Backcountry Tip Sheet | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Backcountry Tip Sheet

A checklist for your next winter outdoor experience

Congratulations on making it through COVID, fire season, restaurant closings and off-planet gas prices. If our collective pent-up energy could be harvested, we could power the local grid for quite some time. Now that we are starting to get back to some semblance of "normal," adventure planning is at an all-time high. In preparation for the upcoming winter backcountry season, here are a few expert tips to consider.

Backcountry Tip Sheet
David Sword

Backcountry preparation

Piss-Poor Planning is not the way to succeed in the backcountry. Prepare for the journey. Make a list and check it thrice. I love the process of gathering my gear, putting it in piles and sifting through it multiple times before a trip. Travel plans, campsites and bailout options should be discussed. Is this a day trip, multi-day outing, solo or are you heading out with a crew? Separate your personal and group gear lists. Make a food plan and add an extra day's worth. What about the weather? Check NOAA or with Bob Shaw to make sure you have that "Sparkling Day" you had planned for. Rain gear, or all least a layer that blocks wind, should be a standard packable item.

Safety third

Joking. Be prepared. Bring a first aid kit. Are you ready and able for self-rescue? G3 style ski straps and vet wrap have multiple uses for gear repair and human aid. Pack some bandages and antibiotic ointment for finger slices, cuts and abrasions. You don't need a paramedic-sized kit, but make sure you have the basics. The lightweight emergency blankets that look like wreckage from Roswell should be in everyone's kit. While you are at it, when was the last time you took a first aid class? Leave your plan with someone who can act as an emergency contact if things go south. Cell phone coverage can be spotty at best, so consider a SPOT, GPS or similar technology to mitigate potential danger. Know when to bail on an objective. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Be open to your team about concerns regarding the weather, slope conditions, physical ability and mental readiness. The best partners in the backcountry are ones who know that the primary objectives are to get home safely and have fun. Nothing else matters.

I always like to bring a secret treat for the crew that gets pulled out on a summit, after a physical effort, or just because we are out in the wilds.

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Gear selection

Advanced Gear Fondling is a time honored tradition for the "gear-junkie," and helps people stay organized and psyched for the next trip. Pull out the gear you may need and check its readiness. Replace the broken strap on your backpack, install an unscratched lens into your goggles and remove the remnants of the last trip's trail food from your puffy jacket. Repair and replenish as necessary. A repair kit should have the basics like duct tape, bailing wire and zip ties, but should also include specifics for your outing such as an extra pole basket, batteries and replacement hardware for your bindings. For years I have carried JB Weld, a two-part epoxy product, into the field, only to use it once for a stripped out binding screw. I never leave home without it.

Backcountry packing

There are two extremes on the packing spectrum: heavy and light. Although modern methodology swings toward the ultra-lite end, I have sampled the Disaster Style repercussions enough times to know that it is worth some extra space and weight to make sure the experience is not a series of epics to survive. Don't take a cast iron skillet, but make sure you have enough clothing, gear and food to enjoy the trip. If you're lucky enough to have someone on your team "training," use that to your advantage and load them up with some extras!


What is the point of life if we cannot sample the pleasures of good food, especially when in the outdoors? The backcountry screams for all the goodies like chocolate, charcuterie and whiskey. I always like to bring a secret treat for the crew that gets pulled out on a summit, after a physical effort, or just because we are out in the wilds. Repeat often, and as necessary. It's also recommended to stash something at the trailhead or takeout point for celebratory purposes.

David Sword is a tenured freelancer, former Outward Bound instructor and climbing guide. He has successfully survived every backcountry trip and excursion to date.

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