Backcountry huts are places of refuge where we can extend our time in an otherwise harsh environment. How often do we get the chance to spend time with loved ones, disconnected from our world of hyperconnectivity, and rather consumed by experiences of sliding through the snow? Not often at all.
What's in Your Pack for an Overnight Hut Trip?
The quintessential Coloradan pilgrimage: gather your friends, families, loved ones, soon-to-be friends and anyone else for that matter. Book a trip to a backcountry hut. Research the terrain, weather, snowpack and approach for the particular zone. Get packed up for said overnight adventure. Approach the hut with packs loaded to the brim. Ski your face off, or relax, all the while disconnected from the regular, hyperspeed pace of everyday life. Slowing things down and touring from a backcountry cabin is a rich experience and every minute out there is worth its weight in gold. Here is a packing list that will hopefully get you out there well prepared so you can worry about other things, like what's for dinner and where's the best snow.
Backcountry huts come in many shapes and sizes. Notice Sheamus' stuffed 50L pack - filled with charcuterie, fresh bread, along with all his necessary overnight hut kit.
Overnight Hut Trip Packing List (starting from top left):
- Pack: This pack will need to fit everything for a few days spent overnight, but also pair down small enough to be comfortable for a day tour. The size that I've found best is anywhere in between 40 L (spartan sized for packing in, but ideal for day tours) to 60 L (plenty of space for packing in, but slightly big for day tours)
- Ski, Boots, Poles: Consider that your setup should be as versatile as possible. Look at the weather, research the snowpack, and plan accordingly to bring the right setup for the particular conditions. You don't want to bring your lightest setup if it's planned to snow for all three days. But the big powder skis [paired with a 60 liter pack] will make the approach to the hut more pain than pleasure.
- Skins: Durability is key here! Make sure that your glue is still tacky, your tip and tail clips are fully functional, and that they have the longevity to last consecutive days of ski touring. Getting to the hut only to have your skis fail is a major waste of time and snow.
- Avalanche Safety Equipment (Beacon, Shovel, Probe): Does your beacon have enough battery life to last the duration of your backcountry stay? Is your probe the appropriate length for the snowpack for which you'll be skiing in? Is your shovel durable enough to build an awesome jump near the hut for afternoon airtime? The last point is important: it's nice to ensure that you have a built-out shovel to do an above-average amount of snow moving. Building jumps, digging out the blown-in wood shed or outhouse, or just plain digging for some blue-collar fun. These are all great examples of why to leave your carbon fibre shovel at home and instead bring a more substantial digger.
- Fix Kit / First Aid Kit: Consider bringing a more comprehensive fix/first aid kit than you would for a day tour because access to frontcountry amenities is inherently less accessible. https://www.wildsnow.com/22314/first-aid-kit-repair-kit-ski-touring-refresh/
- Water Bottle: Bring a water bottle(s) that can carry at least 1 liter. Wide mouthed, stout bottles work best.
- Electronics (Headlamp, Satellite Communication, External Battery): All of these are important tools to improve your backcountry safety. A headlamp is for alpine starts or late night shenanigans. A two-way satellite communication device (Garmin InReach Mini is the best out there right now) ensures fast communication when out of cell reception. However, make sure that you know how to use the device before your trip! All of these toys (including your cell phone that doubles as a great navigation tool) need electricity, so include an external battery and associated charging cables to power these devices.
- Sun Protection (Sun Hat, Sunglasses, Goggles, Sunscreen, Lipscreen, Buff): When in the backcountry all day, you're far more exposed to the sun than usual. Prevention pays twice as well as treatment. Use all these tools to protect against the sun's harsh, yet oh-so-nice radiation.
- Sleeping Bag (or sleeping bag liner if bedding is stocked at the hut): This is a crucial piece of equipment to plan ahead for. How warm is the hut? Is there a source of heating? What's the min temp for the nights that you're planning to stay? These are all great questions to ensure a good night's rest. Down is more packable and warmer for its weight. Synthetic is less expensive, bulkier and retains insulation even when wet. Pro Tip: have a plan for your pillow! Some ideas include a stuff sack filled with clothing, a hydration bladder partially filled with air, or nothing if you're an uncultured savage.
- Hygiene/Comfort Kit: This includes hand sanitizer, lotion, wet wipes, toilet paper, ear plugs (crucial for shared sleeping spaces), and foot powder if the trip is longer than a few days
- Entertainment Kit: playing cards and tequila are a few ideas for this kit's contents.
Clothing (from skin to snow)
Starting at the left (outermost layer): A big synthetic puffy (80 g/m2) is used for long lunches and emergency insulation. A thin synthetic puffy (60 g/m2) is great for lighter layering. Both of these stay in my pack for the majority of the day. A wind layer breathes well and feels light and restrictive. A midweight base layer with a zip neck is perfect for managing warmth. Then lightweight ski pants with compression shorts underneath.
- Base Layers: Bring either wool or synthetic base layer bottoms and top. I vary the choice between light/medium/heavyweight and short or long-sleeved depending on the forecasted highs and lows. One extra pair of tops and bottoms usually works great for any trip shorter than seven days.
- Mid Layers: The best mid-layer is a light, breathable grid fleece hoody. This type of material is great at wicking moisture and appropriately managing heat. I don't typically bring mid-layer bottoms.
- Insulation Layers: One light synthetic hoody (60-80g/m2 insulation) and one medium weight down jacket (3.5-5oz down fill) are great to layer for varying levels of cold. I like to pack both layers in individual stuff sacks for space-saving and to avoid contact with sharp, pointy toys like ice tools and skis.
- Outer Layers: This clothing piece is very location-specific. If in Colorado, a light wind layer top and softshell pants are ideal [unless large amounts of precipitation are in the forecast]. The farther towards the Pacific Coast you get, the more advised it is to consider bringing 3-layer waterproof outer layer tops and bottoms(TNF Futurelight has phenomenal breathability to avoid the trash bag sensation of other industry equivalents).
- Hut Clothes: Bring an extra pair of light layers to change into once you return to the hut and while your ski clothes hang in the sun [or by the stove] to dry. This could be your extra set of base layers for the weight-conscious or a Gucci tracksuit for the more voguish backcountry traveler.
- Socks, Gloves, Underwear: Bring at least one extra pair for each of these garments.
- Everything Else: Fleece Hat, Hut Slippers (crocs or down booties work great and weigh little), anything else?
Here is my Apocalypse Equipment Pack fully packed for an overnight hut trip. Loaded to the brim for the approach to the hut, but capable of being paired down for a day tour. Also, these are the best purpose-built ski touring packs out there - handmade in Jackson, WY.
There are a lot of moving parts for an overnight hut trip where you are self-support (hut-supported rather) and out of cell service. Trips like these breed a sense of self-reliance that is empowering and satisfying: choose your ski terrain wisely, divide chores in the hut to live comfortably, and enjoy the environment and your friend's company with a refreshing immediacy. Once it's time that you are packed up and ready to leave, all you'll be thinking is where to next!
Ski, eat, sleep, repeat. Life gets simple in the backcountry. It's a pleasure to embrace the change of pace.