What’s in my backcountry pack?
We all love gear right? Some people more than others. Get a few backcountry ski or snowboard heads together and sooner or later the conversation will turn to gear. Who has what. What works. What’s on your gear wish list… Deep down I think we are all gear heads!
This past winter I have been working as a backcountry snowboard guide in Japan. I have always found it really interesting what people carry in their backcountry pack. Over the years, I’ve picked up ideas and tips from my mentors, friends and colleagues. It has enabled me to honed my own pack to what it is now. An evolving and improving kitchen sink assortment of gear!
After being asked on many occasions what I carry in my backcountry pack, I wanted to do a post to share my approach and recommendations as to what works for my backcountry backpack. This bag is used for riding in non-glaciated terrain and in my role as a cat ski guide (where I ride a splitboard). Hopefully it gives you some ideas as to what to pack in your own backcountry pack. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below as to what works for you!
Watch an animation we did of my pack at Niseko Photography& Guiding
The basic essentials of any backcountry pack:
Mammut Pro RAS 3.0 backpack – 45l capacity
I ride with an avalanche airbag. When I am not in avalanche terrain, I take out the airbag and just use the backpack (hence the removable RAS system). I used to use the Jetforce electric airbags but after returning them faulty to Black Diamond twice, on the third time when the battery stopped taking any charge, I told them to keep it and give me my money back. I then went back to the air canister system.
Mammut makes really well-designed backcountry packs. A back-entry bag is a must for me, as is a large liter-age capacity to fit all my stuff. The removable system means I can use it for other activities outside of backcountry travel, reducing the need to own and carry multiple packs on my travels. Win. Highly recommend Mammut.
The BCA Tracker 2 is simple, fast and it works for me. I know it well and practice with it often. The main thing with avalanche beacons is that they have 3 antennas (the old ones have 2). It is a good idea to update your beacon if you have one of the old analog ones or it has 1 or 2 antennas. The most important thing is that you know how to use it, and you and your backcountry partners practice with it often. I highly recommend taking an avalanche course with your ski partners such as an AST1.
On a maritime snowpack or spot where they get lots of snow, use the longer 320cm probes. I seem to break probes every season. At the time of writing this post, I was using a Scott probe (it broke!). I’d say if you plan on being out in the backcountry often, don’t get the cheapest probe. I use mine to measure snow pack depth, get a feel for layers in the snow and as a ruler in my snow pits. It has many uses including as part of your first aid kit for splinting.
This is solid shovel that has two modes: regular shover and a hoe mode. The hoe mode has the shovel attach 90 degrees to the handle for when you need to shovel snow very quickly. I modified it by removing the yellow secondary handle. It’s a bit heavy at 2.1lbs. I’d rather have a large shovel then a mini thing that is at a disadvantage in an emergency.
I bought these second hand off my cousin and have been using them for two seasons. They’ve started to get a bit gloopy and leave glue on my Arbor Swoon splitboard, but I guess they are just old. You can re-glue skins pretty easy so I’ve heard. These have been great for me though I think I need to re-glue or replace them soon.
I have the Black Diamond foldable poles and they suck! In cold temps, the sections freeze and it takes all my strength to get them to extend. I’m looking for a better pole if anyone has some suggestions? Black Diamond have since discontinued these poles.
Foldable or telescopic backcountry poles retail for about $160
The snow study essentials:
That little yellow folder in the photo and animation video is my snow study kit. I brought the Brooks-range kit and still use the folder and a few items like the thermometers, folding ruler, slope angle measure and the loupe (magnifying glass). The foldable loupe that comes in the pack is so shit as it steams up and gets snow everywhere. Replace it with the ccone-shapedone. I added a paracord with knots tied in it (for ECT snow tests), AIARE field book (that lives in my jacket pocket) and a bunch of mechanical pencils + wooden lolly sticks to keep my probe in place in the corner of my snow pits. I threw away the paint brush, spare foldable ruler & crystal card (crystal card on my saw. Don’t need two rulers).
I use this to cut my snow pits and branches off trees if needed. It has a snow crystal grid on it so I also use it as a cold metal platform to analyse the snow crystals. It can also be used in chair lifts or on clients that drive you mad!
This is pretty personal to each person but in mine I carry:
- Sam splint
- Medical tape
- Super glue
- Exam gloves
- CPR- mask
- Pain medication – Ibroprofen, panadol or similar
- Antihistamine medication
- Closure strips
- Antiseptic wipes
- Gauze of different sizes
- Blister kit & plasters
- Hand warmers
- Chap stick
- Foil space blanket
- Sun cream
You can buy pretty comprehensive mountain first aid kits for about $109 USD
This changes over time as I add more things to it depending on what boots I’m rocking. In general, it always contains:
- Two voile ski straps
- Extra ski basket
- Zip Ties – these fix almost anything
- Duct-tape or Gorilla tape
- Extra binding screws
- Tool – screw driver, alan keys etc – I really want a Leatherman or something similar
- Extra bits for my snowboard boots (boa wire, replacement plastic bits etc)
- Hose clamp for repairing broken ski poles
- Spare batteries (AAA & AA)
- Spare down jacket large enough to go over my jacket or fit a large adult
- Spare gloves
- Spare lens for my Smith io7 goggles
- SunGod sunglasses
- Mesh-back baseball cap for the uphill
- Snacks – I love my homemade protein ball recipe or snickers or dried fruit like mango
- Platypus 2L water bladder – no water hose, those freeze!
- Black Diamond Icon headlamp – It’s a bit heavy & like the sun with 500 lumens, probably going to replace with lighter model
- Two-way radios (I usually always carry two but I lost one recently!)
- Compass with mirror
- Fire starter kit (stays in my repair bag)
- Black Diamond VaporLock Magnetron Carabiner
- Slings of varying lengths
- Camera – either my Panasonic GH4 with a 12-35 2.8 lens, or a smaller Sony NEX (pictured) + maybe another lens
- Thermos (not pictured)- I like Hydroflask thermos, I carry English Breakfast Tea with milk and honey!
Things I’m thinking of adding:
- A 2 person emergency bivvy or something similar
- A tarp (to carry injured people out, make shelter etc) or an alpine threadworx ski guide’s rescue tarp
- A flare and glow sticks to alert help if I’m in trouble
- I’ve always wanted to get an inReach or a sat phone. When I have a big trip that may require that backup, I’ll get one.
Obviously what you take into the backcountry with you is personal but there are definitely some essentials all should carry. This changes depending on the type of terrain you are traveling through. The above works for me for everyday travel. For example, in glaciated terrain I always wear a harness, carry VERTS and an ice axe. Rope and various length prussucks and other climbing gear is also recommended (I’m in NO WAY experienced enough to speak on a glaciated travel kit). Carry what you require for the terrain you are traveling in.
I’d love to hear anyone’s comments on my backcountry pack or any other recommendations on gear. As I said, It’s an ever evolving entity and I love to hear from others and learn what works for you. This has been working for me this season but it is always improving.
Much love – Alexa x