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Let’s get one thing out of the way. I’m no Cody Townsend. I’m not trying to ski North America’s 50 most iconic lines, and I’m not spending days carefully going through everything in my pack to schlepp into the continent’s most remote ski spots efficiently. But like many of you, I still love a big day in the backcountry and or a dawn patrol up the ski area before work. So I am quite happy to have come across a whole series of ultra-lightweight but high-quality backcountry gear that lightens my pack but still keeps me thoroughly prepared. Here are some of my favorite new pieces.
Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak ($330)
Montbell stuffed this jacket with high-quality 900-fill down, made it an anorak so that it doesn’t have a full zipper, and gave it a sturdy but thin seven-denier outer fabric so they could provide ultra-warm insulation that weighs in at a scant 7.6 ounces. It’s the perfect piece for staying warm on lunch breaks, for those “oh shit” moments you hope you never have out in the backcountry, and for the coldest lift days when every layer counts. It’s also so compressible that it packs down the size of an orange and takes up almost no room in my backcountry pack.
Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket Hadron ($450)
In your hand, this ultra-thin jacket (nine ounces) feels like something you’d wear for a rainy hike, not a bomber ski piece. But Arc’teryx says it’s just as durable as many ski jackets thanks to a Hadron LCP (Liquid Crystal Polymer) grid face fabric, which delivers an abrasion resistance similar to materials weighing twice as much. It’s not going to be as tough as their apex Alpha SV jacket that comes with 100-denier Gore-Tex Pro fabric, but most of us don’t need a jacket that will put up with sustained alpine climbs. We just need a jacket that will keep us warm and dry and is durable enough to put up with the occasional rock face on the climb up and the occasional ski branch on the way down.
Garmin inReach Mini 2 ($400)
We all heard about Apple’s new emergency SOS feature built into the iPhone 14. This little satellite device weighs just three ounces and is half the size of your phone but will save your ass in the backcountry. I’m sticking with the inReach because it has a much longer battery life, is more durable, and allows for always-on two-way communication. If you get into trouble, you can push the SOS button, and an emergency team will respond. It also connects to an app on your phone so that you can use it to text friends and family (or emergency responders) via satellite from anywhere on the globe.
MSR Access 1 Ultralight, Four-Season Solo Tent ($560)
My hat goes off to MSR for building this tent to meet the exact needs of a backcountry skier. It’s not quite as sturdy as a mountaineering tent, meaning it’s not designed to sit at camp two on K2. Still, it is designed to hold snow weight if it dumps, helps maintain your body heat overnight, and is ridiculously easy to set up so you can have shelter immediately after arriving at camp. You get all this protection and a home away from home for three pounds, about the same weight as the laptop you’re used to carrying around in your commuter bag.
Mountain Hardwear Snoskiwoski 40-liter Pack ($220)
At 40 liters, the Snoskiwoski is large enough for a two-day hut trip but weighs in at just two pounds, 6.5 ounces. To keep the weight down, Mountain Hardwear kept things simple. There’s a main compartment for food and gear, a safety compartment for your shovel and probe, and straps that allow you to carry your skis diagonally or in an a-frame design. Other clever add-ons include a right-side zipper that allows quick access into the main compartment and webbing on the shoulder strap that keeps a radio or hydration hose in place. To keep weight down, Mountain Hardwear used a light but durable 210-denier nylon for most of the bag and a 500-denier Cordura fabric on the bottom where the pack will get set down.