The backcountry is not a place to find out your gear is not up to the task or that you’re missing something essential. Often what we experience in the backcountry is quite different to our expectations and it pays to be prepared for anything. Before you travel, make sure every member of your group is well equipped, knows exactly what gear they are expected to have with them and that they know how to use it. This needs to be communicated at the planning stage but checked before leaving.
We know it is not all about avalanche danger in Australia, but beacon, shovel & probe are the basis of any backcountry pack. They are like your seatbelt, you hope you don’t need them but never be caught without them. Besides, you won’t be welcome touring anywhere outside Australia if you don’t have your avi kit. An avalanche beacon needs to be a 3-antenna digital transceiver (the old two antenna and analogue transceivers still work but are inferior). Check your beacon battery life before every tour – and exchange for new batteries at 50% or less. Your shovel should be made from aluminium – plastic ones won’t do the job! You need to be familiar with using this gear – practise putting your probe & shovel together, and be familiar with all the functions of your beacon. Even the most experienced professionals regularly practise beacon searches - in the unfortunate critical moment where you have to save someone’s life, it saves vital minutes if you are dialled in using your gear.
There are lots of different backcountry-specific backpacks in the market – choose one that fits the contour of your back and has an outside compartment for your avi gear. The contents of your pack is different for all but should include the basics:
Clothing should include waterproof outerwear with ventilation zips, a warm puffer jacket, warm beanie or helmet, a spare pair of gloves and goggles. Layering is critical, with layers coming off and on as you work up a sweat going uphill and cool down quickly once stopped. Moisture-wicking base layers are essential. Many backcountry tourers prefer lightweight items for climbing, such as thin gloves & beanie, and sunglasses, swapping back to the warm gear at the top.
Store your skins in a cool dry place, and when you’re out in the backcountry make every effort to keep them dry. Wiping down your skis/board with a microlight cloth before applying the skins is helpful. Make sure they are folded glue to glue – you don’t want any glue on the skin surface.
Checking each other’s equipment is a good idea and when guiding I always have a good look at everyone’s skis/board & bindings, skins etc and watch to see how familiar they are with their own gear. This tells a lot! Experience counts so look and learn from those you respect and don’t be a ‘she’ll be right’ Aussie! The more you tour, the more you will build your perfect equipment setup – all adding up to a better experience in the backcountry.
NEXT WEEK: STEP 4 - VERIFY CONDITIONS