03 October, 2012

What's In My Pack And Why

It's nearly the start of a new season, and a great time to start planning trips, and organizing gear.  Going through avalanche case studies, friends accounts of avalanches, and reading more avalanche articles I keep remembering one key piece of every incident that doesn't always get discussed.  Gear.  If you don't have the right gear your chances of survival, and dealing with an accident, dramatically decrease.  Skiing in the backcountry, you should have everything you need in order to rescue, stabilize, and evacuate someone; spend the night, melt water, create heat, and get out of the snow when necessary.  An emergency is an emergency regardless of whether you are in deep the backcountry or even just outside the ski area boundary, and requires just as much care.  Otherwise, things may not turn out as you may hope, with too little equipment to deal with the situation.  So here's what I carry in my pack as a reference.

Inside The Pack

0.  Pieps Myotis 30 Pack
-  I like this pack, it works, but it's hard to like any one pack as nothing is perfect and I tend to sway back and forth between my favourite Pieps, Black Diamond, Deuter, Dynafit, and Arcteryx packs, Pieps was just what I used last, but it ranks high because of it's separate snow tools pocket, carrying ability, and ski carrying system.  The quest for the perfect pack continues...
1.  Mammut Pulse Beacon, AviTech Shovel, Speed Probe
-  The Pulse transceiver is easily the best transceiver I've ever used, and have watch hundreds of students and peers recover beacons during training in a fraction of the time that they would have using other beacons, especially when dealing with multiple burials.  It's easily customizable, and is designed for simplicity, and speed.  The Speed Probe is good, but like the pack, all my probes have worked well but I have yet to find one that really stands out.  My AviTech on the other hand is a shovel I've come to love.  It makes digging a beautifully crafted snow profile easy, and hauls snow when it needs to.  What is important and makes life easier in an overnight, is that it also doubles as a great shelter as it will help build your snow shelter.  Example: quincy, trench, snowcave.
2.  Snow Study Kit and G3 Bonesaw
-  I don't like the basic snow study saws as I can't cut trees with them, the G3's Bonesaw does both.  Metal and black screen for snow crystals is great because the white snow crystals show up great against the black background, seems obvious but there are lots of white crystal screens out there.
3.  Rab Down Jacket
-  This serves as my warm-up jacket, and doubles as my sleeping bag if I'm forced to stay overnight, paired with a tarp and foam pullout stored in the back panel of my pack it's actually pretty comfortable night in a snowcave.
4.  Modified Rescue Bubble (Rescue Toboggan)
-  This one is key, most people practice avalanche scenarios, where they find a person buried underneath the snow, probe the target and dig it up.  Now instead of finishing there, continue the scenario and move that person a mere 300m away off to a safe spot without their help.  Still think you can carry them out?  The Rescue Bubble is bomber, fits skis and splitboards, but does not have a large enough area to fit multiple people underneath during a storm.  Which is why I have a sill tarp sewn onto mine to fit a large group of people underneath without carrying the toboggan and another heavier tarp.  Another great model (and my favourite) is the Alpine Threadworks Guide Tarp.  This toboggan can be your best friend, serving as a tent, bivy, ceiling, and transportation device for the injured. 
5.  Map, Compass, GPS, Altimeter
-  Don't know where you're going, what about where you are?  What happens if you need to let people know where you are for them to come get you if you're in trouble, not to mention white-out navigation, finding better ski lines, and making your way back home in a new area?  Every map I have is organized at home to specific map datums, the magnetic declination is written in my field book every year, and I've drawn lines and routes all over the map to ensure I get amazing skiing opposed to just okay skiing.
6.  Rope Rescue Kit
-  I have about 5 different rope kits for different days, but the one that is used almost always is my trusty Beal Rando 30m 8mm rope with BD Couloir harness.  I carry Camp Nano 23 ultralight biners with Vapourlock locking Biners, accessory cord, and extra triple length Dyneema sewn slings.  This kit isn't my lightest, but it still is very light, and will rescue really well or get me into big terrain well too.  Complete contents for crevasse rescue below:
     -  1x 30m 8mm Rope
     -  1x Harness
     -  2x 240cm Dyneema Slings
     -  3x 5m pieces of Cordellete to match the rope
     -  3x Locking Biners
     -  3x Non Locking Biners
     -  1x 20cm Ice Screw
7.  First Aid Kit
-  Enough gear to stop a deadly bleed, set a broken bone, deal with cuts and abrasions, CPR (pocket mask), hypothermia (heat packs), and tons of other life threatening issues or just to make a hilarious fall not ruin brand new gore-tex with a few drops of blood.  I've found a lot of pre-built kits on the market are heavy, as well fall short of what you want and need, so building your own custom kit is the way to go.
8.  Repair Kit + Multi-tool + 'Real' Posi Drive #3 Screwdriver
-  Zapstraps fix so much, but also skin parts, heli-coils, Quiverkiller inserts, tele-screws, odd parts, epoxy, and even an extra toe piece go a really long way.  If someone breaks something in the backcountry first I want to ensure they can get home okay, but secondly hopefully I can salvage the day and continue harvesting deep powder like nothing even happened.  The full on Posi Drive #3 screw driver is a luxury.  With this screwdriver, you can take bindings on and off, adjust, and fix tons of stuff without stripping screws for later and making life easy.  Combined with the multi-tool and the rest of the repair kit you are a mobile ski tech.
9.  BD Storm Headlamp and Firestarter
-  If the sun goes down and you can't see, guess what you're spending the night!  But if you have a headlamp, you created your own light, and continue on your merry way.  The Storm headlamp is powerful, but small, light, and conserves batteries really well.  This lives in my pack year round, and sees lots of action.  Everytime I find myself reaching for it, I'm glad I have it.  Fire starter, just a small piece of bicycle inner-tube and a lighter in a ziplock bag, is enough to burn and start a fire if an emergency calls for it.  Weight:  15g, worth it.
10.  Metal Pot + Nalgene
-  What?  Who the hell carries that?  It lives in the bottom of my pack, with my repair kit and some cord stuffed in it.  Doesn't take up room, but allows me to boil water and make water long after I've run out.  It actually weighs nothing and my repair kit lives inside it, so it doesn't really take up any more space if I didn't carry it.  For long term rescues, it can also act as a source of warmth, by boiling water to add to a Nalgene, and stuffing the Nalgene inside your jacket to act as a hot water bottle, as well as warming the core of avalanche victims in a rescue scenario back up with hot water to drink.  
11.  Wax
-  After one day last year in February, all of our skins gobbed up with moist snow, making skinning very unpleasant.  I normally have wax with me at all times in the spring, but because it was February I didn't.  We suffered due to the cost of sacrificing 10g's.  Never again.
12.  Radio + Cellphone
-  Communication is vital for a rescue, if you can't get a hold of anyone back in civilization you might as well be on a desert island in the middle of the pacific.  Nobody knows there's an emergency, that you need help, and will only call in the cavalry when you don't show up for your check in time.  Then Search And Rescue will have to look for you, only in the daylight hours, and over a wider expanse of terrain at which point you will either be dead of near dead.  Two way communication is vital.  Spot devices are great, so are certain Satellite phones, devices like InReach, etc.  Two forms are better than one.  The point of two way communication is that you can let the other party know what's wrong, what you need, where you are, and your urgency, while they can assist as best they can over the radio.  
13.  Extra Gloves And Toque
-  This is an easy one for most of us to understand but the toque is the key.  If you ever need to dig someone out of an avalanche you will notice right away its rare that they are left with all of their gear.  Avalanche's are quite violent and powerful, your brand new warm toque is probably going to be the first to go.  Having a rescuer present you with a nice warm new toque after you've gone hypothermic is always a nice welcome back to the world of the living.
14.  Sunscreen, Sunglasses, Goggles
-  The sun sometimes doesn't seem that bad, but it packs a punch, especially when you are out in the mountains 100+ days a year.  A number of years ago, a ski touring partner of mine got so badly burned up his nose (from the sun reflecting off the glacier), in his mouth and on his face, we were forced to take a rest day in our tents to avoid making it worse.  Enough said, sunburns and snow-blindness is for those who don't want to ski.

