Beacon, shovel, probe. Beacon, shovel, probe. Avalanche textbooks and classes, as well as backcountry instructors, have hammered into our heads the essentials of backcountry skiing and splitboarding. Never leave home without fresh batteries and make sure your partners have their heads screwed on straight before you leave the parking lot. Adding the following gear to your splitboard essentials kit and using these tips will help dial in your comfort level and safety in the backcountry.
1. Hot Beverage
Some people might scoff at this and claim beer is the beverage to bring over something like coffee or tea. The last thing I want to do when the winds are howling at 60 mph and the snow devils are whipping my face is to hunker down in a tree well and drink a PBR slushie. A drink that keeps me warm, comfortable, and clear-headed is a necessity for early morning tours, fill up your Camelbak Forge vacuum sealed mug and your off. If you’re anything like me, you get “hangry” after more than about an hour without food. I prefer to bring lots of sugar along with me, most often Snickers bars.
2. Puffy Jacket
In all backcountry endeavors, weight is a major concern. A heavier pack leads to shorter days, more exertion, and sore muscles. Even if it is the thickest, warmest layer you have, maybe you should leave that old wool ski patrol sweater that used to be your grandpa’s at home. However, you probably should grab that packable, super lightweight puffy like the Rab Xenon X which weigh less then 1 pound from your closet. It could be a lifesaver when your skins freeze and you’re out later than expected, or it could just make your changeovers toasty and enjoyable.
3. Repair Kit
The man could fix just about anything on the fly, and you should be able to as well. Since it isn’t practical to carry a whole toolbox on your back, try finding things that provide quick fixes.
• Duct Tape: Fixes everything from a ripped coat to a floppy topsheet
• Zip Ties: These are a miracle cure for all sorts of struggles! They can help with broken shoelaces and binding straps, or replace hardware. I used a zip-tie in place of a side screw in my Spark bindings for an entire season.
• Multi-tool: Yes, it’s heavy and made of metal. but pliers, a screwdriver, and a knife are helpful in all sorts of predicaments.
• Quick-set epoxy: This may sound ridiculous and , for 99% of tours, it is. For that 1%, when you blow a sidewall or splinter your nose on a rock, it can be the difference between a rideable board and a soggy, destroyed core. A small, single-use packet of epoxy weighs nothing and keeps you in the backcountry longer when you smash your board on day two of a week-long trek.
4. Glob Stopper or Paraffin Wax
If you live somewhere that stays cold all winter, you may only need this a few times a season. You might buy a block and it lasts multiple seasons; living in the Pacific Northwest is different. In the climate that can fluctuate between nuking, rainy, and sunny in the span of a week, you may run into more days in which this is necessary. The build-up of snow on the bottom of wet skins is a quick game ender. No one wants to continue, or has very much luck, hiking up a slope with 20 pounds of extra snow on their feet.
..continued by Ellen Incelli
5. Backcountry First Aid Kit
You would be amazed how many of your trusty partners don’t have this important addition in their packs. Be the prepared one in the group, or even more importantly for those solo days out, be responsible for yourself! NOLS has quite a few different pre-assembled kits to choose from; whichever kit you decide, I would suggest buying a SAM splint separately, if not already included. Other ideas to throw in your splitboard kit that don’t take up a lot of room are a back-up tube of sunscreen, extra AA and AAA batteries and duct tape.
6. Binding Repair Kit
Don’t call your day short because of a broken binding; get together a simple ‘keep on riding’ kit. Spark R&D sells the binding repair kit you see here, or you can always piece these same items together from your local board shop. Spark R&D also sells spare pins so throw in a backup and avoid the MacGyver challenge. One last addition to the ‘keep on riding’ kit are zip ties, they are the wonder-quick fix to many problems and don’t weigh a thing!
7. Brooks-range 100cm Folding Snow Saw
Cut prettier snowpits and take less time doing it! Being vertically challenged, my arms are a little on the short side. This snow saw length makes full cuts down the back of a snow column so much easier while leaving the surface of your pit smooth and even. The saw is made of stainless steel and tri-folds down to only 45cm, easily fitting inside your pack. A snow crystal grid, as well as metric and imperial rulers, is etched on both sides. If you are lucky enough to be in a snowpack where the 100cm is just not enough, the handle can be strapped onto a ski pole or shovel handle for added length. Also who am I kidding, who doesn’t want to play with a meter long saw?
8. Spark R&D Mr. Chomps Crampons
Early morning starts, variable terrain, variable snow conditions, be ready for it all. Keep a pair of splitboard crampons handy to help you make confident steps toward the summit. Compatible with the Blaze and Burner bindings and LT Pin System, Mr. Chomps are super quick and easy to put on and take off. Often used on steep terrain, heel risers are incorporated into the crampons to ensure evenly weighted placement of the crampons into the surface below. A simple $100 investment just might change the way you feel about climbing icy skin tracks.
