Not every snowboarder needs this stuff - but those who do, really do. The dangers of finding lines far from the beaten track are well-documented, and won't always be surmountable, but these items (along with a strong knowledge of what you're doing) will give you the best possible chance of staying safe in the backcountry.
"When you consider that it's potentially the difference between life and death, the cost suddenly doesn't seem too bad"
Anyone with a focus on scoring the best powder days needs a transceiver, shovel and probe at the bare minimum. Plus you need a backpack to put it all in, and one designed specifically for that purpose will always trump your old schoolbag - especially if it's kitted out with an airbag system. For more advice, check out our guide to packing for the backcountry here.
It's all fairly pricey - the most expensive gear in our entire gear guide can be found right here - but when you consider that it's potentially the difference between life and death, the cost suddenly doesn't seem too bad.
We've gathered together the best transceivers, shovels, probes, packs and accessories from the world's leading brands. Some are also covered in more detail in The Snowboard 100, so be sure to check those out - in the meantime, here's our complete overview of backcountry safety products for 2016/17.
Scroll down to view all avalanche transceivers and backcountry products, or skip to a particular brand using the links below
All photographs by Sami Tuoriniemi
Production: Tom Copsey / Andrew Duthie / Tobias Grünwald / Sam Oetiker / Sami Tuoriniemi
Backcountry Access Tracker3 Avalanche Transceiver 2016-2017
For years the BCA Tracker 2 was one of the most popular transceivers out there due to it’s ease of use and relative affordability, and maybe a little to it’s bright and iconic design. Now they’ve upgraded to the Tracker 3, they’ve ditched the yellow casing and gone with something that looks more like an iPhone.
- PRICE: £250
The slimmed down ergonomics are to make it ‘pocket friendly’, the idea being that some people prefer to carry their beacons in their jacket rather than on a harness. It’s got multiple antennas and will comfortably do up to an hour in search mode after 200 hours in send!
BCA pride themselves on its no-nonsense functionality and superfast electronics, making this near-essential in your backcountry setup.
Backcountry Access BC Link Two Way Radios 2016-2017
Whether you’re filming heavy backcountry lines or just touring with some buddies, radio frequency communication is near essential to both safety and making the most out of your day. Before you go buying any old set at a knockdown price, consider the BC Link Radios from BCA that are designed specifically for backcountry snowboarding.
- PRICE: £155
The main unit lives either in your pocket or integrated as part of a Float or Stash BCA backpack, but the mic clips to your backpack straps and can be operated with gloves on, meaning it’s always right there rather than an awkward fumble away.
Couple that with a lithium-ion battery that won’t konk out in the cold (better than shitty AAAs, anyway) and you’ve got yourself another powder day essential!
Backcountry Access Float 32 Avalanche Backpack 2016-2017
With hundreds of refill stations around the world, BCA claim that their own avalanche airbags are the easiest to refill on the market. Given that they weigh only 3.2kg fully loaded as well it makes them one of the easiest on your back full backcountry packs out there too.
- PRICE: £479
Fully integratable with all the BCA systems, this backpack can accommodate Link Radios, an aqualung, a snowboard, goggles, a shovel and probe all in well thought out, dedicated pockets and still have room for your lunch as well. It even has separate internal areas for items that will probably get wet and ones you want to keep dry!
Handy if you don’t fancy that can of coke spilling all over your nicely stored splitboard skins...
Backcountry Access Shaxe Tech Shovel 2016-2017
For the truly adventurous, an ice axe is a must, and it's always a good idea to get a high-quality offering from someone like BCA.
And if you can combine that axe with a high-quality shovel, that's lightweight and durable, then all the better.
Selected for The Snowboard 100 - take a closer look at the 2016-2017 Backcountry Access Shaxe Tech here
Backcountry Access Snow Study Kit 2016-2017
Once you’ve learned the basics of digging a snow pit to analyse the structure and layers on a given slope, you might want to get really nerdy with it, which is where the BCA Snow Study Kit comes in. The carry pack itself handily hangs from the wall of the pit, whilst to goodies within allow some proper study of the different aspects of the snowpack.
- PRICE: £100
A crystal card helps identify snow types whilst an analog thermometer analyses temperature gradients. There’s a magnifying loupe for getting a real close look at fine details, and an inclinometer is included for measuring slope pitch.
It all packs away at just 280g, a negligible extra weight for maximum safety assurance.
Backcountry Access Stealth 240 Carbon Avalanche Probe 2016-2017
The Stealth probe features an assembly rod rather than a loose cord to tighten and lock the individual poles together to create what BCA call the ‘fastest assembly on the market’.
- PRICE: £70
We’ve not actually gone so far as to do a head-to-head, but we can say this pole can go rigid pretty damn fast. It’s carbon as well, because carbon.
Black Diamond Dawn Patrol 32 Backpack 2016-2017
Black Diamond’s 32 litre backpack is on the larger side of what’s available on the market, so rather than a sidecountry pack for accessing powder off the lift this is for long days splitboarding well away from any handy restaurants.
