What to pack for a day of backcountry skiing, snowboarding, climbing or walking

The snow’s a coming! And with it, a fresh itinerary for some iconic backcountry skiing. 

While we know excitement levels are high when planning a trip, make sure that before you even grab your coffee and apfelstrudel, you have your bag packed and checked, ready to go. 

Even more so, make sure you’re mentally prepared for the untouched, stunningly beautiful, but potentially dangerous, terrain. Instinct is a fine thing and if there are any concerns in the back of your head, listen to them. 

In 85-90% of avalanche accidents reported worldwide, the avalanche was triggered by the victim or their party. 

This means that the majority of our focus and care when travelling over snow-covered backcountry terrain should be on the slopes, and making sure they are safe to ski, climb or walk on.

Imagine how much lower that number would be if everyone were equipped with basic avalanche safety education.

Our Slope Angel team of experts are here to help with that. 

Before you begin packing, there are some important things to consider before embarking on a day exploring the backcountry. 

First things, first, the weather. 

The weather plays a massive part in strengthening and weakening the layers within the snowpack. It can also load the snowpack with a firm slab of snow at an alarming rate so the current, previous and future weather conditions must always be checked before heading out into the backcountry, to understand what snowpack conditions you’re likely to find.

Discuss your thoughts of the snow conditions at the start of the day and keep chatting about the snow conditions throughout the day. Never be afraid to voice your concerns. Don’t just follow the crowd because you don’t want to seem like you’re afraid.

Secondly, go as a group. Groups of 3 or 4 are the safest to travel in backcountry terrain.

Thirdly, go at a good pace. 300-400 metres per hour is a realistic pace to plan your touring speed, but allow extra time. The reality of being out on the mountains is often different to how you planned it.

What to pack for a day of backcountry skiing, winter climbing or walking

As well as the general necessities such as a mobile phone and charger, GPS device, local ordinance survey map or app on your phone, multi-tool, whistle, compass, water, snacks, SPF sun and lip cream, sunglasses, goggles and an insulating spare layer, it is critically important to pack some avalanche safety tools.

Here is a list of 12 avalanche safety tools to pack before you head out for a day of backcountry skiing or snowboarding, winter climbing or walking.

1] Transceiver

When travelling in backcountry terrain, the bare minimum every member of the group should carry is a Transceiver, Shovel and Probe (TSP).

Research has shown that by carrying a TSP, backcountry skiers and snowboarders stand a 66% higher chance of survival when being caught in an avalanche.

But don’t just buy the equipment and pack it in your bag. Test it first. If you don’t have any snow right now, get your friend to pop their transceiver under some leaves in the garden and use your transceiver to search for it.

When your transceiver is packed in your bag, make sure it’s set to ‘transmit’ mode. When searching, change it to ‘receive’ mode.

2] Snow Shovel

A necessity for digging victims out of the snow in an avalanche. Avalanche debris sets a little like concrete so chop the snow into little blocks and scrape the snow away. Don’t scoop, lift and throw because that will waste too much energy, and always take a metal shovel, never plastic

3] A Probe

While the transceiver can locate a person who has been buried in an avalanche, it won’t achieve pin-point accuracy. Once you have received a signal from a transceiver, you will continue your search using a probe.

Where you have received the strongest signal, hold your probe so that it’s perpendicular to the surface of the snow and push the probe down into the snow, as far as it will go. Bring it back up and push it back down parallel to the last push. Calm and precise probing will find your friend, not chaotic random probing into the snow.

4] Inclinometer 

Slope angle is one of the most important factors when assessing whether or not an avalanche is likely to happen. After all, it’s the actual slope that gives the snow enough gravity to be pulled down. 

76% of all avalanches occur between 34 degrees and 45 degrees. At this angle, surface avalanches are more likely. 

38 degrees is the optimum angle for a slab avalanche so having a simple inclinometer in your backpack is one very easy way to sense straight away if the terrain is prone to an avalanche trigger.

If it is then you can start crossing it in the right way to avoid this from happening. Don’t forget, that in 85-90% of all avalanche accidents reported, the avalanche was triggered by the victim or a member of the party. 

There are ways to cross terrain that has potential avalanche hazards. The minute you become aware of the angle, safety measures can be applied. 

5] Helmet

Keep your head safe. Backcountry terrain is completely untouched and it is becoming quite common for serious off-piste skiers to wear a ski helmet when crossing this terrain. Choose a bright colour so you’re easy to spot!

6] Climbing Skins

In order to ski down the most amazing backcountry terrain on the planet, you first need to climb to the top. Pop some climbing skins onto your skis for a good grip. They’ll need changing after a few uses.

7] Blizzard Blanket

If you’re ever kept still for some time, perhaps if you or a member of your party becomes injured, a day trip could turn into an overnight. Pack a blizzard blanket to keep warm.

8] First Aid Kit

Be sure to include a headlamp in your first aid kit for nightfall. Also a lighter, for lighting a fire or for sterilising equipment. There are a comprehensive range of first aid kits on the market, some with backcountry skiing in mind. Make sure yours is well stocked and checked before you leave.

9] Rope

We recommend adding a 30m confidence rope to your backpack. This can be used to help less confident members of the group on trickier terrain or steep mountain sides.

10] Ice Axe

Use this to help you with balance when climbing or descending steep terrain and for stopping you in case of a fall. Digging your ice axe into the snow will stop you from falling further.

… and a couple of bits of gear that will help with the ascent:

11] Ski Crampons

More grip from ski crampons means less energy needed when climbing up steep terrain. If you’re not going to need them for every trip, you can always hire them by the day.

12] Ski Strap

For keeping your skis together when walking, keeping you streamlined and well balanced.

Author: Nikki Skinner