Bob's Rap on Gear
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Let's start with ski gear. Here's what I'm skiing on:
Bob doing some lightweight backpacking at Point Reyes
- Skis: I have numerous pairs of telemark skis. My favorites for most backcountry
tours are my old Tua Montets, though I'm
planning to replace them soon with a pair of Tua Nitrogens. Other relatively
lightweight tele skis include Tua's Helium, Hydrogen, Montour, and Traverse
models, K2's Heli Stinx,
Black Diamond's Arc Ascent,
Karhu's Dharma, and various others. The
idea there is to have good width and plenty of sidecut with an alpine camber,
but at a moderate weight. If you ski more aggressively, or are doing shorter
roadside peak kinds of tours, consider a heavier duty (and heavier weight) tele
ski, similar to what you would use at a downhill resort. Waxless-patterned models
can be useful for some tours, though alpine-cambered waxless tele skis can be hard
to find; the waxless-pattern version of Tua's new Montour would
be a good choice. At the lightweight end of the
metal-edged spectrum, be aware that some metal-edged skis such as the
Fischer E-99, Karhu Pavo, Karhu
Serpens (formerly the venerable XCD-GT), and others, are designed to straddle
the line between touring skis and telemark skis, sacrificing turnability and
abusability to some degree for lighter, livlier touring. Of course,
on some tours of a
less alpine character, lighter and livlier is what you want.
- Bindings: My favorite binding for multi-day backcountry tours is the
Cable, because it's lightweight, the cable can be removed for touring, and
the somewhat redundant combination of 3-pin and cable boot retention makes them
especially reliable. On my newest skis, I'm using this binding in combination with
Voile's 12mm shims. Many skiers recently are raving about the
binding (at least when they aren't sitting in the snow futzing with the multiple
cable pivot choices); I'm considering getting a pair of these for resort and
"frontcountry" use, but they're probably too heavy for me to justify using on a
typical Sierra crest tour or trans-Sierra. Finally, if you like to really rip
down hills, consider releaseable tele binding plates; I've heard some good things
about the Rottefella TRP and
Karhu's 7TM, though there is a weight penalty for
the added safety.
- Boots: Plastic boots are now ubiquitous. My current favorites for backcountry use
are the Garmont Liberos, which are similar
to the Scarpa/ Black Diamond T3s. Both
manufacturers, and also Crispi, have heavier duty models for resort skiing and for
steeper and shorter backcountry jaunts. It is important to find a boot that fits
well, so consider renting before you buy. For extended backcountry use, you might
consider a slightly roomier fit than the tight fit that performance-oriented
shops typically recommended for resort and frontcountry use.
- Poles: Get a good quality pair of adjustable probe poles.
I use a pair of Black Diamond flick-lock adjustables.
- General ski touring: For lighter-duty trips, I like my non-metal-edged waxless-base
Karhu Pathfinders, remarkably lightweight, with
good width and sidecut for a touring ski; in the right conditions it telemarks
beautifully. The current Karhu model that's closest to the old Pathfinder is
probably the Aqillu. For light-duty backcountry
with metal edges, Karhu's Vela and Pavo models are nice. Most of the currently
available boots that are suitable for general touring use the
Salomon Backcountry binding systems,
which are very similar to each other but not compatible.
My favorite general touring boot is the Salomon Greenland: lightweight, supportive,
and remarkably comfortable (but no longer made; try Salomon's Adventure 8 and Raid
models instead). Some non-plastic 3-pin backcountry boots are also reasonable for
general backcountry touring. This lighter weight gear will let you go farther and
feel more dynamic, and you'll still be able to do tele turns; I'm amazed at how
many people insist on putting resort-weight barges on their feet for ski tours that
have very little steep terrain.
Ski mountaineering accessories:
- Skins: Nylon skins are the way to go (call me old-fashioned, but I've always done fine
with basic skins that only attach at the tip). I like
Ascension's skins, good grip and glide, and they're
stiff enough to fold up easily on a cold windy summit. I prefer a skin width that's almost
as wide as the narrowest section of the ski that I'm using (an exposed metal edge adds
security on icy traverses), and straight-cut (meaning that plenty of tip and tail area remains uncovered). That's lighter weight than
some of these cover-the-entire-base bathroom rugs that I see people putting on their
super-wide skis. Even though I can't climb straight up 35 degree slopes, I generally make it
up somehow, and on top I can just stuff the skins in a pocket.
- Ski safety straps (yeah, you may want to stay detached in possible
but in other places it would be a real drag to watch your ski fly down a 2000'
- Avalanche beacon: Use a modern frequency beacon (some models more than 10 years old
might use an old incompatible frequency). I'm using
Ortovox models, the reliable F1 and
the easier-searching M1 (now the M2). Those are analog beacons, which are probably best for
those of us who are well practiced in using an analog beacon. The
Tracker is the most highly regarded of the user-friendly digital beacons
(which one still needs to learn how to use).
- Snow shovel: On a serious backcountry ski trip, just about everyone should be carrying a shovel.
And you should be carrying a proper avalanche probe (and perhaps also wearing an
Avalung) if you're going
to be skiing in moderate-to-high-hazard conditions.
- Ice axe: If needed, a short one (50 to 70 cm) is best; you aren't going to be
using it as a walking stick. I use a lightweight Grivel axe;
too light-duty for serious ice-climbing, but more than adequate on
crest ski tours.
(On some more extreme trips, you may need other mountaineering/
climbing equipment as well.)
