Neil McNab - What's In My Pack
We caught up with Neil McNab to find out what are the essentials to put in your pack for a day in the Backcountry.
“So what’s in my pack?
More and more riders venturing away from the pistes towards the Slack and Backcountry are carrying backpacks these days, but what are they actually carrying and what is it for
Here we take a quick look at what I take for a day out in the Backcountry, here’s a quick look at…I’m renowned for having one of the heaviest packs on the hill and whilst every year I try to cut down or get lighter kit, my pack almost always seems to be full and just as heavy as it’s ever been.
So let have a look at what’s inside…
First up we have the safety essentials,thisiseveryday kit that needs to be in there whether you’re heading near or far. Whilst we venture out into the Backcountry with the best intentions we must, unfortunately, always plan for the worst case scenario and so Avalanche search and rescue and first aid, rescue and recovery kit is the first of our essentials. This is kit that Irecommendyoucarryeveryday, it’s pretty easy to carry and even if you hadn’t intended to head out of bounds, you never know who you might run into and where they might be heading. Imagine you bump into a group of mates that are raving about some hidden powder stash they’ve found and you’re suddenly following at the back and have been sucked into the Slackcountry without the basic essentials…all too easily done!
The first 3 essentials go hand in hand and everyone should carry them...
1. Transceiver for victim location in the case of Avalanche search and rescue.
2. Probe for pinpoint search in Avalanche search and rescue.
3. Shovel for digging in the case of avalanche emergency and rescue.
(Obviously, or I hope it’s obvious, the transceiver is worn on your person and doesn’t go in the bag)!
Next up I have some items that are essential in order for you to be self-contained and responsible for your own safety and actions whilst out the back. Here I’m talking about a simple first aid kit for emergency first aid and if you’re heading out for the day an emergency blanket or bivy shelter. Those silver blankets you see runner wearing at the end of a marathon are ideal and come packed super small and will easily fit into your first aid kit. A bivy shelter is a little larger and is basically a small pole-less tent outer shell designed to fit 2 or 4 people. They’re super light and pack small, I throw one in the bottom of my pack if we’re going out of bounds for the day or if the weather looks a little mixed.
It’s important to be able to take the first steps in first aid and promoting recovery in the event of an unforeseen incident or accident. You can buy ready-made first aid kits but you normally need to add a few extra bits to them such as strapping and compression bandages. I also have a small head torch. spare batteries and a spare compass in there. ?
One bivy shelter and one first aid kit per group will normally suffice, so this is kit that I’ll usually distribute amongst the group and try not to carry personally.
I also have a map and compass in my bag, a GPS and Altimeter, all standard Navigation equipment but all essential kit that should be carried by at least one member of the group. (I always keep hold of these as I like to keep an eye on things and take references off the terrain). Last on the emergency scenario kit that I carry is an emergency radio which is a last resource tool to call for evacuation when all else fails and gets me in touch directly with the emergency services. A mobile phone with the emergency numbers in the menu is a minimum requirement for all members of the group, but note that Mobile phones will have limited service in certain mountainous areas.
This is kit that should be carried on every outing whether it be a simple Off Piste sortie, a Slackcountry outing or a Backcountry adventure and will be topped off with your personal food,drink, clothing and spares. If I’m doing some high altitude or glacier hiking I would pack specific harness, ropes and crampons but we won’t cover that now. If we’re going hiking then Hiking poles are a must. I use a 3 piece lightweight collapsible pole that folds like a probe with a cable down the middle of it. I always try to ‘put my poles inside my pack’ and recommend you do the same. In the event of a tumble, poles on the outside of the pack are the first things to be lost or broken.
If we’re hiking far then the Splitboards will be out and now we’re also carrying skins and ski crampons. From my experience, Splitboard equipment has a habit of falling to bits or breaking. When Splitting, I always make sure that we have a pretty substantial tool kit with spare binding straps, bolts, duck tape and spare parts for emergency repairs.I’ll also have some emergency glue for the skins in the toolkit for if when someone kicks a skin off or drops it in the snow glue side down. I’ll give the toolkit to a group member…it’s pretty heavy!
Ok, so I think we’re through the equipment essentials…you can already see that on a big day of hiking in the Backcountry of the high mountains my pack is going to be pretty full and pretty heavy…and we haven’t put in any food, drink or personal items yet!
I’ll normally keep food minimal, some nut/fruit and chocolate mix for carb’s, proteins and a bag of sweets for sugars. Flapjack is a nice choice and maybe a homemade sandwich if it’s a big day. I carry at most a litre of water, or juice or a hot drink. More fluids would be nice but it’s a weight and room issue so I train myself to do without. I used to use a Nalgene bottle but have started just using a plastic Badoit water bottle so that when I’ve drunk some I can start to crush it down and it takes up less room.
Finally, you have your personal equipment that is catered to the day’s activities and conditions.
We’ll not go into all the clothing that I’ll take as it depends on the conditions but here’s a few essentials or tips that I find useful.
I never go anywhere without my super light down jacket that packs super small and sits in the bottom of my pack at all times. If it’s a snowy or wet day, spare goggles or at least spare lenses are essential. If it very wet or deep out, then spare goggles and spare gloves are a nice touch for that afternoon session. If hiking, a sun hat and sunglasses are essential, hiking in a helmet, beanie or goggles is not advised. A thin pair of gloves for hiking is also advisable and a full factor sunscreen and lip salve is essential. When hiking the rule of thumb is… take layers off before you get hot, put them on before you get cold. A such you’re going to need lightweight non-insulated layers that you can stash easily. You can use the compression straps on the side of your pack for a quick stash solution.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten something obvious, but that seems like a pretty well-loaded pack.
On a big day, I’ll have nothing less than 10kg on my back, often quite a bit more… Something to think about next time you’re looking to buy a Freeride board and going by the rider weight! Remember what you’ll be using it for and what you might be carrying! A great backpack is essential. I’ll use a 30/35L pack on a normal day and sometimes go to a 40/45L if we’re multi-day touring. The bigger the pack the more you’ll end up carrying and the heavier and harder everything is…but you need to be able to fit everything in so it’s a tough choice. A good 40L would be a nice compromise and remember, it needs to be able to carry your board vertically, for those steeps where you need to be on your Crampons.
As a working Guide, I’ll maybe be carrying a bit more kit than is normal but then I’ve probably not got as much non-essential crap in there and have spent years hoarding lighter and lighter kit and have given out all my heaviest kit, so it probably works out pretty evens. Hope you found this interesting…Now go get packing!”
Neil McNab is one of Britain’s longest-serving Professional Snowboarders with some 26 years of full-time Freeriding already behind him. McNab lives in the Freeride Mecca of Chamonix whereas a fully qualified UIAGM High Mountain Guide and ISIA Snowboard teacher, he specialises in guiding like-minded Freeride enthusiasts into the untamed BC of the high mountains all over the World. In 1996 McNab started his specialist BC snowboard Guiding company, ‘McNab Snowboarding’ and in the words of Freeride legend ‘Jeremy Jones’ is the Worlds leading Splitboard Guide.