SKI TOURING OH SH!T KIT
Emergency items to carry in your ski/board pack for when things go sideways.
If you ski tour for long enough, something unexpected is bound to happen—a boot buckle breaks, a binding rips out, a partner tears their knee, skins come unglued, or god forbid, someone gets seriously hurt in an avalanche.
Undesired situations are much more manageable with a good “oh shit kit” in your backpack in addition to your regular first aid kit and your ten(ish) essentials. Winter gear is complicated, with lots of little parts that can break, loosen, or degrade. And consequences are much more dire when temperatures are cold out. An injured person can quickly become hypothermic sitting still, and a long slog for miles without a functional binding can take many hours longer than expected and stretch into the night.
The good news is, you can fit some incredibly handy items in a small stuff sack buried deep in your pack. (A stuff sack or the storage bag that came with your skins works great.) Keep the sack there for when you need it. You eventually will—and by carrying these items you’ll save hours, or even save a life.
- Ski straps: Also called Voile straps, these bendy, flexible, slightly stretchable wonders can fix almost anything. It’s best to carry an assortment of lengths, with as many as half a dozen (or more) in your pack. They help in first-aid situations and can hold almost any two items together, such as holding boots to skis, replacing a broken boot buckle, or holding skins to skis.
- Headlamp: Keep a headlamp plus spare batteries in case you’re out past sundown dealing with an injury, broken binding, or route-finding error.
- Space blanket: This weighs almost nothing but comes in incredibly handy if someone’s injured or you get stuck out overnight, holding your natural body heat in so it doesn’t escape.
- Hand warmers: Hand warmers are also very small but helpful item. When people sit still after an injury or accident, all the warmth they were generating moving around goes right out the window. Hand warmers are a godsend to hold frostbite at bay.
- Fire starter and waterproof matches: Yes, there’s a warmth-related theme here. Pick up some fire starter at an outdoor shop (or make your own—there are plenty of DIY methods online, such as cotton balls soaked in Vaseline). Get some waterproof matches, too. Then you’re in a good position to start a nice fire using wood you gather. (If you carry a snow saw in your avalanche kit, it can help saw small branches off bushes and trees.) The fire can keep an entire group warm if you’re stuck out overnight, either lost or injured and waiting for help. As a bonus, it makes you easier for searchers to find.
- Multi-tool: There are multi-tools available that are specific to ski/board bindings, and some brands (such as Plum touring bindings) even give you an allen wrench that lets you tighten or fix your bindings on the fly. It’s amazing just how much it can slow down (or ruin) your day if a heel piece shifts out of position or a boot screw comes loose. Take a little time to learn how your boots and bindings work, then carry the screwdrivers/wrenches/screws you might possibly need.
- Super glue: There’s not much a tube of Loctite can’t hold in place. If you invest in the professional-grade super glue, it can cure in as little as minutes, and have you on your way.
- Wire: Wire is a do-anything nice-to-have item. If you don’t have the size of screw you need, or your boot ski-walk lock mode broke, or your Boa strap busted, or any other number of calamities occur, wire comes in handy to hold things in place.
- Duct tape: Duct tape can get finicky in extreme cold, losing its pliability or stickiness. But, if you have a torn jacket or a busted zipper and need to seal or close something, it can work wonders. Carry a small roll of duct tape with you, either inside your kit or just wrapped on your ski pole for use later.
- Glop wax: If you’ve ever had your skins get saturated with wet snow on a warm day and develop a fearsome case of glop chunks building up underfoot, you know just how much this can slow down or even derail your mission. Suddenly even fast people go at a fraction of their usual pace with pounds of snow clinging underfoot and throwing them off balance. A block of glop wax can save the day, repelling water from your skins.
- Rub-on ski wax: Ski wax isn’t just a performance-related thing—if your ski wax is totally wrong for the snow temperature of the day, you can be stopped in your tracks. This is especially devastating if the slope angle is low or flat and you need every ounce of momentum you can get to keep progress moving forward. Save yourself hours of trudging or pushing yourself along by keeping some liquid all-temperature rub-on wax in your kit.
- Lip balm: It sounds like a nice-to-have, but lip balm is more than a creature comfort. It keeps your lips from burning, chapping, and cracking painfully on long days outside. If you forgot your pocket lip balm, you’ll be deeply grateful for the spare stick in your kit.
- Spare ski pole basket: It’s insane what a difference you experience if a ski pole basket falls off and your pole just sinks all the way down into the snow every time you try to push off with it. Throw an extra pole basket in your kit so you don’t have to muddle your way through the snow at a snail’s pace if this happens to you.
- High calorie snacks: If the day stretches way longer than intended, couple spare energy bars, packets of nuts, or other calorie-dense foods can make the difference between burning out of energy or not.
Everything listed above should fit in a small sack. On top of that, we highly recommend a few extras to always keep in your pack—especially if you’re going out for a long day or with a bigger group where there’s a little more potential for things to go afoul.
These extras include a highly packable puffy jacket, such as the Patagonia Nano Puff or the Arcteryx Nuclei FL, is wonderful to keep stashed in your pack if there’s an emergency or if things are simply chillier than expected. A rescue tarp is also very nice to have, as it makes it possible to carry/drag an injured person long distances. And communication tools are a must if anything goes wrong—so bring a satellite device like a Garmin InReach, or at least an extra cell phone battery charger plus charging cord.
What else do you keep in your emergency kit? We’d love to hear, as we’re always looking for smart ideas.
Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.
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