Gear Recommendations & Tips
For an overview of Backcountry ski equipment, see Volken et al's Backcountry Skiing, Chapter 1.
We instructors from the backcountry class have some additional thoughts, tips, and tricks based on our experience backcountry touring in the Pacific Northwest.
We recommend the use of a modern, 3 antenna digital beacon for the course, however a digital 2 antenna beacon may be used. beaconreviews.com has an excellent collection of unbiased reviews, overviews and technical information. Read their conclusions and select a beacon from their list of recommended beacons if you need guidance.
Get a strong shovel from a reputable manufacturer. Voile shovels have done well in testing; BCA and BD make good ones too. The blade doesn't need to be extra-large; snow is heavy, and a big blade can slow your shoveling. After strength, think low weight. Avoid race-specific shovels. Flat blade edges are better for cleaning the walls of a test pit.
Get an easy-to-assemble probe from a reputable manufacturer. 240 cm or longer. No need for carbon; they're almost-equal weight, cost more, and often slower to assemble.
Leashes and Brakes
Leashes or ski brakes are a necessity. Leashes may be more reliable, easier to use and help avoid lost skis in deep snow. B&D manufactures excellent leashes with direct attachment to the boot, stretch so you don't have to un-leash while transitioning and the zip-ties that break away if you are caught in an avalanche.
Pin-Tech/Dynafit bindings are fiddly at first, but they'll make you efficient, which makes you fast/happy.
If you have Dynafit bindings, here are some tips from wildsnow.com.
-Locking the toe pieces in touring (uphill) mode is tricky! Use your ski pole, placed horizontally under the lever, and pull up. You want to hear 2-4 clicks, otherwise you’ll pop out while ascending. New bindings are particularly hard to lock.
-Rotating the heel units is tricky! Try using your ski pole as a lever between the heel of your boot and the heel post. To get down from the highest lifter position, try levering between one boot and the opposite binding. Practice at home!
Whatever bindings you have (especially if you're on a splitboard), practice using them at home until you're speedy. Bindings protect your knees; avoid any badly-maintained or abused used bindings. The Dynafit Speed Turn is a classic binding; you can get them cheap from Telemark-Pyrenees, but shipping is slow.
They must fit well. Bad fit = sad feet = sad you. Even if you don't have Pin-tech bindings, if you're buying new boots, get boots with pin-tech fittings. Boots can be worth spending extra for good fit and lighter weight; you'll have them for a while. Boots we like include the Scarpa Maestrale and the Dynafit TLT5/6/One, but there are many others. Low-ish weight is good, as is lots of ankle-pivot freedom when unlocked.
Optimal -- 90-105mm underfoot. 120+mm at the tip. A ski that's a little too short is better than a ski that's a little too long. You'll be carrying it on a pack, negotiating tight spots, and skiing it when you're tired. Slightly soft might be better than too stiff. Sidecut radius ~16-22 m. Lightweight is good, look for a ski with backcountry aspirations, not a ten pound alpine ski. No need for the latest and greatest here; you'll figure out what you like over time.
At least the width of your ski's waist, optimally as wide as the ski at its widest, and OK if within 10-15 mm of the widest part of the ski tip. Nylon or mohair-mix. BD, G3, ClimbingSkinsDirect, Dynafit, Pomoca, etc. are all good. GearX.com carries seconds for cheap, ClimbingSkinsDirect makes good skins at reliably good prices, Backcountry.com has house-branded G3 skins for cheap. "Glue-less" skins are unproven and not recommended at this time. The G3 offset skin-trimmer is really nice.
Not required, but they're great. Get them in a width that's not much wider than the skis you plan to use them on. Each binding tends to require a matching crampons. The Dynafit-style crampon is most-interchangable.
Voile and B&D both manufacture ski crampons compatible with many binding systems. Voile builds "fixed" crampons, which do not pivot on the ski. B&D produce "free" crampons which pivot with your stride. Both are acceptable and a matter of personal preference. Binding manufacturers also sell crampons tailored to their bindings.
Get poles with "powder baskets" (~3" in diameter). The little baskets for lift-skiing work great on groomers, but not when breaking trail. Adjustable-length poles are often useful. The cheapest BD Traverse poles are a good choice; you'll bend 'em someday. External clamping mechanisms (like the Flicklock) are superior to internal twist-locks. Carbon fiber poles are light, but they are expensive and can snap when over-stressed.
For day tours, you'll find that a 30-35 liter pack is plenty. For overnight, you'll probably want at least a 45 liter pack.
A rotating-bezel, adjustable-declination, compass with a fairly-large clear rectangular base at a minimum.