5 shell, my normal size in an alpine boot - I'd had to upsize to a 27.5 shell in both the TLT5P and TLT6P to get enough volume and instep height for my somewhat wider than average feet. I followed Atomic's advice on heat molding the Memory Fit shells (12 minutes in the oven with liners INSIDE the shells), supplemented the heat mold with a few manual punches at my met heads, and the boots fit my 103mm wide feet like a charm (the nominal width of the Backland shells is 98mm, but the out-of-box fit is much more relaxed than the 98mm fit of the Atomic Tracker). I had a few suggestions regarding the thin padding in the maleolus area and pressure distribution in the tongue, and Jake at Atomic responded this summer with a revised liner that adds a few grams of weight but seems to have addressed these issues.

With Atomic's cards on the table, Dynafit responded for the 2015-2016 season with a new Pebax-shelled version of the TLT6 Performance, finally offering the lighter Custom Light liner in the US. The new liner is dramatically thinner and lighter than the previous CR version, weighing in at 154 grams for the 26.5, has a smooth and seamless tongue and stiffness enhancing pads at both the rear of the cuff and top of the tongue. I'm not sure if it's just the change in liners, but the new TLT6P has a much more relaxed fit than last year's model pretty much everywhere. The increase in volume is especially noticeable in the medial midfoot/heel area and over the instep. The difference is so pronounced that I'd definitely drop down a shell size in the new boot, so be sure to try the new one on if upgrading even if you own the older TLT's.

Fit aside, the new liner has virtually no rearward support above the level of the carbon shell, so the slight edge in stiffness that last year's CR version enjoyed over the Backland Carbon is gone. I'd say that both the Backland Carbon and TLT6P CL hover in the 100 to 105 flex range depending on how tight you buckle them (highly subjective, I know, but I put on and flex a lot of boots).

In summary, I'd say that the two boots are much more similar than not. Weight is pretty much a wash - I weighed two TLT6P CL's and got 1118 and 1119 grams, the two Backland Carbon weights I have are 1122 grams and 1125 grams. I give the Backland Carbon a slight edge in rearward range of motion, but both boots are exemplary and you'll probably not notice a difference. I have a slight preference for the Dynafit UltraLock buckle system over the top buckle and rear latch mechanism of the Atomics, but that may be partly from years of using the Dynafit buckles. While I haven't skied the new TLT6P CL, I suspect that the downhill performance of the two boots will now be very close (the extra stiffness of last year's Dynafit came from the CR liners). In terms of shell modification potential, the Pebax shells of the TLT6 are an unknown (other Pebax shells I've worked with have been less than ideal) while the Grilamid shells of the Backland Carbon are very easy to punch (and most skiers will be fine using the Memory Fit option alone). For curb appeal, I'd give the shiny new finish on the Dynafit a slight edge, but both companies decided to go with a Halloween black and orange theme this year so there isn't much to choose from. Price is another matter, since the TLT6P CL retails for $999 and the Backland Carbon holds the line at $749. Not that $250 buys you much more than a pair of skins in backcountry gear these days, but still . . .

2016 Dynafit TLT6 Performance shell, now of Pebax rather than Grilamid. Weight with liner = 1118 grams

2016 Atomic Backland Carbon shell, carbon-infused Grilamid with Memory Fit heat mold capability. Weight with liner = 1125 grams

New Dynafit Custom Light liner with super thin, smooth and seamless tongue is instep-friendly

Backland Carbon liner has a smoother finish at tongue than my prototype liners, more padding around the maleolus area

Ultra Lock Dynafit power strap is cool, they've added it to most of their lineup this season. Pull the loop to loosen the strap for skinning.

Atomic's Free Lock 2.0 lever works great - it's spring loaded and doesn't slip out under load.

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