What Do I Need For Ski Touring?
Ski touring is the ultimate goal for many adventurous skiers. It allows you to travel to areas of the mountain that are otherwise inaccessible, to escape the crowds, and ski down untouched powder. Nothing offers the same rewarding feeling as touring where you quite literally earn your turns.
Ski touring is a demanding sport and puts your body through a range of temperatures. Uphill skiing will see your body generate a lot of heat and sweat, whereas any stops and descents will quickly see your body temperature come back down. It’s therefore essential to have a good and effective layering system in place.
In comparison to normal resort skiing you do need some extra gear to enable you to travel up slopes. Crucially your boots, bindings and skis all need to be capable of touring. Weight is also key, with lighter weight gear making your day a little bit easier.
It’s also important to consider safety. Whilst your usual ski safety gear still applies, touring also exposes you to more dangerous environments than piste skiing. It is therefore important to be prepared and carry the necessary avalanche safety equipment.
This list is not exhaustive, but covers the essentials required for most standard touring trips.
A good pair of base layer pants are essential for temperature regulation and comfort. When ski touring, you need a balance of warmth for the descent and any stops, but comfort and wicking for the ascent when you generate a lot of heat.
You have the option of either synthetic or natural. Merino wool is the most popular option as not only is it a great insulator, but it is also effective at wicking and naturally odour free.
As with pants, a good base layer top is an essential foundation to your layering system. It provides warmth, comfort, and wicking.
Depending on the time of year you are touring, you can get lighter or heavier weight. Some tops offer a high zip neck and thumb loops for extra warmth, whereas lighter-weight tops will offer better ventilation.
A fleece jacket acts as a good mid-layer offering extra insulation between your base and outer layers. Look for fleece jackets that are stretchy and breathable. A low profile hood can also be a useful feature by fitting under the helmet to provide extra warmth on colder days.
A softshell jacket with some insulation is another great option for a mid-layer and quite often it’s worth taking both a fleece and softshell, leaving one in your bag just in case an additional layer is required. On warmer days a softshell works really well as your outer layer for the ascent before becoming a mid-layer for the descent.
A hard-shell (waterproof) pair of ski pants are the best option. They provide you with protection from snow and wind with minimal bulk. Ski touring specific pants tend to have good articulated joints for movement and side zips/vents for ascents and warmer days.
Insulated ski pants tend to be slightly less breathable and as a result, you can quite often overheat on the uphill. By combining a hard-shell pant with a good base layer you are able to adjust your layers for the temperature day by day.
For ski touring, a waterproof shell jacket is the preferable option over an insulated jacket. Shell jackets provide excellent protection from wind and snow, but are also breathable and therefore work best with a layering system.
As ski touring requires multiple layers that will quite often change throughout the day, a shell jacket complements this nicely by offering protection from the elements and allowing your base and mid-layers to provide the required warmth.
A pair of good gloves are essential in providing warmth and comfort. It's important that you keep your hands warm and have good dexterity for transitions.
A pair of merino inner gloves are also a very good idea. They help provide extra warmth and offer some wicking. In good weather, you can just wear your merino gloves for the ascent before putting your warmer gloves on at the summit. This prevents insulated gloves from getting sweaty, wet, and ultimately cold.
Having comfortable feet is essential to ski touring. Through both the ascent and descent your feet are put under a lot of stress, so it’s important to do everything you can to support your feet and keep them comfortable. Socks with light ski touring specific padding and moisture-wicking capabilities are the way to go. Merino wool is another great option for material offering comfort, wicking, and staying odour free.
A ski helmet is an essential piece of protection for ski touring. Key things to look out for are ventilation, removable padding/liners, light weight, and dual certification. Quite a few ski helmets are certified not just for skiing, but also climbing. As you become more experienced in touring, this may become more important as ski mountaineering (which features climbing) is quite a common progression.
The key features to consider for touring skis is their weight and width.
Touring skis come in a range of widths, with wider skis suited to powder and soft snow, and narrower widths being lightweight and suited to fast ascents.
