The Best Backcountry Ski Gear of 2022

Essentials to get you safely and comfortably into the winter backcountry

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While backcountry skiing or “touring” is commonplace in Europe, it’s been slower to go mainstream in the United States where it’s been a pursuit of mostly diehard skiers. However, when the pandemic shut down ski resorts in the second half of the 2019-20 ski season, descent-hungry skiers flocked in droves to the backcountry in search of harder-earned turns.

Sales of backcountry gear skyrocketed by 76 percent in October 2020 (ahead of the first full Covid-19 ski season) compared to the previous year, clearing out inventory. That winter, my local backcountry shops decided not to rent or demo gear and turned those items over to satisfy the demand coming from new backcountry skiers.

Skiing in the backcountry compared to at a ski resort is akin to car camping at a campground instead of backpacking into a remote campsite—the general idea is the same but you need a little more preparation.

Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, helps get avalanche forecasts to the public to help them safely recreate in the winter backcountry and says there are just a few big differences between resort and backcountry skiing to keep in mind.

“At a ski area, the ski patrol is there to help with avalanches, rescue, and first-aid. In the backcountry, you need to take care of all of that yourself. It sounds like a lot, but it is really just part of the fun,” Greene says.

That additional responsibility means additional gear and the list (and price tags) can seem intimidating at first. But once you have some core pieces in your kit, you can add to it as you grow your skills and figure out the gear that helps you stay out longer and have more fun skiing out of bounds.

In that spirit, we present our top picks for all the gear you might need or want for your backcountry skiing gear list.

Best Backcountry Skis: Weston Summit Artist Series Ski

4.9
Weston Summit Artist Series Ski

Backcountry

What We Like
  • Excellent flotation for its size

  • Rugged build and 4-year warranty

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Weston has traditionally been a backcountry snowboarder’s brand, but its first foray into ski production has been met with rave reviews and the Summit Artist Series Skis are as fun to ski as they are good-looking. At 105 underfoot, these skis are a great choice as an all-around, everyday touring ski. They aren't the lightest touring skis available—about 3.5 pounds for the 176-centimeter length version—but they’re light enough and the substantial build will be an easier transition for resort skiers just getting into touring.

Ultralight touring skis are great on the uphill, but they can get tossed around on the downhill, especially in mixed conditions. The Summits can handle crud but where they really shine is in powder where they overachieve for their modest waist size thanks to large, rounded shovels and a camber to rocker profile. A ski that’s stiff in chop is great, but most people head into the backcountry in search of powder. Why not choose a ski that’s built to make the most of it?

Best Touring Bindings: Dynafit TLT Speed Turn 2.0 Bindings

Dynafit TLT Speed Turn 2.0 Bindings

Moosejaw

What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Simple operation

  • Bombproof, proven design

What We Don't Like
  • No brakes

  • Lacks the elasticity of a true alpine binding

If you look at Dynafit’s first touring binding, it’s remarkable how similar most touring bindings today are to that first prototype. The binding has evolved and there are tons of variations on the theme from Dynafit and a glut of competitors, but it’s hard to beat the simplicity, durability, and light weight of the classic.

The TLT Speed Turn 2.0 bindings are one of Dynafit’s more affordable, simple options and the closest inheritors of the original design. I love this binding for its simple operation and durability backed by a lifetime warranty. I’ve moved my Speed Turns from ski to ski for seven years and counting and they’ve outlived three different pairs of skis. If you don’t mind a little more in the way of moving parts, the Dynafit ST Radical Bindings is a baseplate binding with brakes and pole-operated risers for a little bit of additional weight and dollars.

Best Backcountry Ski Boots: Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro Alpine Touring Boot

Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro Alpine Touring Boot

Backcountry

What We Like
  • 130 flex

  • Super light

  • None

Lightweight touring boots have traditionally forced a trade-off of performance in exchange for decreased weight for easier ascents. The stiffer touring boots are oftentimes too heavy to take on the longest tours, meaning you had to choose between uphill or downhill performance. I’ve personally skied the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro boots for two years and they’re able to deliver 130 flex stiffness in a ridiculously light 1,320-gram package (for size 25.5).

The Zero G Tour Pros really shine in late spring when far-off objectives become doable and I need to be able to skin several miles to reach a summit and still want the performance of a stiff boot for descending mixed conditions and steep terrain.

Best Backcountry Poles: Black Crows Oxus Ski Poles

Black Crow Oxus Ski Poles

Evo

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Extended grip

  • Single, solid shaft

What We Don't Like
  • None

It’s easy to think “poles are poles” and take any old alpine sticks into the backcountry. That’s a fine strategy for newbie tourers, but as you spend more time touring, you’ll learn to appreciate some of the features you get with a dedicated touring pole. Black Crows Oxus poles are affordable and sturdy thanks to a solid 7075-T6 aluminum shaft.

