Backcountry Tips & Tricks, Part 2: Gear
All Things Gear
There are many new skills to learn when stepping into the rewarding uptrack of backcountry touring — last week’s focus of education was just the beginning. The next major topic to cover is all this backcountry gear. From purchasing equipment to what to carry, we’ve put together a list of tips and tricks to help you dial in your gear and backcountry travel.
- Try before you buy – Backcountry gear can be a big investment! Find a way to demo or rent gear before purchasing. This will help you decide what you like and don’t like. Bluebird Backcountry is a great place to try gear and see if you like the backcountry touring scene before getting your own ski or splitboard set up. Bluebird’s rental fleet consists of various top brands, including Black Diamond, Dynafit, Ortovox, Elan and Weston.
- Know your gear – Do some research so you understand how to fix your skis/splitboard and boots if something breaks when you’re far away from a repair shop. It’s better to know before you really need to know. Bluebird offers an Equipment Maintenance & Repairs course to address any questions you can’t find answers to on the internet and provide a hands-on learning experience with field repairs and maintenance.
- Put your beacon on at the house – When you put your bibs or ski pants on at home, don your beacon harness or put your beacon in its designated pocket. This way you’re guaranteed to have it when you show up to the trailhead. Plus, you won’t have to de-layer in the parking lot to put your beacon harness on top of your base layer (that’s the proper place to wear a beacon harness).
- Keep extra batteries in your car – For the inevitable day when you show up to the trailhead and realize you forgot to turn your beacon off last weekend, store extra batteries in both your car and repair kit.
What to Pack
- Carry the right tools – Depending on the season, carry ski wax (cold temps), skin wax (warm, wet temps) and a scraper. Having a multi-tool with the heads to adjust specific screws on your equipment is important as well.
- Take two headlamps – It’s a real bummer when one of your headlamps simply stops working. Carry an extra headlamp in your repair kit for longer tours, hut trips, or emergency situations.
- Two pairs of gloves are better than one – No matter the weather, always have a spare set of gloves at the bottom of your pack for those wet or extra cold days.
- The more ski straps the better – Rubber ski straps (Voile or other similar styles) are one of the greatest tools in the backcountry. Acting as a multi-tool of sorts — use them to repair a lost or broken skin clip, help secure old skins that aren’t sticking to your skis/board any more, fix a broken binding in a pinch, and so much more! Keep one wrapped around your ski pole or in a pocket for easy access and two or three more stowed in your pack.
- Always have the essentials – Carry a first aid kit, emergency communication device, navigation tools, light of sorts, fire starter kit, extra layers, food, water, and a shelter of sorts. There’s many resources to learn about what the essentials are for winter backcountry travel including Bluebird’s Winter Emergency Skills course, where you will learn about building shelters, the best gear to carry, and how to manage emergency situations in cold environments.
- Keep the goggles in your pack – Unless it’s snowing hard and very cold, store your goggles in a dry place in your pack and wear sunglasses while skinning, then transition to the goggles for the downhill. This tactic will prevent your goggles from fogging on the uptrack. Make sure to always wear some form of eye protection when in the mountains — snow blindness is real and not something you want to experience.
- Take good care of your skins – Forgetting to properly care for your skins, even just once, can ruin a high-quality set. Follow these rules during and after every tour and your skins will last you many seasons:
- Store them (in the field and at home) glue to glue, or roll them if the manufacturer recommends.
- Keep the glue side off the snow as much as possible
- Remove ice/snow from the top or bottom sides when you first notice buildup.
- Properly dry them out after every single tour by hanging them to dry by a heat source or in a warm place.
- Keep skins away from animal hair/fur and dirt as much as possible.
It takes time to find the right gear and understand how to use it. Consider taking an intro to touring course with your local guiding service, or check out Bluebird Backcountry near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It’s a great place to take a lesson, go out on your own, and explore more advanced terrain in an avalanche-managed environment. Check back next week for part 3 of this series — tips and tricks for personal care while backcountry touring.
If you’re interested in learning more basics, like how to build a repair kit, and tips on skinning technique, check out Bluebird Backcountry Community’s Premium Membership — an virtual hang-out space with courses, gear exchange groups, partner finders, and forums.