The lighter the ski the easier your ascent will be. This usually comes at the cost of the ski being slightly narrower which depending on your skiing style and conditions, may be important.
There are three main types of bindings for touring. Pin, frame and hybrid.
Pin bindings use two pins at the toe piece that attach to corresponding holes in your boots. There are then also two pin slots at the heel to lock your boot in for the descent. This is the lightest system for touring, but requires specific touring boots.
Frame bindings use a bar/rails to join the toe to the heel. You clip in as you would for alpine bindings which makes this an easy to use system that fits a range of boots. It is heavier than other options but delivers good all-round performance and is a great option for beginners.
Hybrid bindings have a pin system for the toe piece with an alpine heel piece. This offers good uphill performance with ease of use, weight-saving and control. Boots must have toe pin inserts for compatibility.
As with nearly all things touring, lightweight boots are the best option. You also need to ensure that they have the correct compatibility for your bindings, whether they are pin, hybrid or frame. It's also worth checking for a good range of motion when in hike mode, offering better uphill performance.
Comfort is essential for touring boots, so where possible, head in store for a full fitting to make sure you have the best boots for you.
Skins are attached to the bottom of your skis to allow you to travel uphill. They are made from either Nylon, Mohair or a mix of the two.
Nylon skins are durable, require less maintenance and provide the best uphill grip.
Mohair skins provide a smoother glide than nylon, however, they also wear out quicker and depending on conditions, can have less grip.
A mix skin of nylon and mohair is a good compromise, offering the glide of mohair with the durability of nylon.
There are two types of touring poles, fixed length and adjustable.
Adjustable poles allow you to change the length of the pole dependent on the terrain you are on, which is especially important on the ascent where longer poles will give you more propulsion.
Touring specific poles that are fixed length will usually have an extended grip down the length of the pole. This is really useful for traversing across steeper gradients, allowing you to move your hand down on your topside to provide more stability and control.
Goggles allow you to see in a range of conditions whilst also offering protection to your eyes from both the weather and UV rays. Ensure that you have goggles with lenses suitable for the conditions you’ll be out in.
It is also common to take a pair of sunglasses for the ascent, with the main benefit being that glasses are not as warm as googles and tend to not fog up as much.
A backpack is essential for touring, allowing you to carry all the equipment and clothing required for a day on the hill. You will use it to pack your clothing layers, avalanche safety equipment, skins when they are not being used, as well as food and drink. Depending on the tour you are doing, bags from 20L up are a good starting place.
If you are in an avalanche-prone area or want the additional safety, then an Avalanche backpack is a great option offering both the storage you need for touring along with an airbag should you get caught in a slide.
Whenever you head into the backcountry, a transceiver is essential. It allows you to be found should you get caught in an avalanche, but also allows you to search for others should you witness a slide.
All transceivers have the same fundamental features, however, more expensive devices will allow you to search and mark multiple signals alongside offering more information on their display.
It is imperative that you are confident using a transceiver before venturing into the backcountry. You must always accompany the transceiver with a shovel and probe. Further details on avalanche safety equipment can be found here.
A probe is the second piece of avalanche safety equipment you need. It is essentially a pole which is used to locate the exact position and depth of a buried person.
Probes can be made from aluminium or carbon fibre. Carbon fibre is the lighter of the two but more expensive, and can sometimes be harder to penetrate hardpack snow with. You also need to ensure the length is at least 2 metres, with most people tending to go for around 2.4 metres.
You must always accompany a probe with a transceiver and shovel, and be confident in using all three in avalanche situations. Further details on avalanche safety equipment can be found here.
A shovel is the final piece of essential safety equipment required. It is worth investing in a quality shovel, usually made from aluminium or another metal alloy as opposed to plastic. Should you ever find yourself in an avalanche situation, then the digging phase is the most time consuming and it is therefore worth making sure your shovel is comfortable and effective to use.
You must always accompany the shovel with a transceiver and probe, and be confident in using all three in the case of an avalanche. Further details on avalanche safety equipment can be found here.
Ski Touring Kit