- PRICE: £110
In amongst all the room for baguettes and snacks, you can also purchase a compatible avalung for extra protection should you get buried, and/or a hydration pack - both can be threaded through the shoulder straps and poke out at just the right level the be easily reached by mouth.
It’s form fitted so is pretty comfy, especially when you fine-tune how it sits on your shoulders and back by way of its adjustable shoulder, chest and waist straps. We especially like how access to the main compartment is by way of the back panel rather than a zippered top, meaning you can throw it down pretty much anywhere without worrying if it’s about to topple over, and there’s a dedicated helmet holder that let’s you keep your head cool on the way up without having it swinging around and distracting you from your rhythm. The little things really do make a difference.
Black Diamond Evac9 Shovel 2016-2017
One for the pros, the Evac 9 is Black Diamond’s top-of-the-line shovel for everyday backcountry use. The shovel can swing round on the shaft to create either a traditional shovel or a hoe for moving large amounts of snow quickly, as well as creating snow pits for snowpack inspection or creating blocks for kicker building.
- PRICE: £80
The blade has a larger than average surface area which we liked - and we reckon the build quality is bolts enough that you could move a fair few tons of the frozen stuff in its lifetime.
However, the blade area and curved shaft design mean that you should only consider this piece if you have pack big enough to accommodate the both, or at least have the handle and shaft rigged on the outside of your bag.
However, the bulkiness doesn’t affect the weight too much - it still feels pretty light - and we loved the D handle as it makes for a much sturdier grip whilst shoveling, even with mittens on!
Black Diamond Pilot 11 Jetforce Avalanche Backpack 2016-2017
Jetforce looks like it's going to be the future of ABS technology. Allowing multiple discharges of the airbag on any one day, it's definitely the safest option.
Should you get buried, it automatically deflates to give you the biggest air pocket possible.
Selected for The Snowboard 100 - take a closer look at the 2016-2017 Black Diamond Pilot 11 Jetforce here
Mammut Alugator Light Shovel 2016-2017
This snow shovel packs a lot of punch in just 670g. The lightweight and space conscious scoop in made from hardened and anodized aluminium and features a straight back for extra accuracy whilst cutting blocks (handy for building jumps) or digging snow pits for analysis.
- PRICE: £50
The ‘twist’ - both in its name and design - is that the handle and shaft can easily rotate 180 degrees whilst connected to the blade, meaning you can switch between two shovel shapes to give maximum efficiency whether you’re digging straight down or shovelling away snow piled in front of you. We like to call a spade a spade here, but this is a twisty spade!
The rest is what you’d expect from a snow safety shovel - grippy shaft, strong T grip, sturdy design, minimal impact on your pack weight. Reliable, basically.
Mammut Carbon Probe 240 Avalanche Probe 2016-2017
Any avalanche probe worth its salt needs to be lightweight and easy to assemble - and this carbon option from Mammut excels on both fronts.
Even with thick gloves on, you can set this up and get to work in a matter of seconds.
Selected for The Snowboard 100 - take a closer look at the 2016-2017 Mammut Carbon 240 Fast Lock here
Mammut Pulse Barryvox Avalanche Transceiver 2016-2017
Interestingly Mammut have included an old-school analogue transceiver in with the more standard digital triple antenna, so if you prefer searching using pips and bleeps rather than a digital display this could be one to plump for.
- PRICE: £300
The casing is both discreet and strong - it fits well in a jacket pocket but looks like it could take a beating if dropped/smashed into a rock. Like all good modern transceivers, you can search for multiple burial victims as well as marking them off once they’ve been discovered. Whilst searching, if motionless for three minutes it will switch back to send mode in case of a secondary slide burying the rescuers, giving you extra security and peace of mind.
It does its own system check upon startup, has a specific mode for testing a group’s frequency accuracy and its two buttons are designed to be used with gloves on. Basically, it’s all you want and more!
Mammut Ultralight Removable Airbag 3.0 Avalanche Backpack 2016-2017
This thing is tiny for an airbag pack! Weighing in at just 17kg with the airbag system in place puts it at about half the weight of other competing systems, though the short back length of the bag does mean that you won’t be able to fit the standard 207 Mammut cartridges in. It’s relatively cheap as well - only £420.
- PRICE: £420
As it’s a pack designed primarily for skiing it doesn’t feature a way of carrying a snowboard other than the ol’ fashioned sling-it-between-your-straps method, though when it’s lighter than most packs without an airbag you’re still laughing! Twenty litres of storage (though that does include the ABS system) means you’ll have plenty of room for a sandwich or two amongst your rescue gear.
All in all, it’s a great pack for riders that want an airbag to bomb around lift accessed terrain with and want the option to downgrade to a pretty decent touring pack when required.
Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Transceiver 2016-2017
This transceiver is pretty tekkers, but Ortovox have managed to keep the functionality of the 3+ relatively simple.
It's got a great system for identifying multiple burials, and the visual prompts make the whole process run as smooth as possible.
