Gear for the backcountry.
Few things are more rewarding than earning your turns. But time in the backcountry requires focus, and you don't want to be worrying about your kit when you're trying to manage snow conditions and avalanche safety. Here are some items that will help ensure that your mind stays where it needs to be.
Osprey Kode 42
Opsrey has been a trusted name in packs for 40 years, so when I needed a touring pack capable of stashing enough gear for an overnight in a Forest Service cabin, I thought of them right away. The Kode 42 is the largest ski-specific pack in the Kode line, and has all the bells and whistles. In order to properly review the pack, I made my approach much longer than needed; I wanted to see how the Kode performed fully weighted down. Before I even got to the trailhead, I was impressed by how much the pack could hold. Multiple gear-specific pockets seemed like overkill at first, but they allowed me to be highly organized, which made for efficient packing. The avy-gear pocket keeps your shovel and probe easily accessible, and has extra room for a saw or snow-study kit if you have one. The main compartment is accessible through the back panel, although you have to unclip your shoulder straps to get at the zippers, which is a little inconvenient. You can also access the compartment from the top. There are straps galore and you can easily carry skis or a snowboard without sacrificing balance. Once the pack is loaded up, its suspension system handles up to 40 lbs. When you're out for a day tour, the Kode is nearly unnoticeable, which is a good thing. While it doesn't have a enough room to replace a multi-day backpack, it's a great piece for an overnight or longer ski tour. $170; ospreypacks.com.
Gregory Targhee 32
While the Osprey is great for overnights and longer tours, it's a bit too much for day-to-day skiing. For something smaller, I opted for the Targhee 32 from Gregory. Once again, this pack has it all: stowable mesh helmet-carry, goggle-specific pocket, avy-gear organization, and hip-belt pockets for the at-hand essentials. What stood out to me was the comfort. Again, one sign of good gear is its invisibility – and once the Targhee 32 was packed, I hardy noticed it. It fit great and stayed out of my way, even when I was utilizing all its features. For example, the back-panel access made throwing on an extra layer easy because I didn't have to dig through the whole bag to find what I was looking for. Also, a roomy stash pocket at the top of the bag made accessing a snack or sunblock no work at all. At 32 liters, the pack has more than enough room for everything you need and some things you don't (a nip of whiskey on the trail never hurts). Like all packs, there are options for ski-carry configurations. While I haven't utilized all the straps and loops and buckles, there are ice-tool options for those with a ski-mountaineering bent. Bottom line: if you're looking for a reliable backcountry daypack, look no further than the Targhee 32. $200; gregorypacks.com.
Outdoor Research Floodlight
As someone who heats up easily and prefers to be a little cold than too hot, I was hesistant to try an 800-fill down jacket for ski touring. But when I came across a waterproof model, I thought maybe I could streamline my layering and further simplify my kit. The Floodlight from Outdoor Research wasn't the first coat on my radar, but it may very well be the last. First and foremost, it's warm, which is the point of an insulated coat. But the Floodlight also sheds water; it utilizes OR's Pertex Shield fabric while bonding the coat's down channels instead of stitching them, which is what makes the coat fully waterproof. This material is noisy when you're touring, so don't expect to sneak up on anyone, but it does keep you dry when you're out in the elements. As for fit, the coat is a bit trim, but at 5'8", 160lbs., a medium is just right. The pockets are huge and fleece-lined, and the hood is spacious so you don't feel claustrophobic with it on. If the sun is shining and temps are climbing, the whole coat can be packed into its hood for storage. $400; outdoorresearch.com.
Farm to Feet Socks
With all the technology that goes into skiing in the backcountry, we can easily overlook the simplest of items – like socks. But as we all know, dry feet equal happy skiers. And I'm a happy skier now that I got a few pairs of Farm to Feet Waitsfield ski socks. They're lighweight, which makes them great for touring, as my feet heat up fast; and they're made of 100% U.S.-grown Merino wool, making them comfy and odor-free. They don't itch and they don't bunch up. Get yourself a pair. $24; farmtofeet.com.
G3 Alpinist High Traction Elle
When your gear works properly, you almost forget about it, and that’s always a good sign that it’s doing its job. With plenty of grip underfoot these colorfully patterned Alpinist High Traction Elle skins feel solid and supportive while propelling you up the hill in all kinds of conditions without much fuss. They fit onto your skis like a dream, the two swivel front hooks make it simple to position and center them no matter how wide your ski tip is, and the tail hook is quick to snap into place once you have it set to the proper distance. With other great features like hydorphopic treating, ultra glide, a rip strip, tested at all temperature extremes, and non-toxic adhesive, these skins quickly become a gal’s best friend for any backcountry foray. $168-$180, genuineguidegear.com.
It’s all well and good to make do with what you have on hand, but when a job specific tool comes into play for a routine task, such as testing a snow pit, it turns it into something way more efficient. The Bonesaw offered by G3 is one such tool. Meant to cut through snow and ice with ease you’ll be pleased at how precise you can make your column tests. It’s short and light enough to fit into your pack, and it can be extended by attaching a shovel or ski pole to the rubber grip handle with the included straps. Added bonus; the snow scale on the blade, and the teeth are aggressive enough to cut wood. $59.95, genuineguidegear.com.