1. BCA Tracker 3 Transceiver: £299.95
When switched on, a transceiver permanently sends out a traceable signal, and can quickly be switched to receive mode. The BCA’s Tracker 3, with a little practice, is fast and easy to use; weighing in at only 215g, it’s also the thinnest multi-antenna digital transceiver around.
Highlights include a ‘Big Picture’ mode, giving an overview of victims within the search area. If multiple people have been buried, the ‘signal suppression mode’ - which allows you to suppress the signal of the first victim once found, and then automatically lock onto next closest victim - is vital.
A transceiver is always a big investment, but if you’re heading off-piste it’s absolutely essential - and the Tracker3 is one of the best options out there.
2. Backcountry Access B1 Ext Shovel: £44.95
In Europe many people carry plastic bladed shovels, but they are dismissed as ‘only fit to dig your car out’ in the USA. As such we recommend you pack the tough, yet lightweight, aluminium bladed Backcountry Access B1 Ext Shovel.
Once an avalanche victim has been located, it’s time to dig, and dig fast. The B1 Ext Shovel has a strong aluminium and quickly extendable shaft, making it easy both to pack and set up. A large blade enables you to shift large quantities of snow quickly, a must when digging out a loved one.
Some idiots invest in a transceiver and yet don’t carry a shovel and probe. We’d advise against venturing off-piste with anyone who thinks this is acceptable. They may as well be saying “come rescue me, but if you’re buried, I won’t be able to do the same for you”.
3. MSR Striker 240 Avalanche Probe: £50
When locating an avalanche victim, a probe is a very important a piece of kit. It’s similar to an extendable aluminium tent pole, with elastic running through it, only it’s much stronger. It’s used to locate and establish depth of anyone buried, by - as the name suggests - probing the snow. It’s especially useful if the victim’s transceiver signal can’t be found (or if they’re not wearing one), or for marking the position of anyone found in a multiple-burial scenario.
The Striker 240 is a great option from Mountain Safety Research (MSR). It extends to 240 cm, collapses down to 46 cm, and has a single-pull, positive-locking deployment, along with a great T-handle that clips to the probe – great when wearing thick gloves or mittens in extreme cold.
4. DeLorme inReach Explorer satellite tracker: £265
Letting people know where you intend to be skiing off piste, especially when in remote backcountry, is an important safety precaution. This handy little communication gizmo claims to be ‘the world's only truly global satellite communicator with built-in navigation, waypoints and routing’ alongside ‘100% pole-to-pole coverage via the Iridium satellite communications network, with no gaps, fringe or weak signal areas.’
In plain speak, you can send and receive texts from anywhere on the planet. It will also send to an email address. One feature we think particularly cool is that outgoing messages always include your gps position, perfect for when external help is needed.
It’s also very small and light, can cope being under 1 metre of water for 30 minutes, is impact resistant and has good battery life: oh, and it will post updates to social media too!
5. Ortovox Gemini Bivvy Bag: £40
Often you are advised to always be prepared to overnight. It may sound crazy when going for a little off piste run, to be carrying a sleeping bag and tent. Well possibly it is a little over the top, so slipping a small bivvy bag, weighing less than your lunch, into your backpack is a good compromise.
The Ortovox Gemini Bivvy bag comes in both single and double sizes, is water and wind proof. Its also bright red, and has a large ‘HELP’ written on it.
It could well keep you alive if bad weather, or an accident, keeps you exposed to the elements for a prolonged period.
6. BCA Float 32 Airbag: £499
The stats don’t lie. And all the stats out there say that airbags give you a better chance of keeping on top of the snow in an avalanche situation. £499 is a lot of cash, but if buried, you’d happily give all you had to get out from under the snow.
The idea is a simple one: If you are in an avalanche, you simply pull the cord deploying a large airbag. The airbag helps to pull you to the surface of the moving snow, through its buoyancy and its size (shake a bag of crisps, and the large ones float to the top). In some cases the airbag also helps protect your head and neck too.
Most airlines are now happy for you to travel with airbags: As the BCA Float series are inflated using compressed air, so there are no pyrotechnics in the handle as with some other operating systems, they’re easier to refill and travel with.
7. Salomon HACKER C. AIR Helmet: £110
Wearing a helmet while skiing/snowboarding is now the norm, so don’t be a nutcase - get yourself a good helmet. The Salomon Hacker C Air (with compatible X-Tend goggles) is certainly that. Lightweight and affordable, the Hacker boasts the fantastic ‘custom air technology’, which is a small inflatable pocket, inflated by an incorporated pump, which make for a supper snug personalised fit.
We like the cool green one with the herringbone ear warmers, very Sherlock Holmes, but if that’s not your thing, it comes in blue or black too.
8. Salewa Ski Touring First Aid Kit: £23.66
Your friend is bleeding badly. Help has been called for, but the snow is turning red at a terrible rate and you have nothing to help you stop it. Or maybe it’s you blood making the snow go red. A small well stocked first aid kit - and the knowledge of what to do with it - can and will save lives.
The Salewa ski touring kit has all you need for immediate care, stuffed into a well-constructed pack weighing in at only 130 g.
9. Mammut Galaxy Classic Rope £54.99
Its common practise to rope together while crossing a glacier, or hiking an exposed ridgeline. But rope is also especially useful in rescue scenarios too. You can use it to pull someone out of a crevasse, or lower someone/something over a cliff, if someone has had the misfortune to fall off one.
Rope is also useful for making a stretcher, for hoisting food up into a tree in North America in late spring to keep it away from bears, and to mark out a search area…
Mammut Galaxy Classic 10mm X 30m is both affordable and dependable. It’s light-ish and is really designed for sports climbing, but will cope with all ski touring has to throw at it.
10. Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain - Bruce Tremper: £14.99
Your brain is the best piece of safety kit there is. So use it! Get educated: read books, attend lectures and most of all listen to your brain when it says ‘I don’t like this!”, or “that doesn’t look safe!’
‘Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain’ (2nd edition) is an updated edition of Bruce Tremper's well respected book, and is widely regarded as the most authoritative commentary on avalanche matters.
Bruce Tremper is director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Centre, and has updated this excellent book to incorporate the most up-to-date data and techniques, making it a must for anyone journeying into the back country.