If you're heading anywhere beyond lift-accessible off-piste, it is vital that you're fully equipped to deal with any eventuality. It can often be a balancing act, especially as you'll be trying to avoid as much additional weight as possible, but besides the holy backcountry trinity of avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe, there are a few more pieces of gear you should have in your pack to deal with emergencies out of bounds.
1. A Head Torch
Finding yourself benighted unintentionally is an emergency unto itself, but having a good head torch can at least help you find your navigation equipment and buys you more time before it becomes truly dark.
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2. Thermal Survival Bag
The cold is quick to set in if you become injured or immobile, even with plenty of layers. A thermal 'space' bag or blanket reduces the amount of body heat lost, delaying the onset of hypothermia if you're waiting for a rescue.
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3. First Aid Kit
This should go without saying, but having a first aid kit, and at least basic knowledge of how to use it, can go a long way. Weighing in at just 156g, the Lifesystems Light & Dry Pro kit is a great option for tourers and those wanting to keeping their pack weight to a minimum.
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4. Duct Tape / Sugru
A certain law dictates that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the moment of least convenience. Arming yourself with Duct Tape and a blob of Sugru should allow you to mend all but the most major equipment failures.
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5. Emergency Shelter
The changeable nature of an alpine environment means you need to be able to seek refuge, especially if you're not near any lifts or huts. An emergency shelter
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6. Black Diamond Avalung II
Statistics show that survival rates for buried avalanche victims drops severely after 15-20 minutes. At this point, it becomes more and more difficult to draw oxygen from the snowpack as your exhaled breath causes the snow around your mouth to freeze. The Black Diamond Avalung is effectively a snorkel designed to circumvent this problem by extracting air from the surrounding snowpack and depositing exhaled air safely behind you, potentially doubling the amount of time you have to be found alive.
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7. Insulated Hydration Hose
Hiking in the backcountry is thirsty work, so having an easy to reach hydration source is a must. Many skiing rucksacks contain a hydration reservoir, but the windchill of a descent can quickly freeze the pipe and mouthpiece, blocking it. Thankfully, insulated hoses and bite valves are available to keep your fluid intake constant.
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As in any emergency or survival scenario, the more ways you can gain the attention of potential help the better. In a whiteout, a whistle can be far more effective than visual SOS cues, helping rescuers locate you faster.
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Without the luxury of a chairlift, backcountry skiing or snowboarding demands huge amounts of energy to hike your way back up. Foods high in carbohydrate such as flapjacks and Clif Bars are ideal and are easy to keep in your jacket pocket, while Sports Beans are great to chew on for a boost (we recommend these over gels as they don't burst if you fall on them!)
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10. Avalanche Airbag Backpack
Off-piste skiing requires an understanding of the terrain, conditions, and how the snow will react to anyone skiing across it. But heading into the backcountry carries the inherent risk of being caught in an avalanche for even the most cautious skier or snowboarder. In the event of a slide, being able to deploy an Avalanche Airbag backpack is proven to increase your chances of being kept afloat and within the uppermost snowpack as it settles, drastically improving the likelihood of survival.
For more information on how they work, check out our Avalanche Airbag buying guide.