Lots of backcountry poles feature adjustable length, but I’ve seen too many touring poles fail at the point of their adjustment to recommend adjustable poles. The reason folks like adjustable poles is you may want shorter lengths when on steep slopes, but the Oxus sticks solve this without adding a weak point by offering an extended grip so you can choke up on the poles as needed.

Best Skins: Big Sky Mountain Rover Ski Skins

Big Sky Mountain Rover Ski Skins

Next Adventure

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Durable

What We Don't Like
  • Heavy

Skins for your skis are one of the expenses you can’t avoid when building your backcountry setup and newbie tourers are often shocked to find that most skins cost between $150 and $200 a pair. The American-made Rover skins from Big Sky Mountain Products are refreshingly affordable for the category and deliver solid grip and glide in a thick, very durable skin that should last you several years, further extending their return on investment.

Best Helmet: Movement 3Tech Alpi Helmet

Movement 3Tech Alpi Helmet

Skimo

What We Like
  • Multi-sport capable

  • Lightweigt

What We Don't Like
  • A bit expensive

Lots of the dedicated backcountry touring helmets on the market are lightweight but severely lacking in style. Of course, safety is a helmet’s primary purpose, but if you’re not prepared to go full “skimo," the Movement 3Tech Alpi helmet delivers lightweight function without the usual aesthetic. It also is unique in the helmet world in that it is certified for three separate uses: snowsports, climbing, and biking. If you enjoy even two of those sports, the 3Tech could make a lot of sense, and the multi-use feature can save you some dough, even with the somewhat high price point.

Best Rescue Gear: Backcountry Access TS Rescue Package

Backcountry Access TS Rescue Package

REI

What We Like
  • Intuitive beacon operation

  • Simplifies purchasing initial rescue gear

What We Don't Like
  • None

The most important gear for the backcountry that you hope to never have to use is the triad of the transceiver (beacon), shovel, and probe. These three items put you in a position to help rescue someone if they’re buried in an avalanche. While wise terrain selection and attention to storm and avalanche danger should help you avoid slides, burials can happen to you or others and the proper gear paired with training can help avoid tragedy. This package from industry leader Backcountry Access combines the essentials and features their simple, easy-to-use Tracker S transceiver which is a great fit for the majority of backcountry adventurers.

In the words of Backcountry Access co-founder Bruce Edgerly, “it has all of the stuff you need, and none of the stuff you don’t.” Other transceivers may have some nice advanced features for more advanced tourers and guides, but the average recreational backcountry skier just needs an intuitive device they can use successfully in the heat of the moment. The all-metal adjustable shovel and lightweight 8-foot-plus probe aren’t throwaways either and are designed to fit easily into your pack. The package price also helps keep the startup cost of your backcountry gear low.

Best Backcountry Ski Backpack: Gregory Targhee FT 35L Pack

Gregory Targhee FT 35L Pack

Moosejaw

What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Lots of backcountry-specific features

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Most tourers—aside from the most hardcore race-minded explorers—bring along a pack to carry their safety gear, layers, food, water, and more. While most backpacks will work in a pinch as long as they have waist and chest straps to keep them locked in place on the descent, a touring-specific pack has a lot of advantages. First, the Targhee Fastrack has dedicated storage for the essentials such as a helmet, shovel, and probe.

The wide side access to the main compartment makes stashing or grabbing a layer quick and easy and there is even storage for an ice ax and plenty of gear loops and webbing for attachments. The most interesting feature is the FastTrack system which makes it possible to strap your ski to the pack without removing it when you’re ready to start boot packing up the last pitch.

Best Backcountry Ski Pants: Trew Capow Ski Bib

Trew Capow Ski Bib

Trew Gear

What We Like
  • Ultralight

  • Highly waterproof and breathable

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Feels breezy when used in coldest temps on-resort

Oregon’s Trew has a backcountry-first pedigree tested in the wet conditions of the Pacific Northwest but is appreciated worldwide. Their Capow Bibs are a rare backcountry-first bib that manages to make a traditionally hot garment breathable with a stretch fabric up top and maximally breathable proprietary fabric on the legs to keep moisture moving in one direction: out.

The slimmer, technical fit prevents friction on the way up but the fabric is flexible enough to not restrict you. Not only are the Capow bibs ultra-breathable, but they’re also equipped with massive zips on both sides of the legs to shed steam when conditions and exertion are heating things up.

