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Ski-mountaineering – equipment in detail

See the “Equipment overview” page for a picture of the kit described below.

Top row:

Adjustable poles            –           there are loads of different types of pole out there – although they might all seem the same it is worth putting some time into choosing them as they are a key piece of equipment and a significant amount of your strength goes through them.  Don’t make-do with cheap walking poles.  I like poles with the longer grips – long grips are useful when traversing so that the uphill hand can quickly adjust to hold the pole lower down.  Extendable poles are convenient for stowing in the pack when not needed but are obviously weaker.  Get the larger baskets on the bottom to provide some resistance in powder.  My poles have been updated by these ones from Black Diamond

Probe                            –           this is not optional, your friends’ lives might depend on this simple piece of kit.  Don’t be tempted choose a shorter avalanche probe to save weight – you never know how deep you might need to probe to find buried people.  Keep the probe packed somewhere where it is easy to access and practise using it.  Something like this will do nicely.

Ice axe                          –           For general purpose use get an ice axe with a long straight shaft – a walking style axe rather then a climbing axe with a curved shaft.  I have the lightweight Black Diamond Raven.  It might be worth buying protectors for the adze, pick, and spike, otherwise when you unpack your stuff after a flight you might find the pick has gone through the middle of your favourite item of clothing.

Camera                         –           I love taking pictures in the mountains as the views are one of the things that I enjoy the most about accessing remote places.  Be aware that even fairly small amounts of weight add up to make your back-pack very heavy which will make the climbing and skiing aspects of your tour considerable less pleasurable.  For a good mix of quality, size, and weight I like the micro four-thirds changeable lens cameras.  Here I’ve packed the Panasonic Lumix GF1 with the stock 12-35mm lens. 

Headtorch                     –           A head torch is a must – even if you’re not planning any alpine starts in the dark you’ll need the head torch if you’re staying in any mountain refuges, and they are a vital piece of safety kit.  I have a fairly compact and light model with the batteries built in the same unit as the LEDs, if you’re planning heavy use you might want a unit with a separate battery pack. 

Ski crampons                –           for providing lateral grip when traversing on icy and hard packed snow.  These are generally fairly light but quite awkward to pack.  There are different types to match the type of touring binding you’re using (Dynafit/Fritschi/Marker) and, as with other pointy things, it’s worth getting a bag to keep them in.  I have a pair to fit my Dynafit bindings.

Avalanche shovel           –           again, a vital piece of kit – get one which is substantial enough that it won’t break when you need it most.  Here I have a classic BCA model but there are newer, better models where the handle slides neatly into the shovel.  They’re also good for snow cricket.

Eye wear                       –           take a good pair of goggles and sunglasses which are rated Cat. 3.  If the weather turns bad you’ll need goggles to protect your eyes.  If it’s sunny and you’re climbing hard you’ll be glad for a pair of sunglasses so that you’re not sweating like a pig into the foam of your goggles.  I’m a big fan of British brand Bloc ( and have owned several pairs, all of which have been well made and comfortable.  I currently have the excellent Chameleon.  For goggles I recently bought the Julbo Universe goggles with the Cameleon lens (not linked to the Chameleon by Bloc above, and no, I don’t have a lizard fixation) – these lenses are photochromic, meaning they get darker when it gets sunnier allowing the goggles to work well in a mixture of conditions, and they are polarising, which reduces glare off the snow.

Avalanche transceiver     –           There are loads of different makes and models which all perform more or less the same functions.  I have the classic BCA Tracker, one of the most common types, but there are smaller and lighter models out there now.  The important thing is to learn how to use it, practise regularly, and make sure the batteries are fully charged. 

Hats                             –           I take a couple of hats so that I can cope with a variety of temperatures and to have spare in case one gets wet.  Later in the season it might also be worth taking a peaked cap.  As ever, I’m a fan of merino wool.

Flasks                          –           Here I have an insulated flask and a water bottle.  Usually on a tour I wouldn’t bring the insulated flask but it might be worth having the option to take it for short day tours – a hot sweet tea can taste amazing and revitalising.  I’d recommend choosing a fairly small capacity flask – it’s not really for hydration, it’s for a morale boost, and if you have a large, heavy thermos the weight will more than outweigh the pleasure of having a hot drink to life the spirits.  For a water bottle I have a Nalgene style plastic bottle.  These are excellent, light, and practically indestructible.  One with a wide neck will allow you to use it with water filters and energy powders.  I do like the Sigg style aluminium bottles but they aren’t supposed to be used with boiling water.  I love filling my water bottle with the sweet tea that many alpine huts provide in the mornings and I’d worry that this would damage the lining.  Also you can’t put a Sigg bottle in the dishwasher.  They look good though!

Gloves                          –           Take several pairs of gloves.  You’ll need your hands for rope work, climbing, fiddling with kit, using your ice axe etc, so your gloves will get wet and worn quickly.  It’s great to have several pairs to switch to.  I really rate the British brand Extremities, made by Terra-Nova.  Currently I have a pair of general purpose Extremities Guide Gloves with leather palms, a pair of Extremities Tuff Bags which are Goretex over-mittens, a pair of thin liners and a pair of heavy duty leather gloves which I bought in the USA.  The Goretex over mittens are really excellent – for wet weather they keep the hands dry and warm, they’re very light, and easy to take off if you need more dexterity.

Slings / prusik cord        –           You will need a selection of slings and prusik loops both for general climbing purposes but also for avalanche rescue.  Keep a sling and some loops on your harness when traversing glacier territory so that you can access it quickly in an emergency.

