Essential Backcountry Skiing Gear Checklist

The following list is extensive. Not every person will bring every item. When you head into the backcountry, you are responsible for assessing the terrain, current conditions, your abilities and those of your group, and what items you should have in your pack to survive if you encounter a mishap or sustain an injury.

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Backcountry Skiing gear checklist

The following list is excerpted from AMC’s Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast, by David Goodman [link]

Note: No checklist is infallible. Before you head out on an adventure, it is important to check the weather, prepare for the worse possible conditions and make a plan based upon your personal and/or your group’s abilities in mind. Plan an alternate route in case of bad weather, injury, illness or slower than expected travel time. Before departing, make sure someone at home knows your plan: where you are going, with whom, and when you plan to return. And make sure you know how to use the gear you carry.


Nordic (a.k.a. telemark, cross-country, free-heel, and backcountry) equipment is the most versatile, comfortable, and appropriate gear for most ski tours in the backcountry. Alpine touring (a.k.a. randon&#é;e to facilitate turning, and be solidly constructed.

More difficult trips can be done on light backcountry or telemark skis. These are metal-edged skis intended for touring-that is, they are lighter weight and of medium width. They may come in sidecut or waxable versions, either is appropriate.

Most difficult trips which feature extended downhill skiing should be skied on wide, heavy-duty, metal-edged telemark skis and plastic boots such as you would use at a lift-serviced ski area.

Backcountry skis that are shorter and wider are much easier to maneuver on tight eastern trails and woods. Wider skis offer a more stable platform for skiing crud, powder, and heavy snow.

Waxless or Waxable?

For moderate skiers who only ski occasionally, Waxless is fine. Two wax systems (one for new snow, one for old snow) make waxing easy for faster skiing. Backcountry skis should be waxed the entire length of the ski.


Good backcountry ski boots have a more rigid, higher-ankle profile than conventional cross-country boots. The key attribute of backcountry ski boots is that they are waxless stiff, so that leg movements are transferred directly into ski turning power.

Both leather and plastic boots work well, and each has its advantages. Leather boots are generally designed for lighter-weight backcountry skis. The tours rated moderate are well suited for leather boots. The newest plastic boots are very comfortable. They require little maintenance, stay dry, and have unmatched downhill performance. You can fine-tune the fit at an alpine ski shop that is expert at adjusting plastic boots.

Avoid buying too much boot. A clunky, heavy boot will make climbing and touring on the flats feel like a tiresome trudge. If most of your skiing is on moderate terrain, opt for a lighter backcountry boot rather than a boot that is oriented to lift-serviced skiing. Skip the ultra-stiff telemark racing boots. The high collars that reach nearly to your knee will make you miserable on long tours.


Heavy-duty or three-pin cable bindings are the best choice for backcountry skiing. Free pivot bindings, where the whole base plate lifts for skiing flat or uphill, are a welcome energy-saver over the course of a long tour. The backcountry step-in boot-binding systems made by Salomon and torsionally are fine for moderate touring. For more challenging tours, they do not offer the same level of control and durability as a cable or three-pin binding.


Adjustable poles are a good choice for backcountry skiing. Two-section poles are simpler and less likely to collapse unexpectedly than are three-section poles. If you are traveling in steep terrain, consider investing in probe poles. These can be joined together to form one long avalanche probe, a useful feature when traveling in slide-prone areas.

Climbing Skins

Climbing skins are strips of fabric with unidirectional hairs that cover the entire base of the ski; these hairs mat down when gliding forward, but grip the snow when going uphill, preventing the ski from sliding backward. For difficult trips, the use of climbing skins is essential. Moderate trips can be done with just ski wax.

Skins require care. They should be dried after each use, folded back together, and stored in a dry place. Adhesive skins require a reapplication of glue for every few seasons. Nylon and mohair skins work equally well. Look for adhesive skins that are wide enough to cover the bases of your skis; a tail hook is a nice feature too.
Kicker skins which cover only about half the length of the ski also work well on more moderate terrain.


Look for a solidly constructed day pack that is designed to carry skis. Packs should have a capacity of 2,000 cubic inches. A sternum strap is crucial to stabilize the load when skiing downhill. Invest in a good pack as a cheap pack will fall apart

Odds and Ends

Eye protection

Essential for skiing through trees or on hiking trails. Ski goggles, sunglasses, or sport shades will all do the job.


Crampons and ice ax

Necessary for climbing onto or out of very steep terrain. Aluminum crampons that weigh less than a pound per pair and Rottefella aluminum alloy axes are ideal for skiers.

Backcountry Repair

Backcountry skiers should be equipped to perform functional field repairs. Following are basic items needed for a repair kit.


Bring a palm-size ratcheting driver with multiple bits (available in ski shops), and be sure one bit fits your binding screws.

Hose clamps

Useful for quickly repairing broken poles and skis. Have some small enough to fit around a pole, and large enough to fit around overlapping broken ski ends.

Aluminum flashing

Can be used to splint a broken or bent pole or ski. For a pole, wrap a section around the break and hold it in place with hose clamps.Skis can be patched similarly, although it is a tenuous splint.


Carry extra binding screws and a few oversized screws in case a binding hole becomes stripped.

Spare pole basket

Matches and ski scraper

OK, it’s not repair gear, but you need it.

Bailing wire

For binding and pack repair.

Multi tool

The models that include pliers, screwdrivers, wire cutters, and a knife are best.

Extra binding

Keep an extra ski binding in the bottom of your pack (an old three-pin telemark binding will do). At 0 degrees with night approaching, you’ll appreciate not having to improvise.

Duct tape

When all else fails, so will the duct tape. But have it along anyway. Wrap a wad around a pencil or your ski pole. And keep a roll in your car to replenish your supply. It’s always useful for something.