Best Backcountry Ski Jacket: Norrona Lyngen Gore-Tex Jacket

Norrona Lyngen Gore-Tex Jacket

Moosejaw

What We Like
  • Ultralight

  • Highly waterproof and breathable

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

From a country with a rich backcountry ski history, Norrøna comes with a jacket named for the Arctic Lyngen Alps that are built for the task. While your normal resort jacket can work fine in the backcountry—especially if it’s a technical shell—it’s worth having a backcountry-specific jacket like the Lyngen.

The Lyngen sports a tailored fit that’s better for the motion involved in ascending and uses two types of Gore-Tex fabric, placing more durable fabric in high-wear areas and the more flexible Gore-Tex Active fabric on the body. Despite not using the stiffer, ultra-waterproof Gore-Tex Pro used in their high-end Lofoten jackets, it delivers a massive waterproof rating combined with high levels of breathability.

Best Sunglasses: Spy+ Helm Tech Sunglasses

Spy+ Helm Tech Sunglasses

Evo

What We Like
  • Not limited to ski use

What We Don't Like
  • Coverage not as full as true glacier glasses

Sunglasses are essential gear for the ascent on sunny days where snow reflections conspire with high altitudes to create an especially blinding environment. The Spy Helm Tech shades look like regular modern sunglasses but for the addition of the removable side shades which I consider a must in touring sunglasses.

There are lots of really cool “glacier glasses” from companies such as Julbo and Serengeti, but they can look a little goofy away from the skin track. The Spy Helm Techs have understated side shades, to begin with, but since they’re removable, you can convert them for streetwear use. They’re lightweight so can double as biking or running shades, as well.

Best Goggles: Marker Ultra-Flex Goggles

Marker Ultra-Flex Goggles

Evo

What We Like
  • Pocket stowable

What We Don't Like
  • Not compatible with glasses

While there’s no reason you can’t use your normal resort goggles in the backcountry on the descent, I love the Marker Ultra Flex Goggles for how slim and light they are. Their slimline case means you can throw them in a pocket without feeling like you have a growth coming off your upper body. They’re also ultralight and ultra-wide so you’re not sacrificing field of view for compactness.

Best Midlayer Puffy Jacket: Eddie Bauer Microtherm 2.0 Stormdown Jacket

Eddie Bauer Microtherm 2.0 Stormdown Jacket

Moosejaw

What We Like
  • Light and packable

What We Don't Consider
  • None

I consider a packable puffy jacket a piece of safety equipment as essential as your rescue gear when headed out for a day in the mountains, no matter how warm it might be when you start out. I tote the Microtherm at a modest weight penalty of 13 ounces. It’s great for slipping on for the transition and with a Durable Water Repellent coating and ripstop polyester face fabric, it’s up to the task if you wear it on the descent as well. It’s a bit pricier, but Ibex’s innovative Wool Aire Hoodie weighs even less and uses naturally moisture-wicking merino wool that retains its warmth even when wet.

Runner-Up, Best Backcountry Ski Boots: Atomic Hawx Prime XTD 130 Tech Alpine Touring Boot

Hawx Prime XTD 130 Tech Alpine Touring Boot

Backcountry

What We Like
  • Ultralight

  • 130 flex

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Thin, unforgiving liner

Boots usually aren’t both cheap and good. Dedicated backcountry boots such as the Zero G Tour Pro’s retail for nearly $1,000. You can save yourself quite a bit on a setup if you choose a boot you can use both in the backcountry and at the resort. Atomic’s Hawx Prime 120s aren’t as light as the Tecnicas, but they’re plenty capable for touring and delivering resort boot downhill performance in any conditions.

Best Airbag Backpack: Dakine Poacher R.A.S. 36L Backpack

Dakine Poacher R.A.S. 36L Backpack

REI

What We Like
  • Lighter weight than most airbag packs

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive when purchasing the sold-separate airbag system

Another piece of gear that falls under the category of "gear you hope you’ll never use" is an airbag backpack. Airbags deploy from a pullcord and inflate via compressed air and can help keep you afloat in the event you’re caught in an avalanche. While your goal should always be to keep yourself out of avalanches through smart decision-making in the backcountry, avalanches are inherently unpredictable and an airbag can be an additional safety measure.

