I recently read an article about search and rescue and they had a great statement about being prepared every time you head into the backcountry. They wrote "A good way to be prepared for misadventure is to plan for it by expecting to spend an unintended night outdoors every time you leave the staging area." With this idea in mind we wrote this post as there have been a few articles over the years in various Sled magazines, and some posts on-line, but we here at Sled-Revy.com thought it was an important enough topic that we put our own spin on what we take with us for riding in the backcountry to help when those unintended events occur. Certainly, most riding areas are different and might require a few changes or additions to the list, your terrain, size of riding area, weather patterns and snow pack will influence your choices, and certainly this is not a static list, add and subtract as you see fit. The list we have created is a list of what we use in Revy.
The purpose of packing items for your backcountry experience is multi purposed, having the items helps ensure that your experience in the backcountry is a positive one. We pack the items listed below to help mitigate the “what if” scenario – again to help ensure that our adventures are great every time. You cannot prepare for ALL circumstances, and this list won’t ensure your safety, however, it will mitigate many situations you may find yourself. We pack the items to help ensure we get off the mountain every time and we also belong to a community, the community of sledders, so we pack the items to help others that may be in the backcountry that are not fully prepared for the what if’s.
At Sled-Revy we have been riding in the backcountry since 2000, when the first purpose-built mountain sleds were being offered by the OEM’s, the first RMK’s, Mountain Max’s, Summits and Powder Cat’s. We have seen the reliability improve to the point where sleds rarely breakdown, and if they do, we have access to helicopters to fly them off. We have sleds that are now very fuel efficient, allowing for longer adventures and riding all day, and sleds now easily carry fuel cans to extend our trips in the backcountry. All of these changes mean we are out in the backcountry longer and into very different and often complex terrain than we did just a few years ago. Presently the new sleds have a greater flotation and power to weight ratio, allowing for riders to carry more items including more safety, fuel and emergency equipment to be easily carried with us into the backcountry.
One of the most important things you need to pack and bring into the backcountry is common sense, accompanied with backcountry training and for sure, avalanche safety training. Common sense and making right choices will often help you have a successful safe day on the mountain, however the vast majority of people we have helped to rescue needed rescuing because they made poor choices. Poor choices such as traveling into new terrain and getting lost, not riding to the conditions, for example dropping into an area but there is too much snow to get back up and out, not able to get out of an area due to a lack of skill in challenging terrain. Some people get stranded in the backcountry because they have not maintained their sleds and they breakdown, leaving them stranded. Again people can often prevent this scenario by preparing in advance and doing proper maintenance. In Revy, by far the most common reason for people getting stranded on the mountain is being stuck because of too much snow. In Revy we will get multiple feet of snow in a very short time period, it’s not uncommon to get three feet of fresh snow in one day, making drifts even deeper, leaving the unprepared stranded.
Common sense also plays an important role in what happens once people realize they can’t get out and off the mountain, the key is to stay focused, stay calm, and follow a plan of action to stay alive in a harsh environment. This is where any training and equipment you have will come into play, this is why you should take a backcountry/outdoor survival course, and or do research on the web and then practice the basics, such as, starting and maintaining a fire in wet conditions, how to build snow shelters and how to spot the sign of and prevent hypothermia, just to name a few. Part of every trip in the backcountry should include letting at least one person know where you are riding and a general time you will be off the mountain. The person could be a loved one at home or with your hotel front desk, in short, will anyone come looking for you if you don’t arrive home at a certain time and do they know your general riding area and expected route. Having this information will help the people out looking for you a place to start and perhaps shorten the time they spend looking for you, and the time you spend stranded on the mountain.
Once you have become stranded on the mountain, you are unable to get off safety and are now planning for a night on the mountain, you need to start implementing a plan. Part of your plan should include determining as best as possible where you are located, do you have GPS coordinates, can you communicate with anyone outside of your group to gather help. Can you walk out for help or get off the mountain, will the snow and weather conditions allow you to walk out, again, do you know where you are, and do you know where to walk in order to get help. Common sense reaction to being stranded and possibly spending the night on the mountain will be different for different groups, however, the purpose of this article is to provide a list of materials and equipment to help either prevent a night on the mountain, and or to help ensure you successfully survive the night or nights on the mountain.
Now to the list, most items are straight forward and don’t require an explanation, while others we feel require more details on why we carry them.
Where we pack our gear.
We have Avi Packs that vary in capacity, personally mine is a 30-liter Highmark SnoPulse with lots of storage. Most of us use the Ski-Doo linq system, where we use the 19 litre bags, as well we also use handlebar storage bags
My avi pack is where I pack my backcountry first aid kit (I vacuum pack mine to ensure all items stay dry), vacuum packed extra layers of clothes. I also store toilet paper in my avi pack, right next to my first aid kit. We rarely carry extra fuel, the exceptions being when we have a long route into an area or on deep deep days. We do however, as an emergency back up, have a fuel can stashed in an area where we ride a lot.
We vacuum pack everything we don’t use on a regular basis, but want and need to be dry. Most items that we regularly use, like extra gloves, we will pack them in freezer bags, or even dry bags. Wherever you pack items, whether in an avi bag or storage bag on your sled, items will get wet and if they are needed in the backcountry they may be unusable if they are wet, therefore a waste of storage and provide you with a false sense of preparedness. Keeping the items dry also preserves their longevity and quality, both crucial if you are packing them for emergencies and plan to have them for several seasons. Every time you leave the staging area you need to be prepared, the following list is part of that readiness.
