The Down Low on what we recommend
You asked and we delivered. Purchasing equipment when starting out in the backcountry can be both overwhelming and expensive. We were continuously getting bummed seeing students show up with new gear that didn’t meet their needs.
All the info on the following pages is purely our opinion from trial and error with products in the backcountry. We are not sponsored or paid to select certain products, these ones are simply our favourites 🙂
We have been there …. weird short wide backpacks, odd probes that don’t actually fit in our backpack, tiny shovels made for ants and many more money burning purchases.
Check out the tabs above for some of our favourite backcountry gear out there. Bear with us as we add our favourites as they come out for this upcoming season. Check back regularly for new recommendations!
We love mammut and for good reason!
When you are starting out the transceiver shopping process can be overwhelming. We highly recommend the Mammut Barryvox. It is easy to use, reliable and has all the must have features such as group check & a marking function. If you are purely going into the backcountry for recreation then the Barryvox is more than enough. If you plan on heading into a professional career in the mountains then you might want to check out the Barryvox S.
Our second choice would be the Black Diamond Transceiver. They updated the lock so it is reliable unlike their old ones. The flagging button works great and it is an easy to use transceiver.
Watch out for the Pieps DSP & pro transceivers. They should be recalled but are currently still being sold. Check out this video for a demo of why you want to avoid them.
No one wants to be one of those short probers!
When purchasing a probe make sure it is at least 3 meters.
You also want to check out the locking mechanism, make sure it has a quick lock & is easy to use.
Surprise, surprise … we love the Mammut 320 fast lock probe. We are also a fan of the Black Diamond 320 & BCA 300.
Alright, lets take a second and think of how hard avalanche debris is. We often compare it to cement.
Now lets think of how well a cheap shovel will hold up in said avalanche debris… You do the math.
A couple things to consider when purchasing a shovel:
- Handle: D handles are great & make sure it is extendable
- Size: we want to find the happy medium, small shovels are cute & fit well in your bag but are not the best at getting someone out alive. Find one that fits in your bag & is still a decent size.
- Hoe mode: some shovels go into hoe mode. This is great for our conveyor style shovelling we do during avalanche rescue.
Emergency communication devices
An inReach has two main functions (along with many others, but lets focus on the important ones.)
- SOS: if you have an emergency in the backcountry you can hit the SOS button on your inReach. This will send a message directly to the closest Search & Rescue & initiate a search to your coordinates.
- Messaging: You can use the inReach to send messages from the backcountry when you are out of service. This is great for when your truck breaks down or you need help but it is not an emergency. It is also great for letting your loved ones know you are all good on those late days when you are getting home later then expected.
The newer SPOT has a keyboard and SOS button. The older style (Gen 3) / lower price point SPOT’s have a check in ok button, I need help button and an SOS button.
You set up your profile with preset messages and phone numbers / emails when registering the Gen 3 SPOT. Your pre determined contacts will receive the message you select along with your coordinates when you press one of the 3 button in the backcountry.
The newer style SPOT has a keyboard. It reminds us of the old school blackberry keyboards. This allows you to send a custom message from the backcountry to a phone number of your choice. You can enter in your contacts to the SPOT device before leaving for the day so that you do not need to rely on your phone or memory for phone numbers.
For both the inReach & the SPOT you will need to select a subscription. You can cancel the service for the months you do not use it & is around $15 per month.
Air Bags are a great investment. There are tons of different kinds depending on what you are looking for.
- Removable airbag system: this allows you to move the air bag between different bags. This is great for someone who has multiple backpacks. We have this set up and move it between our touring backpack & our sledding vest.
- Compressed gas vs Fan: if you plan on traveling in the future this is something to think about. The airbags that use a rechargeable fan system allow you to be able to fly with your airbag. You can not take the compressed gas system on planes, you will need to find a shop to fill your cartridge when you arrive.
- Protect air bag system: another important thing to check out is the shape of the air bag. The new protect air bag style wraps around your head. This is a great feature for protecting you from trauma while you are getting tossed around in an avalanche.
- Size: depending on the airbag system it can take up some precious space in your bag. Make sure you still have enough room for all of the essentials. 30L is a good size for day tours.
