From Boots to Duct Tape: Everything You Need for Backcountry Skiing
The ultimate packing list for going out of bounds
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
We at Outside have been skinning up the local ski area near our headquarters in Santa Fe, New Mexico, since October. (Thank you, Godzilla El Niño!) Now there’s enough coverage (and a stable enough snowpack) to head out of bounds, where having the right kit is key. For a general overview of our favorite backcountry skis and jackets, check out the 2016 Winter Buyer’s Guide. For everything else, check out the following list with all our top new gear picks, including everything we’ll be skiing in, wearing, and carrying this winter.
Black Diamond Link 105 ($850)
Black Diamond proved with the Link 105 that carbon isn’t a necessary ingredient for building a lightweight, high-performance backcountry ski. These boards, made with a paulownia wood core and prepreg fiberglass layup, aren’t the lightest on the market (7.3 pounds for the 180 centimeter), but we’ve used them for full-day outings and never felt slow on the ups. These skis make up for the extra weight with superb dampness, thanks in large part to a layer of rubber in the sidewalls, that’ll boost your confidence when you’re trying to stay safe on a 50-degree pitch. Match them with Fritschi-Swiss Diamir Vipec 12 bindings and Black Diamond Ascension Nylon STS skins.
Line Sick Day Tourist ($800)
Line is known for making park skis and big-mountain, multidirectional planks for people like Eric Pollard, who likes to butter off 20-foot cliffs. In other words, Line is not well known in the touring category. That changes with the Sick Day Tourist. These skis are plenty light (7.3 pounds for the 186 centimeter), so you can use them on big tours, but we like them because, like all Line skis, they ride like a Cadillac, thanks to their burly sidewall construction. They’ll slay pow as well as the next ski, but we particularly love these boards for mixed conditions when we need something that will charge through anything. Match them with Marker Kingpin bindings and Line Snakeskin skins.
DPS Wailer 106 Tour1 ($1,050)
The Wailer 106 Tour1 skis are a special midseason release. With Tour1 construction, which features things like cap construction and a balsa core wrapped with aerospace-grade carbon, these skis are ultralight (6.3 pounds for the 178 centimeter) yet surprisingly strong, which makes them particularly well suited for long tours in any terrain. With a little more girth than the Wailer 99 Tour1 but less massive than the 112 Tour1, the 106 hits a sweet spot and could become your one-quiver, big-day, backcountry ski. Match them with G3 Ion 12 bindings and Atomic Multifit AM Rocker skins.
Dynafit Khion Carbon ($900)
Dynafit’s Vulcan boot is our go-to for skiing steep, no-fall runs like the Big Couloir at Big Sky, but it’s more boot that you’ll likely need when the terrain is less intense. That’s why we were glad to see Dynafit release the Khion, which is a bit flexier but still provides plenty of power transfer. It also tours well and will feel familiar to people who are used to traditional alpine boots, thanks to its four-buckle construction.
Arc’teryx Procline Carbon ($1,000)
These boots don’t launch until next fall, but we got our hands on a demo pair this month and were blown away by the performance on the ups and downs. The big story here is that Arc’teryx designed a boot that flexes not only back to front but also side to side (23 degrees in and 12 degrees out) in tour mode. This lets users flex their ankles on uneven skin track or mixed terrain, boosting traction and control. When you’re ready to head down, the boot is stiff enough to handle most backcountry skis.
Black Diamond Razor Ski Poles ($125)
These poles match an aluminum upper with a carbon lower, creating a lightweight pole that can take an absolute beating in the backcountry. The locking mechanism that lets you extend the pole is easy to use. There’s also a low-profile grip for when you want to hold the pole below the handle while switchbacking up a climb.
Soul Poles ($100 to $200)
All Soul Pole shafts are made from sustainable bamboo. The grips and baskets are made from recycled plastics, and the straps a crafted from a recycled PET plastic weave. They hold up great in the backcountry because bamboo is lightweight yet ultradurable.
