What’s In Your Backcountry Kit?

Words and Footer Picture by: Brenton Reagan

The conversation around what gear is the best to bring for a day in the backcountry is constantly evolving, but below is my list of items I wouldn’t leave the car without. I am sure that I have forgotten something and keep in mind these items might change depending on your group and how you’re distributing gear. I feel like this best represents what you need in your pack if you’re a guide, and/or touring with a group. If you’re in a group, these items should and could be spread out. In some ways, the kits have crossover use and I pack them in a particular way to keep what is more commonly used near the top and what is for more of an emergency near the bottom. It is worth pointing out the beacon, shovel and probe are always a must and they are always somewhere they can be accessed quickly. This conversation relates to the kits outside of avalanche rescue gear. If you are planning a longer trip this kit would change. Also, you should be responsible for bringing any spare parts for the style of binding and boot you may be using.

As far as spreading them out within the group, if I think my kits are the best on a recreational day I may bring them all to the trailhead and compare with my touring partners for the day. That way we can discuss what’s important to bring for the tour ahead. Plus if I know mine are always packed well and include the most complete kits I will give all my different kits out to the team. It is highly recommended to have a good group dynamic and know who is carrying which kits should something arise.

The other key is to make sure that you aren’t carrying too much weight and what you have is useful. So special care and attention should go into what works and how much of it to bring. To keep the weight down, I set up these kits so they have what you need to get back to the car. You can always refill it before the next adventure. I also think certain pieces of each kit have a variety of uses and exactly what they may fix isn’t as important as realizing things break and don’t always present easy solutions. Creativity with your kit and how to improv repair is key. I would also add that if it is a first-time fix for you and the team, it may not work the first time you try. Be patient, be creative. I weigh everything so I know if it’s too heavy and I should take less of something.

Quick Fix-it Kit – 16.2 oz/461 grams.

This kit is for everyday use or the things I find that are commonly used to fix small repairs and first aid issues as well as a place for headlamp, satellite communication device, and more.

Multi-tool – This must have pliers and it can be tough to keep your weight down here.
Mini First Aid Kit – Small scrapes and cuts are the most common so I like to stay out of my big first aid kit unless I need to. This kit includes:
Single-use antiseptic wipes
Small bandage
Tiny scissors
One pair of latex gloves
Skin Wax
Satellite communication device.
Scraper – bases, skins, bindings, etc….

Repair Kit – 15.5oz/431 grams.

This includes parts for what I find are common problems that need fixing. A small screwdriver kit that accepts different screwdriver bits is key, make sure these bits fit the bindings on your skis and be sure to have a common Phillips head. The screw drive tool rachets so it is quick to use and stores a few bits in the handle. I have a drill bit in case I need to drill into skis to build a rescue sled. Small pieces will be in small bags so they don’t get lost.

Screwdriver kit
Small drill bit
Stardrive bit for tech binding screws
Phillips head bit for common screws
Flathead bit for common screws
Two screws for bindings
Steel wool – to put in screw holes to help the screws hold when fixing a binding back to the ski
At least 2 hose clamps – You can’t fix a ski pole with just one.
Powder basket
Tech binding heel spacer
Skin tail clip
Three Ski straps – I will have two straps in an outside pocket so I have five total
Zip Ties
Fire starter with lighter and flint kit
Some electrical tape wrapped around the lighter – It is strong and stretchy.

Big First Aid Kit – 14.4oz/408 grams

This kit contains what is needed for serious injury/trauma. I luckily have rarely had to go in this kit so it sits at the bottom of my pack.

CPR mask
Knee wrap
Big bandaids
Three more pairs of gloves
Triangular bandage
Space blanket

Basic Snow Science Kit – 7.5oz/214 grams

This is just the basics for a regular day in the hills. If I have specific snow science goals in mind I would take a kit related to that.

Crystal Card
ECT cord 2mm x 200 cms
Slope meter

Rescue Sled/Overnight tarp set up – 1lb 8oz/702 grams.

Tarp/Wing with string or grommets – this can create a roof in a small snow cave, drag tarp, or be used in the rescue sled configuration.
6m x 5.5mm rope/cord for pulling the sled or drag bag
Two lightweight non-locking carabiners
Lightweight foam pad – for the patient or to sit on in case of the unplanned bivy. It is super light and fits in my pack up against my back to minimize taking up too much space.

The rescue sled and tarp combo is tricky to keep the weight down. I use a K2 shovel/sled kit that contains some screws and washers which fit neatly into the handle. You could drill holes in the tips and tails and then screw parts of the shovel handle into the tips and tails to add rigidity. The shovel blade could then be fixed in the binding location for more support. It takes some practice to build and some creativity. In lots of field experiments the results are such that sturdy tarp style drag bags work just as well. We are most likely not taking someone back to the car but we may need to drag them out of avalanche danger or lower where we can get a helicopter rescue or we have built an overnight shelter.

So for most cases, I think something like the MSR wing below is perfect for a drag bag in case of an emergency. It comes with some string, it has extra tie-down points. I have included a Rab wing also. I love to have the tiny little cord already attached.

If I am off far away or expedition-style I will take something like Brooks Range Rescue sled or Alpine Thread Works sled (be prepared to wait 6 months).

That’s a pretty in-depth breakdown to what I take for a day in the backcountry. Like I mentioned, some of the kit items depend on the length of the trip and the group dynamic. Just make sure you take the absolute necessities and that your beacon, shovel and probe are at the top and easily accessible. A chat at the trailhead to go over gear and the day’s objective is key to ensure everyone is comfortable and has everything they need.