The Poacher uses the Mammut Removable Airbag System 3.0 which is lighter than other systems and can be removed to keep your pack weight down by the system’s weight of about three pounds including the air cartridge. Like any good pack, it has dedicated storage for your rescue gear as well as a clip for two-way radio and multiple ways to attach skis for hiking

Runner Up, Best Helmet: Wildhorn Drift Snow Helmet

Wildhorn Drift Snow Helmet

Wildhorn

What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • None

If you spend a lot of time riding the resort as well and want a helmet that’s a bit warmer than the Movement 3Tech (and most lightweight touring helmets), the very affordable Drift helmet comes with audio-ready warming earflaps. It’s also pretty light for a budget helmet, weighing in right at a pound. Plus, Wildhorn is the official helmet provider of the US Ski and Snowboard Team, so it’s a trusted design as well.

The Rest of the Pack

Best Baselayer Bottoms: BN3TH Men's Classic Full-Length Pants at Moosejaw

These thin, form-fitting leggings are meant to be worn without underwear which helps keep your lower half from getting overheated on the ascent, especially on warm spring tours. The MyPakage pouch helps prevent the chafing that can be common with the repetitive striding of uphill touring. The merino blend is also naturally odor-resistant.

Best Baselayer Tops: Blackstrap Summit Top at Backcountry

This synthetic top is my go-to for colder days because it’s a thicker, almost wetsuit-like material that fits snugly but still breathes well on the way up. The hood provides a nice windbreak when you push above treeline and the thumb holes help keep sleeves above the wrist. There’s a double layer in front to help keep your core insulated when wearing the Summit Top without a shell on the outside.

Best Liner Gloves: Baffin Glove Liners at Amazon

I love these snug-fitting, medium-weight liners because they’re warm enough to wear independently on the uphill on all but the coldest, overcast days. The snug fit helps keep them in place unlike flimsier liner gloves and makes it easier to actually use the touchpoint finger and thumb to operate your smartphone without exposing your bare hands to wind and cold. 

Best Touring Gloves: Vermont Glove Uphill Skier Gloves at Vermont Glove

There are lots of great leather “work glove” style gloves that make sense for ski touring, but Vermont Gloves’ Uphill Skier gloves put it right in the name. These are gloves that get better with age and conditioning thanks to goat leather and exterior seams and reinforcements that set these gloves apart from their hardware store competitors.

Best Mitts: Hestra Pull-Over Mitt at Amazon

I’ll admit I never thought I needed a third pair of gloves in my pack in addition to my liner gloves and regular gloves until I saw how ski mountaineer Cody Townsend employed these Hestra Pull Over Mitts. These are gloves that fit over gloves and the gauntlet style makes them great for when you’re bootpacking and need to keep your other gloves dry and keep snow out. They also pack down very small, so it’s not like carrying an entire other pair of gloves. I also keep them handy on extra-cold days to pull over my gloves to help break the wind and deliver the extra warmth I need to keep my hands from freezing up.

Best Balaclava: Blackstrap Expedition The Hood Balaclava Facemask at REI

I wear this single-layer, highly breathable balaclava without a hat on cold or windy days on the uphill because it breaks the wind without making my head sweaty which can lead to a nasty chill when you stop moving. The hinging facemask is easy to operate with gloved hands and doesn’t choke you when it’s pulled down from your mouth to avoid fogging sunglasses on the way up. 

Best Satellite Messenger: Somewear Global Hotspot at Somewear Labs

If you frequently tour solo as I do, a satellite messenger and/or personal locator device can be a literal lifesaver. This compact, simple device from Somewear Labs acts as both a messenger and emergency locator and is more affordable than many competitor devices, making it more accessible for the average backcountry enthusiast. The device connects to your phone via low-power Bluetooth and allows you to send text messages via satellite from almost anywhere with an open sky. (The emergency SOS function is available without connecting to a phone.) There are lots of competitors in this space, but Somewear’s option offers much more affordable plans for infrequent use which is how most recreational ski tourers will use these devices.

Best Weather App: OpenSnow

I pay the very reasonable $19 annual fee for the All-Access membership but the free version provides great ski-focused forecasts as well. In addition to resort-specific forecasts, OpenSnow has great mapping options such as snow depth, smoke and air quality, and of course, anticipated snowfall. The Daily Snows from their region- and resort-specific forecast zones provide lots of detail and explanation to help you not only time your ski touring missions for maximum powder but also better understand ski weather generally.

Best Mapping App: CalTopo

CalTopo’s desktop browser-based mapping application has long been a favorite of backcountry skiers and they finally added their own GPS mapping app to put the functionality in your pocket in the field. Slope angle shading gives color-coding to steep slopes that are in the danger zone for potential avalanches which help you plan safe ascents and descents. There are also lots of baselayer maps available and helpful features such as track recording and measurement tools.

