This is about the highest standard of specialist apparel to keep you warm, dry and ultimately safe whilst off the beaten track
Our backcountry guru - Andy Malton from thegemsstock - has put together a buyer's guide for serious technical outerwear for proper backcountry exploring. No off-the-peg TK Maxx jackets here, this is about the highest standard of specialist apparel to keep you warm, dry and ultimately safe whilst off the beaten track, as well as his personal recommendation as to what equipment will be best.
A good clothing system for backcountry snowboarding should keep you dry and comfortable across a variety of conditions, from mid winter storms to spring sunshine. Whether it’s a quick hike to access an out of bounds stash, or a full on multi-day splitboard tour, it’s what you wear that ultimately determines how comfortable you are. Good backcountry snowboarding threads will be light yet warm, offer complete protection yet also breathe well and be durable enough to withstand tree snags, pack straps and 100 day seasons. Here’s our guide to some of the best technical snowboard clothing out there.
Shell Layers - First Defence
The first line of defence against the elements – a good shell garment will keep you dry and comfortable in any weather. It’ll also allow full freedom of movement and hopefully look good too! Here are a few tips:
- Non-insulated shells work much better for backcountry riding. Get your warmth from mid and insulation layers.
- Generally speaking the more expensive the garment the better the fabric. Gore-Tex and similar fabrics aren’t cheap but tend to perform better and almost always last longer than cheaper alternatives.
- Make sure your jacket is light and packable in case you need to carry it in a pack.
- Think about pocket access whilst wearing a pack and make sure the hood fits well and moves with your head.
- Snowboarding pants for backcountry riding need to be tough but light weight. Fit is important as they’ll need to be comfortable whilst hiking. Roomy but not super baggy is often best.
Being able to dump heat effectively on steep ascents is key so choose outerwear with good venting options. Weight is important when you’re on your feet all day – go for light but tough fabrics. If you plan on crossing glaciers or getting into rowdy terrain make sure you can comfortably wear a climbing harness over your outerwear.
Shell Layers - Burton AK Hover Jacket and Pants
The AK line from Burton represents their premier backcountry offering. The Hover Jacket and Pants both use 3 layer Gore-Tex fabric for the ultimate combination of durable light weight protection and are designed for hardcore backcountry use whether hiking, splitboarding or sledding.
Shell Layers - Patagonia PowSlayer Jacket and Bibs
High-end deep-day protection from Patagonia, the PowSlayer Jacket was developed with a input from Josh Dirksen - a man with perhaps the finest pow turn in snowboarding. Gore-Tex Pro fabric provides complete protection and is breathable and durable to boot. For winter 2014/2015 the PowSlayer Jacket has been re-designed to be lighter and more flexible plus it has a new pocket layout which makes accessing stashed essentials easy, whether on splitboard or sled. The PowSlayer Pants complement the jacket by using the most durable and highest performing Gore-Tex fabrics available and having a feature set perfectly suited to backcountry snowboarding.
Shell Layers - Arc’teryx Rush Jacket and Stinger Bibs
The Rush Jacket sits right up there with the best backcountry specific jackets available. Gore-Tex Pro fabric will stand up to any storm and the construction and attention to detail on the Rush Jacket is unsurpassed. The Rush is light enough to carry in a pack when splitboarding, along with being the perfect jacket to shred in all day, whether hiking at the resort or on a cat or heli boarding trip.
The Stinger Bibs are the leg wear of choice for deep days shredding pow or long trips in the mountains. They are super tough and have a roomy, articulated fit that provides great freedom of movement for hiking and splitboarding.
Shell Layers - Arc’teryx Lithic Comp Jacket
The Lithic Comp is essentially a cross between a hard shell and soft shell jacket. It has been specifically designed for backcountry touring and is the perfect shell for splitboarding. It has a composite construction of two different materials – fully waterproof and windproof Gore-Tex fabric on the front of the torso, over the hood and shoulders and in the arms, combined with a soft shell fabric called Trusaro under the arms and across the back. The Gore-Tex fabric gives complete protection where it’s needed, whilst the Trusaro fabric provides extra breathability and mobility over a normal shell.
Shell Layers - Volcom Guide Gore-Tex Jacket and Pants
The Volcom Guide Gore-Tex Jacket and Pants were developed with input from the guides at Baldface Lodge so you can be pretty sure they are gonna be up to the job. The jacket is made from 3 layer Gore-Tex with a brushed backer which give the jacket a little extra warmth for cold days. The pants have dual vents to dump heat and can be zipped into the jacket to fully seal out snow on deep days.
Mid Layers - Keep Cosy
A good mid layer should keep you warm without causing overheating and be made from a fabric that moves moisture away from your base layer to keep you dry.
- Thin stretchy fleece works well.
- A trim fit is more thermally efficient and layers better than a baggy fit.
- A hood is a good feature to have on a mid layer.
Chest pockets are great for getting to stuff whilst on the move. Breathability is really important to prevent overheating so make sure the fabric is air permeable. Soft shell fabrics with a little wind and moisture protection are good too.
Mid Layers - Patagonia R1 Hoody
Seen on the backs of more pro big mountain riders than just about anything else, the Patagonia R1 has built up a reputation as being an essential piece of backcountry wear. The R1 was the original technical fleece hoody that has spawned so many copies over the years. It breathes really well and offers warmth and comfort across a wide spectrum of temperatures and conditions. The high collar and balaclava hood works really well to seal out cold and snow too.
