Best Buys

Best Backcountry and Splitboard Equipment 2019-2020

Chosen by the Whitelines Test Team

UPDATE: Check out our reviews of the Best Splitboard and Touring Accessories for 2020/2021 by clicking here.

Venturing off into the backcountry – or even the lift-accessed sidecountry – means that you should be prepared, and this means bringing along a load more gear that you ordinarily would for a day in-bounds.

Asides from the essentials – transceiver, probe, shovel, and a decent backpack to carry the latter two items in – there’s a whole host of additional accessories and gadgets that will not only enhance your enjoyment of the day but help to ensure your safety. Inflatable airbag systems drastically increase your odds of staying above the snow in the event of an avalanche, and GPS watches could be your lifeline if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

As these items tend to be less trend-driven, many of them are effectively the same as last year’s models. Nevertheless, there are new developments and products released each season. As such we’ve presented you with some key models from both camps that should help you on you muddle through the jargon and equip yourself to the safest possible standards.

“Selecting “the best” backcountry safety gear is arguably the most subjective of all the categories in this year’s Buyer’s Guide. Ultimately, for the individual, “the best” is whatever you are most effective at using”

The last few seasons have seen a huge uptake in splitboarding, too. More brands than ever are producing quality gear to help you make the most of your foot-powered ascents and allow you to cover more ground with less hassle. Of course, you’ll need to equip yourself with the obvious necessities – skins, poles, a splitboard and split specific bindings – but additional add-ons, such as crampons, can make a huge difference to more challenging ascents.

Selecting “the best” backcountry safety gear is arguably the most subjective of all the categories in this year’s Buyer’s Guide. Ultimately, for the individual, “the best” is whatever you are most effective at using.

Above all else, educating yourself before going into the backcountry is paramount. Having the latest technology or the most expensive gear won’t prevent the worst-case scenarios from occurring. Never travel alone in the backcountry. If your group is still relatively inexperienced or exploring a new location, hire a guide. Lastly, make a plan, move safely through the mountains and, if in doubt, be prepared to turn back or cut your mission short.

With that said, take a look at the categories below, and see what takes your fancy before this winter’s adventures in the mountains. Have fun, stay safe, and get out there!

Scroll down to view all the best backcountry and splitboard equipment, or skip to a particular category using the links below

Transceivers | Probes | Shovels | Backpags and Airbags | Splitboards | Splitboard Bindings | Splitboard Accessories

The Best Backcountry Safety Equipment For Winter 2019-20

Mammut Barryvox S Transceiver 2019-2020

PRICE: £349

The best transceiver will always be the one you know how to use, but for those looking to upgrade or change systems, the Mammut Barryvox S makes an ideal search companion. Although a popular beacon of choice for more experienced guides and ski patrollers, the Barryvox S offers intuitive functionality and features that will also benefit more novice backcountry enthusiasts.

Selected for The Whitelines 100 – take a closer look at the 2019-2020 Mammut Barryvox S Avalanche Transceiver here

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    Ortovox 3+ Transceiver 2019-2020

    PRICE: £220

    The ol’ reliable. Ortovox’s 3+ transceiver still remains one of the best selling beepers on the market and has made a name for itself thanks to an incredibly intuitive and easy to use system.

    Despite being one of the more affordable transceivers out there, none of the most important safety features are compromised. Ortovox’s Smart-Antenna-Technology is able to recognise which of the three antennas is best positioned for transmitting a signal in the event of an avalanche. This means, whatever position a person becomes buried in, the 3+ will always select the best antenna axis to transmit from and give the strongest signal to pinpoint their location for the rescuers.

    With a maximum search strip width of 40 metres, illuminated display with only the bare essentials (direction, distance and number of beacons detected), and just a single button on the front panel for flagging, it’s one of the easiest transceivers to operate.

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    Ortovox 280+ Carbon PFA Probe 2019-2020

    PRICE: £85

    Plenty of research has shown that it takes around twice as long to dig out a victim without the use of a probe. When every second counts, it’s paramount that you’re confident, not only in using your equipment, but in trusting that it won’t break on you. The Ortovox 280+ Carbon PFA probe isn’t just one of the lightest on the market, it’s also one of the toughest.

