Packing for the Backcountry

We are blessed in this country to have four distinct seasons, each with their own beauty. Every winter my interests focus on cold fresh air, rich blankets of alpine powder, and soaring peaks. Living in Toronto has it perks, but high altitudes and an abundance of dry snow are not one of them. So last month I flew out to Nelson BC to get my fix.


I enjoy a fair amount of off-piste snowboarding, and with this comes more responsibility on the rider. Off-piste refers to terrain that is unmarked and unpatrolled, meaning conditions and avalanche risks can vary considerably. Travelling with the right equipment can make all the difference, both for your own safety and enjoyment.

Below is a list of essential equipment that I take when travelling into the backcountry.

Equipment

1. Backpack (avalanche airbag optional)
Having a comfortable and supportive backpack is very important when spending a full day hiking and riding. A good pack should have accessible compartments with an adequate load capacity for what you’re taking with you, a good stiff backing with hip support, and can also be quickly and easily secured or removed. Some people also ride with an avalanche airbag system in their pack in the event of an avalanche, but they are heavy, bulky and not for everyone.

I own a Black Diamond backpack, among other equipment, and it has done me well. I use it as a mountaineering pack as well as a hiking/day trip bag, and works well in both scenarios.

2. Carabiners + Rope + Harness
These are only essential if the terrain you’re climbing demands belays or rappels over steep rocks or ice sections. It’s also recommended for terrain that may have crevasses. Equipment should be lightweight and packable, and in good working condition.

3. Avalanche Probe
A probe is used to pierce the deep snow in search of an avalanche victim. It’s important to have an instrument that is lightweight and quickly extendable.

4. Avalanche Beacon
Like any device, you want something that is intuitive and easy to use. Always make sure your battery is charged before venturing outdoors.

5. Collapsible Shovel
You want a shovel made with a strong material (aluminum not plastic), has a good strength-to-weight ratio, and is able to fit securely in your pack.

6. Whistle
It never hurts to carry a whistle and to have it accessible without removing your pack. I keep mine in my shoulder pouch.

7. Collapsible Poles
This is something I just started using this year and found extremely helpful, especially being a snowboarder. Long flats and traverses can be tedious when both your feet are locked into a board, so having something that you can self propel yourself with is very handy. Be sure to get poles that are able to collapse to a size suitable for your pack.

8. Camera (GoPro)
Days can be epic, so why not have something with you that can prove it. I always take my GoPro with me, and usually have a selection of mounts to capture any desired point of view. I have used several different types of action cameras over the years, and I’ve learned there is a reason why GoPro is dominating the category. Their cameras are just awesome, and also have a solid online presence that makes sharing pictures and videos fun and engaging.

9. Water Bottle
Hydration is very important when spending a long period of time outdoors. Make sure your bottle can carry enough water to last you the entire day. Some people use plastic collapsable bottles but I find the cold weather freezes the water to quickly.

10. Energy Bars
I usually carry one or two energy bars in my pack, it’s nice to have when taking a quick break.

Whenever I’m in need of gear, I usually shop at Mountain Equipment Coop, for several reasons. Mainly because they have a solid brand foundation, which really shows through in their knowledgeable staff and commitment to inspiring an active lifestyle. It might be a bit more expensive then other comparable retailers, but it makes up for it with experience and expertise.