The fluster as you head out for a day in the backcountry day when you first leave the house is something we have all experienced. Cycling through a mental checklist, we tick off items of gear required for our day in the mountains.
There are some items that you simply cannot leave the house without, and these essential articles are often committed to memory and fine-tuned over the years. Every time we venture into the backcountry we learn a little more about ourselves and our kit, what works for us, and what doesn’t. Certain safety items are non-negotiable and while the desire to slim down on these pieces of gear should not be entertained, we will always look to cut non-essential items from our bags.
Nick Parks, a Lead Guide for Mountain Tracks, takes us through his essential packing list at his home in the heart of the Alps. The concise list has been tailored over Nick’s years of working and playing in the mountains, and anyone heading into the backcountry should have these items on their person at all times, whether you are just dipping your skis in some powder next to the piste or heading deeper into the wild.
Referred to by Nick here as the ‘trilogy’ these three items are the absolute minimum amount of protection skiers should carry with them in the backcountry. Most people that are saved from avalanches are found and dug out my other members of their party, and these three tools allow you to do that.
2. Spare Gloves
When conditions become colder, the first place we feel the chill is in our extremities, our hands and feet are the areas of the body most susceptible to cold. Extra gloves ensure that if conditions worsen you have an extra layer of insulation and should you or someone in your party lose theirs, you have an insurance pair.
Carrying a variety of eyewear allows us to adapt our eye protection to different conditions, many will carry a set of goggles for the worst conditions and some sunglasses for warmer weather or when skinning. Ensure your eyewear has a high level of UV protection, to avoid snow-blindness.
Even if the conditions do not change, hiking, skinning, traversing, and skiing will mean that your body is operating at different temperatures throughout the day. Carrying a few different layers allows us to maintain a comfortable body temperature whatever the conditions or activity.
It goes without saying that a first aid kit is invaluable should one of your party get injured. As with your shovel probe and transceiver, the kit is useless unless you know how to use it.
Keeping yourself fuelled throughout the day is key to enjoying the mountains, making some high glucose supplies essential. Everyone has that treat that they crave at times of fatigue, throw one in your bag, just in case.
Read our hydration and nutrition blog here.
Kit failure can be catastrophic to a day in the backcountry, carry a multi-tool to help you fix any issues on the fly.
As much as spending time in the mountains is about getting away from technology, smartphones are an essential bit of kit. Checking the weather, GPS aided navigation or calling for help are all easily done with one device. Carry an extra battery to make sure you have charge in the cold.
There’s nothing worse than a stash of perfect powder that is just out of reach, chucking a set of skins in your pack even if you’re unsure if they’ll get used could turn a good day into a great one!
There are a number of excellent day bags specifically designed to carry all of this kit, with separate pockets for your safety equipment and the main bulk of your luggage these packs are supremely comfortable even when loaded.
Nick uses a backpack equipped with an avalanche airbag. While these bags are not essential your chances of surviving in an avalanche jump significantly if you are caught in an avalanche and correctly deploy the system.
Don’t know which avalanche bag is for you? Read our blog to help you choose.
IFMGA / UIAGM / IVBV
The IFMGA / UIAGM / IVBV symbol is the logo of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association.
Nick, Olly and Matt are all fully-qualified UIAGM Mountain Guides and members of the British Mountain Guides Association.
The International Ski Instructors Association is the world body for professional ski instructors.
The ISIA was formed in 1971 and there are currently 39 member nations representing the very best in ski instruction around the world.