- Ski repair items (screws, hot-glue, epoxy, drill-bit, small #3 pozi screwdriver, etc.),
piece of glide wax, pole repair kit (metal sleeves and metal hose-clamps), spare pole
basket. With larger groups, we sometimes bring additional ski repair items (mini Vise-Grip,
small metal plates, light 3-pin binding, etc.). No, I don't carry a spare ski-tip.
Clothing for Spring overnight trips in the High Sierra:
- Thermal underwear: No Cotton is the rule. I use Capilene (polyester) or the
slightly better performing polypropylene, depending on the trip.
- Body insulation: I typically bring a pile (PolarPlus) jacket, an "expedition
weight" polypro top, a pair of pile tights or pile pants, and sometimes assorted
other layers (extra polypro layers, down vest, vapor barrier shirt), depending on
how cold I'm expecting it to be.
- Shell gear: I use a GoreTex parka (a good-fitting hood and underarm zippers
are important features) and GoreTex pants.
- Other clothing: Warm pile hat, Pile neck-gaiter, Cool brimmed cap, 2 light
bandanas, Pile gloves with shells (Black Diamond makes a good one), Thin liner gloves,
2 pairs polypro liner sox (wear one), 1 pair thick wool sox (to wear), 1 pair
mid-thick wool sox (spare), Poly/cotton running briefs, Gaiters (Outdoor Research
X-Gaiters for leather boots, or downhill-style short stretch-gaiters for plastic
boots), Snow booties (optional, but my Down Home Mukluks are too wonderful to
leave behind), Dark sunglasses, Running shorts (in case of warm weather),
Various camping items:
- Pack: I really like my Kelty Spectra-Cloth internal frame pack for backcountry skiing.
It's the right size, it fits great, and it doesn't weigh nearly as much as my larger
Dana Alpine (which is also a very nice pack).
- Sleeping bag: A Marmot GoreTex down bag, what else?
- Pad(s): Here's my new two-pad system: One long Cascade Designs Z-Rest, on top of a
short ultralight cheap foam pad below my torso; that second pad is important to keep the
textured surface of the Z-Rest off of the snow. I consider the Thermarest too heavy for
ski trips, and too vulnerable to puncture given how vitally important
the pad is for body-against-snow insulation.
- Tent: My favorite ski tent is an old Marmot GoreTex Taku. My general tent advice is
keep it around or under 3 lbs per person (which basically means avoid dome tents). As
for the Megamid
and its cult following: Too much work for too little protection (and the
shelter's weight is not trivial once you add in floor tarps and stakes), in my opinion. I've used a
Kelty Clark for solo trips.
- Stove and related cooking items (one stove per two or three people): I rely on an old
MSR XGK. It starts easily, really belts out the heat, and the jet almost never clogs
(unlike my Whisperlight). I typically bring about 1/4 liter of white gas per person
per day (a bit less in late spring), and two smallish lightweight stainless steel pots
(per stove). To keep the stove from sinking into the snow, I bring a 1' square foam pad,
and a piece of windscreen foil so the burner won't melt the pad. Bring some kind of
wind-screen even if your stove didn't come with one. Also bring along some stove
repair items (spare gaskets, cleaning needle, etc.)
Odds and Ends:
- Lexan spoon, Small pocket knife, Light plastic bowl, Pot gripper, Matches and Lighter,
Small piece of scowering pad, Food stuffsacks, A one-liter wide-mouth Nalgene water bottle
and one other lighter weight water container
- Toothbrush, Toothpaste (or baking soda), Floss, Sunscreen, Lip balm, Skin cream or petroleum jelly,
Small piece of soap, Toilet paper, Thick Ziplocs for used TP, Vitamin supplements, Earplugs (for windy nights or
- First aid kit (bandages, tape, Moleskin, dressings, SteriStrips, drugs, etc.),
Misc. gear repair (some duct tape, filament tape, sewing kit, sewing awl and heavy thread,
tent pole repair sleeve, spare tent zipper slider, spare flashlight bulb, wire, safety pins),
Emergency supplies (aerial flare, candle, signal mirror, extra waterproof matches)
- Topographic maps, Compass, Pen and paper
- Small flashlight (have an LED light yet? better yet, one with
lithium batteries that work well at cold temps?), Whistle, Trashbag(s), Nylon cord, Small stuffsacks as needed,
Lightweight camera (sometimes) and film
Food (dry food only; repackage everything in lightweight Baggies):
- Breakfast (1/2 lb per day): Dry cereal, powdered milk, granola bars, dried fruit
- Lunch and snacks (3/4 lb per day): Bread (I'm a huge fan of Alvarado's super healthy breads), crackers,
cheese (Parrano seems to last the longest in warm weather), energy bars,
drink mixes, peanut butter, trail mix, nuts, etc.
- Dinner (1/2 lb per day): Freeze-dried foods (I like Alpine Aire; "serves two" really serves one; use more
water than they recommend, and add salt; extra cooking needed in cold
weather so don't "soak in packet"),
soup mixes, noodles, butter, grated parmesan, seasonings,
So what does it all add up to? For a five-day trip, I will typically start at around
40 lbs (not including ski gear, clothes worn, and water weight). More like 35 lbs for
a two-day trip. By the end of the trip, I'm down to around 30 lbs. Remember, you are
skiing, and balance is critical. Every extra pound means shakier turns and more
face-plants. If you don't need it, don't bring it!
The above are general suggestions. Please use your own judgment in packing for any
General info and disclaimer about backcountry skiing