Gearing Up For the Backcountry

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998

Gearing Up For the Backcountry
By Sean O'Brien


Gearing up The siren song of the backcountry — with its promise of deep powder and untracked faces — is hard to ignore. Unfortunately, too many backcountry visitors fail to understand that the most important backcountry gear is found between the ears. The vast majority of avalanches that cause fatalities are triggered by the victim, so common sense, proper training, and the right gear are all absolute necessities for a safe outing.

Everyone heading into the back of beyond should remember T.I.P.S.: Transceiver, Instruction, Probe, and Shovel. Snow Sense ($8.95), an instruction book from the Alaska Mountain Safety Center, is a great primer on avalanche awareness.

A 457-kilohertz transceiver, such as the Ortovox F1 Focus ($250), should be carried by each member of the party. A telescoping probe like the Life-Link Sectional Avalanche Probe ($76) or the Variant Pole/Probe ($80) can shave precious minutes off the search for a buried avalanche victim (the telescoping probe extends to ten feet, one inch; the pole/probe to 6 feet, 11 inches). Finally, a strong, lightweight shovel — such as the Life-Link IIIDX ($45) with its Lexan blade — moves snow more efficiently than digging with your hands.

Lugging your board while post-holing through deep snow can take the fun out of deep-powder days. To get where you're going, don a pair of snowshoes such as the Atlas Summit 22 ($279) or Tubbs Altitude Sierra ($233). For a really plush ride, check out the K2 Traverse ($219), with its Clicker step-in snowshoe binding.

Choose a long, big-nosed snowboard for flotation through deep backcountry powder. The K2 Eldorado ($400) is a directional backcountry powder board that handles a variety of snow conditions. The Voile Split Decision ($625) transforms from directional snowboard into touring skis for those extra-long approaches. On your next backcountry heli trip, take along the Nitro Powder Gun 195 ($492). Keep it in the steep and deep and its swallowtail design provides a Cadillac-like ride.

Get a snowboard-specific backpack to schlep your gear. Day trippers should consider the 575-cubic-inch Heli Pack ($64) from Da Kine; this close-fitting pack carries just the essentials. The 2,300-cubic-inch K2 Pilchuck ($79) is great for long day hikes, while the 2,700-cubic-inch K2 Interglacier ($119) works for quick overnighters. A lightweight, no-frills way to carry a snowboard is with the Snowboard Carrier from Grab This: Aggressive Gear ($28-$34), a webbed harness system that fits on your shoulders like a backpack; stuff it in your pocket when it's not needed.

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