Backcountry Ski Packing List
What’s in your ski pack? It’s a good question, and one that I occasionally ask myself as I heft the weight of my pack to my shoulder in the morning. There’s no sense in carrying more up the hill than you need to, but there are key items that you should always have with you in the backcountry. And there are those things you think you need, but probably don’t. We’ve put together a backcountry ski packing list for a basic day of ski touring.
The non-negotiable items for winter ski touring include a shovel, probe, beacon, skins, headlamp and a warm puffy coat. But beyond these items, there’s a fair bit of latitude as to what is necessary for a day of touring. Weather, route, ambitions and group experience all play a role in what to pack for a day of ski touring.
The first point of discussion is what size pack is the right size? Like most things, the answer is, “it depends.” Really, there’s a range of pack sizes that work. Generally speaking, 30-40 liters is a good target for day touring. With packs smaller than 30 liters, you will need to focus on traveling light or on having the lightest weight gear. And going beyond 40 liters is just asking for a heavy pack. Also understand that no two packs with the same volume rating are really the same size. Every brand has its own method to measure pack volume and this leads to variations between packs.
The Patagonia Descensionist pictured below is 32 liters. And here a few other packs we have tested: Osprey Soelden, Deuter Rise Lite, Hyperlite Ice Pack, Mystery Ranch Patrol 45, Black Diamond Cirque 30.
Key characteristics to look for in a good ski pack include: dedicated storage for a shovel and probe, an easy access pocket for high-use stuff like goggles and a generally snug, low-profile fit and feel. It’s also important to consider the size of your shovel, probe and snow saw. Although most packs will accomodate most avy tools, it’s always worth checking pocket width and depth because some shovels (and saws if you carry one) fit some packs better than others.
The above photo reflects what I would call a full load and includes several optional items including a VHF radio, ball cap, ski crampons, GPS and snow saw – as well as a few items that end up being worn – beacon, gloves, sunglasses and ski shell. Also, my repair kit is sparse – I use and inspect my gear regularly, so my kit is minimalist – just a multi-tool, a few binding screws, some skin wax and matches or a lighter – read more about backcountry repair kits. My first aid kit is also on the thin side and simply consists of cloth athletic tape. Given a significant injury to arm or leg, I rely on things like voile straps, rutschcord, shovel, probe, poles, warm clothing and my radio or phone to manage the problem.
Backcountry ski packing list:
Skis, Boots, Poles . . . and (support offpistemag.com when you purchase through the links below)
- Shovel – BCA RS Shovel
- Probe – Go for a three-meter probe. We like the carbon variety
- Avalanche transciever – Read more about transceivers
- Climbing Skins – We recommend the G3 Alpinist or Minimist skins
- A warm, puffy jacket – The jackets in the picture are the Arc’teryx Proton LT (light and breathable warmth) and the Dynafit FT Down Jacket (warmer). Here’s a few more we like: mid-weight – Patagonia Nano Air Hoodie or Arcteryx Cerium Hoodie and for warmer styles check out the Patagoni Macro Air Hoodie or Arc’teryx Thorium AR Hoodie
- Ski Shell – A weater-resistant softshell or waterproof breathable hardshell jacket is a must. Go light and breathable over warm and heavy. Here’s a few we like: Arc’teryx Beta LT, Patagonia Pluma, Dynafit Radical, OR San Juan
- Water Bottle – Platypus water bottle saves space once it’s empty
- Headlamp – Petzl Actika or the Black Diamond Revolt both feature USB rechargeable batteries
- Goggles – We like Smith Goggles. Check out this low-profile Goggle case from Tailgate
- Compass – Lightweight insurance in case of bad visibility
- Thermos – I suggest a 16oz Thermos or the 500ml stainless one like these basic Uniware bottles (same as pictured)
- Sunglasses – We like Smith Sunglasses, or for less money Tifosi sunglasses are a great value
- Tool kit – Multi-Tool / binding screws / steel wool / lighter / voile straps
- Plastic ski scraper – Handy for ski / skin maintenance while in the field
- Spare gloves – We like leather gloves
- Bandana – a little soft cotton can be handy for clearing goggles, glasses or drying electronics
- Camera – the Canon G7X is my point and shoot camera of choice.
- Hat / Ball Cap – I always pack a spare toque and add a ball cap come spring. Checkout Pistil Designs hats
- Neck gaiter – Buffs are the best – winter, spring or summer, I’ve always got one in my pack or on my neck
Optional Items – conditions or tour dependent gear
- GPS – For bigger days and on tours in unfamiliar areas, I carry a GPS, too. Try the Garmin GPSMAP 64sx for a fully-featured model or the Garmin E-trex 22x for a lightweight unit.
- Handheld VHF radio like the Yaesu V7R or (requires license)
- FRS/GMRS radio like the BCA BC Link (no license required)
- Ski Crampons – for spring tours and for specific objectives, ski crampons are great.
- Snow Saw – The G3 Bonesaw is reasonably light and can cut wood if needed
- Rutschcord – I use a homemade one made from 2mm cord – knotted every 30-40cm and about 5m long or check out some commercial options