Early season storms across the Western US have backcountry skiers seeking early season turns, and fueling the stoke for the season ahead. As you blow the dust off your gear from the offseason and realize your cracked helmet and crampon-shredded pants aren’t going to hold up for another season in the backcountry.
Along with an onslaught of fresh snow, this winter has also brought a brand new crop of backcountry ski gear to the market. We’ve picked some essential backcountry gear items, from high-tech innovations to tried-and-true favorites, that will help you get ready for what may be your best season yet in the backcountry.
So whether you’re looking for a gift for your backcountry partner or filling an intolerable gap in your own gear closet, these Active Junky gear recommendations will get the job done.
Backcountry Access Tracker 3
The evolution of BCA’s Tracker series is not unlike that of the iPhone: with every new generation, they get lighter, thinner and more streamlined. If Steve Jobs had been a backcountry skier, he’d likely approve of today’s Tracker3, as BCA puts a similar design emphasis on clean aesthetics and straightforward function. The Tracker 3 is the newest addition to BCA’s avalanche transceiver line and has quickly become the favorite of snow fanatics and avalanche experts alike. With a simple dial to toggle between “send” and “search” mode and a slim profile in your inner pocket (giving you the option to ditch the chest harness), the Tracker 3 represents the new standard for modern avalanche beacons and it’s a must-have for backcountry pursuits.
Best For: The safety-conscious backcountry traveler looking for the smallest and sleekest in beacon design.
Voile Telepro T6 Shovel
This is most certainly not the lightest shovel on the market, but when you need to dig out your buddy, you’ll want a burly shovel that easily chops through avalanche debris and quickly moves a whole lot of snow. Voile’s T6 Shovel has a telescoping shaft for greater leverage and reach, a D-shaped handle to keep your hand from slipping while digging and a beefy 15x10” blade made from tempered 6061 aluminum. Plus, it’s versatile and handy to keep in your car if you ever need to dig it out.
Best For: Moving A LOT of snow, building kickers and digging out your car.
Black Diamond Quickdraw Probe Tour 280
A good probe only has to meet several key requirements: be straight, be sturdy, be light and be easy to deploy. The BD Quickdraw Tour 280 does all that and more, with close attention to details and ease of use. The obvious markings at every centimeter and the 9ft. length allow the probe to investigate and measure even the deepest snowpacks (making it a favorite with avalanche forecasters and snow science professionals) while the quick-locking mechanism makes it easy to deploy, lock-out and release with gloves on.
Best For: Heavy-duty use in the backcountry; measuring snowpits and conducting snow science; easy and fast deployment.
Backcountry Access Snow Study Kit
If you travel enough in the backcountry, you know that a rudimentary understanding of snow science goes a long way in helping you understand what’s actually going on under your skis. And, if you’ve taken an AIARE Avalanche II Course, you also know how fun it can be to truly geek out on snow science. The BCA Snow Study Kit allows you to measure the temperature of the snowpack and the angle of the slope, plus it helps you identify just what snow crystals are found under your feet. By helping you gather this information, the Snow Study Kit allows you to make more informed decisions in the backcountry.
Best For: Snow science experts and novices alike, long-term backcountry trips, practicing skills learned in an AIARE Avalanche II Course.
Backcountry Access Float 32 Pack
When skiing or riding in avalanche terrain, it’s best to stack the odds in your favor, and carrying a float pack has definitively proven to reduce the risk of burial in a slide. The Float 32 is the latest and greatest from BCA, decked out with purposeful design elements like gear loops and large pockets on the hipbelt. Not to mention, it has the most usable space of any pack of its size and it retails for around $150 less than its closest competitors.
Best For: The BC adventurer who wants an affordable, comfortable, well-designed float pack with more usable space
Dakine Heli II 28L
Description: Dakine has been building ski and snowboard packs for years, and the Heli II Pack brings a new sleek look and simple design to their backcountry fleet. It’s got all the requisite features you’d expect from a good touring pack (diagonal and A-frame ski carry systems, goggle pocket, insulated hydration sleeve, etc.) and, at 28 liters, its got enough space to hold all the essentials: food, water, layers and skins. Overall, Heli II is another solid pack from Dakine, and a great value for a designated backcountry ski/snowboard pack.
Best For: Carrying all your gear on a full day of touring in the backcountry.
