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After years of backcountry skiing, I have my packing list down pat — here are 16 life-saving essentials I always bring

07

Best backcountry ski gear 4x3

Summary List Placement
  • Backcountry skiing or snowboarding is a dangerous sport that should only be done by seasoned riders with advanced riding skills.
  • For ski and snowboard enthusiasts, some of the best snow is found on backcountry trails, but it's important to have the right gear. 
  • To make your outing safer, we rounded up a checklist of must-pack items from essentials like warm gloves to an avalanche beacon that just might save your life. 
  • Sign up for Insider Reviews' weekly newsletter for more buying advice and great deals

Venturing into the mountains in the depths of winter isn't for everyone. Avid skiers and snowboarders can attest that the best turns are often found beyond trail markers but backcountry skiing requires a strong sense of adventure and resilience for harsh elements — and having the correct gear can be the difference between utter discomfort and the best run of your life.

I grew up in the mountains and have been fortunate to descend the slopes of many different mountains around the world. Whether preparing for a day trip or an overnight tour, there are certain items I pack no matter where I'm headed. Many are safety-specific in order to be prepared for the who-knows-what-could-happen in Mother Nature while others are for the added comfort they offer.

The importance of backcountry gear and education

Any essential backcountry item you pack along should be built for performance, assist in rider safety, provide comfort, and be minimal in weight. Having quality gear means you're warm and dry, and it's vital to have a safety and communication plan in place before you enter any backcountry area. This includes extensive avalanche education, weather forecasting, and route mapping; though these take time and experience, they'll save your life.

In addition to understanding the gear, it's incredibly important that every backcountry skier fully master their safety preparation before heading into the mountains. It's also recommended that you share your safety plan and route with someone who's not accompanying you on the trip. 

With years of backcountry riding to my name, I've been able to refine my approach to packing for such a trip. To help you get started, or to perfect your own process, here are the essential items I recommend for any backcountry adventurer, and what I never leave home without.

Here's the best backcountry ski gear:

Pomoca Climb 2.0 Skins

A skin system provides grip on the base of your skis, allowing you to climb uphill. Pomoca Climb 2.0 skins are designed to stretch onto your skis with ease and can be cut specifically for any ski model.

If you're touring across flat terrain or doing uphill climbs, you'll need a good set of skins for your skis. Pomoco Climb 2.0 skins are nylon and mohair, creating a firm grip on all types of snow. Quick and easy to put on and remove, they also pack down into minimal volume. These skins will save you a lot of time and effort if your route is a mix of ups and downs. 

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Mammut Barryvox S avalanche transceiver

Avalanche beacons are essential for backcountry safety, but they can be complicated to use. The Mammut Barryvox S is user-friendly and technologically advanced.

A good avalanche beacon is one of the most important items to bring with you in the backcountry as it can literally save your life — or the life of the pal you're skiing with. But it's equally important that you know how to use it. If you're going to drop a few hundred dollars on a beacon, the digitally advanced and easy-to-use Mammut Barryvox S is the one you want.

Take an avalanche course and practice using it before you go in the backcountry, too, and make sure that everyone in your ski group is not only wearing one at all times but that it's on and functioning properly.

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Black Diamond Tour Quickdraw probe

A probe is an essential part of your backcountry safety kit, and the Black Diamond Tour Quickdraw probe barely takes up any space.

An avalanche probe should accompany your transceiver as you'll use it often for checking snow depth and testing stability in the backcountry. Hopefully, you'll never need to use it to try finding someone buried in snow, but that's what it's meant for and it makes sense to have in your backcountry pack at all times.

The Black Diamond Tour Quickdraw probe is slim and light, so you can slide it into your pack at almost no compromise of weight and space. 

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BCA Float 2.0 Avalanche Backpack

Floatation packs like the BCA Float 2.0 are relatively new items in the backcountry scene, but they've proven to work in keeping you on top of the snow surface so you're less likely to be buried in an avalanche. 

The BCA Float 2.0 pack is an additional safety precaution item you should add to your setup. It's a sleek design that allows you to mount your skis and pack other items including any food or water. If you end up in the worst-case scenario of an avalanche, the ripcord is easily accessible to inflate the airbag and help keep you on the snow's surface.

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BCA D2 EXT Shovel

The BCA D2 EXT Shovel is lightweight, compactable, and designed for multiple use cases, plus it includes a saw blade for emergencies.

A quality shovel has many uses in the backcountry. Beyond avalanche safety, it can be used to dig shelter, check snow stability, or even make yourself a bathroom. The BCA D2 EXT Shovel is lightweight, has a folding handle, and includes a saw blade that could come in handy when you least expect it.

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Smartwool Merino Sport 250 Base Layer

Having a quality base layer like Smartwool's Merino Sport 250 under all your other gear regulates your warmth when skiing or skinning.