9. Backcountry Access Snow Study Kit
Alright, I’m pushing up my pair of taped glasses for this suggestion. Make sure you are getting all the information out of your snowpit assessments. BCA’s snow study kit includes an analog thermometer, slope meter, snow crystal card and a 6x magnifying loupe. This is one of the tools, our editor uses in the backcountry surrounding the Tetons. Even the most trained snow professionals have troubles eyeballing the angle of a slope, this tool helps!
Essentials Items you Hopefully will Never Need
Day after glorious day, we head out into the backcountry and pursue whatever each one of us is looking for out in the mountains. Among our trip planning discussions, we should really start asking ourselves and our hiking partners not only how prepared are we for the outing but how prepared are our packs?
In a past article, I outlined five essentials every splitboarder should carry into the backcountry here are a few more backpack additions to prepare backcountry travelers for the unexpected.
10. No More Cold Hands
Nobody likes cold hands, or wet gloves, so you should always carry a back-up pair of mittens. Ever had such cold toes you couldn’t take your mind off them? Pack a backup pair of wool socks! No need for anything giant that will take up the entire bottom of your backpack; a dry, thin wool sock will be leaps and bounds warmer than what you’ve been hiking and riding in all day. A pack of hand warmers can really help frozen fingers regain their dexterity quickly and are a nice addition while sleeping.
11. Fire Starter
Make sure to have a type of fire starter! Starting a fire in the winter can be incredibly challenging, especially if your body and mind are cold and tired. An inexpensive fire starter most can put together using items from around the house include: cotton balls infused with petroleum jelly. Don’t forget your lighters and/or flint and steel striker.
L.L. Bean has designed a reliable, lightweight jacket that is a mere 13 ounces and capable of packing into its own pocket. The Ascent Packaway Jacket is filled with 60-gram PrimaLoft One insulation with a treated ripstop nylon shell. This is a great backup jacket and layering piece to have in any backcountry pack.
Are you Prepared to Spend the Night Outside?
There are several ultralight sleeping bags out there that hover right around 16 ounces(1 pound). When shopping for a bag, make the realization now to save yourself the disappointment that ultralight and cheap do not usually go together. My top choice of emergency bag was based on weight and a treated down, to ensure a water repellent, dependable insulation.
Designed as an alpine emergency bag, the Mountain Hardwear Mtn Speed 32 is made out of the brands lightweight Ghost Whisperer fabric and insulated with 850-fill, water-repellant Q.Shield DOWN. Cutting weight with a small, half-length zipper, there have been user complaints concerning ease of closure and occurrences of the zipper sticking. In addition to the sleeping bag, I would suggest tossing in a durable emergency blanket for added protection from water dripping down from a snow cave ceiling and saturating your sleeping bag and warm layers.
The most minor of an incident, wrong turn or weather occurrence could be the difference between you returning to your car today or sometime tomorrow after a cold night out. Your prolonged stay in the mountains can be a lot more successful, safer and ‘comfortable’ with a little planning and extra packing.
Thanks for reading and stay safe out there.
Attention to detail before you head into the mountains should always be step one. Know your hiking/riding partner(s)- do your goals and objectives coincide with each other’s? Do you know your partner’s snow education and medical training, also do your levels of risk line up or does one of you generally take a greater risk with decisions? How many are in your group, is it a solo day or have you invited so many friends it’s turned into a Warren Miller party? Make sure you understand and have the latest avalanche report and snow data and agree with your partner(s) on the concerns for the day; ensure there is an open line of communication with those you will be making decisions with. Last but not least, tell a contact in town your trip plan and call that contact when you are safely back at your car.
Tips for On-the-snow
Some days, excitement can cloud the training and knowledge we have studied and paid good money to acquire. The following are a couple reminders and suggestions on how to keep yourself and your party safe out in the hills.
Leave sufficient space between you and your hiking partners when traveling through avalanche terrain.
Here is a sight too often seen in the backcountry of an entire group traversing through a potential slide path. Not giving the hiker in front sufficient time to traverse before beginning your own crossing, can place added stress on the slope and put the entire party in danger.
Choose a realistic safe zone
Some lines make it challenging to pick a safe zone; couloirs, convex terrain shapes and terrain traps can make a truly safe waiting zone near impossible. Remember on occasion the best option is to ride your entire line and get out of any potential danger before the next rider drops in.
For lines that leave you at the bottom, without eyes on your partner or too far away for verbal information, consider the usefulness of a set of radios for clear communication like the BCA Link system.
My last suggestion to fit into such a short piece for all you splitboarders out there is to ride with a pole in hand. Whether you choose a Black Diamond Whippet, aiding success with self-arrests or simply one of your collapsible touring poles, having a pole allows you to travel faster through any flats or terrain traps.
I hope you have either read good reminders or found a few new ideas or techniques to keep you safe out there. There’s still some white stuff on the ground, so stay safe and get after it this spring season!
Find out what the skiers put in their kits too. 13 Ski Touring Essentials for the backcountry.