Mid Layers - Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoody
The Fortrez Hoody is a super versatile mid layer made from Polartec Powerstretch fleece that has a special treatment applied to the face of the fabric to help it resist wear and repel moisture. It wicks moisture away from the skin very effectively and is very warm for its weight.
The Fortrez is a great garment to wear whilst splitboarding as it regulates your temperature really well along with protecting against wind and light snow. The hood fits snugly under a helmet or hood and there is a face guard made of soft polyester hidden in the collar that covers the nose, mouth and chin in gnarly conditions, yet folds away unnoticed when not needed.
Insulation - The Cold Front
When riding away from the lifts and resorts it’s worth having an extra layer to stick on when it’s super cold, or when you stop for a brew or food.
- Down filled jackets are very warm, light and pack down small so are perfect for backcountry snowboarding.
- Garments filled with synthetic insulation handle moisture better than down filled ones so are good for wet climates.
Make sure your insulated jacket fits over your shell layer so you can throw it on without having to take off your shell on a freezing cold summit.
Insulation - Burton AK BK Insulator Jacket
Filled with goose down for superior warmth combined with an ultra small pack size, the Burton BK Down Jacket is perfect for rocking under a shell on super cold days or for giving a boost of warmth and protection on a splitboarding mission.
Insulation - Patagonia Nano Air Hoody
Representing a new breed of synthetic insulation, the Nano Air Hoody is designed to be breathable enough to be worn all day, even during strenuous hikes and tours. The insulation used is just as warm as similar jackets but is much more air permeable so it doesn’t cause overheating when working hard. Like all synthetic insulation garments, it also blocks the wind, repels snow and packs down nice and small into a pack.
Insulation - Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody
The perfect layer to pull out of your pack to add a boost of warmth, the Down Sweater Hoody is filled with goose down so is light, warm and packs down very small when not in use. It’s a great jacket to stick on under a shell on super cold days too.
Insulation - Arc’teryx Atom AR Hoody
The Atom AR Hoody is filled with a synthetic insulation called Coreloft which is compressible, warm and soft. Unlike down, synthetic insulation retains most of its warmth when wet which makes the Atom AR a good choice for damp climates and for throwing on over the top of a shell when conditions get really nasty.
Insulation - Arc’teryx Cerium SL
The Cerium SL is the lightest down jacket in the Arc’teryx range coming in at a ridiculous 185g! This jacket is light enough and packs small enough go totally unnoticed in a pack, yet provides a big boost of warmth on cold days. The clever construction places water resistant synthetic insulation at the cuffs and over the shoulders as these areas are prone to getting damp, whilst the remainder of the jacket is filled with super high quality goose down that gives the Cerium SL and un-surpassed warmth to weight ratio.
Base Layers - First On, Last Off
The base layer is often over looked but it’s a dead important layer to get right. Basically the golden rule is to not wear cotton. It soaks moisture up, takes ages to dry and feels clammy next to the skin.
- Merino wool is expensive but is super comfortable and regulates the body’s temperature well. It is also naturally odour resistant.
- Base layers made from synthetic fabrics dry faster and are less expensive than merino. They tend to get smelly though.
- There are different grades of merino wool - the better brands use a finer yarn which is way more comfortable. Avoid cheap merino garments as they will most likely be itchy and less comfortable.
A high collar that can be unzipped to vent heat on ascents then zipped up to keep warmth in when you stop is a good idea. Make sure you can roll the sleeves up too. Flat stitched seams are less likely to rub and chafe under rucksack straps.
Base Layers - Patagonia Capilene 4 Pro Zip Neck
Properly nice base layers from Patagonia – the Capilene 4 Pro Zip Neck and Bottoms are made using two different weights of synthetic fabrics. A warmer one over areas that are prone to cold and a lighter more breathable one in areas where you tend to sweat more. The Polartec fabric is also treated with Polygiene – an anti odour finish that keeps pong to a minimum on extended backcountry trips.
Base Layers - Patagonia Merino 3 Zip Neck
With the Merino 3 Zip Neck, Patagonia have mixed high grade merino fibres with a synthetic yarn to create a base layer that is soft and comfortable like a regular merino top, but with a little extra durability courtesy of the synthetic mix.
Base Layers - Icebreaker Oasis LS Crewe
Icebreaker are the original merino brand. The Oasis Crewe is a classic base layer made from 100% superfine merino wool that will keep you warm, breathe well and won’t stink even after days of heavy use.
Accessories - A Helping Hand
Much like the rest of your clothing system – head and hand wear for backcountry snowboarding needs to be breathable and flexible.
- Leather gloves work great in the backcountry
- Make sure your beanie isn’t too warm as you’ll overheat quickly whilst hiking.
Take at least two pair of gloves for a day splitboarding - a thin pair for skinning uphill and a warm waterproof pair that you can change into for riding down.
Accessories - Burton AK Leather Tech Gloves
These leather gloves from Burton are perfect for backcountry snowboarding and splitboarding. Leather is durable, flexible and breathes well so your hands won’t get too warm. The AK Leather Tech Gloves even have touchscreen functionality so you’ll be able to check your Twitter feed whilst deep in the backcountry. Ace! Maybe.
Accessories - Burton AK Stagger Beanie
The Burton Stagger Beanie comes with a water resistant coating to repel snow and keep it from becoming saturated. It’s made from a combination of wool and acrylic which breathes well and can be worn with the hem rolled up or down.