What’s in Your Pack – Backcountry Ski Packing List

backcountry ski packing listBackcountry 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.

Pack Size

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 SoeldenDeuter 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.

backcountry ski packing listWhat’s Inside

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. 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)

Must-Have Items

Recommended Items

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) or 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

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