Ski Expert Jake Mundt's Top 10 Favorite Backcountry Products
With over ten years of backcountry skiing experience, Curated expert Jake Mundt profiles his top ten favorite pieces of backcountry equipment.
If I had a dollar for every day in the backcountry that was ruined by gear issues, I would be close to having enough to buy a brand-new touring setup. I have been backcountry skiing for more than 10 years and the last six seasons have been based in Bozeman, Montana. I’ve taken my AIARE Level 2 course which is provided by the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) to provide avalanche training in complex terrain rescues. I’m drawn to the backcountry to ski powder with my friends during the winter months and use it as a tool to efficiently travel through the mountains and also to approach alpine climbs and big ski lines in the springtime. Backcountry skiing allows us to access terrain in the winter and explore our freedom as recreationists.
This coming 2020 season we project to see more skiers heading to the backcountry because COVID restrictions impact resort skiing; many skiers will look to continue their passion in unmitigated terrain. Backcountry skiing is dependent on the gear we use. Malfunctions, or just having the wrong gear, can break your day, or worse. At the same time, having the proper equipment will allow you to travel efficiently and safely, and lead you to the maximum amount of fun and powder skiing. Gear for backcountry skiing is imperative for safety. We need to trust our gear so we can return home safely every day. In this article, I will describe my 10 favorite pieces of backcountry equipment that I rely on, trust, and help me ensure safety for my partners and myself. I am not sponsored, and I use all of these products out of preference.
This piece of gear is cheap, light, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t have multiple straps in your backpack. The uses for ski straps are infinite. To start, they keep my skis together during travel and keep my truck bed organized. Ski straps are also necessary for attaching your ski tips when your skis are on your backpack in A-frame position—this prevents your tails from banging into your legs when you are bootpacking and keeps your backpack tidy. Ski straps can also be used for holding together a broken ski boot, broken backpack straps, or any other general gear fix. On any given outing I carry four to six ski straps (or “gummy straps,” as I like to say). These things are inexpensive, light, and will likely get you out of a pinch.
A Good Pair of Gloves
Or I should say, dexterous gloves. As someone who has dealt with cold hands my entire skiing career, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a good, reliable pair of gloves that you don’t need to take off to perform your basic tasks. For a sport that primarily uses our legs, we need to use our hands constantly. Skins on, skins off, boot buckles, zippers, nose wiping—you name it. Especially in a cold climate like where I ski in Montana, I can’t afford to take my gloves off all the time. For ski touring, we don’t need big, puffy gloves as we are walking most of the day. You want to have something a little thinner, but still warm and waterproof. I usually carry three pairs of gloves. The Hestra Ergo Grip is extremely dexterous and dependable. They aren’t the warmest gloves on the market, but the mobility and breathability are amazing. I also use the Hestra Army Leather and the Hestra Fall Line Glove for when it gets a little colder.
I really like to keep my gear organized, especially in the winter when I want to keep my gloves on. Stuff sacks are the answer. I keep my clothes in one, food in another, and miscellaneous items in a third. When I need to repack my bag I don’t have to put a million different things in the snow, just three, and they stay dry. It saves a ton of time, too.
The most important consideration in backcountry skiing is safety, and the most vulnerable part of your body is your head. If you get one message from this article: WEAR A HELMET. The most frequent excuse I hear for people not wearing helmets when backcountry touring is, “They are too heavy.” Not anymore. In the past couple of years, several companies have come out with a new generation of backcountry touring helmets. These helmets resemble climbing helmets, but they cover more of your head and have a strap to secure your goggles. These helmets are almost half the weight of traditional ski helmets. I use the Petzl Meteor, but other options are the Black Diamond Vision MIPS and Mammut Wall Rider MIPS. Now you’re out of excuses—wear a helmet!
Patagonia R1 Techface Hoody
This is my all-time favorite layer for backcountry skiing. It’s super versatile, and I find myself wearing it most of the day. The Patagonia R1 material is extremely stretchy, breathable, and light. Breathability is so important when ski touring—you can’t afford to sweat, but you also need protection from winter temperatures and the elements. There are a million breathable mid-layers on the market, but what sets the R1 apart from the others is the durable water repellent (DWR) finish and its soft, shell-like properties. While giving you great ventilation, it also breaks wind and holds off moderate amounts of precipitation. Often when I’m wearing my R1, my hard shell never comes out of my backpack. While the R1 doesn’t replace a hard shell in true storm events, it is a great supplement, especially in colder, drier climates such as Montana.
Julbo Sherpa Sunglasses
I hate wearing ski goggles when I’m in the backcountry. I find it very annoying to switch between glasses and goggles for the downhill and then switch back for the second lap. There are enough tasks to perform during a transition, and I don’t have time to change my eyewear. That is why I wear the Julbo Sherpa sunglasses. I find the Sherpas very comfortable on my face, and the ear hooks hold them in place very well. They don’t fog on me when I get hot, and they act as a pretty good ski goggle when you’re skiing down. Offered at $49.95, they also come at a really great price point.
Mammut Barryvox Beacon
If you spend money on one piece of equipment, this should be it. There is no reason to not have the best beacon possible, and in my opinion the Mammut Barryvox Beacon is the best. The Barryvox has many amazing features including its multi-burial use, and Mammut claims it has “one of the widest bandwidths” on the market. What really sets the Barryvox apart from other beacons is its search range. The Barryvox has a range up to 70 meters, compared to the BCA Tracker 3 that has a range of 45 meters. This device, if you learn how to use it, will save your friend’s life.
Pomoca Climb Pro S-Glide Skin
When I was talking about days ruined by gear, probably 80 percent of those were due to skin failure. Skins WILL literally make or break your day. I have owned many pairs of skins over the years and have found myself sticking to (no pun intended) the Pomoca Climb Pro S-Glide. It is the perfect balance of weight, grip, and glide, and it has proven to be reliable.
OR Echo Hoody
The OR Echo hoody is extremely versatile. I wear it as a base layer every day in the backcountry. The hood is great for keeping sun off (thanks to the built-in UPF protection) and keeping your neck warm on cold days without having to wear a thick hat. It dries super fast and the “ActiveFresh” odor control technology will keep you and your friends happy on multi-day trips. I also use it in the summer for climbing, hiking, and running.
BCA Stash 30 Backpack
Your ski touring backpack is really important. It keeps your gear organized and dry, and most importantly, it gives you quick and easy access to your rescue equipment (shovel and probe) when you need it most. I like the BCA Stash 30 because of its backpanel access, external ski carry, and hip belt pockets. It is not the lightest backpack out there but it is quite durable and easy to use with gloves. Whatever backpack you have, make sure you are familiar with it for when you need to get to your gear quickly. Try searching for your stuff in the dark at home before you hit the slopes.
These are the 10 pieces of equipment that I think will make your life easier and more safe. With all of that being said, make sure you have a beacon, shovel, and probe, and KNOW HOW TO USE THEM. None of the gear does anything if you don’t know how to use it when somebody’s life is on the line. Get familiar with ALL OF your gear, get educated about avalanches, and watch your decision-making.