    Selected for The Whitelines 100 – take a closer look at the 2019-2020 Ortovox 280+ PFA Carbon Probe here

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    Jones Excavator Carbon Shovel 2019-2020

    PRICE: £52 / €75

    Jones have been leaders in the splitboard game since day one, but it was only more recently that they threw their hat into the ring of backcountry safety equipment and accessories. For their shovels and probes, they’ve been working in partnership with ARVA, the European avalanche safety experts with over 30 years’ experience in the game. This season, there are a couple new upgrades, including a longer probe for deeper snowpack searches and this, the Excavator Carbon Shovel

    Selected for The Whitelines 100 – take a closer look at the 2019-2020 Jones Excavator Carbon Shovel here

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    Jones Excavator Shovel 2019-2020

    PRICE: $65

    Although coming in a bit heavier than the Carbon upgrade, the aluminium version of the Jones Excavator shovel has some unique advantages of its own.

    The two-section, collapsible aluminium shaft not only allows for greater leverage and efficiency when shovelling snow, it also takes up less space in the bag, compacting down to just 32cm. At 565 grams, it obviously weighs a little more than the carbon version. Apart from the more dedicated fast and light backcountry aficionados, the extra weight won’t be overly noticeable.

    With a high volume shovel blade, built from super tough anodised aluminium, it’s designed to handle fast-paced, focussed digging when every second counts. Even if never used for its primary purpose, it’ll still take multiple seasons of abuse for shaping kickers, making snowpits, or building your camp out in the backcountry.

    The oval shaped shaft and ergonomic, symmetrical T shaped handle make it quick and simple to grip and get digging and for swapping hands without faffing about.

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    PIEPS Jetforce BT 25 Airbag 2019-2020

    PRICE: £949

    Airbag systems have steadily grown in popularity over the years, with the latest trend moving towards battery-powered, multi-deployment devices. As the result of a collaboration between backcountry behemoths, PIEPS and Black Diamond, the Jetforce BT 25 Airbag is the latest avalanche lifeline to hit the shelves this year.

    Selected for The Whitelines 100 – take a closer look at the 2019-2020 PIEPS Jetforce BT 25 Airbag here

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    Burton AK Incline 20L Snowboard Backpack 2019-2020

    PRICE: £160/€180

    Burton’s AK range is known to produce high-quality products that last more or less a lifetime, and this AK Incline Backpack is no different to the rest of the line.

    Every inch is built around tough and weather-resistant materials, plus it’s about as lightweight as a backpack made for this purpose could be.

    Selected for The Whitelines 100 – take a closer look at the 2019-2020 Burton AK Incline Backpack here

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    Burton Anti Social Women’s Splitboard 2019-2020

    PRICE: £700 / €780
    The light core of the Anti-Social makes it an ideal board for anyone looking to buy their first (or next) splitboard. The less weight your carrying uphill through your legs, the easier life becomes.

    Add Burton’s signature Squeezebox profile to the board and you’ve got both pop and performance for days. The Squeezebox profile transfers the energy of the rider outwards resulting in a more snappy and stable board, which makes it easier to manoeuvre.

    Selected for The Whitelines 100 – take a closer look at the 2019-2020 Burton Anti Social Splitboard here

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    Jones Mind Expander Split 2019-2020

    PRICE: £799

    Surprise, surprise, Jeremy’s topped the splitboard podium. Five years ago, this would have been close to a one-horse race. These days, every brand worth their salt haven’t just dipped their toes but cannonballed deep into the business of earning your turns. All the more reason then that the Mind Expander Split offers something pretty special to stand out from the competition.

    Selected for The Whitelines 100 – take a closer look at the 2019-2020 Jones Mind Expander Split here

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    Spark R&D Arc Women’s Splitboard Bindings 2019-2020

    PRICE: $385

    The binding features a narrower fit, lower and more compact heel hoops, and custom moulded straps designed to accurately fit the most common boot brands out there. The aluminium base plate is cut out to drastically shave excess weight off without compromising the binding’s overall stiffness. There’s another advantage to this: Metal conducts the cold. The less of it underfoot, the better the chance your toes have of staying warm when you’re out on a dawn patrol.

    Selected for The Whitelines 100 – take a closer look at the 2019-2020 SPark R&D Women’s Arc here

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    Spark R&D Arc Pro Splitboard Bindings 2019-2020

    PRICE: $540
    By using 7075 aluminium in the heel hoops, they’ve created an even lighter alternative to the Arcs. The ladders, adjusters and straps also get an upgrade with tougher materials that hold their shape for lasting durability. They are, are 20% lighter than the originals.

