You’ve got the ski’s/split-board, poles and climbing skins ready to go but before you eagerly race to the mountains there are a few things you need to ensure are in your pack.
Dreaming of skiing steep mountain faces, knees trembling before dropping in? Maybe your fantasies are filled with fresh untouched powder, snowboarding the perfect line through tight gaps in the snow gums. These are the idyllic thoughts steering snow lovers away from the ski resorts and into the backcountry. You’ve got the ski’s/split-board, poles and climbing skins ready to go but before you eagerly race to the mountains there are a few things you need to ensure are in your pack. Water and food are the most obvious items, but this is my list of backcountry essentials for beginners.
Whilst the backcountry is a beautiful tranquil place, it can be extremely dangerous for those unfamiliar with the area. The weather can turn suddenly, visibility can disappear in seconds and the snow conditions can vary from soft fluffy powder to rock solid ice patches. It is important for first-timers to hire a guide, not only will you feel safer but a professional guide can teach you the ropes; layering techniques, backcountry etiquette and take you to some of the best skiing/snowboarding around.
1. Good Quality Layers:
When it comes to backcountry travel, your temperature is constantly changing. Steep climbs, riding down, and stopping for lunch, will have you going from hot to cold faster than a menopausal mother. It’s important to stay warm in the snow, avoid getting too cold or sweating under too much clothing. Carry layers
that can be removed quickly and easily, choosing full length zippers instead of a pull-over styles. Start with a good base layer
; a long sleeve top and thermal leggings. Natural fibres like merino
are best for its sweat wicking properties, warmth and lightweight technology. Steer away from cotton clothing as this will get wet when sweating and stay wet. Add an insulating layer when needed, a puffer jacket
to keep your core nice and warm when resting. On top of this, a shell pant
and jacket layer
(usually made from Goretex) is a must to protect you from the wind, snow and rain.
People often overlook the importance of a good quality pair of socks
when skiing or snowboarding. Dealing with blisters is not only tedious, but horribly uncomfortable in the snow. It’s best to wear ONE pair of over the calf, thin to medium weight socks. Avoiding ankle or thick fluffy socks that may become loose and cause friction resulting in dreaded blisters. I personally prefer natural fibres to avoid stinky boots, like the ‘IceBreaker Merino Ski Socks
3. Comfortable Backpack:
This is the most vital thing to ensure a great day in the backcountry without shoulder aches and pains. It is important to get your backpack
correctly fitted, and ensure it has a waist strap to stop the backpack
from moving around on the ride down. Your pack will typically be heavier on a snow trip, than your summer hikes due to the extra layers and safety gear required in the winter. Generally, I avoid any gear hanging loosely off my pack, with every item having a specific location and buckle to keep it firmly in place. The ‘Osprey Kresta
’ (Womens) or ‘Kamber
’ (Mens) backpacks are my top pick for all snow activities as it contains a specific goggle pocket, helmet carry, and vertical snowboard carry clips for steep ascents.
4. Repair Kit
Touring gear tends to fail at the most inconvenient of times. Create a repair kit with the right equipment to temporarily fix gear to get you home before dark. My kit contains spare ski-ties for failing skins/snowshoes, spare batteries, a lighter, cable ties and duck-tape for a quick fix, spare screws and a multi-tool plus more. Tailor your repair kit for your activity of choice, ensuring once again that it is stored in an easily identifiable dry bag.
5. First Aid Kit
Help can be hours away when out in the mountains, so you must carry all the essentials for when things go wrong. Your first aid kit
should include everything you need to stabilise the injured until professional help arrives; such as compression bandages, slings, tape and wound pads. Store your first aid kit in a ‘Sea to Summit First Aid Dry Sack
’ to keep your medical equipment dry and make it instantly identifiable during an emergency. Whilst it is important to carry these items, it is imperative to know how to use them! A quick first aid course is essential for anyone recreating in the wilderness. Remember, your first aid kit is more than just what’s in the medical bag, everything in your pack is used to survive until help is on its way. A shelter and keeping warm is just as important as stabilising an injury to keep the patient alive. Every piece of equipment in your pack is a multi-use tool for emergencies in the backcountry.
6. Emergency Shelter
Carrying an emergency shelter
can be the difference between life and death when it comes to spending an unplanned night in the snow. Whether is an emergency bivy, or bothy shelter I never go out into the mountains without one. The Vango Storm Shelter
is my choice, weighing at only 400grams it not only protects you from the elements but also acts as a high visibility beacon if lost in the mountain. On cold windy days, this is the perfect lunch shelter, digging a pit for our legs to sit in, we often bunker down in the warmth of the bothy to eat.
7. Navigation Equipment: GPS, Map & Compass
is a quick and easy way at pinpointing your exact location in a matter of seconds, but it is also vital to carry a map & compass
too. Constantly dropping into gullies, and climbing back out onto the mountain peaks, GPS signal can become unreliable. A map will help when signal is hard to come by but also great when travelling in a group to plan your route and ensure everyone is on the same wavelength. If you are not quite confident with a map and compass, there are plenty of courses on offer to get you navigating like a pro.
8. Sun Safety
People often forget how harsh the sun can be in the mountains. Not only are you closer to the sun’s rays but they reflect off the snow, causing you to burn quickly. Make sure to pack sunscreen
(50+) and a chapstick or lipbalm with SPF. Goggles or Sunglasses
should be worn at all times to avoid overexposure to the eyes, resulting in snow blindness (red, stingy eyes). Sunglasses are a better option for ascents as they offer more breathability when sweating on the uphill.
9. Avalanche Safety Equipment: Beacon, Shovel, Probe
It is just as important to carry a beacon
, as it is to know how to use them. Before heading out into the backcountry I recommend undertaking an AST1 (Avalanche Safety Training Level 1) to learn how to locate a person in an avalanche, signs to look for in the snow pack for an unstable layer, and many other important snow safety skills. This is for your own safety and for those you are travelling with. It is essential that all members of the group know how to use and are carrying these items.
10. Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
Different to the avalanche beacon mentioned above, a PLB
is a call out device to be used in an extreme emergency only. When help cannot be reached any other way a PLB can be triggered to release an SOS signal. These can be hired at Kosciuszko National Parks building or if backcountry travel is to become frequent this is a must buy.