How to Pack for A Winter Backcountry Hut Trip
Prepare for a Weekend in the Mountains
Powder turns are even better when you are spending the night in a backcountry hut after a long day in the mountains. Whether it’s your first time to a hut or your 10th, cross-check your packing list with ours to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered.
If you’ve ever been invited on a backcountry hut trip, you know first hand how epic a trip into the mountains, chasing epic lines in the backcountry can be. After several hut trips throughout Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, backcountry skier Ali Lev has picked up a thing or two on the best ways to pack for an extended stay in the backcountry. Whether you are a skier or snowboarder below you will find all the gear recommendations you need to help keep your pack light and the vibes high.
As with all activities this winter, be sure to check your local regulations for travel and access in light of COVID19, and check the CDC website and local case rates to make informed decisions.
Packing the Basics
A lot of first time hut visitors make the same mistake: packing too much. It’s understandable, you’re heading into the wilderness, where you will not have access to the comforts of home. Despite backcountry huts being simple in nature, they do provide most everything you need for a comfortable and cozy stay.
Some huts offer the option of a snowmobile or cat to carry you and/or your gear in to the backcountry. If that isn’t an option, you’ll be carrying everything on your back, so you’ll want to keep it minimal. Pack your pack the same as you would for backpacking: keeping the heavier items centered in your pack, and lighter items like your sleeping bag and clothes on the very bottom. Depending on how many days you will be gone, a 45 to 60 liter pack should be fine. Some people prefer to not ski or board with their large backpacking pack and opt to carry in a day pack as well for touring in and out of the hut. It’s a personal preference, but for me my 50 liter Aura Osprey pack works great for both carrying gear in and the daily tours.
Every person in the group must carry in an avalanche beacon, shovel and a probe with knowledge of how to use them properly. Having proper navigation while traveling in new terrain is also important, so bringing a topographical map and/or a GPS Device. A navigation app, like Gaia GPS, is a great back up to have loaded with your intended route.
You’ll want to carry a more expansive first aid kit for multiday tours than you have with you on shorter missions. A kit that includes things like a splint and care for large wounds is important: Adventure Medical Mountains Series makes several different ready to go kits. I also always add blister care items, a lighter, an emergency blanket, and extra pain meds just in case. Gear sometimes fails so having a lightweight repair kit that includes a multi-tool, duct tape, and a ski strap or two is useful.
In addition to safety items everyone should have the same basic gear essentials you would take out on a day tour including:
Touring and Hut Clothing
If you’re new to backcountry skiing and you haven’t heard it yet, I can assure you that this isn’t that last time you’ll hear someone say, avoid cotton as a base layer! Even in cold weather you will be sweating while skinning and a fiber like cotton that absorbs your sweat will make you cold as soon as you stop moving. Proper layering is key so start with a base layer that wicks away sweat and keeps body heat close to your skin, then a mid layer, which will insulate, followed by your outer layer which should be a fully waterproof shell. Backcountry has a great selection of ski touring clothes and accessories.
When you return to the hut after a long day of lapping turns you’re going to want warm dry clothes to change into. After changing hang your touring clothes near the fire to dry out, there’s never a shortage of hooks at most huts. There’s no need to have a new outfit for each day, but having clean underwear and socks is a must have. For a four day three night trip I have one touring outfit, one hut outfit, a couple pairs of wool socks, two sports bras, and clean underwear for each day. Even when it comes to your underwear avoid cotton!
For hut lounging I love a good pair of fleece lined leggings or pants like the Backcountry Timpanogos Tech Fleece Pant. It’s inevitable that snow is going to get tracked into the hut so be sure to bring some hut slippers or down booties to keep your feet warm and dry.
Après and Sleeping Comfort
After a long day of skiing, having a good après set up is a game changer. Nothing makes the evenings better than a warm fire, good conversation, and a cocktail paired with a delicious snack board. Most huts come stocked with all of the kitchenware you will need to cook up some tasty meals, it’s up to you to bring the ingredients of your choice. This story isn’t going to go into food packing but I will say avoid carrying glass in because of its weight. If you want wine or hard alcohol get yourself a flexible bladder like the GSI Outdoors Highland Fifth Flask.
Most huts do not have running water or electricity, but do have small lights that run on solar. I have found that sometimes the solar isn’t always operating to full capacity so it’s helpful to bring in your own lantern just in case, Luci lights are super lightweight and solar chargeable. Music is another must have so don’t forget to bring a lightweight speaker!
Additional items that you might want to consider bringing are a walkies talkies, a camera, earplugs, extra batteries, baby wipes to freshen up, small lightweight games like Pass the Pigs, and an extra battery pack to charge your phone.
When it comes to sleeping, the warmth of your bag is going to depend on two things: the temperatures of where you will be going and how warm you get when you typically sleep. Backcountry huts have wood stoves that will warm the hut but that fire will go out during the night unless someone wakes up every couple hours and adds wood to it, which is usually unlikely. During a cold night you may end up sleeping in your lounge clothes. A 15 degree down bag has always worked well for me, The North Face Blue Kazoo or something similar is a good choice. Every hut I have been to has foam mattress pads so no need to bring your own but you might want to bring an inflatable pillow for added comfort.
Everyone’s packing style differs but if you follow these basic tips you shouldn’t miss any of the essentials. One last thing: most huts require you to pack out your own trash so always remember to bring extra trash bags just in case the hut is running low. Happy hut adventuring!
Alexandra (Ali) Lev is a freelance writer and content developer on subjects ranging from womxn in the outdoors to mental health, the environment, and social justice issues. A Salt Lake City native who now lives in Portland, OR, her free time is spent adventuring in the backcountry with her husband and their two Siberian huskies. Follow her on luckyalexandra.com or at @luckyalexandra.