Experts’ Tips on Packing for a Day of Backcountry Skiing

By Yeti Oct 3, 2017
How you layer and what you take with you can make or break your experience in the backcountry. Learn what to pack from experienced backcountry skiers.
Experts’ Tips on Packing for a Day of Backcountry Skiing

We’ve all seen them – the brightly colored overhead shots of gear, jackets, layers, and gadgets, neatly folded and placed just so – resulting in the envy-inducing Insta announcement of an upcoming trip to some snowy, off-the-grid location. Those are great and all, but the measure of success isn’t how many hearts that post acquires, but rather the efficiency and usefulness of the contents in that pack. How you layer and what you take with you can make or break your experience in the backcountry, so rather than going the painstaking route of trial and error, learn from the experts. 

We talked to a selection of experienced backcountry skiers from all walks – athletes, media, and brands – and asked them to share some of their biggest tips for successful packing.  

1) The number one rule has nothing to do with your pack, but we feel it’s important to stress it. Education in snow safety and using good judgment are your number one assets. Take avalanche courses, ski with trusted and experienced people, and don’t take chances. No amount of fun is worth it if you don’t come home at the end of the day. – Mom. And everyone else who’s smart.

2) “For food, I keep it all natural and swear by my trifecta: 1. Organic Food Bar w/active greens 2. Pocket Fuel all natural almond butter packets and cold brew coffee packets. Fat, energy and a little boost when you need it. 3. Coco Hydro - plant based electrolyte drink mix. They’ve found the perfect all natural endurance mix. Don’t forget though – what you consume the day before is pretty important when it comes to packing the day of. If you start hydrated and fueled, then you don’t need as much to stay that way.” - Jeremy McGhee, skier, surfer + speaker

3) “Choose your pack wisely. I always use a 28-liter pack for day trips. I stick to this general size because it's just big enough to carry everything I need—food, water, avi safety gear, an extra layer, first aid kit, etc.—but no so big that it weighs me down unnecessarily. I've carried bigger packs before and they always held me back, which can be a safety concern in itself. If you're lagging behind your ski partner/s because you're weighed down you tend to over-exert yourself, and if you're tired, you can get in serious trouble.” Jacob Schiller, Outside Magazine

4) “I always consider bad-case scenarios and pack accordingly. I NEVER go ski touring without my avalanche rescue kit, basic repair kit, hand warmers, bivy sack, first aid kit, headlamp, spare down jacket, and warm gloves. I’ve had to use this stuff to save a friend’s life, and have learned to never underestimate what can happen in a day. The one time you need to use your down jacket to keep a friend from dying of hypothermia after digging him out of an avalanche will make it all worth it. Brody Leven, adventure skier + storyteller   

5) “I try to drink water as I drive to the trailhead, maybe a 1/2 liter or so.  While I'm touring I attempt to stay hydrated which in the winter sometimes seems challenging, especially when it's cold, but general rule of thumb is at least a liter, but always have a backup liter in my pack just in case I'm running hot that day. When the sun is warm and high in the sky I make water by melting snow so I'm sure I don't run out. Once I'm back to my rig I pound the rest of what I have.” Craig Gordon, Utah Avalanche Center     

6) “Dialing in my layering has made packing significantly easier. Everyone’s body temperatures run differently, but knowing how materials perform in varying conditions is key. I prefer a light first layer, like Eider’s Wooly ½ Zip, because it’s soft, breathable, and wicks away moisture quickly. That’s my go-to all season long. My mid-layer will depend on the day – if it’s at all cold, I go for an insulator like the Pulse Alpha – Polartec’s Alpha insulation has been out for a couple years now, and is the best at balancing warmth during the downhill, with breathability during skinning or hiking. On warmer days, I’ll often choose a vest instead of a full jacket, or just another fleece layer instead. And lastly, a waterproof/breathable shell. In winter, I go with something a little heavier – like the Sapphire Jacket. In spring, I prefer a lighter shell instead (GORE-TEX Active or Polartec Neoshell products both work great).   – Marion Charpenet, Eider Product Manager

7) “I gotta make sure I see it before I pack it. I always lay everything out that I'm bringing (beacon, shovel, probe, skins, water, snacks, layers, etc.) so that I know that I have it all. Then, piece by piece, I pack it up. Nobody likes showing up to the trailhead and realizing you forgot something vital. Joe Johnson, Alta

Like most things in life, it’s all about balance. Take what you need, but not so much that it weighs you down. Have fun and push yourself, but not to the point of putting yourself in danger. The backcountry has so much to offer – hope these tips help you get the most out of your experience.

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