Gear List—What to Bring and What to Leave Behind

Backcountry trips are intense regardless of your chosen movement method. They can be especially straining while using Nordic skis—some stretches of terrain will require you to carry the skis and traverse on foot. The high likelihood of this occurrence means you must pack lean and smart. You’ll need everything from emergency gear and avalanche equipment to layers of clothing and a compass.

Below, I have written everything I keep in my “essentials” pack. I add necessary equipment, such as extra food, water, and sleeping supplies, on longer, overnight trips, but every excursion to the backcountry requires these suplies.

  • Skis, boots, poles (obviously)
  • Compass
  • Thermos
  • Water bottle
  • Headlamp
  • Goggles (and/or sunglasses)
  • Small shovel
  • Ski shell
  • Ski scraper
  • Spare gloves
  • Probe
  • Beacon
  • GPS
  • Radio or walkie-talkie
  • Snacks
  • Clothing layers

With strategic placing, you should be able to fit everything into a pack for a day in the woods. Finding jackets and snowpants with easily-accessible pockets is always helpful, especially when storing small and important items like a compass or radio. If you have this equipment, you’re ready for a fun and safe day outside.

Choosing Your Backcountry Nordic Skis

If you’re familiar with Nordic skiing, you’re aware of the differences between Classic and Skate skis. One is longer than the other, one has a greater camber, one is heavier, etc. You may not be aware, however, of the third class of Nordic skis—backcountry. the backcountry Nordic ski style is very original, and the equipment has to be sturdy enough to support you during longer tours in untracked and dense terrain. Therefore, if you’re in the market for a new pair of XC skis, ask your retailer about their selection of backcountry skis.

These skis are wider than usual Nordic skis. This will allow you to float on top of both loose and packed powder, similar to how a snowshoe works. However, the edges comprise the biggest difference. Backcountry ski edges are made of steel, allowing you to have a firm grip on the ground no matter the terrain. The gliding surface is pretty similar to a general ‘no wax’ ski, and you can find equipment with built-in climbing skins. This will look like a fish scale (or similar) pattern on the undersides of the skis and is designed to add traction.

Backcountry Nordic ski boots are also available. They are sturdy, stable, and warm—similar to hiking boots. These boots are designed this way because, in most cases, you’ll have to do quite a bit of walking. Some boots even have integrated gaiters, which will protect you from falling into deep, untracked snow. The sole will attach to the ski through either a toe nip or a metal stick.

Even backcountry Nordic ski poles are different. They are often a bit shorter, which will allow you to be more agile. The baskets are larger than usual to prevent you from falling through untracked terrain. I recommend getting yourself a pair of height-adjustable poles with large baskets—you’ll be equipped for backcountry, Classic, and Skate.

If all of this backcountry-specific information is overwhelming, take a deep breath. If you’re not committed to the backcountry lifestyle, you can rent or lease equipment to test it out. When choosing your weapon(s), be sure to talk to the sales or rental associate at your retailers—they’ll be able to steer you in the right direction.