What Do You Need for Backcountry Skiing? [Basic Gear List]

Backcountry skiing is a thrill-seeker's dream sport. It takes you deep into the untamed wilderness as you hike up the snow-covered mountain landscape only to ski right back down the ungroomed slop. If you're interested in getting into this sport, you might not know what equipment is needed. So, what all is needed for backcountry skiing? We did the research to bring you the answer.

The equipment best suited for backcountry skiing depends on the terrain you will be exploring. In general, the equipment you will need includes:

  • Avalanche kit
  • Backcountry skis and bindings
  • Backcountry boots

If you have more questions about backcountry skiing, the equipment you need, and how to prepare for it, don't fret. In this guide, we'll cover all these questions and more. Just keep reading!

A well geared skier hiking on a snow trail, What Do You Need for Backcountry Skiing? [Basic Gear List]

Necessary Equipment And Gear

Being prepared for backcountry skiing is crucial for success. In this section, we'll go into greater detail about the necessary equipment and gear for your backcountry skiing adventures:

Backcountry Skis

If you are exploring territory that includes lots of elevation gain, then a lightweight set of skis is preferred. Wider, heavier skis provide better performance for going downhill in ungroomed powder but are more difficult for going uphill.

Choose your preference for wide or skinny skis, which is a balance between weight and performance. Downhill skis can be outfitted with backcountry bindings, but backcountry skis are more lightweight for ease of use.

Armada Tracer 98 Backcountry Skis

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Backcountry Bindings

Alpine touring bindings allow your heels to come away from the skis, so you can more easily go up hills. They lock back into place for going downhill. Otherwise, you can choose Telemark bindings that always keep your heels unattached. You will have to know how to turn with your heels lifted, which is called a telemark turn.

Backcountry Boots

If you are using Telemark bindings, you will need Telemark boots. Backcountry boots are lightweight and adaptable for hiking comfortably. Make sure the boots are compatible with your bindings before purchasing.

Scarpa T-Race Telemark Ski Boot

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22 Designs Vice Telemark Binding

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Avalanche Kit

Safety equipment is also necessary to be prepared for avalanches. You will need an avalanche kit to remain safe in the backcountry. This consists of a beacon (also known as a transceiver), a probe, and a shovel.

Orthovox Avalanche Rescue Set

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How Do You Prepare For Backcountry Skiing?

Backcountry skiing requires some physical preparation and a workout regimen. There are no chair lifts, so your legs, hips, glutes, and quads will be responsible for lifting you to the top of the run. You can prepare yourself by doing a variety of exercises that will work out these muscles.

Short Exercises

  • Squats - Bend your knees as far as you can while keeping feet flat and balanced. Stand back up. Repeat.
  • Yoga - Chair pose - Bend your knees in a squat, but hold it in that position with your arms straight in the air by your ears. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
  • Lunge - Do a walking lunge while putting the rear knee on the ground. This exercise can be done with or without weights.
  • Yoga - Standing Lunge - Hold your rear leg straight back with your toes flat on the ground. Hold your arms straight up in the air. Hold for 30-45 seconds.
  • Twisting/Rotating - While in a lunge position, rotate your torso to the side while keeping your lower body in place. You may also stand up straight and rotate your torso in either direction. You can do this exercise with or without weights.

Always modify exercises to fit your body. If any movement causes pain, then modify it until it doesn’t feel painful. Exercises are supposed to cause discomfort, but not pain.

Cardio And High-Intensity Training (HIT)

Improve your endurance with cardio and high-intensity training (HIT). High-intensity training is exercising as hard and fast as you can for a short period of time followed by a short rest period before repeating. Run for 1 minute 30 seconds at peak speed, slow down to an easier jog for 45 seconds and repeat several times.

Backcountry skiing can be physically challenging, so it is good to start training two months before you embark on your tour. Repeat these exercises 3-5 times per week to strengthen the muscles you need for a long day in the backcountry.

What Is The Difference Between Cross Country And Backcountry Skiing?

Any place without groomed, maintained trails is considered backcountry. The two distinct forms of backcountry skiing are downhill and cross country. Downhill skiing is also known as alpine skiing, while cross country is often called nordic skiing.

Alpine skiing requires you to lock your heels into place to give you the most control for going down steep slopes. Cross country skiing bindings do not lock your heel into place. This gives you the freedom to go uphill without taking off your skis.

Alpine skiing is for people who like the adrenaline of going fast down the mountain. Cross country skiing is for people who like exploring areas with slight slopes and smaller hills. Backcountry alpine skiing is more dangerous, because of the speed and the potential for avalanches.

Cross country skiing equipment is less costly than downhill equipment. It also requires less experience to get started in the backcountry. You should not need to take avalanche courses for cross country skiing, because the slopes are smaller and more gradual.

Is Backcountry Skiing Dangerous?

Backcountry skiers run a high risk of getting caught in avalanches. Since this happens in an area not patrolled by ski resort staff, someone should be fully aware of the dangers and how to handle a potential avalanche situation. There are avalanche classes offered for backcountry skiers.

Here are some important facts about avalanches to understand before embarking upon a backcountry skiing trip:

  • The highest possibility of avalanches occurs at slopes of 30 to 45 degrees. If the slope is steeper, then the snow doesn’t pile up enough to be a concern most of the time. If the slope is shallow, then it takes more force to cause an avalanche.
  • The possibility of avalanches is much greater within 24 hours of a snowfall, especially more than 12 inches of snowfall.
  • 90% of avalanches are caused by the victim or a companion of the victim.
  • Victims of avalanches have over 90 percent chance of survival if found and dug out within 15 minutes. After that, the chance of survival drops to 30 percent.

How Do You Prepare?


If you know how to look for the warning signs, you can drastically decrease your likelihood of getting caught in an avalanche. An avalanche safety course will teach you how to use the beacon, probe, and shovel in an emergency situation. It is important to practice using this before beginning your backcountry tour. If an avalanche occurs and your friend gets buried, you will have to act quickly while under duress.

A beacon transmits a signal between you and the people in your backcountry skiing group. If someone gets buried in the avalanche, you will use the beacon to search and find their location. You do not need the same brand name beacon as your friends, because they all operate on the same frequency. The most important thing is knowing how to operate and use the beacon.

Are You Experienced Enough?

Backcountry skiing is dangerous, and more so if you are not prepared. Your personal fitness level is important because you don’t want to get too tired to find your way back. Your ability to track your location and not get lost in the backcountry is also vital to your health and safety.

You should be an experienced skier or snowboarder before exploring the backcountry. Your safety relies on your ability to assess each slope before you decide to descend. Take an avalanche safety class. Practice using your beacon and probe. Ensure you and your crew members are experienced enough to go into the backcountry.

In Closing

Cutting your way through ungroomed powder can be rewarding, but it requires specific equipment and preparation. Take an avalanche safety class, buy the gear, and exercise to get your body in peak condition. Explore the backcountry with confidence, ease, and exhilaration.

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