Ortovox Pro Alu 2.7 Shovel 2016-2017
When you’re digging in an emergency situation you want the quickest, most efficient way of moving snow out the way as possible. The Ortovox Pro Alu 2.7 s among those by means of its ability to be both a traditional shovel and a snow hoe.
- PRICE: £65
Nope, not a portable, on-snow ramp tramp, but a blade that can be quickly attached to one of the handle at 90 degrees in order to hack down and pull snow away quickly rather than having to shovel in and lift away, which in the wrong circumstance can be dangerously energy sapping. In every way, probably one of the simplest but best snow safety shovel features on the market.
As well as all that above, the blade can also be converted into a snow anchor or rescue sled, and the rubberized grip by the scoop seems to be much better than the roughened aluminium on most other shovels. You can also get an accompanying pocket sized ice pick to turn this bad boy into an ice axe, and if you do keep it in you pants or jacket as the name implies you can make it so without having to fumble around for an extra component in your backpack. Ingenious all round really, highly recommended.
Ortovox Zoom+ Avalanche Transceiver 2016-2017
Ortovox’s ZOOM+ is a slightly more basic version of the 3+, slimming down on some of the advanced fetures of its big brother. It still has the standard three-antennas and automatic switchover back to send in case of a secondary slide, but missing are things like multiple burial markings and updateable firmware.
- PRICE: £230
There’s still a five-year warranty on it, and the design, display and ergonomics are all spot on, as is the price! If you’re looking for something relatively cheap for sidecountry riding, but still good enough to make searching for you mates simple then this could be a great beacon to look at, or even as a gift for someone’s first transceiver.
Friends don’t let friends ride without the right gear!
PIEPS DSP Pro Ice Avalanche Transceiver 2016-2017
Not only does this top-of-the-range transceiver from PIEPS pack in all the features you’d expect from an advanced model, it goes one further by allowing you to swap detection frequencies after all standard wavelengths have been found. This means that when paired with Pieps’ TX-600 transmitter you can search for and rescue non-humans signals like a camera bag, snowmobile or this author’s dog (who never goes touring without it). Man’s best friend can stay as safe as you!
- PRICE: £370
On top of this, the DSP Pro also has one of the largest optimal search radiuses available, a whopping 60m, and can detect multiple burials as well as sporting a very simple ‘marking off’ function to temporarily pause one incoming signal in order to look for the next. For professionals it also contains a frequency checker to make sure other beacons in your group are up to scratch and doubles as an inclinometer for measuring slope pitch.
It automatically transmits from the most effective of its three antennas and can be deactivated by a Pieps electronic iPROBE so that all members of the search party can lock on to the next strongest signal once the wearer has been found. With all of this going on it’s a wonder that it was one of the lightest transceivers we tested, coming in sub 200g. It comes in at a pretty high price, but one that’s well worth investing in considering the features and build quality on offer.
PIEPS Jetforce 24L Avalanche Backpack 2016-2017
Pieps are one of the brands making use of the Jetforce avalanche airbag system, using an electronically controlled fan instead of a pressurised air canister to inflate the emergency sack. That eliminates both the cost of buying or refilling expensive canisters and - as the airbag can be deployed up to four times on one charge - it takes any financial or practical concerns out of the decision to deploy, meaning you can safely pull the trigger if you’re just worried about a situation, rather than when you’re 100% certain you’re going to be caught in a slide.
- PRICE: £900
It also cleverly deflates itself after three minutes, not only making re-packing a breeze but providing you with a handy air pocket should the worse happen and you’re trapped under the surface.
The pack itself is on the large side, 24 litres puts it well in the touring bag category - you wouldn’t want this bulk on an in-resort day mission - but at the same time it’s not ridiculously big. Enough space for supplies for a days splitboarding plus extra layers and emergency gear, and a total weight of 3.4kg means it’s even a touch lighter than standard ABS systems.
Unlike a normal airbag however, the inflation system is not removeable, important to note if you’re after something with a bit of flexibility.
PIEPS Micro Avalanche Transceiver 2016-2017
PIEPS have packed a whole lot of tech into the smallest, lightest transceiver we think we've ever seen.
For something that's anonymous when you don't need it but ready to step up when you do, the Micro is the one.
PIEPS Shovel C 660 Shovel 2016-2017
During search and rescue, speed is of the utmost importance, which is why the PIEPS C 660 is optimised to be set up and shoveling as fast as is possible. The quick lock system automatically engages when the shovel handle is extended and the shovel blade itself has serrated footrests that help you channel more energy into digging out potential victims.
- PRICE: £65
For a shovel, the C handle is pretty striking, and its purpose other than looking cool is to enable a strong grip even with thick gloves on. It can be swapped round to suit both righties and lefties, but if precious seconds are what we’re going for here we might prefer a more universal D or T grip. However, it is coated with a non-slip finishing that works even with wet mitts.
The blade folds down into a hoe position to help move snow away laterally more efficiently or to dig into faces to create emergency bivies, but if we’re talking multiple integrated tools here we’ve saved the best ‘til last: there’s an integrated bottle opener for top-of-the-hike celebratory beers - genius.