A Backcountry Checklist: Everything You Need for Your First Tour

Thinking of heading out into the backcountry this season? Check out this essential backcountry checklist from snowboard expert Bobby Chadderton.

Photo by Glenn Kirby
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If you’re planning on heading out into the backcountry for the first time, you’ll want to be sure to carry everything you need and nothing you don’t. Splitboarding is very different from traditional snowboarding without the help of a lift to get you to the summit. Ascending can be more strenuous than hiking, you’ll want to cut down on as much weight as possible to have a good time. Plus, venturing outside of the ski resort is inherently dangerous and having the right gear could save your life!

Getting There

If you’ll be flying to your backcountry destination, check Southwest! While the upfront flight cost may be a bit more expensive than say, Frontier or Spirit, you’ll save a ton of money with reduced baggage fees. Southwest offers two free checked bags up to 50lb each, a personal item (backpack) and a carry-on luggage (no weight limit) for free. They’ll even count your snowboard bags and boot bags as one item for a hassle-free flight!

The Essentials

For the first timer, life saving gear comes first. As you become more comfortable in the backcountry, you’ll be able to implement subtle changes to your loadout and carry more “luxury” items on your trip. For starters, always be sure to pack the following snowboarding gear first.

A group of people hike along the ridge of a snowy mountain
Photo by Patrick Bean

The Big Three

Avalanche Beacon: Arguably the most important piece of equipment you'll carry with you. The majority of beacons will include a harness or holster; if you use a harness, be sure to equip it underneath your outermost layer and practice withdrawing your beacon and activating it quickly. Consider designating a front pants pocket for your beacon. I use my front right pocket so I don’t have to worry about ditching layers and always feel exactly where it is. Always turn off or leave behind cell phones when touring to prevent signal interference.

Avalanche Probe and Shovel: I use a 280cm probe, which makes it easier to test deeper without wasting energy bending down and digging. For both your shovel and probe, invest in high quality, durable materials. Avoid plastic and carbon - these two items are not the place to cut pack weight. When it comes to probing and shoveling, practice, practice, practice. Your gear is only as effective as your level of training and preparedness.

Wearables

Splitboard: If you have a splitboard, dope! If not, you can strap your snowboard to your back and begin your ascent with snowshoes. Skinning is far more efficient than snowshoeing, make sure your splitboarding homies aren’t gonna leave you behind!

Splitboard Bindings: Do a basic assessment of your bindings by putting them in both positions (ascending and descending) prior to heading out every time you tour. The last place you want a malfunction is near the top of your ascent in deep snow.

Skins: Take care of your skins! I use skin savers religiously, although many people find them inconvenient and time consuming. You can use the “”Harrison Method” of rolling each skin up so the glue and skin side come together. If you opt for skin-savers, I recommend cutting them in half at the midpoint so you have a little wiggle room when putting them back on in windy conditions.

Poles: For the splitboarder, collapsible poles are your friend. Any pair of ski poles will do the trick as long as you’re okay with having them attached to your back during descent. Telescopic poles work well, but having the ability to completely collapse your poles and stash them in your pack is great.

Boots: Any snowboard boots work for touring. I personally wear the same mid-high flex boots that I typically ride in. If you typically wear softer boots while snowboarding, consider investing in a stiffer pair for touring.

Goggles/Sunglasses: I usually keep my goggles stashed in my pack while skinning and switch to them when I put my helmet on. You can rock out with your goggles on the way up if you don’t find it too hot but typically my sweat will make them fog up. You’ll definitely want some form of UV protection for your eyes on a sunny day!

Helmet: You never know when you’re gonna smash into a covered up rock or wind up tomahawking down a chute that you weren’t prepared for. I’ve done both and I can confidently say I’ll never head into the backcountry without a helmet!

Pants: Your regular snowboarding pants will work just fine. GORE-TEX is best for staying dry but is a bit less breathable for a hot ascent.

Compressions Shorts / Long Johns: For the coldest days, you’ll want a second layer under your pants. Other than that, moisture-wicking compression shorts are perfect for keeping cool.

Socks: A performance wool sock or blend is your friend here for moisture-wicking warmth and comfortability. Avoid extremely thick socks, you could cut off circulation with snowboard boots leading to numb feet.

Hat: I wear a Nike Dri-Fit bucket hat that packs down to the size of an apple for an exposed ascent. If you wear a beanie under your helmet, don’t forget that too!

Base Layer: Again, moisture-wicking and temperature regulating materials are best for your base layers.