    For those who felt that the Arc highbacks may have been a little on the soft side, torsionally, the Pro puts things to rights. Using carbon-reinforced nylon, they’ve not only made them stiffer but (starting to see a pattern here?) lighter, too.

    Selected for The Whitelines 100 – take a closer look at the 2019-2020 Spark R&D Arc Pro here

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    Jones Nomad Pro Splitboard Skins 2019-2020

    PRICE: £240 / €260

    As the higher performing of the two offerings in the line, the Nomad Pros are built to work in any temperature and snow condition. Jones have collaborated with industry leaders, Pomoca, and called upon their Swiss skinning expertise for producing these ones.

    There’s a blend of 70% mohair and 30% synthetic nylon within the skins. The higher mohair density keeps the skins gliding effectively, while the nylon works to repel wetter snow and keeps the skin drier, for longer. Providing you’re not the kind of splitboarder who dons the lycra for the dawn patrol, you’ll get on well with these.

    Selected for The Whitelines 100 – take a closer look at the 2019-2020 Jones Nomad Pro Splitboard Skins here

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    Jones Talon Splitboard Poles 2019-2020

    PRICE: £100 / €120

    The Jones crew only recently expanded into the world of backcountry and splitboard accessories, but they haven’t wasted any time in refining these products to the highest standards. Both the Talon and Talon Pro poles have been re-designed for 2019/20 and offer splitboarders a solid pair of contact points for even the most demanding ascents.

    Though not quite as light as the featherweight carbon edition, the Talons are built with super-tough 7075-T6 recycled aluminium which, according to the man himself, are “almost impossible to bend”.

    Selected for The Whitelines 100 – take a closer look at the 2019-2020 Jones Talon Splitboard Poles here

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    Jones Talon Pro Splitboard Poles 2019-2020

    PRICE: £125 / €150

    Jeremy’s gone and given us with a super lightweight, carbon-infused set of pro-version poles to sit alongside the Talons.

    Many of the features remain the same. There’s the newly upgraded Scraper Grips, which feature a dual-density EVA foam running further down the shaft for increased grip and comfort. The hard-wearing plastic scraper on the ends can be used to shift snow that builds up on the topsheet during the ascent or for knocking ice off the base during your transitions. The same Floating Baskets are used, too. These move freely from the shaft of the pole, so they can sit flush with the surface on the snow, regardless of slope angle and offer extra grip.

    The key difference obviously comes from the materials used in the shaft. The three-part adjustable poles feature 2 carbon sections and a bombproof titanium section for the lower shaft. This brings the weight down to 466 grams for the pair and has the added advantage of reducing the chances of freezing up like aluminium poles can often do.

    For splitboarders who count every gram and want to get touring in all weather conditions, the Talon Pros are as close to essential as backcountry accessories come.

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    Spark R&D Ibex Splitboard Crampons 2019-2020

    PRICE: $100

    These are your 4×4 upgrades for splitboard ascents when the going gets a little tough. The Spark Ibex Crampons are built around lightweight aluminium to keep the weight down when they’re stuffed away in the bag, but tough enough to take a beating on icy climbs.

    Getting them fixed to your split can be done effortlessly on the fly, without the need to unstrap. Simply kneel down and slide the crampon sideways into or out of the touring bracket claw mounts. Once your moving, the teeth engage in the snow right underfoot and can be used with or without the dual position climbing wire if the gradient starts to ramp up.

    The crampons are made very a very subtle difference in width, so that they can nest together and stow away taking up minimal space in the bag. They come in three different sizes (narrow, regular and wide) too, so there’s a perfect fit for every split-board out there.

    Whether the ascent is icy, or just steeper than you’d want to trust your skins for, the Ibex crampons have all the bite to live up to their bark.

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    Spark R&D Canted Pucks 2019-2020

    PRICE: $75

    When it comes to dialling in the exact angles, stance width and alignment between the edges, no splitboard pucks offer the microscopic levels of fine-tuning and adjustment that Spark do.

    In addition to their regular pucks, they have an option with 3° of canting. After skinning for the best part of the day, it’s not uncommon for your knees to be a little worse for wear on the run back down. No more, no more. The canting works by increasing the height of the puck on the outside of your foot, which allows you to pressure the full length of the snowboard and ride with complete control far more efficiently.

    In an area of snowboarding that’s so dominated a few grams, here and there, it’s amazing what difference a couple of degrees can make. Regular bindings are no strangers to canted footbeds, and these come as a welcome addition to the splitboarding world.

