Our goal at VNTRbirds is to help you make well-educated decisions when heading into the backcountry. From trip planning to how to properly pack your bag, we are here to guide you into having the best backcountry tour out there. As instructors and guides, we get asked a lot, “what is in your backcountry pack?”. From our favorite pieces of gear to what we will never leave home without, we’re sharing a list of the backcountry equipment that you will always find in our packs whether it is a personal trip or out with clients.

Preparation is key, especially as an instructor where you are responsible for more than just yourself out there, but same goes for a good backcountry partner. You would rather have something you didn’t use than leave it at home when it was really needed it. Below are all the recommended items that we carry in our packs and highlighted** the essentials that cannot be missed.

Laying out your equipment prior to packing it up helps you not miss anything.
Photo: Jessie Unruh

Starting from when you are getting all your equipment into your bag for the day, it’s important to be strategic about where you pack each piece. Ensure that you have quick and easy access to your shovel and probe. In backcountry specific packs, there is a separate pocket for your rescue equipment. In an emergency, there is no time to dig for gear. You also want to regularly inspect your gear to make sure there’s no damage and you have fresh batteries in your transceiver. 

Avalanche Safety Gear

  • Avalanche Transceiver/Beacon** worn on your body, not in your pack. Always check your battery life. AIARE recommends to change batteries at 60%, but a good reference is your transceiver manual.
  • Shovel**
  • Probe** VNTRbirds recommends at least 240cm
  • Snow Study Kit
  • Two-way radios
  • GPS Locator like a Garmin InReachgoing to be travelling with limited service? This is a great emergency alternative to a cellphone.
VNTRbirds loves our Mammut Barryvox transceivers, but the best transceiver is the one you know how to use!
Photo: Jessie Unruh

The rescue equipment, a transceiver, shovel and probe are the bare minimum you should have for an afternoon in the backcountry. Before you head into the backcountry, test your transceiver to ensure that it is functioning and there are no issues with your display screen, and most importantly, you know how to use it. If you are with friends, talk about a rescue plan, turn around times and always leave your plan with someone who is not venturing out with you.

Uphill Gear

The gear listed below is important and recommend that you pack as much of this as you can. This list will keep you very prepared in the backcountry from the elements to an emergency. It’s better to be prepared than not. 

Snacks + hydration from Skratch Labs are a VNTRbirds go-to
Photo: Jessie Unruh
  • Climbing Skins – You quite literally cannot ski uphill without your skins.
  • Collapsible Poles – Backcountry ski poles are essentially the same as your regular ski poles, but they have an adjustable or collapsible design to adapt to changing terrain. Yes, even splitboarders need poles.
  • Hard Shella waterproof, breathable, hard-shell jacket for the ever changing weather,
  • Sun protection – sunscreen and lip protection even on those cold or cloudy days
  • Snacks – make sure you have a snack to boost your energy. Here is a list of great snacks to pack. 
  • Water – we recommend SKRATCH LABS, great for rehydration, especially when plain water in the cold isn’t as desirable. PRO TIP: skratch labs hydration mixes are also great hot!
  • Headlamp – it is important to be prepared if you become lost or need to assist someone in the dark, even if you aren’t planning an overnight, it’s better to be prepared. Also where those used transceiver batteries can go!
  • Helmet – check out our friends @saveabrain
  • Extra layers & Neck Gaiter – touring works up a sweat so it is nice to have an extra layer of clothes to change into if needed or to prevent you from getting cold during your transition from walk mode to downhill mode. A neck gaiter is a great way to protect your face not only from the cold but from the sun. It can also double as a headband on those super hot days. 
  • Eye protection – sunglasses on the way up to reduce fogging, goggles for the ripping turns down
  • Multi-tool & Repair Kit – make sure the tools and repair kit you carry works with your set up, It’s great that you have a screwdriver, but a bummer if your kit needs allen keys. We also love to carry duct tape and zip ties.
  • Emergency Kit – aka a first aid kit. Make sure you have the essentials for backcountry specific injuries. Bring that emergency bivvy for the cold. #1 injury in the backcountry is blisters!
  • Voile Ski Strapsthis is something that the VNTRbirds will never leave the house without. They can repair a broken boot, failed skins, bindings that won’t engage and so much more.
  • Map & Compass – all route planning should be made in the comfort of your home prior to getting on the skin track, but these are great resources if you got off track.
  • Snow Saw
  • Rescue Sled made to assist a self-rescue in the backcountry if someone were to be injured and cannot walk themselves out. Recommended one person in your group carrying this.

You may have everything you need in your backcountry ski pack, but we can’t emphasize enough: know before you go. The most important things you bring into the backcountry are knowledge and good judgment. VNTRbirds offers courses that can help you be more prepared and educated in the backcountry, teach you how to properly use your gear and read the terrain and give you the ‘tools’ you need to be safe and create well-educated decisions. They also offer refreshers for avalanche rescue and those who have taken their level one a few years back. Check out all of the VNTRbirds offerings HERE.

Jessie Unruh

Jessie (she/her) has had a passion for outdoor adventure since she was a little girl and a passion for storytelling since high school. Jessie started skiing at just four years old and moved to Colorado in college. This is where her heart would have been happiest and could excel those passions. She has worked in marketing for 12 years helping businesses grow and share their authentic character. Jessie’s goal is to use her passions to tell stories, empower outdoor adventure and to capture amazing content to inspire.