Backcountry Etiquette: The Basics

Words by: Jill Macdonald

This winter it’s going to be elbow room only out there. Let’s enjoy our days in the woods. We remind ourselves that outer peace begins at home, before we leave, and is part of every action we take until we return, safe and refreshed. Be safe, be kind. Be ready.


It doesn’t matter how easy you think your outing should be, it may turn out differently. Days are short, nights are long and cold. A small amount of preparation can make the difference between getting home safely or spending an uncomfortable night out.

Are you travelling in avalanche terrain? If you don’t know the answer, find out. Then take an Avalanche Skills Training (AST) Level One course, regardless. It does not hurt to know more. Go to Avalanche Canada. Check out all the website features: Mountain Information Network (MIN); forecaster’s blogs; and more. Start here. Use their online education tools to inform yourself. Be avy savvy.

If you don’t live in Canada, please refer to local avalanche forecasting for your area. 


Jenga is a favourite cabin game. It is played by stacking all the wooden blocks into a tower. One by one, players remove the blocks, the goal being not to topple the tower. The more blocks that are removed, the trickier this becomes. When you head out into the wilderness, you don’t want to be the messy player who brings the whole stack down.

Obey the rules. If a sign says, Area Closed, don’t duck under the rope.

Set a decent and responsible uptrack. Be aware of other groups and any possible threat you may pose to their safety. Uphill and downhill. Make it safe for anyone who follows you because someone will.

Pack it in, pack it out. Take your garbage home. Use bathrooms. If that isn’t possible, burn your toilet paper, bury your poo.

Remember that half the road is behind you. Pay attention to your surroundings, be informed, and react appropriately. We want to enjoy the backcountry, all winter. It’s up to us to keep it tight and tidy.


Record sales of snowshoes, skis, Nordic gear and outdoor clothing tell us that popular areas will be busy. Some zones may be overcrowded. Instead of adding to the congestion, consider exploring somewhere else. Have a backup plan. Try a different access point, test run a new trail, or just walk on a secluded, unplowed road.

Not every outing is going to be smooth. Getting to know your backyard requires time and many days might be spent trying to find good lines. Sometimes this means crashing through thick trees or finding oneself in a cutblock instead of pristine woods. These things happen.

Go in with an adventuring mindset. Our BC backyard is endless. There is plenty of room for everyone.


We want to make this winter easy on these volunteer groups.

PLAN your trip. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. If your plans change, or something happens, let that person know. EXIT STRATEGY: If the day starts rough and doesn’t promise to get better – call it. Heading out late or being rushed can lead to poor decisions. There will be another opportunity. An EMERGENCY LOCATION DEVICE (InReach or Spot) saves rescue teams hours of effort. One per group is a reasonable consideration.


Safety Equipment: Shovel, probe, avalanche beacon. Know how to assemble and use them. Even if your trip is not in avalanche terrain, a shovel is a good idea. For digging shelters, in case anyone falls in a tree well, or if another party needs help.

Headlamp: Getting caught out in the dark can turn dangerous. Conserve your phone battery for communication.

Lighter: In the cold, lighters are reliable and easy to manage with gloves. Make sure it works and it’s full.

Extra Clothes: Toque, a warm layer, mitts or gloves, dry socks. Minimum, for every trip.

Sharp Knife or Multi-tool: For lunch, equipment repairs, making kindling, first aid etc.

Lunch: Sounds obvious, but sometimes we forget. Check your pack.

Thermos: Nothing beats tea or soup on a winter day (or both). On a day trip, you can afford to carry more weight. Try miso, Ichiban or something hot and sweet. Warm liquids are easy on the body.

Group Supplies:

First Aid Kit: Pick up a basic prepackaged kit or put together your own

Repair Kit: Wire, duct tape, ski straps, durable cord, thin foam

Fire Starter: Small sections of bicycle tube, starter cubes or dry paper

Silicone Tarp: Lightweight shelter can double as an emergency blanket

InReach or Spot device: Having an exact location saves time and lives


In the mountains, weather and conditions can be drastically different than what you experience at home. Check out road reports and ski hill weather cams in the area you plan to visit. Read trip reports from guides on our Mountain Conditions Report.

Outer peace begins at home. The healing powers of nature ask that we remember to be self-sufficient, in tune with our surroundings, and responsive to our environment.

Take care out there.