Packing for a ski tour
Skiers should always be properly prepared when heading out into the backcountry. Carrying the correct kit, and packing it effectively so as to best insure you can access gear when you need it, are key skills essential to successful ski touring. This article will start with a review of what kit you’ll need to carry for a basic day of ski touring. We’ll then look at additional pieces of equipment that can be added to ensure you’re adequately equipped for longer multi-day trips and hut-to-hut tours.
What to take?
Packing for a ski tour shouldn’t be considered an onerous task: organisation and a bit of forethought are really all that’s need to achieve this objective. But, just as a simple aside, it’s also worth noting that when building up your array of ski tour kit/widgets/gadgets you should also take into account another factor: buying the right kit! First and foremost, sensible investment decisions in purchasing the appropriate quality kit go a long way to ensuring fun and successful ski tours. When buying key pieces of gear such as your rucksack, transceiver, probe, shovel, head torch — take the time to research the items you’ll be taking on the mountain, and ensure you’re setting yourself up to head out on the mountain with durable, quality kit that will work well for you. Pieces of kit such as your pack should last many years: thus make sure it fits well and will be comfortable when carrying your gear on a ski tour (this includes ensuring it has the necessary loops and attachments to safely and securely carry your skis, crampons and axe where necessary).
Nowadays, a lot of ski and mountaineering manufacturers’ R&D time is spent developing the use of ultralight materials to create ever more svelte, minimalist designs. Whilst the benefits of lighter accessories are many, think too about your skill level and how you’ll use your equipment: the most expensive, über-lightweight ski-mo racing kit might impress friends at the chalet, but may not be the most appropriate choice for your chosen ski touring activities! Seek the input and advice of knowledgeable staff at a specialist ski retailer, and be open and honest about your objectives and level of experience… ask plenty of questions!
Basic list of items for a day ski tour:
Skis with ski touring bindings, boots, poles
Lightweight rucksack — size of around 25-30 litres.
Skins – climbing skins must fit correctly to your particular model of ski!
Ski crampons (Harscheisen) - necessary on certain routes for when climbing skins can only get you so far. Ski crampons are often underrated, but can make skinning even relatively shallow terrain easier on hard snow.
Helmet — recommended for all backcountry ski outings; the specialist backcountry designs are now incredibly lightweight and comfortable while touring.
Shovel – select a shovel with a metal blade (not plastic, which can fracture in colder temperatures). Consider a model with a telescopic shaft (easier for packing, allows greater leverage when shifting snow). It's worth too trying out models with your gloves on: can you grab the handle comfortably? D-shaped handles afford the firmest grip.
Probe – probes are essential: without one the recovery time to dig out a victim in an avalanche rescue situation goes up dramatically. Choose a probe of at least 2m40cm in length. Carbon is lighter (and more expensive), while aluminium probes are slightly better at penetrating tougher, denser snow. Regularly practice whipping out the probe from its bag and deploying it before you ever need it in an emergency.
Transceiver – get yourself equipped with one of the latest transceivers. Absolutely avoid older single or two-antenna beacons with outdated technology. Ortovox, hoping to promote this practice, has been offering a discount for those upgrading their kit and turning in old units.
Down or synthetic insulating jacket – warm and lightweight: jackets such as the Berghaus Extrem Micro Down are vital for when conditions change for the worse.
Softshell or waterproof breathable outer jacket and pants — no matter what the forecast, you'll need a layer that protects you from both precipitation and the wind.
Map and compact compass – note: the compass can be replaced by the same functionality in a watch such as a Garmin Fenix 5/Suunto Spartan. Consider also a dedicated GPS device for backup (don't rely on your smartphone!).
Water bottle(s) – highly packable soft flasks (popular with trail runners) save space once they’re empty.
Goggles – essential! Don't assume sunglasses are enough. Consider carrying a spare orange/persimmon or other low-light enhancing lens for white-out conditions.
Sunglasses – must provide sufficient protection and coverage of the eyes for high intensity alpine conditions i.e. CE rated 3 or 4, with side protection.
Basic tool kit – best to carry a small versatile multi-tool for adjustments and fixing kit. It's wise too to have a few spare binding screws, zip ties and duct tape for emergencies.
Ski scraper – useful for ski and skin maintenance while on the mountain.
Liner gloves - spare pair of lightweight synthetic gloves (avoid silk, as they tear too easily).
Multi-functional neck gaiter/headwear such as a Buff: lightweight, practical — can be work in multiple ways to protect your neck, lower face and nose.
Sun cream & lip cream: factor 30+
Personal first aid kit
Other item to consider: Thermos flask – small, lightweight and compact is best.
Additional equipment for steeper and glaciated terrain:
1 x 2 metre sling, 2 x snap-link carabiners, 2 x prusik loops, 2 x screwgate carabiners, 1 x ice screw, 2 x snap-link carabiners, pulley device
Further gear for multi-day hut-to-hut touring:
Larger rucksack (e.g. 35-45 litre capacity)
Spare base layer - shirt/pants/socks
Small wash kit - keep it simple and lightweight!
Sheet sleeping bag - as lightweight at possible e.g. silk
Earplugs - especially for light sleepers in noisy huts!
Cash (check which currencies you'll need) and credit card
BMC / CAF / Austrian Alpine Club / Swiss Alpine Club card - for hut discount
Passport (if crossing borders)
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.