Backcountry Essentials: What to Pack

Check this list the next time you pack up

You don't exactly want to pack light for backcountry trips. PHOTO: Sean Zimmerman-Wall

You don’t exactly want to pack light for backcountry trips. PHOTO: Sean Zimmerman-Wall

Arming yourself with knowledge is the first step. Packing for the adventure is the next. Here’s a comprehensive—but not exhaustive—list of items I recommend taking along on your next backcountry ski tour.

The Backpack
The minimum size pack to consider should be around 25 to 30 litres. I carry a 40 litre Dakine Altitude with an ABS Airbag. You want to have a set up that gives you enough space to pack the essentials, and the added security of the airbag, while not a silver bullet, is nice.

Beacon, Shovel, Probe
The three horseman never travel alone. Go with a large blade and stout handle for your shovel. A 300 centimeter probe takes up a bit more space, but it’s the professional standard and it’s more durable than most 240 centimeter options. Any beacon is good as long as you know how to use it, although three-antenna options are better for multiple and deep burials.

First Aid
Plenty of bandages, roller gauze, 4x4s, and cravats are good to have for trauma and bleeding. A SAM quick-splint and ace bandages are handy for broken wrists and small bone injuries. Having a pocket mask for CPR is quick, convenient, and sanitary. A good pair of trauma shears is also nice should clothing need to be removed to expose an injury.

Radio or a cell phone
A handheld two-way radio to talk with your partners is critical, especially in drainages where cell coverage is spotty. Your iPhone is good to have as back up, just ensure that you keep it in your pack and out of the way of your beacon.

Rescue Equipment
A harness, belay device, and a few carabiners, along with 70 to 100 feet of 7 millimeter rope is an additional back-up for tricky rescues. Just in case you get benighted, keep a stuffable bivy sack and fire starting materials.

Snow Study Gear
A well-stocked snow study kit includes a field notebook, magnifying loop, crystal card, thermometers, pencils, and a collapsible ruler.

The Rest Of It
A compass to help you navigate. A Swiss Army Knife or another multi-tool because you can use those things for anything. Ski straps. Orange flagging or smoke if you ever want to be seen from a bird’s eye view. An extra pair of dry gloves and a hat. These are all items that will help you out in difficult situations.

  Last week’s backcountry tip: Study Up

Add a comment

  • Mateo

    One thing I might add – a headlamp/flashlight. Having been stuck out after dark a couple times having a headlamp proved critical to retracing our tracks and finding our way out of the woods.

  • smolgarf

    ensure that your cell phone is OFF!!! until you need to use it. iphones cause particularly bad interference with beacons. don’t ever let your partners go in the field with their cell phones on!!!!

    • smolgarf

      also, don’t forget food and water! can’t believe that wasn’t included in the list. also, a 3 meter probe should be the only option. it takes up no more space, is barely any heavier, and how awful would it be if your dinky 180-240cm probe couldn’t reach your buried friend? anything less than 3 meters should be outlawed.

  • Doug

    What are the two items in the photo?
    Below first-aid kit: White plastic “puck” object lying on orange/blue baggie
    Right of snow saw: Black pouch with tubes

    • Mike

      What looks like a white puck is a pocket mask for rescue breathing and the orange/blue thing is a SAM Splint. I don’t see any snow saw in this picture but maybe are you referring to the shovel? The only black pouch with tubes I see is an avalanche probe.

      • Doug

        Ah thank you. I meant the black pouch with tubes under the SAM splint.

        • Mike

          I see. I have no idea what that is.

        • ckrause

          lol its a harness
          and yes that is a snow saw next to the probe

          • Mike

            You’re right! I recognize the gear loops now… Kind of hard to recognize with the way it’s bunched.

  • Mike

    No headlamp, basic repair kit, duct tape, food, water, means of communication (smoke signals really?) or puffy jacket but a snow study kit?!?!? Also, I guess there aren’t too many glaciers in the lower States but for many serious ski mountaineering trip in Canada, Alaska, Europe, etc. glacier gear (climbing harness, rope, ice screws, prussics and biners) is a must. An ice axe and boot crampons are mandatory for hard and icy bootpacks. For spring time, glob stopper skin wax and ski crampons are also considered must have. This makes me wonder…

  • dkdkwoods

    I don’t see cotton balls, Chapstick, a flint and a pocket knife. I just saw a survivor show on Alaska the other night. Rub chapstick on a cotton ball. Just hold the flint next to the cotton ball and strike it against the flint …. just a small spark will light the cotton ball. Moss and tinder will catch with just that small spark! Pretty awesome. May save your life.

Updates and Social Media

Latest News Facebook
Twitter Mtnadvisor