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