Words by Avalanche Canada, Images by Outdoor Research.

Heading out into the snowy backcountry is a wonderful part of winter and whether you’re bagging peaks or seeking deep powder, the most important thing to have in your winter backcountry quiver is knowledge. Before you head into the mountains, you need to know about the avalanche conditions and have the skills to assess the terrain around you. Everyone in your group should have companion rescue gear and the know-how to use it. If you’re new to the winter backcountry, Avalanche Canada’s online tutorial, Avy Savvy, is a great place to start.  

If the worst happens and someone is buried in an avalanche, minutes can make the difference between life and death. If you haven’t already, make sure to take a training course so you’re familiar with your gear and practice, practice, practice. 

At a bare minimum, here’s the essential avalanche gear you should have with you before you head out:

Avalanche Transceiver

Avalanche transceivers are small electronic devices worn close to the body that continuously emit a radio signal that can be picked up by other transceivers in the area. Learn more about avalanche transceivers here.


Your transceiver gets you close to a buried victim; your probe pinpoints them and tells you where to dig. Learn about avalanche probes here.


Avalanche shovels are made so the handle can be easily removed from the blade, making it easy to store in a backpack. Learn what to look for in an avalanche shovel here. Shovelling can be the most time-consuming part of a rescue, so effective technique is critical.

Image by Outdoor Research

What to Wear

In addition to essential avalanche safety gear, having the right layers to stay warm and dry is vital in the winter environment. Being wet in a cold environment is, at best, uncomfortable. At worst, it can be deadly.

Backcountry riding can be very demanding. Your clothes need to allow your body’s heat and moisture to escape, so you don’t get wet. They need to insulate you from the cold and protect you from wind, snow, and rain. It’s a lot to ask, but the right outerwear will help you walk the line between warm and dry and wet and cold.

When dressing for a day in the backcountry, the goal is to stay comfortable by regulating your body temperature. Layers are the key, and the goal is to find a combination of clothing that will let you feel suitably toasty without sweating too much.

Starting closest to your skin, it might be easy to underestimate the importance of your base layer, but these layers have a lot to do. They need to move your body’s heat away from your skin without getting wet from that moisture. The best options are usually made from natural fibers like wool or from technical synthetic fibers.

Over this, you’ll likely want an insulating mid-layer. Mid-layers come in various degrees of breathability; some are better for sitting still at breaks, while others allow you to keep moving. Having both types in your pack is a good idea. An extra warm layer is never a bad addition to your packing list. When you stop for a snack or transition into ski mode, it’s nice to have a heavyweight warm layer like a down or synthetic jacket to keep you warm.

Your outer layer should be wind and waterproof, as well as breathable. Pants need to allow for easy movement, while also keeping you dry. There are lots of options for pants from soft-shells that provide a good amount of water resistance and breathability, to Gore-Tex to keep out the water on those wet days.

Image by Outdoor Research

Outdoor Research recommends these styles for the backcountry:

Outer Layer:
Hemispheres II Kit, Skytour AscentShell Kit

Base Layer:
Alpine Onset Collection

Lightweight Mid-Layer:
Vigor Collection

Heavier Insulated Mid-Layer:
SuperStrand LT Collection

View All Ski & Snowboard Gloves

Related Stories:

Now that your avalanche safety gear and layers are dialed, there is plenty more to learn. Here are some additional articles from Outdoor Research to be backcountry aware.

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