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    Garmin Fenix 5+ GPS Smartwatch 2019-2020

    PRICE: £599

    What’s a watch to most people? Something simple and unbreakable to tell the time with, or maybe something peppered in diamonds and metal to show off how much money they supposedly have?

    Garmin have been approaching watches from a completely different angle – the smartwatch kind of angle to be precise. Here they’ve made a nifty watch for both tech geeks and backcountry riders alike.

    At a pretty eye-watering price of £600, you’re probably wondering what you’re getting for your money. Well, this, the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is a watch that’s packed full of features that’ll make navigating around the backcountry that little bit simpler, whilst becoming a tool to rely on if the shit really does hit the fan and you’re in need of some technological aid.

    Most importantly for a smartwatch is the battery life – how long will this thing actually last? That’ll be 42 hours in Garmin’s ‘UltraTrac’ (GPS tracking) mode, or around a week when you’re not tracking.

    “The Garmin Fenix 5 Plus is a watch that’s packed full of features that’ll make navigating around the backcountry that little bit simpler, whilst becoming a tool to rely on if the shit really does hit the fan and you’re in need of some technological aid.”

    A handy feature for the backcountry splitboarders out there is the mapping capabilities of the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus. You’ve got yourself a watch that’s able to display full colour Topo Maps that covers the whole of Europe alongside the ability to get instant grid reference readings at the tap of a button.

    If you typically head into the backcountry with a Garmin InReach, or InReach Mini, then you’ll be stoked at the ability to pair these device to the Fenix 5. This pairing allows you to send messages from the InReach satellite communicator via the watch for SOS messages, or (less dramatically) let your loved one know you’re safe and on track to reach your objective.

    Music on the Fenix 5 Plus is held within the internet 12gb storage. Whilst this isn’t going to replace the old iPod Classic circa 2002 that seemed to be able to hold all the music you could possibly imagine, it’s enough to keep you going through a few piste/sidecountry laps.

    Finally, you see all those posh skiers tapping away at the contactless terminal with their Apple Watch – making you look a fool as you shuffle through your wallet for those last few Euros to use up? Well, you too could leave the cash at home and just head out with your watch for all payments, as the Fenix 5 Plus comes loaded with GarminPay (basically just Apple Pay, for your Garmin… duh).

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    Suunto 9 Baro GPS Smartwatch 2019-2020

    PRICE: £539

    The Suunto 9 Baro represents the new flagship model in their range of sports watches and is a true multi-sport champion that’s able to track over 80 activities on top of your backcountry splitboarding missions.

    The battery life is certainly Suunto’s main selling feature for the 9. A single charge can last up to 120 hours in the ‘Ultra’ mode, a mode which keeps up GPS tracking but deactivates wrist heart rate tracking. In ‘Endurance’ mode, battery life is 40 hours with full wrist heart rate and GPS tracking.

    Suunto have fitted the 9 with an optical heart-rate monitor. Although this won’t perform as well as a chest heart rate monitor, it’ll become a great solution for on-the-go heart rate measurements where a chest strap might be a little overkill.

    The aesthetic of the watch is predominantly taken up by the large yet sleek colour touchscreen display (320 x 300 mm) which takes up almost the entirety of this watch face. It’s protected by a sapphire crystal, giving it ample protection from all the abuse you’ll inevitably throw its way.

    “A true multi-sport champion that’s able to track over 80 activities on top of your backcountry splitboarding missions”

    Whilst a touchscreen is a nice feature, it was good to see that Suunto have kept their three classic buttons on the right hand side of the screen. These buttons allow you to circumvent the need to use the touchscreen – useful when you’re wearing gloves.

    So, you’re using this watch to train for a coming backcountry trip – how do you keep track of your progress? Well, Suunto have made it extremely easy to upload it all wirelessly from your watch to your phone once you’ve paired the two together via Bluetooth.

    From Suunto’s own app, or by pairing the watch with Strava, you’re able to view all of your tracked days and compare them to previous weeks to measure how your fitness is improving or simply how much distance you’ve walked over the given period – this of course also includes your backcountry trips.

    Just like any other smartwatch on the market, once you’ve paired the watch with your phone it will give you all notifications that usually appear on your phone’s lock screen.

    This is certainly the cleanest looking outdoor smartwatch out there on the market right now. And with those clean looks, you’re also getting best-in-class battery life, with some fantastic activity tracking modes packed into it.

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