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Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy: What’s In Your Pack

The Arc’teryx Academy is back in Jackson, WY for its second year and we’ve got the low down on the what to pack for all the ski mountaineering and touring clinics you can handle. Want to know what the pros put in their pack before heading out in the mountains? Read on to find out.

It’s All About the Layers

Ski touring and mountaineering often subject our bodies to a variety of different conditions, which is why the key to a good day is a good layering system. Exum Guide Brenton Reagan always starts with a hooded base layer on top like the Phasic Sun Hoody, a base layer bottom and tops it off with the Alpha SV Bib – a lightweight piece that excels in all conditions for its breathability and functional design. Based on the weather and the objective for the day, he’ll add an insulating layer to his pack like the Proton LT Hooded Insulated Jacket or Alpha IS Jacket, and a hardshell (Rush LT Jacket), especially if there will be inclement weather or technical sections that take longer to transition through.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Ski Patroller and big mountain skier, AJ Cargill, starts with a softshell pant like the Gamma MX and layers up with the Gamma MX Hoody or Atom SL for touring. She tops it off with the Cerium SV, an extra puffy layer for warmth on colder days and a hard shell like the Shashka Jacket. For outdoor clinics during the Academy, the consensus is to pack an additional midweight to heavy-weight insulating layer and a hardshell for the descent or to protect against precipitation. Both Cargill and Reagan recommend checking the weather prior to your adventure to ensure that you pack the appropriate layers for conditions without overdoing it.

Safety First

Any day in the backcountry can bring unexpected surprises, and although we always hope nothing happens, we want to be prepared for when things go wrong. In addition to his avalanche safety gear (beacon, shovel, and probe), Reagan never leaves the house without a first aid kit that contains a mask to administer CPR and supplies to splint or treat trauma. He also carries a small personal first aid kit with athletic tape, baby aspirin and some ibuprofen, noting that in the event of a cardiac event in the backcountry, you should always have baby aspirin on hand.

Reagan and Cargill both pack personal headlamps (always double-check your batteries), a tarp or emergency blanket, fire starter and a repair kit specific to their sport in case things go awry on an outing. Note that these items can be broken up between group members for weight efficiency.

Warm Hands are Happy Hands

For both shorter and longer days during the Academy it can be helpful to have two pairs of gloves. Cargill typically tours in a lightweight glove like the Alpha SL and packs a pair of warm gloves for the descent. That way you’re sweating in your lightweight gloves while you work and have a dry and toasty pair for the way down. She also keeps a pair of hand warmers in her pack, just in case.

For more advanced courses or objectives, Reagan recommends packing an extra pair of gloves that are easy to pull on and off in situations when you’re using your hands a lot, like setting up rappels or ski belays. An extra set of Alpha AR gloves, that are both dexterous and easy to throw on quickly are placed in a jacket pocket close to his body, so he immediately has a warm pair to put on for the downhill.  

Food, Water and More

Outings are never as productive or fun without fuel and water. Make sure you have adequate snacks to power the day, and especially food you’ve eaten before while exercising. If you’ve typically consumed shot blocks and quick carbs on most of your outings, it can be a recipe for disaster to change it up and go meat snacks only. Rule of thumb: keep it consistent. As for water, it can be a personal preference but Reagan suggests 1.5 L as a good middle ground. Bringing a delicious thermos of hot tea on a cold day as well can help keep you hydrated and is a trick that Cargill frequently uses.

Additional items that Reagan and Cargill regularly pack include ski straps, which can be used to fix or rig almost anything, a baseball cap for touring uphill, extra batteries, goggles, a beanie and a lightweight goggle-compatible helmet. For more technical objectives, they’ll throw in a harness like the SL-340, belay device, a few locking carabiners and a prusik.

Before the Academy

Make sure all your gear has been worn and tested before the Academy takes place. It’s important to know where all the pockets are, how your pack fits and carries your equipment and how things function before taking them out for a longer day in the field. Know where everything is in your pack, how to get to it and how to use it. Even if you’re just wearing your coat out for daily errands, if you are bringing new gear, get used to it beforehand. When you are comfortable in your equipment, you won’t be fiddling with it and will have a much easier time absorbing the information during the Academy.


Learn more about the Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy here.