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Photo: Ming Poon // Inspire Courses

Photo: Ming Poon // Inspire Courses

The Inertia

A new season of chasing powder is upon us (or almost upon us, depending on where you live). That means you’ve likely been prepping for your first significant ventures into the backcountry. You’re monitoring the weather. You’re monitoring the forecasts. You’re seeing which regions have the best head start on a solid base as we gear up for a winter that should be powered by a strong El Niño. And you’re probably toying with your gear at home, anxious for the first chance to load up your pack and get some turns in.

Which pieces of gear are most essential for the backcountry, though? While everything in a well-rounded backcountry setup should be considered essential there are certainly some pieces of equipment you’ll rely on more and should be most familiar with using.

“I would say aside from your board, the three most important pieces of gear to go into the mountains safely are your beacon, probe, and shovel,” says Nick Russell, Inspire Courses+ instructor, who designed our Guide to Backcountry Basics. “All of these pieces are useless unless you know how to use them. You’ve got to train, you’ve got to practice often so the rescue process becomes second nature to you because when accidents happen, there isn’t any room to be hesitant or to think about what you have to do. You just have to snap into rescue mode.”

A Beacon

“I upgrade my beacon probably every two to three years,” Nick says. “There’s a lot of new technology being developed. And this is the one thing that I can justify spending money on. You know, it might seem like a little bit of an investment, but this is your life and your buddies’ lives in your hands. So you might as well have the best tool possible.”

As Nick points out, new and advanced beacons are made available to us all the time, so this is a piece of equipment you’ll typically want to invest in upgrading after a couple of seasons. On top of that, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the new  tech each time. The last thing you want to do is use your new beacon for the first time in an emergency situation.

Your Probe

Your beacon often leads to your probe, your probe often leads to your shovel. Both essential if you need to locate someone in the event of an emergency.

“The probe also comes in handy day-to-day for me, for monitoring the snowpack, for seeing how deep the snow is down to the ground. And also for doing certain snow pit assessment tests.”

A Shovel

“You could be using this all day, not only for avalanche rescues but for snow pits, for digging a shelter in case you have to unexpectedly spend the night out in the snow,” Nick says.

Keep in mind, these are the three items at the top of Nick’s list but they are far from everything he brings into the backcountry. As he puts it, his pack has “everything I need and nothing I don’t.” That list of items includes his first aid kit, a tarp, and even a specific backpack size preference (30L, to be exact).

Editor’s Note: Nick Russell dives deeper into his packing techniques – including what he takes and why – during an eight-minute video in his Guide to Backcountry Basics. You can see it by accessing the course itself or with a membership to the brand new Inspire Courses+, which grants access to 18 classes (and counting) and 340 video lessons taught by icons of surf and the outdoors. For a limited time, The Inertia is offering Buy One, Gift One Free with each new membership. Perfect for the holiday season. 


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