Black Diamond Ascension Nylon STS Skins
The BD Ascension Skins are tried and true, a total workhorse in the backcountry. They’re made of durable nylon fibers that provide reliable traction on the uphill and BD’s “Gold Label” glue, which adjusts well to a variety of temperatures and seems to somehow always be sticky, but not too sticky. Also, Black Diamond’s adjustable tip loop can fit almost any ski and the STS tail clip provides a bomber connection to keep your skins right where you need them. Overall, the Ascension Skins are reliable, tough and a great value as they’ll last for several seasons of backcountry touring.
Best For: Providing reliable traction on the skin track that will last for many seasons on the snow.
Patagonia Kniferidge Softshell Jacket
For moderate aerobic activities, like skinning up a ridgeline in the backcountry, softshell jackets and pants excel because of their ability to be both breathable and wind/waterproof. The KnifeRidge Jacket utilizes PolarTec’s Powershield Pro fabric to prevent wind and water from penetrating your core, while also preventing your upper body from overheating during continuous uphill efforts. This material is also incredibly stretchy and Patagonia has designed the jacket with gusseted armpits to increase range of motion and mobility. Ultimately, the KnifeRidge is a great option for someone who wants one jacket to rule both the uphill and the downhill.
Best For: Active pursuits in cold conditions, from skinning through trees to climbing through spindrift.
Outdoor Research Cirque Softshell Pants
Similar to the KnifeRidge Jacket, Outdoor Research’s Cirque Pants provide a solid solution to the dilemma of temperature control while skinning. They prevent wind and water from getting through, while letting sweat and vapor get out. This means that, even on cold days, you can get away without wearing a base layer under your pants if you remain active and moving. The Cirque Pants also feature several zippered pockets big enough to accommodate ski straps and energy bars, reinforced scuff guards to prevent cuff shredding, and ankle zippers that allow you to easily fit the cuffs over ski boots. While these pants are marketed for mountaineering and ice climbing, they also make exceptional touring pants and perform well even in extreme conditions.
Best For: Touring, bootpacking and mountaineering in high-mountain conditions.
Black Diamond Raven Ultra Axe
When Springtime hits and the snowpack turns isothermal, ski mountaineers know that the time has come for riding steep lines and committing to couloirs. Accessing and climbing that type of terrain requires travelling with a mountain axe and, if need be, being able to use it to self-arrest. The BD Raven Ultra packs all the utility and durability of a traditional mountain axe into an extremely lightweight package; a mere 12 ounces for the 50cm axe. When you’re plunging your axe into the snow hundreds of times as you climb a line, having that lightweight aluminum makes a big difference. Also, the Raven Ultra doesn’t compromise performance for the sake of weight; it still features a full steel head and pick, allowing you to have the best chance of arresting a slide on steep snow.
Best For: Climbing and skiing high-consequence terrain.
CAMP USA Tour 350 Crampons
While most backcountry skiers will never find themselves in a situation warranting the use of crampons, those of us who love skiing corn know that the crampon is a very useful tool. The CAMP Tour 350 is an incredibly light 10-point crampon that weighs in at a scant 24.6 ounces. It features horizontal front points for climbing steep snow and a step-in design for compatibility with mountaineering and alpine touring boots. Overall, the Tour 350 is a great pair of lightweight crampons to keep in your pack for those steep snow-climbing days.
Best For: Hardcore ski mountaineering objectives and steep snow climbing.
POC Fornix Backcountry MIPS Helmet
MIPS stands for “Multi-directional Impact Protection System.” The tech consists of a low-friction layer between the helmet’s shell and liner, allowing the liner to move independently during impact and reducing trauma to the brain. In addition to this cutting-edge technology, the Fornix Backcountry Helmet is also incredibly light. Plus, it has an intuitive adjustable fit system and six adjustable vents. Comfort and warmth make the Fornix something you look to forward to putting on instead of dreading when it’s time to rip skins and prep for the downhill.
Best For: Protecting your head with the safest and lightest technology out there.
Darn Tough Vermont Mountain Top Over-The-Calf Light
New this year from Darn Tough, the Mountain Top socks are the perfect touring companion. Light cushioning with a performance fit result in a seamless integration with your boot. The socks do not slip giving you the confidence to really drive your skis into turns as well as have no fears of earning blisters as you earn your turns on long tours and boot packs. Darn Tough socks are backed by a lifetime warranty, so no matter how hard you are on your gear you will always have a high performance sock in your arsenal.
Best For: Inbounds and backcountry skiers who demand a durable high performing sock.