Backcountry Essentials

Side country. Slack country. Backcountry. Whatever you call it, we’ll help you gear up.

Know before you go

  • “Safety first” should always be a priority when venturing into the backcountry. Having the right gear is a great start, but you need to know how to be safe in the backcountry as well. Try taking an AIARE (American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education) course, or one of the many other safety courses throughout the U.S.
  • Use local avalanche information centers to plan routes and see the current avalanche danger. These sites are amazing and will help keep you safe and inform you on where to go, and more importantly, where not to go.


Backcountry Safety Gear

These items are the bread and butter of backcountry safety. Have them. Know them. Use them.

Beacon:

A beacon is a device that aids in finding a person buried in an avalanche by acting as both a transmitter and a receiver. If you’re traveling with a friend or a guide (which is highly encouraged), everyone in your group must have a beacon to be fully effective.

Good to know: All beacons are compatible, but not all perform the same. Get to know your beacon by doing training drills with a buddy. Your beacon battery should never be below 50% when entering the backcountry.

Probe:

A collapsible pole used to stab through the snow once you have located a buried person’s beacon. Make sure you practice deploying your probe quickly.

Good to know: Using a longer probe that’s at least 280-330in length will allow you to probe without having to bend over as far so you can locate a buried person faster.

Shovel:

Last but not least, your shovel is how you free your friend. A sturdy shovel will help get your travel buddy out of the snow as quickly as possible. It can also be used as a tool to inspect and test snowpack.

Good to know: Shovel from the downhill to effectively move snow off a buried person, even if there are obstacles downhill.

The Gear

Now for the fun part - picking your ultimate backcountry set that is perfect for you! Everyone skis/snowboards differently and values different aspects of their gear. So identify what’s important to you before selecting the perfect setup.

Backcountry Skis:

Any ski can be a backcountry ski. However, most people will seek out a ski that is light weight with grooves in the tip to hold a skin in place. Pick a ski that matches your goals and local terrain.
  • Narrow skis in the 84-100mm waist width will be better for harder snow.
  • Wider skis over 100mm waist width will be better for softer, deeper snow.

Backcountry Ski Bindings:

If you plan to ascend uphill on your skis, your bindings will need a touring feature. This style of binding allows the heel to have a release setting so your heel can move freely as you climb uphill. Think cross country skis - you can move forward on flat surfaces, and uphill with climbing skins (more on those below).

When it comes time to go downhill, you switch the bindings to lock your heel down. These tend to perform like a pair of alpine ski bindings for downhill. There are several great options for ski touring bindings, but you need to make sure your binding choice is compatible with your ski boots.
There are two main categories of backcountry bindings.
  • Touring specific pin bindings: These bindings are light weight and designed just for back country conditions. To be SUPER light they sacrifice some performance and safety features of a traditional downhill binding.
  • 50 / 50 bindings: These bindings transform and have two different settings depending on the activity. They have an uphill setting used while skiing and climbing the mountain, and a downhill setting. The downhill setting offers all the same performance and safety features as your traditional downhill binding. This style is becoming more popular as it allows people to have one ski they can take both in bounds and out of bounds.

Climbing Skins:

Climbing skins are essential for making the trek uphill. Usually made of synthetic mohair, climbing skins stick to the bottom of your skis using clips and adhesive. They allow you to move uphill without sliding backwards. A lot of skins have clips that will accommodate any ski, but more and more skins are coming on the scene that are designed to fit specific ski or splitboard models. If you can’t find skins that fit your skis / splitboard, you can opt for oversized skins that can be trimmed to size. Some skis or splitboards come with skins, while others will have to be bought separately, then cut to fit the ski. Skin cutting is a service offered at most Christy Sports stores.

Backcountry Ski Boots

These boots have tech inserts in the toe and heel that allow the boot to work with backcountry bindings. Without the tech inserts, that boot cannot hinge on the toe and go uphill. To get the best boot for your foot and skiing style, visit your local Christy Sports and get an Expert Boot Fit backed by our boot fit guarantee.
man taking skins of skis

Splitboards:

These are backcountry snowboards that split into two pieces, acting as skis for the tour up. The board then connects and acts as one unit for the ride down.

Snowboard Boots:

You’re off the hook! Any snowboard boot is compatible with snowboard touring bindings. But if your boots are at the end of their life, visit your local Christy Sports to get a perfect fit, guaranteed.

Backcountry Snowboard Bindings:

Backcountry snowboard bindings work with a split board to face forward and pivot on the toe, allowing a person to skin up hill on the separated splitboard skis. On the downhill, the bindings remount in the traditional snowboarding stance, providing a traditional snowboard feel and structural support to the splitboard.

girl split boarding up a hill

backpack packed with a beacon shovel and probe

Preparing for a Backcountry Adventure:

Look up your route and even print (yes print, your phone could die) a map of the area. Make sure you and your group feel safe and qualified for the terrain you are entering. Always tell somebody who is not traveling with you about your backcountry plans and when you’re expected to return.

Preparation:

Packing:

  • Make sure your shovel and probe are easily accessible in your backpack. Hopefully you won’t have to use them, but should you need them, you don’t want to have to dig around in your pack. Your beacon should be on your person at least 13 inches from any other technology, cell phone, etc.
  • Pack your goggles where they will stay dry and protected. If you wear them while traveling uphill, your sweat can fog them up and make your downhill experience much less fun.
  • SNACKS and WATER. You’ll be walking uphill with weights on your feet and back. Stay hydrated and fueled.
  • Extra layers like gloves, hat, puffy jacket, and space to store them as you could get hot and need to shed a layer.
  • Headlamp
  • Extra batteries for your headlamp and avalanche beacon.

Other items that are helpful.

  • Compass – Lightweight insurance in case of bad visibility or a dead phone.
  • GPS tracking device.
  • Thermos with warm drinks or soup.
  • Sunglasses & sunscreen.
  • Tool kit – Multi-Tool / binding screws / steel wool / lighter / voile straps.
  • Plastic ski scraper – simple tool for ski / skin maintenance that wont damage your skis, like a knife.
  • Bandana or balaclava for neck/face protection.
  • Camera / Cell phone.
  • Hat / Ball Cap – running hats that can be folded up and packed away are great.
Backcountry Essentials