Voormi Fall Line Jacket ($400)
We tested and fell in love with the preproduction Fall Line. The full-production sample is even better. It uses the company’s Core Construction technology, which weaves wool through a waterproof sheet, creating a wind- and snow-shielding outer layer. The new version is lighter and features some nice style elements, making it an ideal backcountry piece that also looks great at the bar.
Patagonia Reconnaissance Jacket ($400)
We rarely need a full waterproof shell in New Mexico because our snow is cold and dry. That’s why the Reconnaissance, which uses a DWR-coated softshell material on the chest and back, is a go-to. That softshell material dumps tons of heat on the skin track but keeps us warm and dry on the way down. If big, wet flakes start to fly, a fully waterproof material on the shoulders, hood, and arms keeps out most of the extra moisture.
Stio Snotel Jacket ($355)
Made from Toray Dermizax EV 3L fabric, this jacket has some stretch, which is nice when you’re in ski boots scrambling up and over rocks to get to your favorite line. It’s just as waterproof and breathable as most other jackets on this list, but it packs down better—to about the size of a grapefruit—which is nice when you’re conserving space in a pack.
Mammut Alvier HS Hooded Jacket ($650)
The underarm zippers on this jacket split the sleeves open and allow you to roll them up, basically turning the jacket into a vest when you’re huffing up something steep. Once you’re up top and winds are whipping at 50 miles per hour along the ridge, the three-layer jacket, with Gore-Tex C-Knit backer technology, keeps even the heaviest Sierra cement at bay.
Trew Roam 3/4 Bib ($420)
With miles of built-in articulation and airy Dermizax NX fabric, the Roam is ideal for long, technical, high-exertion days on the skin track. Thick, sturdy bibs keep the pants from shifting around, lots of zippers act as extra vents, and there’s an easy-access beacon pocket on the right thigh.
Black Diamond Mission Pro Ski Pants ($440)
Made from Gore-Tex Pro, these pants are as burly as they get and will put up with ski edges, rock scrambles, and tree branches for years. The beacon pocket is the best we’ve seen, with a built-in reinforced harness that will keep your device protected even in a slide. There are also boot-access zippers that let you adjust your buckles without pulling up the pant cuffs.
The Best Insulation for the Backcountry
Cotopaxi Altiplano Vest ($130)
Polartec’s breathable Alpha insulation works great in a jacket but even better in a vest. The Altiplano vents your core even when you’re sweating, letting excess heat escape off your arms. Layer it under a shell on the way down for an extra layer of protection on the most brutal days.
Big Agnes Meaden Jacket ($380)
You should always carry a spare puffy for lunch breaks, assessing avalanche pits, or those really cold days on top of the ridge. The Meaden has 850-fill power with water-resistant DownTek and vertical baffles that create a snugger, more body-hugging fit. It also packs down well when not in use.
Patagonia R1 Fleece Hoody ($160)
The Polartec Power Grid fabric used in Patagonia’s famous R1 has a high warmth-to-weight ratio, making this one of the coziest base layers ever made. Plus, this version includes a Polygiene treatment to quash odors.
Safety Gear for the Backcountry
Osprey Kode 32 Pack ($150)
An airbag pack is useful in high-consequence terrain, but the system adds extra weight. For regular tours in low-angle areas, the Osprey Kode 32 is a solid option: It’s big enough for everything you need—food, extra layers, and safety tools. It carries well and has a clever diagonal ski carry, which we prefer because it’s quicker to attach than an A-frame carry.
BCA Tracker3 Avalanche Beacon ($335)
This beacon was included in our Buyer’s Guide, but we wanted to mention it again here because it’s so simple to use. The Tracker3 is also svelte, and like most top-level beacons, it’s built so you can search for multiple burials simultaneously. Tip: for a basic primer on how to use your safety gear, check out Salomon's new Mountain Academy.
