Best Gear: Essential Backcountry Gear

This essential backcountry gear can not only make your experience safer… it just might make it more fun.

1. C.A.M.P. Corsa Nanotech Piolet 

Some days you want a little insurance policy in your back pocket… and C.A.M.P.’s Corsa Nanotech is just that. Light, sharp, functional, this thing climbs well, it buries as an anchor, and it’s plenty good for self-arrest, too. If you’re going to be on snow or a glacier for a less technical outing, then the featherweight (250 grams, the lightest ice axe out there) Corsa Nanotech is your best bet.

2. C.A.M.P. Race 290 Crampons 

Another light-is-right innovation (290 grams; that’s less than a third of some technical crampons) from the fevered engineers at C.A.M.P., this 10-point crampon uses Dyneema webbing for the center bar, rather than the usual aluminum or steel. Note that these are designed specifically for “tech” (Dynafit, Plum, ATK, etc.) bindings. If all you’re doing is sticking to a frozen bootpack, or navigating a bulletproof glacier, these things rule. They pack up small (grapefruit-sized), too.

3. Alpine Threadworks Ski Guide’s Rescue Tarp

What happens if your partner gets nuked and you have to haul his carcass to a nearby hut, landing zone or snowcave inhabited by Swedish tele-minxes? Rescue sled, that’s what. I’m amazed at how few people have one or have a viable plan to fashion a makeshift version. Stress not, oh fellow pilgrims-of-pow, because a friendly gent in Calgary makes a great option—the Alpine Threadworks “Ski Guide’s Rescue Tarp.” It deploys in seconds, tows well, it’s super light (650 grams), it keeps your patient dry, and you can use it as a bivy sack or emergency shelter.

4. Mammut PAS Snowpulse Pro 35

While it is no guarantee of survival and no substitute for proper training and decision making, an avalanche air bag can save your life if you make a mistake and get caught in a slide. Mammut’s PAS, system does more than keep you up above the snow — the inflatable Snowpulse bag actually cradles the head, which protects your skull from the trauma of being dragged through trees and from the pure violence of the slide itself. It also helps ensure you land head up when you come to a stop. Big bonus: the system is removable, so that you can use the smart, 35-liter pack on its own if you are not traveling in slide zones.
$949 (plus $200 air cylinder);

5. Dynafit TLT 6 

Somehow the original TLT 5, and now the 6, weigh hundreds of grams less than every other ski boot out there (1,050 grams per boot in the Performance version size 27.5 mondo) and ski better. “Better” might not be the right word: They’re superior, sublime, fantastic… unbelievable. They don’t fit fat feet, but the TLT 6 does offer a slightly forgiving last, so if you’re in the market for a touring boot, these are your shoes. Spring the extra coin for the carbon cuff (Performance), it’s worth it.
$750 Mountain, $999 Performance;

6. Backcountry Access Tracker 3

Already reliable, efficient and fast, the Backcountry Access Tracker 2 gets an upgrade this season with the launch of the 3. What’s different? Mainly a “suppression” or “marking” function which lets you ignore a beacon once you’ve found it, allowing you to continue searching for another victim. It’s also smaller and about 20 percent lighter than the Tracker 2. There’s still no firm date on the 3’s debut—but rest assured, it’s worth waiting for.

7. Liberty Variant 113 CAIC

The folks at Avon-Colorado-based Liberty get out in the backcountry quite often, so they decided to help educate like-minded skiers. When you buy the limited-edition CAIC Variant at select retailers, the brand donates $100 to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, with a goal of raising $10,000 total. Based on the 113-underfoot Variant, it features an Electra base, which stands up to abuse and holds wax for a long time.

8. Brooks Range Snow Scraper

Sure, you could make your own pretty easily and maybe you should, but slackers like me will just pony up the seven bucks and get the Brooks Range Ski Scraper. It weighs nothing, fits in a pocket, gets rid of excess wax on your skis, cleans out tech fittings and iced-up bindings, and sheds iced-up deadweight on your top sheets. Easily overlooked, but a necessity for touring.

AIARE Level 1 (not pictured)

It weighs nothing and won’t take up any space in your pack, but it’ll save your bacon—so pony up for an AIARE 1 course through a qualified provider. I know, it’s not sexy, but it’s the single most important component to your backcountry set-up. Well, maybe it’s second to your brain, but you get the point. Take one from a qualified provider like Alpine World Ascents, Climbing Life Guides or the Colorado Mountain School.

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