Now for the list.
Beacon – old batteries taken out in the spring, new ones in the fall – wear the beacon.
Metal shovel (can be used to melt snow over a fire) – we keep this on our avi packs.
Probe – stored in our avi pack.
For communications we have two systems, having a back up is important in many situations, communicating with people outside your group is crucial. We use the Garmin Rhino’s – great because they are multi use tools. GPS, group communication, walkie talkie, Go To function and many more useful features.
We buy Baofeng walkie talkies.
They are an inexpensive back up and function well in the mountains, with very good range. They offer UHF and VHF programing options, useful in British Columbia when traveling on logging roads – called Forest Service Roads. (FSR) In fact having the RR codes and a VHF radio are mandatory on all active logging roads -so do your research before heading up an FSR, you do not want to meet a logging truck loaded with logs coming down the mountain and they are not expecting anyone on the FSR. If you have programmed them correctly and have met the licensing regulations, you can reach repeaters – including the search and rescue repeaters. You need to follow all communication laws, rules and guidelines, and the radios need to be programmed to function as needed. There is lots of information on the web to guide you with these issues.
We have added a Garmin inReach to our group, we have one and when we go out as a group someone always carries it. This tool allows for communication via satelite with the outside world. This can bring help to your exact location very quickly and we never leave the cabin without it.
Backcountry First aid kit – not a regular kit from a pharmacy – go to a good camping supply store to pick one up, plus, we add to this already good kit. However, you can make your own, search the web for ideas, but we ensure the following are in our first aid kits
A variety of bandages
Medical and sport tape
Tampons – for your lady friends- also good to use to help with larger wounds — also can be used to dip in fuel tank as a fire starter.
Needle and dental floss — good for sewing up wounds — or a tear in clothing
Most kits purchased will have a basic first aid guide- if not – create one and include it.
Extra gloves and mitts - in dry bags.
Extra socks – vacuum packed.
Plastic bags (2 or 3)- if your boots get wet and you change your socks, the new socks will stay dry if you put in plastic bags.
Extra base layer – vacuum packed – ensure you are using a good base wear, that wicks away moisture.
Collapsible metal cup – we vacuum pack a few packages of hot chocolate and instant soup- great to have something hot to stay warm – but you do need a fire.
Water – we carry lots.
A few protein bars, or jerky
Toque (wool cap).
Fire starting material - little bricks purchased from a camping store - vacuum packed.
Magnesium fire starter - flint.
Toilet paper — good for #2 and fire starter - in a dry bag.
Whistle – Fox 40.
I need glasses to read - so I have a cheap pair in my handlebar bag.
Rope. One set for towing, another of light para cord for a variety of uses.
Fuses – get the type used for your sled.
Zip ties in a variety of sizes.
1 small LED flashlights- fresh batteries in the fall
1 helmet light that allows for extended use - we highly recommend ours - but were are a bit biased on how great these lightweight lights truly are.
4 tea light candles – vacuum packed with fire starter.
Some hard candy (for the sugar).
Basic tool kit.
Crazy glue – great for sealing small cuts as well as tradition uses.
Flexi magnet/grabber – for that lost bolt in the engine bay.
3 spare belts.
Lock de icer (we use this lot’s on the deep days, help keep the throttle cable ice free) – good to sanitize a cut or where ever you need alcohol.
Folding saw – we use this lots – ski stuck on the wrong side of a tree, or collecting fire wood.
External rechargeable power pack for cell phones and the connectors needed to charge your phone.
Cell phone –fully charged- in a dry bag,
1 fully charged power bank.
Allen key set.
30-gauge wire — good for binding items.
Extras – are there certain parts that break or fail on your model of sled – can you carry them? Ex- older summits would have the muffler pipe bolts back out – easy to carry one or two.
As stated before, this is not a static list, and you need to review what works for you and your group. We go through our pack in the spring as we put our gear away, we throw out or remove items damaged or in need of repair. In the fall, usually in October, we go back through our packs, check what needs to be replaced, updated or repaired, we put fresh batteries in our beacon, flashlights and check the functionality of these items. We also check our riding gear, if it wasn’t washed in the spring, we do that now and we apply water repellent. If a clothing item needs to be replaced, we set about purchasing some new gear, great excuse to visit your local or regional sled show or your sled dealer.
We also review our Avy education material and or take an update course or upgrade our skills. Everyone in our group has at least AST I. We want everyone to have the skills to recover a buried sledder and even better, avoid as many avy dangers as possible.
At Sled-Revy, we want to ensure that each and every time you head to the backcountry you have a fantastic adventure. We love this sport and we want it to grow and prosper, that means a safe return home for everyone who ventures into the backcountry. Share your passion and knowledge with others and know that proper preparation and the right tools will help ensure you can continue having fun with this sport.
Again, thanks for checking us out – We are now offering to the public our Sled-Revy baseball caps and our NEW Backcountry Helmet Lights - check them out.
Also - please go to the products we use page to see what fuels us.
Disclaimer: The above may not be a complete or comprehensive list of every consideration for backcountry riding. It is intended only to provide backcountry riders with some common sense guidelines for making their own smart choices and developing a suitable ride plan and preparations for their own safety and security.
We are people that love sledding in the backcountry, we love getting out and away from the crowds and enjoying the challenge of the deep snow and mountains. We love the Revelstoke area, we believe it to be the best place to backcountry sled. We are people that dedicate a lot of time to becoming better sledders and we want to pass this passion onto others as we believe there is no better sport than sledding in the backcountry.