- Head lamp and spare batteries for early mornings or long days
- Pocket knife and multi tool (Leatherman) for cutting tasks and binding/equipment repair
- Snow saw (mine stows inside shovel handle) for cutting wood, snow blocks, or doing snow pit tests
- Voile straps for an infinite number of different uses
- Paracord (25-50ft) for the Boyscout at heart
- Spare pole basket (not required; however, poles are useless without them)
- Binding spare parts repair kit (specific to your bindings)
- Steel wool – for when a skier friend rips a binding from their ski – stuff some household steel wool in a stripped binding screw hole and tighten the hardware back down – works enough to get you home.
- Fire source – Lighter/waterproof matches or flint – (a spark will ignite fine steel wool)
- Fire starter – SOL Tinder Quik or cotton balls coated in Vaseline (housed in a film canister)
- Emergency blanket or ski tarp (aka rescue sled) in case you have to pull an injured body back to the trail head.
- Hand warmers for bitter cold days or emergencies
- First aid kit/spare pain relief (NSAID, Acetaminophen, Antihistamine)
- SAM splint
- Athletic tape
- Toilet paper for obvious, or not so obvious reasons
- Water bottle with rounds of duct tape
- Zip ties/bailing wire
- Thermos and flask (optional, but highly recommended for warmth on different levels)
- Sun protection – face cover, sunglasses, sunscreen/lip balm
- High energy food/snacks to keep from getting cranky
- Spare gloves, jacket and layers
- Cell phone, or communication device/emergency whistle
- Compass/maps/AIARE Avalanche hand-book
Finally, to lug all of your sick new gear around, a back-country specific back pack will go a long ways for organizing and comfortably carrying the essentials. The size of your pack can vary depending on whether or not you plan on doing single or multi day trips on the snow. A larger volume pack can always be loaded with less gear and cinched down for shorter tours; however, a smaller volume pack is more difficult to fit everything you need for longer trips – definitely something to consider before investing in a good bag. I personally carry a BCA Float 42L airbag pack for additional peace of mind.
Once you’ve sufficiently depleted your checking account and switched to Top Ramen and oatmeal because all your money is in your new gear, it’s important to recap what you’ve got in your bag and organize it in a meaningful way. Most back-country packs have a dedicated rescue or snow tool pocket for carrying your rescue gear and spare parts, while a main compartment can be used for layers, hydration, and provisions for your trek. Keeping your pack organized will make a huge difference when the clock is ticking – know where your rescue pocket is located and practice deploying critical gear before you venture out. A simple layout of your gear will serve as a visual checklist, as well as give you the opportunity to snap a photo and brag to your friends on social media about the sexy new gear you’ve just collected along with the adventure you’re about to embark on.
In addition to all of the techy new bits you get to pick out at your local outfitter, an equally important thing to carry along with you is the knowledge and information you can gain from various local resources. A level one avalanche course (AIARE course list), local backcountry talks, or the American Avalanche Association website can provide invaluable information to backcountry travelers. While checking the news over morning coffee and your social media feed, consider making it a habit to read the avalanche forecast from your local organization. When it comes to traveling in potentially hazardous winter terrain, knowledge is power.
Venturing into the backcountry during the winter months can be an extremely gratifying and self-rewarding experience for yourself and your friends; however, it’s important to go prepared to face any challenge you might have thrown your way. Spending due time up front will allow you to gather the correct equipment and knowledge that not only could save a life, but will inevitably allow you to have a fun and memorable experience on the snow. As our good friend John Muir said, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” So gather your gear, educate yourself, and go home.