Looking to disconnect from the frenetic pace of the modern world for a few days? Or, maybe you fantasize about accessing backcountry ski and snowboard terrain without going all the way home at the end of the day. Either way, a backcountry hut trip might be just what you need. But what to pack? Here are some valuable tips to help you pack efficiently, and make sure you have all the essentials for your hut-based trip.
How you pack for your trip really depends on where you’re headed and what time of year—after all, there are many huts and backcountry lodges all around the world. Having spent many winters exploring the hut systems in British Columbia, the American West, New Zealand, and some in Europe and South America, I’ve begun to dial in my packing formula. The two big questions to ask first are:
1. Are you carrying all your gear in?
2. Or are you using a mechanized system to get into the hut (i.e. helicopter, snowcat, snowmachine, etc.)?
If you’re carrying in all your gear, the limiting factor is obviously how much gear you can actually haul. When I need to carry my gear on my back or on a sled, my first thought is: How light can I make this load, while still having the necessary amenities to enjoy my time in the mountains for a week? Here are some things to consider. Clothing No one cares if you smell, because everyone will smell. Therefore, bring only one outfit for skiing, and perhaps one for sleeping and lounging in. The only items I will bring multiples of are socks and underwear.
My go-to technical clothing system for a hut trip:
—Insulating mid-layers for a variety of exertion levels going up and down: The Ascendant Hoody is my absolute favorite breathable synthetic insulation, weighing in at only 10.9 oz; The Baja Pullover, a lightweight down sweater in pullover style (7.1 oz); and the Deviator Hoody 9.7 oz.
—Base layers: I bring wool if it’s going to be cold—think: inland British Columbia in January. Or synthetic if it’s March or April. The added advantage of wool is that it doesn’t smell after many days of use. But the advantage of synthetic is that it can wick moisture away from your body even faster and is often lighter in weight. My go-to wool layers are the Alpine Onset Hoody (6.24 oz) and the Alpine Onset Bottoms (5.33 oz). My go-to synthetic layer is the Echo Hoody (3.4 oz).
—Gloves and Mittens: I always bring three pairs. My glove system scales from light insulation—for uphill travel—to very warm and waterproof insulation to accommodate both my downhill travel as well as for very cold weather exposure. The Transcendent Down Mitts (3.8 oz) paired with the Shuksan Shell Mitts (4.2 oz) are very warm, waterproof, and lightweight—perfect for long exposure to cold weather. The warmth-to-weight ratio of the Bitterblaze Aerogel Gloves (6.4 oz) is amazing, so that’s my downhill mode glove. The Ascendant Sensor Gloves (4.3 oz) are perfect for touring uphill.
—Two to three pairs of ski socks, one pair of wool hut socks (Don’t underestimate the power of a pair of clean, dry socks!), one pair of hut down booties (if the hut doesn’t provide hut shoes), and two to five pairs of underwear, depending on your tolerance.
A small toiletry kit will do—no need to worry about styling your hair or doing your makeup. Toothbrush, travel-size toothpaste, sunscreen, healing balm, all-in-one shampoo and body wash, hand sanitizer, face wipes, and maybe your favorite color sparkles.
If I’m carrying my load on my back, I choose a backpack with the capacity to carry 45 to 60 liters. I don’t want my backpack to be too large, as it will be difficult to ski with. If you go for the smaller volume, be prepared to pack very efficiently, i.e., tightly packed. If you’re traveling in with sleds, then you’ll be able to take a bit more into the hut with you. But you’ll be limited in the complexity of the terrain you can travel in on the way, with the sleds in tow.
—Beacon, shovel, probe, basic snow study kit
—A lightweight repair kit with multi-tool, rescue tarp, first aid kit and CPR mask
—A 1-liter water bottle, and a 1-liter thermos
—I also carry a variety of OR’s Dry Ditty Sacks and ultra-light ditty sacks for storing camera, batteries, etc. and my snacks (no need for disposable plastic bags!)
—Most “hike-in” huts require you to bring your own sleeping bag
—I find a 20-degree F rated bag is plenty warm in a hut scenario
—A satellite phone, InReach, or Spot device for potential emergencies and basic communication, and a GPS or GPS app along with paper maps of the area for navigation
—Skis or splitboard with touring compatible bindings, skins, boots, and adjustable poles with powder baskets.
If you’re carrying and cooking all your food, then plan on approximately 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of food per person per day (2500 to 4500 calories). Food always adds the bulk of the weight to your load, but thankfully you will be lighter on the way back out. If you want to go really light, then freeze-dried foods are the ticket. But you’re going into a hut, the preference is to bring regular foods and endure the weight on the way in for better eating and enjoyment during the week. And finally, if you can tolerate a bit more weight, a few flasks of liquor can keep the jokes flowing.
I’ve hiked into huts, but my favorite way to go is a mechanized drop off at the hut, like a helicopter. This eliminates the need to carry everything you bring on your back, and opens up possibilities for fully catered weeks, giving you more time to ski and less time preparing food. Most mechanized shuttle-serviced huts have a few more amenities like linens, bedding, full kitchens and wood-fired saunas. But in general, a helicopter shuttle will still limit your weight allowance to around 45 pounds (approx. 20 kg) plus your ski/snowboard kit, so keep that in mind as you pack. If you’re self-catering, then you get an additional weight allotment for your food boxes. For mechanized shuttle-accessed huts, you can plan to bring most of the items listed above, but now you can add a couple more pleasantries, perhaps two or three base layers, a towel for the sauna, canned beer, boxed wine, deodorant, book and/or journal with pen, and perhaps a cotton sweatshirt or costume. My biggest regrets on mechanized hut-accessed trips have been two-fold; not bringing enough beer (i.e. running out mid-week), and not bringing enough paper and pens to play games like dictionary, charades or celebrity.
Whatever your mode of travel into the hut, my best advice is to take advantage of your stint in the mountains. Take the time to have meaningful conversations with your friends and fellow hut-mates. Let laughter lead the way. Leave the digital world behind. Be in the moment and let the world melt away, even if just for a week in the mountains.
Photos by Doug Marshall.