Paracord                       –           Paracord is another essential.  It’s most important for equipment repair, but you’ll find it has loads of uses, not least as a clothes line for drying out wet kit and maximising hanging space in the crowded huts (  

Waterproof shell             –           See our section on clothing here:  I have the Mountain Equipment Firefox jacket which is an excellent Goretex shell.

Climbing harness           –           For most ski tour applications you won’t need a heavily padded harness of the type you might use for rock climbing as you probably won’t be spending much time sitting in the harness.  Most of the time you will only need it for safety in crevasse territory, so I would go for something light which packs nice and small.  I have a lightweight Black Diamond harness.

Rope                             –           Your choice of rope will depend on what you need it for – consult with your guide if you’re not sure.  Usually your guide will provide the ropes needed.  Here I have a walking rope which isn’t designed to sustain any falls – it’s only for crevasse safety rather than climbing.  Therefore it’s a narrower gauge, lighter, and packs much smaller.

Ice screws                     –           These are needed for crevasse rescue if there isn’t enough snow coverage to make a snow anchor.  One screw should be enough, but consult with your instructor as there are many different rope techniques for crevasse rescue, some requiring more than one fixed point.  I like the Black Diamond Express range as they have a useful pop up handle which makes it easier to turn the screw in one smooth motion.

Crampons                     –           There are lots of different types of crampons for different occasions.  For most tours you won’t need the heavy duty ice climbing type, so there’s no need to carry the extra bulk and weight.  Equally the very light weight crampons are sometimes not sturdy enough for proper glacier work.  The other thing to consider is the type of boot attachment – if you’re only using these with your ski touring boots and with proper mountaineering boots then you can use crampons with a binding which is not dissimilar to the binding on a ski.  I have this type of binding on a pair of Grivel G10s – if your pair doesn’t come with a bag it’s worth buying one as otherwise the teeth will rip holes in all your stuff whilst they’re stowed in your bag, and ice and snow will fall off the crampons and make all of your kit wet.

Skins                            –           Skins are what give you grip for going uphill.  For maximum efficiency they need to be cut to shape to match your skis exactly, and they need to be carefully looked after to maintain the sticky undersides which fix them to your skis.  I have G3 skins for all my touring skis, for no other reason than that they were the brand that my guide used when I started ski touring.

Tent                              –           In general I would avoid touring with a tent if possible.  The weight associated with an overnight stay is such that the ascent will be significantly more arduous and the descent significantly less fun.  In this photo I’ve included a tent as we were operating from a fixed base in the valley and we wanted the option to have a night out if needed.  If you must bring a tent, make it as light as possible but be aware that lightweight groundsheets do not agree with rocky and icy surfaces, so be careful where you pitch.  I’m a fan of ultra light tents by the British company Terra Nova, and the tent in this photo is the Terra Nova Laser Competition 2.

Middle row:

Sleeping mat                 –           As with the tent, avoid carry a sleeping mat unless you’re certain to use it.  If you must take one, make sure it’s as light as possible, and if you’ll be camping on snow or ice, it needs to be provide some insulation.  Thermarest leads the way with light, compact sleeping mats, and as nearly all their mats are the inflatable type they provide good insulation between your tired body and they cold ground.  I have the NeoAir, which requires more effort to inflate (it’s not self-inflating like most Thermarest mats) but it is lighter, more comfortable, and warmer once it’s inflated.

Hipflask                         –           Hardly essential but very pleasurable.  Mine’s full of Whisky Mac.

First aid kit                    –           I’m no medical expert so a basic kit suits me fine – anything more complex is more stuff that I don’t know how to use!  I just look for something compact and light, in a secure bag, and brightly coloured – I have a couple of the Lifesystems kits.

Sun cream                    –           I take strong (factor 30+) suncream as well as normal strength suncream.  You don’t need loads for a week’s tour – generally the only exposed skin is on your face so don’t bring massive family sized bottles of cream from your summer holidays!  Piz Buin make good quality cream in sensible sized bottles.  I always wrap the suncreams in a plastic bag – otherwise the combination of air pressure changes (both from flights and from your aggressive ascents) and rough handling will make the bottles leak all over your stuff – annoying if you’re out for a week!

Personal hygiene           –           It’s a bit difficult to keep up any level of personal hygiene on multi-day tours, and many people suspend normal practices whilst in the mountains.  I think it’s worth a bit of effort though, so will take paranoia gel (, a small pack of antibacterial wipes, deodorant, a tooth brush, and a small tube of tooth paste.

Waterproof map case     –

Mid layer insulation     –         We’ve posted elsewhere on snowgenius about the importance of layering.  For my upper body I have the Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody, a really warm and light mid layer jacket with synthetic insulation.  Synthetic insulation is a better bet for general use as it maintains its warming abilities even when wet, unlike down.  You can easily wear this jacket without a top layer when the weather is good, and is has some water resistance to cope with a mild snow flurry.  The fabric isn’t super durable though so I wouldn’t have it as the top layer if you’re going to be crashing around much.

Multi tool                       –           You’ll definitely need a tool of some kind, either for kit adjustment and repair, or for cutting up food.  There are loads out there, Leatherman and Gerber are the main brands which have a pair of decent pliers.  I have the basic Gerber tool (

GPS                      –            Map, compass, and altimeter are the main tools to rely on for mountain navigation, however a GPS is great as a backup tool, when in low visibility, or in an emergency.  I’ve gone for something simple, light, and tough, the Garmin eTrex.  My model has been discontinued but the replacement looks smaller and better equipped, and is cheaper.

Merino wool base layers and underwear

Climbing trousers

Buffs                             –           Buffs are awesome.  Wear it as a scarf, a face mask, a hat, or a headband.  It weighs very little, and if you get a merino wool buff it won’t smell too bad even after a week of abuse.  I usually take two. (


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