Author: John Clausen - Granite Chief crew - Arva Snow Safety representative

No, we’re not talking about caliber, we’re talking about snow safety gear, and more. This is the stuff ya need to have for a “mission complete” outing, to save your you know what if things go south. Whether you are passing through the boundary gates at Alpine, Sugar Bowl, or other resorts, headed up the route from a trailhead, or being dropped off via mechanical means, there are certain items you need to have on your back.  Some, like your avy gear, are a pre-requisite. Other items may depend more on how “deep in” you are traveling, the route you are planning (both up, and down), the snow and weather conditions, and, the level of personal risk you (and your partners) are willing to assume.

Below is a list of backcountry gear that I have comprise over decades of backcountry travel, and multiple sources, including professional guides, and books on the subject.  While the weight of what you carry enters into the decision-making equation, you need to ask yourself, “does it outweigh considerations for safety”?  This is where I always remember something Dean Cummings, owner of H2O Guides Alaska Helicopter Skiing, mentioned to me; “you can make 1,000 right decisions, and the next one be wrong, nature doesn’t care”.  Hence, I tend to lean towards the “boy scout” side of the equation.

Take a run through the items listed (and yes, the top ones are not gear, but noted because of their important relevance), and compare it to what you are currently “pack’n”. If you go light and fast, make sure you really have thought about the potential consequences of doing so, even for roadside laps. If you bring the whole armory, more power to you (and no doubt your bud’s appreciate it), but is everything always needed given your itinerary?

In all, food for thought, not only for yourself, but those in your posse. Safe and rewarding travels.

Backcountry Touring Gear List

  • AIARE 1 training
  • Wilderness 1st aid training
  • Knowledge of the travel area, and/or printed map
  • Avy gear – beacon, probe, shovel, airbag
  • Helmet
  • 2 Way radios – BC Link radio, fully charged
  • GPS (optional, if traveling in unfamiliar terrain, poor visibility, and/or far from the trailhead), fully charged
  • Phone with GPS coordinate app, fully charged, turned off
  • Emergency communicator - Spot (current generation), or DeLore, optional (if traveling far from the trailhead), fully charged
  • Medical first aid kit
  • Snow science kit (optional, pending trip intent and conditions)
  • Food for the day
  • Water
  • Rub on wax to prevent ski skins from icing
  • Sunscreen & lip balm
  • Headlamp (dimmable, larger battery), fully charged
  • Extra batteries (for headlamp & GPS)
  • Multi tool
  • Binding screws & thread inserts
  • 12” & 18” straps
  • Bailing wire
  • Duct tape
  • Zip ties
  • Cordelette 7mm, 6m, 2 (and/or paracord 7-10m)
  • Folding saw, or link saw (if not carrying a snow science kit with saw)
  • Whistle & signal mirror
  • Compass (old school, non digital)
  • Aluminum or Ti pot (small) / backpacking cup (large) (for melting snow, having tea …)
  • Tea candle (to act as your “stove”)
  • Emergency / Extra energy food (Cliff bar/Tahoe bar/Pro bar, gels, dried fruit, walnuts/almonds, jerky, bouillon cubes, hot choc., & tea bags)
  • Waterproof matches, fire starter (cotton balls in Vaseline, tampons, dryer lint …), flint
  • Hand & toe warmers
  • Emergency shelter / bivy bag
  • Extra gloves & socks in waterproof bag
  • Extra insulated clothing, & knit hat/beanie/balaclava
  • Clear goggle lens (for night)
  • Ski crampons (optional, pending conditions)
  • Boot crampons (optional, pending route &) conditions
  • Ice axes (optional, pending route and conditions)
  • Harness, light weight ski mountaineering (optional, pending route)
  • Dry Rope, 9 mm, 30m dynamic (optional, pending route)
  • Carabiners, locking & non-locking, belay devise (optional, pending route)


Snowmobiling add the following

  • Additional shovel on tunnel (or in tunnel bag)
  • Tow cord
  • Sled specific tools, spare belt, spare manual starting cord, operator’s handbook
  • Additional emergency marking light