Some of our go to bags
Some things to keep in mind when shopping for a backpack are:
- Tall versus wide: we have had it all. Short fat backpacks that pull you backwards, insanely tall backpacks that constantly hit the back of your head. The fit will be different for each person, try to find one that distributes weight evenly and doesn’t hit the back of your head.
- Safety compartment: this one is huge! We want a separate compartment for our safety gear. We do not want to be rifling through our bag in an emergency trying to find the other half of our shovel. Most winter backcountry specific bags have a separate compartment to store your probe & shovel but there are some sneaky ones out there that don’t.
- Size matters! It is shocking how quickly your bag fills up. With shovel, probe, skins, extra jackets etc. We would recommend a 30L for day trips and find 35L are nice for a bit of extra space.
- Access: having back zipper access sure is nice and the more compartments the easier it is to organize your gear.
Below is some of our favourites we have had over the years.
When we are sled skiing / snowboarding we looovvvee the vest! It is small and feels like we are not even wearing a backpack! The Dakine Poacher R.A.S vest has enough room for avalanche safety gear, inReach, pocket snacks, small first aid kit & radio. We keep our lunch, large first aid kit, extra layers and water in our sled and enjoy having a light bag on all day. The vest distributes the weight evenly and it is compatible with the removable air bag system!
- Shells are great! They are light, allow you to layer appropriately underneath and pack up in your bag if you are touring up.
- Radio pocket: radio pockets are a great feature, one thing to watch for is if it will be directly overtop of your transceiver (interference)
- Waterproofing: Gore-tex is a long time trusted waterproofing brand but each company also has their own line of waterproofing. You certainly want to stay dry out there so be sure to get a high level of waterproofing.
- We love the pull over! You can change layers in a snow storm without getting wet!
Ladies! Be sure to check out Coalition Snow. It is a female run company that is making some bad ass splitboards while trying to change the stereotype on the slopes.
We have also been a huge fan of Never Summer spliboards. They are solid, tour well on the way up and have your back no matter what conditions you are in.
When purchasing a splitboard one of the main things is, can it handle any condition? Most snowboards are great in power but what about those days where snow conditions are less than ideal and you need something that can hold an edge. Weight is also a huge factor, finding something that is light for the way up and still charges on the way down. Go chat with you local snowboard shop about you riding style & size to get set up with a perfect board for you.
I have been riding the Never Summer Aura both as a splitboard & hill board for the past 3 years. I do enjoy having the same board for both the ski hill & backcountry. It takes out that awkward lap where you are trying to get use to a different board.
We haven’t gotten a chance to try it but the new Weston splitboards look rad!
Layer like an onion
Touring up you want to be able to be dressed nice and light so you do not sweat and freeze a the top! For the way up I love the Squamish hoody!
To add some warmth Arcteryx’s Atom LT and Burtons Helium hoody are where it is at. They pack up small but have some serious punch to warm you up.
For those really cold days where I am questioning why I left the house I love the Arcteryx’s Cerium Hoody.
We have all been there…. splitboarders… purchasing the ‘collapsable poles’ that stick so high out of your backpack you are nervous you will get struck by lightening. Caught in doorways, gondolas, a very serious threat to the general publics eyes etc.
Check out the poles below for some seriously small poles that fit perfectly in your bag for the ride down!
Phone sleeping bag!
Look good and don't destroy your hat by shoving it in your backpack
Backcountry Repair Kit
We highly recommend having a backcountry repair kit. For our set up we have the Spark backcountry kit. Find spare parts for your set up & some thin wire is always a good addition to the bag.
Having some hot packs in your bag is also a great emergency resource. If someone is injured you can put the hot packs into the bivy to help keep the warm. We are a big fan of the reusable ones!
With us being so reliant on our phones for navigation & inReaches for communication I always bring a charger with me. We also love tiny items that have multiple functions so clearly the Celestron Thermal charger takes the cake!
An all in one charger with usb outlets + a warmer that you can use to warm someone up in a bivy or warm your hands on a cold day.
They are not the lightest gadget we have ever had but if your going to pack a battery worth the little extra lb for some heat.
They have thought of everything!