When you put on the Merino Sport 250 Base Layer from Smartwool, it just feels right. It's thin and light, so it sits well under down or Gore-Tex. It's also breathable, so you won't overheat or get sweaty — and since sweating means risking a chill in the backcountry, that last part is especially important. You can layer up as much as you need to on top of the Merino Sport 250 Base Layer, depending on the cold.

See more of the best base layers for men and women

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Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket

This lightweight Nano Puff Jacket from Patagonia is perfect for some added warmth and is made with recycled fabrics.

Your body heat can fluctuate dramatically while touring and trekking uphill and skiing downhill in the cold makes you want to shed and add layers constantly. The Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket is thin and warm, and you can easily throw it on and slip out of it multiple times a day as your temperature goes up or down. You can literally stuff it in your pocket, too.

See more of the best puff jackets

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Arc-teryx SV Jacket

This deluxe Gore-Tex outerwear jacket is built to withstand any type of weather you'll encounter in the backcountry.

When you go big and buy the best of the best, you won't regret it. The Arc'teryx SV Jacket is perfect to pair with a couple of layers underneath and you'll be warm and dry no matter where you go. This might be the last snow jacket you ever buy.

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The North Face Freedom Bib Pants

Keep your lower body warm and dry while keeping snow out with the North Face Freedom Bib Pant.

Not everyone prefers bib pants, but those who do can attest to how great they are. The North Face Freedom Bib Pants are perfect for the backcountry when you want your layers balanced and overlapping. The over-the-shoulder bib design also avoids the hazard of snow getting in through your belt line.

See more of the best snow pants here

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Smith Vantage Helmet and I/O Goggles

The right helmet and goggle combo should keep your head warm and your sight clear without any lens fog.

You're likely to experience all types of weather while backcountry skiing, so visibility can be critical. Smith I/O Goggles can be used with a variety of interchangeable lenses that are easy to swap out when the weather and light changes. Pairing them with the compatible Smith Vantage helmet ensures both pieces of head flare fit well together.

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Dakine Baron Gore-Tex Trigger Mitt

The Dakine Baron Gore-Tex Trigger Mitt keeps your hands warm, even in the coldest conditions.

Cutting corners on quality gloves leads to wet, frozen hands, and truly ruins your day. If you can't decide between gloves or mitts, the Dakine Baron Gore-Tex Trigger Mitt is the perfect blend of both. Most backcountry skiers recommend packing a backup pair of gloves, but the insulated lining and Gore-Tex outer layer of the Baron keeps your hands dry and functional for your full tour.

See more of the best thermal gloves here

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Gerber Center-Drive Multi-Tool

A center-axis multi-tool like the Gerber Center-Drive just might be your best friend in the backcountry. 

As in many other life circumstances, the backcountry is a worthy place of a good multi-tool. You never know when you'll encounter an obstacle on the trail or have a gear malfunction, so the Gerber Center-Drive Multi-Tool is a solid decision to have in your pack or pocket at all times.

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BioLite HeadLamp

With a bright light and a minimal design, the BioLite HeadLamp 200 is your reliable guide in the dark.

A day in the backcountry can be long and daylight through the winter days is short. Starting your trek before sunrise or finishing after sunset (sometimes unplanned) requires a good headlamp to guide you to your destination or back home. The BioLite HeadLamp 200 is all about function with its no-fuss design. It's USB chargeable with enough juice to last up to 40 hours on Low and three hours on High. 

See more of the best headlamps here

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Stanley Classic Legendary Bottle - 20oz

The Stanley Classic Legendary Bottle full of your favorite warm liquid can be a savior when you're far away from the parking lot.

When you're deep in the backcountry and skiing on a cold day, having something warm to put in your body can be a game-changer. The Stanley Classic Legendary Bottle keeps your coffee, tea, or soup hot for 20 hours — and you can't go wrong with the time-tested design of Stanley.

See more of the best travel mugs here

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Adventure Medical Kits Tactical Field Trauma Kit

You hope you won't have to use it, but a Tactical Field Trauma Kit is a must-have for emergency situations.

Someone in your backcountry party needs to be packing a medical kit, so it might as well be you. Heading into the backcountry makes outside rescues a challenging effort, so it's imperative that you're overprepared when it comes to safety and potential emergency situations.

Having a Tactical Field Trauma Kit from Adventure Medical Kit makes you the designated safety specialist for your whole backcountry group. This kit is lightweight and easily packable with the perfect amount of essentials.

See more of the best first aid kits here

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Goal Zero Sherpa 15 Power Bank battery charger

Goal Zero's Sherpa power bank keeps your devices recharged and ready to go when you need it most.

Cold weather drains batteries fast. Whether you're desperate to check your Instagram when you find service at the summit or have an emergency and need to phone for rescue, having a Goal Zero power bank battery charger in your pack keeps your phone alive or recharges your headlamp. It holds 1 to 2 full charges for smartphones or 2 to 4 charges for most headlamps. It's always comforting to stay connected in some capacity while you're backcountry skiing.

See more of the best battery packs here

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