Do you really need all that stuff?

What to pack in your snowmobile backpack

by Lori and Randy Zacaruk

Photo of a snow cave.
A well-made snow shelter needs ventilation and the highest point of the entrance needs to be built lower than the living space to prevent cold air from circulating through the shelter. Tunnelling in and up a hill is the easiest way to do this. photo courtesy Zac’s Tracs

Being a responsible mountain rider is more than being avalanche trained and carrying the gear. One thing that many riders have overlooked is their preparedness for backcountry emergencies, such as injuries or an overnight stay. We ride with some very prepared sledders and we are all often asked, “What’s with the crazy heavy backpacks? How can you ride with those things? Do you really need all that stuff?”

We have tried to fit our essential gear into smaller packs and we’ve stowed a few things on our sleds but it’s pretty obvious to our group that storage in backcountry packs needs to be 30 litres or more. It’s OK to store some of the less essential items on your sled—things like water, tools, sturdy ropes, extra goggles, a camera and lunch. However, in our opinion, the gear that you can’t live without should be stored in your pack. If you were ever separated from your group and your machine, you need to be carrying emergency gear, otherwise you could end up being cold, wet, hungry, thirsty and in the dark dealing with an injury or just trying to avoid hypothermia.

Some of the gear we all carry includes radios, a whistle, flares, tarps, spare clothing, emergency food and a small first aid kit. Super essential supplies, such as headlamps, lighters and firestarter, we each “duplicate and separate.” This means that we carry more than one type and we stow them in different places. Bulkier and heavier specialty items are distributed amongst the group. Specialty tools include a satellite phone, a mini stove, pulleys, heavier tow equipment and an axe.

Over the years, we have pulled out most everything in our packs to help people in need. We’ve helped groups trying to deal with avalanches, strokes, broken backs, broken bones, frozen body parts from super cold days and troubles at open creek crossings. Sleds have been broken down, out of gas, lost in bad visibility conditions and simply just stuck out in the dark.

Nelson, a friend from Regina, Saskatchewan, shared a recent incident about a serious femur break 30 kilometres from the trucks at 4 p.m. near Fernie, B.C. Read his play-by-play.

Nelson is well organized and prepared; however, in the course of the evening they used most everything in his pack and could have used more. While the Search and Rescue team remarked that they were one of the most prepared backcountry snowmobilers that they had ever rescued, Nelson still felt incredibly vulnerable. He recognized that they were just lucky. It would have been a struggle to keep the group comfortable and safe had they been forced to overnight.

It doesn’t matter how experienced you are or how conservative you may be, these are all situations that you could face on any riding day.

Are you curious what we pack? Visit Zac's Tracs website for a full listing. Leave a comment at the end of this online article and share the unique supplies that you carry. Tell us about the brands that you trust. There are always cool, new products coming out on the market. For the most part, you get what you pay for, but maybe you have found great deals on high-performance gear—be sure to share your secrets. As a community of mountain riders, it improves the safety and the image for all of us in the sport when the riders around us are skilled and prepared. 

What’s in your backpack?

Here is a list of items that we carry in our packs. Please note: the supplies in this pack are combined with gear that is stowed on our sleds, our jackets and in the truck. Be sure to view the full list of gear and where we choose to store it. 

  • High-quality spare clothing

- Wicking, medium insulating underlayers (top and bottom)
- High-performance socks—i.e. Smart Wool—heavyweight
- Light windproof gloves
- Down jacket—low packing volume
- Heavy mitts
- Toque & balaclava

  • Whistle (Fox 40)—tied on packstrap or zipper closure for EASY access
  • Shovel (long handle, heat treated)
  • Probe (minimum 300 cm long)
  • Saw—folding, pruning saw or "chainsaw-in-a-can"
  • Cord (~100-foot), light rope & webbing (15-foot)
  • Duct tape
  • Map, compass (with signal mirror)
  • Altimeter and/or a GPS with altimeter function
  • Spare batteries (for GPS, beacon and headlamp)
  • Toilet paper
  • Headlamp
  • Multi-tool (Leatherman or a Swiss Army knife)
  • Waterproof lighting source—flint
  • Lighter
  • Firestarter
  • Mini-stove with pot, utensil and fuel
  • 30-hour candle
  • High-energy food (bars or jerky)
  • Dehydrated meal in large foil bag
  • Bivy sack (windproof, waterproof) or a light tarp (reflective on one side)
  • Glo-sticks
  • Hunting knife
  • Pencil flares
  • Fluorescent tape or flagging
  • Tinfoil
  • Cell phone and/or satellite phone
  • Emergency phone numbers for area
  • Credit card numbers, cash
  • Emergency locator beacon (e.g. SPOT, inREACH)
  • Carabiner
  • Duct tape
  • Plastic bags—Ziplock, shopping bags or garbage bags
  • First aid kit—see contents list

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