Here's what I split among the group.
1.  Rescue Tarp/Toboggan
2.  Rope (partner still needs their harness and rescue gear)
3.  Repair Kit
4.  First Aid (sometimes we still do have a few first aid kits around in case one gets lost in an incident)

Avalanche Incident

Even if an avalanche occurs, and all people are accounted for, this equipment is still necessary.  A friend of mine, Lee Lau, was caught up in an avalanche in April of 2010.  They were prepared, skied well as a group, and something happened.  However, because of their strengths skiing the line watching out for each other, having the right equipment, and carrying the proper communication equipment their avalanche accident turned out much better than it could of.  Here's the Account Of What Happened, and a step by step version of the accident.

Be prepared this season, because it's better to carry the gear and not use it, than to not carry it and need it!


  1. This is an awesome post! Thanks so much. Great insights into someone else's gear list. I'll definitely be trainspotting some of your kit. :)



  2. Thanks John, like your KB articles!

  3. Your post helps me know the things I need to prepare and bring on my skiing.Complete list.I'll recommend this to my friends who will also ski with me.Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great review. Re the Pieps Myotis, the only drawback I can see is that it doesn't appear to have a feed-in along the inside of the harness for a water tube for the very cold days.

  5. Thanks Pavel. I haven't used a hydration bladder and tube for years, as they constantly freeze on me (even with hot water, insulation, and blowing water back to the bag), but find it could use just 4-5 litres more for longer days. That with carrying a DSLR sometimes, it's almost right for me. Time for a custom pack I think!

  6. Many thanks for sharing the must-haves in a ski pack. This is really helpful, especially for beginners because they can know the specifics for each gear.

  7. Among one of the finest pieces on the internet, freshening in its specificity.