Mid Layer: Puffy jacket, hoodie or any form of insulation that’ll keep you warm. As a general rule of thumb, start out your tour cold. For me, that usually means starting in just my baselayer. This eliminates the need for me to stop skinning to de-layer. If you carry your probe above your mid-layer, make sure you don’t leave it behind!

Jacket: Whatever you wear on the mountain will do the job! If you’re looking to lighten up, a waterproof GORE-TEX shell with minimal insulation will probably work best for temperature regulation.

Gloves: I bring three pairs of gloves with me. Two sets of waterproof mitts and one set of liners that I’ll begin my ascent in if I’m in dry conditions.

Backpack: Any backpack will work for your first few ascents as long as it fits your gear but I recommend investing in a quality technical pack that’s engineered for backcountry touring. Whatever pack you use, be sure to always pack it the same exact way!

A snowboarder makes their way through deep powder
Photo by Patrick Bean

Stashables

Navigation: Print out a topographic map of the area you’ll be exploring and put it in a gallon-size zip-lock baggie. You can find these on the AllTrails app or through a number of backcountry resources. Cell-phone reception will be limited and battery life is finite, don’t count on your phone! I bring a Garmin InReach Mini GPS with me on any expedition for an added level of safety and security.

Water: An insulated hydration pack is the best way to stay hydrated while ascending. If you use a non-insulated bladder, keep it right against your back to prevent your water from freezing. Every time you take a sip, exhale into the bladder to push the water back down to prevent the tube from freezing. If you don’t feel like dealing with the hassle of a bladder, a water bottle that clips to your waist or sternum strap is perfect.

Food: I always bring a full day of food with me which typically comes out to 1.5lbs. Packable, calorie dense foods are best. Trail mix, jerky, dried fruit, and protein bars are typically my go-to snacks. Be sure to eat a full breakfast in the morning before you head out!

Cell Phone: It’s always a good idea to have your phone with you, but don’t count on it for navigation or rescue. As you get ready to descend, be sure to put your phone on airplane mode to prevent interference with your beacon in the event of an emergency.

Emergency Kit: A first-aid kit, lighter, whistle, paracord, ski straps, zip ties, a head lamp, and extra batteries are all extremely useful items to have on you at all times.

Number 2 Kit: Because you never know how that beef jerky is gonna treat your stomach! Always abide by Leave No Trace guidelines for waste disposal in the backcountry and only use biodegradable wipes / toilet paper.

Expert Tips

  • Lay out all of your gear in your living room or bedroom, somewhere that allows you to actually see every single individual item prior to packing. Print out a copy of this checklist and cross out each item as you put it in your backpack
  • Get in the habit of stashing your avalanche beacon in one of your boots immediately after touring and keep it in the same position on your person while in the backcountry.
  • Practice, practice, practice! Test yourself with transitions - skin around your yard for a bit, practicing kick turns at sharp corners. Become efficient with taking your skins on and off in a comfortable environment before dealing with them in the cold.
  • Check the weather and avalanche reports the night before your tour and the morning of. Once you become more familiar with snow conditions, you can make adjustments to your pack accordingly.
A snowboarder makes their way down a mountain
Photo by Oliver Schwendener

Printable Backcountry Checklist

Everything that you wear and carry while touring has a purpose. If it doesn’t, you probably don’t need it! You should only carry the essentials, especially as you learn uphill techniques.

  • Backpack
  • Beacon
  • Shovel
  • Probe
  • Splitboard
  • Bindings: tested in both positions
  • Skins: trimmed / tested with clips
  • Helmet
  • Snowboard boots
  • Pants/Jacket
  • Mid-layer top
  • Base-layer top/bottom
  • Gloves: liner and two sets of waterproof gloves
  • Wool socks
  • Neck gaiter
  • Sunglasses
  • Goggles
  • Warm hat
  • Water
  • Food
  • Lip Balm
  • Navigational equipment / GPS
  • Cell phone (airplane mode) or satellite phone
  • Emergency Kit: First-aid kit, whistle, paracord, ski straps, zip ties, head lamp, batteries
  • Number 2 kit / toilet paper

If you have any questions, reach out to a Snowboard expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice and recommendations.

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Written By
As a Canadian living in the Rocky Mountains, chasing winter is in my blood. ​ I joined the snowboard industry in college when I helped lead Temple University's Snowboard Club, and I caught a glimpse of turning my passion into a career. I’m a snowboard writer, gear junkie, and a self-proclaimed sprea...

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