Our backcountry expert Andy Malton from thegemsstock is back with another helpful article, this time explaining everything you need to know to prepare yourself for camping out in the backcountry.
Being isolated from normality for a few days can really put life in perspective
Camping in winter can sometimes be a desperate affair, but it can also be one of the coolest experiences to be had in the mountains. A well placed camp can be the key to accessing to big, remote lines that might otherwise be out of reach and spending time camped out in the mountains also helps to become more in-tune with the surroundings and gain a better feel for snow and avalanche conditions. Plus, being isolated from normality for a few days can really put life in perspective.
It probably goes without saying that you need to be an adventurous kind of snowboarder to even consider this kind of thing, but for anyone prepared to put the effort in, the rewards can be big. Check out any of the’ Deeper, Further, Higher’ trilogy of films to see how camping in the backcountry can potentially up your snowboarding experience to the next level. It’s pretty essential you know what you’re doing though, so here’s our guide to the ins and outs of planning for camping and snowboarding in the backcountry.
A big element of the whole backcountry camp scenario is the gear involved. In some cases regular backcountry snowboarding kit is going to do the trick just fine. In other areas some pretty specialist equipment and clothing will be required...
Gear - Splitboard
If you’re still on snowshoes, it’s time to get a splitboard. Modern splitboard/binding interface systems are super easy to use and moving through the mountains on a splitboard is way more efficient than on snow shoes. Most splitboard shapes will work for this kind of thing, though an all-mountain shape that rides well across a variety of terrain types is recommended, rather than a specific powder board. If you plan on covering big distances it’s worth going for as light a splitboard as possible, as even a small reduction in weight can make a big difference when multiplied over hours and days.
Gear - Boots
Regular snowboard boots are fine. Make sure they fit well though as you’ll be spending most of your time wearing them. Take a few pairs of socks along to change into and consider a pair of hut slippers or down booties to keep your feet warm whilst knocking about in camp.
Gear - Avalanche Equipment
It goes without saying that a shovel, probe and transceiver are super essential items for remote backcountry riding. Practise using them as often as possible as anyone who has tried to locate and dig either a person or buried transceiver out of the snow will tell you, it’s way more difficult and time consuming than you’d expect.
Gear - Tent
Depending on the size of the group, it might be worth having both small one or two man tents for individuals to sleep in, along with a big group tent that everyone can chill out in at the end of the day and during periods of bad weather. This is not something you want to skimp on as a broken tent could have dire consequences. Go for solid proven designs that won’t let you down. If you’re camped on snow or on a glacier, build a snow wall out of blocks to protect your camp from high winds. Expedition worthy tents are not cheap, especially the big group ones. Check out The North Face 2 Meter Dome and the Mountain Hardwear Stronghold. Where smaller tents are concerned, have a look at The North Face VE25, the Terra Nova Quasar or the Mountain Hardwear Trango range. If you’re budget allows check out Swedish brand Hilleberg. Their tents are super expensive but very well made.
Gear - Sleeping Bag
Nothing kills stoke like a bad night’s sleep. Go for a proper 4 season winter bag with a comfort limit temperature rating of at least -15 degrees celsius, especially if you plan on spending any time in the really cold places like Alaska or the Arctic.
Gear - Sleeping Mat
There’s no point in shelling out on a mega sleeping bag but not paying attention to what you’re sleeping on. Stay away from cheap foam mats and go for a Therma-Rest self-inflating mat or one with insulation built-in from the likes of Exped.
Gear - Cooking Equipment
Another super crucial piece of kit for backcountry camping is the stove. If you’re in a very remote spot with no running water, a reliable and functioning stove might be the difference between a successful trip and a whole world of shit. The classic expedition stove is the MSR XGK - it’s not great for simmering gourmet meals but for melting water quickly it’s awesome, plus it’ll burn a variety of fuels including petrol, which might be the only thing available.
Gear - Safety Equipment
Don’t forget the basics like a map, compass and GPS. It’s also worthwhile trying to find out of the area you’re visiting has mobile phone signal. If not, a satellite phone might be the only way of contacting the outside world in case of an emergency.
Gear - Clothing
Proper technical clothing that is light weight, dries quickly and packs up small is the way to go. A big down jacket for keeping warm in camp is essential too. It’s a good idea to take at least a couple of pairs of gloves and socks also. Most importantly clothing needs to be reliable and bombproof – a broken zip or leaky outerwear might not be a big deal at the resort but deep in the backcountry it’s a different matter.
Where? - The Alps
Despite the fact that many people live in the Alps, there are still some remote valleys that are perfectly set up for a backcountry camp. Try looking at a map and picking out areas with relatively few ski resorts.
The Queyras region on the southern French/Italian border is a good bet, as is the big area in Central Switzerland from the Simplon Pass eastwards towards Andermatt. The Karwendal Mountains north of Innsbruck hasn’t a single resort in it so would also make a cool place to go camping.
In reality though the Alps are so big that even in the more populated areas there are quiet corners with great terrain waiting to be explored.
Where? - Scandinavia
Compared to the Alps, the mountains in Scandinavia are much less populated and generally more remote. Norway especially has some areas perfectly suited to backcountry camping and snowboarding. Check out the Jotunheimen Mountains about 3 hours north of Oslo, along with the Sunnmore Alps which are situated among the fjords of the west coast.
North of the Arctic Circle are the Lofoten Islands which are home to some incredible mountains. Along the coast from Lofoten are the Lyngen Alps where you’ll find some of the best splitboarding terrain in Europe, along with some ridiculous mountain and sea views. There are plenty of quiet valleys for camping in Lofoten and Lyngen surrounded by awesome lines.
The Arctic islands of Svalbard are also a good option. Here you can ride big lines in good snow under the midnight sun from May onwards. Keep that rifle handy in case of Polar Bear issues though!
Where? - North America
Alaska and British Columbia have endless backcountry camping options in some of the wildest, most remote mountains on Earth. For a true big mountain experience try hiring a bush pilot in Valdez or Haines and setting up camp on a glacier.
Where? - Further Afield: Asia, South America and New Zealand
Check out the Kullu Valley in India if you fancy hitting the Himalaya. Patagonia in South America and the Southern Alps of New Zealand would also be very cool places to explore with a tent and a splitboard.
Fancy going on a trip but want to take a mountain guide along? A guide is a great way to add an extra element of safety and increase your chances of scoring some pow. Check out Ric Potter of RPM Guiding . Ric is a fully qualified International Mountain Guide, a splitboarder and an all round good dude who can put together bespoke trips.
For a backcountry camping experience with a little added culture and comfort check out 40 Tribes Backcountry’s yurt set up in Kyrgyzstan.