BCA B-1 Ext Avalanche Shovel ($50)
There’s nothing special about the B-1 Ext, and that’s why we like it. Made from lightweight aluminum, the handle comes off for storage in your bag and extends to 28.75 inches with the shovel attached, giving you plenty of leverage for digging. When it’s not in our bag, the shovel lives in our car in case we get stuck.
Black Diamond Quickdraw Tour 240 Probe ($60)
Snowpack in New Mexico never gets as deep as what you might see in the Pacific Northwest, so we can get away with carrying shorter probes (240 centimeters as opposed to 300 centimeters). The Quickdraw is durable, lightweight (11 ounces), and easy to deploy.
Ortovox Gemini Single Bivi Sack ($75)
We hope you never use this piece of gear, but you should always carry it in case you’re caught out in the backcountry overnight. The sack, made from waterproof nylon with a reflective lining, weighs only half a pound and doesn’t take up much space in your pack, but it will keep you warm and dry—and alive—if you spend a night outside.
Accessories for the Backcountry
Truck M1 Glove ($30)
When you're skinning, you’re constantly using your hands to adjust boots, take skins on and off, and mess with a pack. That’s why we like the M1 Gloves. They’re thin enough to offer plenty of dexterity, but they’re still bomber with full goat-leather construction and plenty warm for all but the most bone-chilling days.
Topo Designs X Giro Edit Helmet ($180)
This collab features the well-vented, low-profile, easy-to-adjust Edit helmet from Giro, plus styling and color choices from Topo Designs. Match the helmet with the Contact goggles collab, and you’re really set.
Smith X Owner Operator I/O 7 Goggle ($200)
The Smith I/O 7 vents well, fits great, and has a super-simple lens-change system. The strap on this collab was designed by Owner Operator and gives the goggles a vintage 1970s ski look.
Merino Wool Buff ($32)
We often wear a Buff over our head and under a trucker cap on the way up to protect our ears and neck from the sun. On super-cold days, we pull a Buff over our nose and mouth to prevent frostbite on the way down. The merino wool version is our favorite because it’s warm and doesn’t freeze as you breathe through it.
Howler Brothers Mesh-Back Trucker Hat (From $27)
You’ll get sunburned real quick if you’re skinning on a bluebird day without a hat. We like trucker hats in particular because they vent out the back. Howler Brothers offers a huge selection with fun logos and graphics.
Brooks-Range Mountaineering Ski Binding Tool ($10)
Sometimes you need to adjust your bindings in the field, but you don’t want to carry a screwdriver. This easy-to-hold tool comes with a series of bits that allow you to wrench on any binding on the market.
Voilé Strap 20-Inch ($5)
You need several of these straps in your backcountry bag because they’re useful if things go wrong. Use them to hold a skin on your ski when snow interferes with the glue or to keep a ski boot in place when a binding breaks.
Duct Tape ($11)
Don’t bring an entire roll. Instead, pull off about five feet and create a mini roll that you can use to patch a hole in your jacket.
Exotac Firesleeve ($15)
We always carry a waterproof sleeve for a lighter in case we get stuck in the backcountry overnight and need to build a fire.
Goal Zero Venture 30 Recharger ($100)
The Venture 30 lives in our pack for all “uh-oh” moments. If we get stuck and our phone is running low on juice, this will recharge the batteries a couple times. Just don’t forget to bring the charging cord.
REI First-Aid Kit (From $25)
REI creates prepackaged first-aid kits that come with everything you need—including triple-antibiotic ointment, bandages, ibuprofen, and moleskin—to treat minor injuries. We like to throw in a few hand warmers and a pocket knife, just in case.
Suunto Traverse Watch ($450)
We wear this watch because it shows topographic maps and routes that you can follow using both GPS and GLONASS satellite navigation systems. It also creates a breadcrumb path that will lead you back to your car if you get lost.