Our Top 10 Backcountry Essentials
If you're heading anywhere beyond lift-accessible off-piste, it is vital that you're fully equipped to deal with any eventuality. It can often be a balancing act, especially as you'll be trying to avoid as much additional weight as possible, but besides the holy backcountry trinity of avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe, there are a few more pieces of gear you should have in your pack to deal with emergencies out of bounds.
1. A Head Torch
Finding yourself in the dark is an emergency unto itself, but having a good head torch light your path home and help you find your navigation equipment.
2. Thermal Survival Bag
The cold is quick to set in if you become injured or immobile, even with plenty of layers. A thermal 'space' bag or blanket reduces the amount of body heat lost, delaying the onset of hypothermia if you're waiting for a rescue.
3. First Aid Kit
Having a first aid kit, and at least basic knowledge of how to use it can go a long way. Weighing in at just 156g, the Lifesystems Light & Dry Pro kit is a great option for keeping your pack weight to a minimum.
4. Duct Tape / Sugru
Murphey's law dictates that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Arming yourself with Duct Tape and a blob of Sugru should allow you to mend all but the most major equipment failures.
5. Emergency Shelter
Alpine environment and the weather can change fast and this may mean you need to be able to seek refuge, especially if you're not near any lifts or huts.
6. Black Diamond Avalung II
Statistics show that survival rates for buried avalanche victims drop severely after 15-20 minutes. At this point, it becomes more and more difficult to draw oxygen from the snowpack as your exhaled breath causes the snow around your mouth to freeze. The Black Diamond Avalung is effectively a snorkel designed to circumvent this problem by extracting air from the surrounding snowpack and depositing exhaled air safely behind you, potentially doubling the amount of time you have to be found alive.
7. Insulated Hydration Hose
Hiking in the backcountry is thirsty work, so having an easy to reach hydration source is a must. Many skiing rucksacks contain a hydration reservoir, but the windchill of a descent can quickly freeze the pipe and mouthpiece, blocking it. Thankfully, insulated hoses and bite valves are available to keep your fluid intake constant.
In any emergency or survival scenario, the more ways you can gain the attention of potential help the better. In a whiteout, a whistle can be far more effective than visual SOS cues, helping rescuers locate you faster.
Backcountry snowboarding demands huge amounts of energy to hike your way up. Foods high in carbohydrates such as flapjacks and Clif Bars are ideal and are easy to keep in your jacket pocket, while Sports Beans are great to chew on for a boost (we recommend these over gels as they don't burst if you fall on them!)
10. Avalanche Airbag Backpack
Off-piste snowboarding requires an understanding of the terrain, conditions, and how the snow will react to anyone travelling across it. Heading into the backcountry carries the inherent risk of being caught in an avalanche for even the most cautious snowboarder. In the event of a slide, being able to deploy an Avalanche Airbag backpack is proven to increase your chances of being kept afloat and within the uppermost snowpack as it settles, drastically improving the likelihood of survival.
About the Author:
Mike Humphreys - Online Content
Mike is a keen cyclist, snowboarder, hill walker and Land Rover tinkerer. He has travelled extensively, spending a year living out of a van in New Zealand before joining Ellis Brigham four years ago. Can usually be found walking his dogs or tortoises.