HOW TO DRESS FOR BACKCOUNTRY
Proper dressing for backcountry riding is a little different to dressing for a day of alpine skiing or snowboarding. While a layering system of base layers, mid layers, and hard shell pants and jackets are good for downhill, you’ll soon find yourself sweaty and overheating as you start your ascent to the top.
Typically, you won’t need as many layers as the level of exertion required is high, especially on steeper terrain. You also won’t need as much waterproofing as you won’t be sitting on wet chairlifts.
Here we’ll take you through the following ideal layers for backcountry riding:
Our stores have a wide range of outerwear and clothing suitable for backcountry, so if in doubt, visit us in store and get expert advice from our knowledgeable staff.
Layering the right fabrics will keep you protected from outside moisture while allowing sweat to continually move forward, away from your body, to keep you warm and dry.
For touring, a simple base layer with a jacket stashed in your pack will suffice.
Find out more about layering here.
This is your most important layer in the system as it sits closest to your skin. You want this layer to be as close fitting as possible to maximise the fabrics sweat-wicking capabilities to help keep you dry. Base layers tend to be free from buttons, zippers, and pockets to keep it snug against your skin and make layering possible.
Look for fabrics that are sweat-wicking and breathable, never cotton as it will absorb moisture, holding it next to your skin leaving you feeling cold and damp. Merino wool or synthetic fabrics are ideal for optimum performance. You can also find base layers made from other natural materials such as bamboo, which like merino wool, is naturally antibacterial.
Base layers are available in light, medium, and heavy weights, with thicker or heavier options offering more warmth. For backcountry touring, go for the lightest option.
Find out more about baselayers here.
Mountain weather changes quickly, even when the forecast looks good, so a packable and lightweight hardshell jacket is good to carry. It must have a good breathability rating to help keep you dry and comfortable.
Find out more about ski jackets here.
INSULATION AND DOWN
Layering the right fabrics is important but knowing when to take them off and put them on is key. A down or synthetic insulating layer can be a great addition for extremely cold climates. When you set off you might find you’re a little cold, likewise when you rest, so an insulating can help maintain your body temperature but be sure to take it off when you start moving again.
If it starts snowing protect your down layer or base layer with your hardshell jacket to keep you as dry as possible.
Find out more about insulation and down jackets here.
Softshell pants are great breathable option for touring, as you’re not sitting on a chairlift putting your lower body in contact with snow and water. A durable fabric is preferable and pre-treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) for added waterproofing.
Find out more about ski pants here.
The right socks are possibly more important for touring than alpine skiing or snowboarding as you’re hiking up as well as descending so it’s vital your socks don’t rub whatever the movement. A good sweat-wicking sock made from synthetic fabrics or merino wool are ideal, in a relatively thin knit. More importantly though, is that your socks are a smooth knit, with or without padding, to prevent blisters.
Typical skiing and snowboarding gloves will be too warm for touring unless you’re out in extremely cold conditions. A thinner, softshell glove is a good choice as it’s breathable with enough fabric to protect your hands from the cold.
Similarly, to gloves, a hat when touring is ideal during your descent rather than ascent. It should be sweat-wicking such as merino wool or micro fleece.
SUNGLASSES OR GOGGLES
Wraparound sunglasses or goggles are essential for protecting your eyes from glare. Choose darker tints or polarised lenses for sunny days and take a pair of low visibility lenses or goggles just in case the weather turns.
Riding backcountry is dangerous, regardless of how experienced you are, so make sure you understand the risks and go as prepared as possible.
Always carry your backcountry safety essentials; transceiver, shovel, and probe AND know how to use them.
Take an avalanche safety course to familiarise yourself with the gear and rescue techniques. Most European and North American resorts have companies that offer avalanche safety training where you learn about the dangers of backcountry, how to lessen them, as well as further understanding of snowpack and stability and avalanche rescue. You can also find these classes in most UK snow domes.