Best Ski Straps: Sea to Summit Stretch-Loc Tension Straps at CampSaver

Ski straps are a must for any backcountry pack. Not only are they useful for the obvious function of holding your skis together while hiking, but they’re also great for repairing poles, first aid, and dozens of uses you haven’t thought of just yet. The Stretch-Loc straps differ from basic ski straps in their two-part design which allows you to use the strap to attach it to something such as a pack or ski pole and then attach something else to that base. The straps are also able to be linked together for increased diameter.

Best All-Purpose Lube: Salty Britches Anti-Chafing Ointment at Amazon

Chafing, unfortunately, is a fact of life in the backcountry. Whether it’s hotspots in your boots or rubbing on the inside of your thighs, chafing will visit you at some point. Your face also gets exposed to extreme sun, wind, and precipitation. I carry a small tube of Salty Britches ointment which works great as an all-purpose lubricant and protectant for my face. While it acts as an effective lubricant, it isn’t greasy and won’t stain your gear.

What to Look for in Backcountry Ski Gear

Waterproof and Breathable Outers

As with most outdoor pursuits—especially in the mountains—having outer layers that are waterproof and breathable are important to having the best experience possible. If you spend any significant time touring in the backcountry on skis, you're likely to experience precipitation, or at least snow hitting you while on the skin track or skiing back down. Always make sure you have proper shells that provide ample waterproofing but also emphasize breathability. This is more crucial than resort skiing or riding because of the effort and exertion you put forth in uphill skiing.

Moisture-Wicking Materials

Similarly, having proper base- and mid-layers in the backcountry is more important to your comfort—and potentially survival—than inbounds skiing. Any sort of base- and mid-layers with moisture-wicking materials will work, but we recommend merino wool blends because of the material's warmth, quick-drying, and moisture-wicking properties. We also like that merino wool is naturally odor-resistant, meaning you can take your base-layers out multiple times between washes, extending the life of the product.

Organizational Capabilities

Besides having the proper layers and clothing, we've learned having your gear organized is key to successful backcountry travel. Spend time thinking about your mission and when and how you'll use your gear to best organize it the day before your tour. Obviously, making sure you have easy access to your avalanche rescue gear is a must. But also think about getting easy access to layers like glove liners, a beanie, sunglasses, goggles, mid-layers, etcetera will help you stay warm or transition from uphill skiing to downhill.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How should I carry and store my avalanche transceiver?

    Transceivers, sometimes called beacons, are built to be durable, but there are some best practices for ensuring your beacon is working properly and lasts you a long time. The most important check is of your batteries. As a general rule, replace your beacon’s batteries if they drop below 50 percent and never try to draw batteries down to zero. You can always give them a second life in less critical devices such as your TV remote.

    You should also do your best to protect your beacon from impacts. Bruce Edgerly, co-founder of transceiver manufacturer Backcountry Access says, “a beacon is a smart device and like a brain, it can get concussions. The more concussions it has, the less precise it is.” 

    Edgerly also cautions that cold weather can affect the antennas inside a beacon over time, so don’t leave it in your vehicle or unheated garage for long periods of time.

  • Do I need to take formal avalanche courses before going into the backcountry?

    If the costs of a full backcountry touring setup weren’t enough to scare you off, consider the time and money required to take formal avalanche courses on top of all that. I’ve met many backcountry newbies over the years who have put off formal avalanche courses because they just wanted to get outside and get some experience and figured they could just play it safe and take courses later. 

    The danger here is that most new backcountry tourers don’t know what they don’t know and may not be able to play it safe without some basic education. While formal avalanche education courses are great and I recommend taking at least a basic course at some point in your touring career, there are lower-cost options available. 

    First off, there are great books on the topic that can introduce you to the concepts you’ll learn and apply in an in-person avalanche course. Bruce Tremper’s Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain is a classic reference and Allen & Mike’s Avalanche Book takes a sometimes-dry topic and makes it fun and relatable with plenty of illustrations.

    Ethan Greene of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center advises that you can start to build avalanche awareness before you pursue formal education or even have basic rescue gear by using free resources. “Once you get a basic travel setup together, start reading the local weather and avalanche forecast (you can find it at avalanche.org in the US) and get familiar with the information your avalanche center is presenting. You'll need a little education. There is a lot of material online and www.kbyg.org is a good place to start. Focus on identifying avalanche terrain and applying the information in the avalanche forecast.”

Why Trust Tripsavvy

Author Justin Park is a lifelong skier based in Breckenridge, Colorado. He logs over 50 days each year in the backcountry, has worked with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center on media projects, and regularly updates his backcountry safety education. He rides on the Atomic Bent Chetler 120s more than any other ski in the backcountry because he’s always optimistic he’ll find enough powder to justify them.

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