8 Splitboarding Gear Essentials For Backcountry Travel

September 9, 2015.nwt3k.0 Likes.0 Comments

This guide is brought to you by Paul “Baggels” Stanley from Karakoram splitboard bindings.

As if snowboarding wasn’t expensive enough, along comes the world of splitboarding and immediately you begin to look for the most affordable, cheapest option to get you out into the backcountry. I’m here to tell you that if you go that route, you’ll likely waste time all together but most of all you’ll be wasting valuable splitboarding time getting frustrated with your new splitboarding gear. To keep you sain in the backcountry while splitboarding, here’s 8 tips on what to look for specifically when shopping for splitboard gear.


1. Proper Safety Equipment

The likelihood of you hitting your head on a rock hidden underneath the snow, crashing headfirst into a tree or being pummeled by falling rocks is right up there with the chance that you’ll get caught in an avalanche. So while everyone stresses the importance of avalanche and snow safety, lets take a step back and remember that our brains are what allow us to make good decisions while in the backcountry. Yes, a snowboard helmet is something you should ALWAYS bring with you and use while riding and even in some instances while climbing in the backcountry. By no means is putting a helmet on your head going to guarantee you’ll be protected from anything while splitboarding.

Although, ask yourself this. Who’s more likely to survive a severe head injury in the backcountry, far away from any help whatsoever? The guy or gal wearing some sort of actual protection with a proper helmet, or the person who is wearing no protection other than a wool beanie, which sure looks cooler but provides zero protection whatsoever while splitboarding.

Now lets talk avalanche and snow safety equipment – first off, I have to say that it’s absolutely more important to have the knowledge and experience rather than the gear when it comes to this topic. So do yourself a favor, spend some money on a proper backcountry safety course that takes you out into the field multiple days to get some hands on experience. More important than the education is the experience. You can know all you want about snow science and avalanches but if you’re not actually getting out there to see and witness the dangerous nature of a snowpack in your region, you’re not getting a clear understanding of what is safe and what isn’t.

Some key pieces of gear you’ll need and learn about in that course however are an avalanche beacon (transceiver), backcountry shovel and a probe. Get yourself a strong, packable, lightweight shovel. Whatever you do, don’t buy the shortest probe or the oldest, most outdated transceiver just because they’re cheaper. Remember, someone’s life could very well be in your hands, so do your research or talk to the folks at your local shop to ensure your trust in the brands and functionality of the safety equipment you buy.

There are a number of other pieces of equipment to help guide you through terrain safely when splitboarding, but it is absolutely necessary that you have and know how to use your beacon, shovel and probe every day in the backcountry. A packable first aid kit is also very important to bring with you every day. Also, if you can afford it, a set of radios can go a long way to help with group communication in the backcountry.

2. A Good Splitboarding Backpack

Splitboarding Backpack

When it comes to a pack, it really depends on what kind of trips you plan on taking. For instance, if you want to just do day trips near the ski area to start off, it might be better to have a smaller pack (25L-40L) that can still hold the essentials for backcountry travel. If you plan on doing bigger, multi-day trips then maybe its best you get a bigger pack right off the bat. You can easily make a 45L-50L pack last you around 3 days if you pack efficiently while at the same time, its still comfortable to ride with on single day missions. Don’t feel the need to go too big. Riding around with a big pack can really put a damper on the actual riding experience, so keep that in mind. Also, if you can find a pack with not only a top entry but a back entry flap as well, this will really help with organization and quick transition times.

If you have the money to get yourself an airbag pack, do it. You can’t be too safe. A more affordable alternative to an airbag is an AvaLung pack from Black Diamond. Both are excellent to have just in case of poor decision making. Neither, airbag nor AvaLung should ever excuse you from practicing safe backcountry travel.

3. Proper Garment Layers

The correct layering system for splitboarding is composed of 3 layers – the base layer, mid-layer and outer protective layer. Since it’s one of the first layers to make direct contact with your skin, a good base layer material to look for is merino wool or some sort of merino/polyester blend. These will keep you warm, somewhat dry from sweat and moisture and if you’re lucky they won’t get quite as stinky as other fabric material.

For your mid-layer, you’ll have days where it stays in your pack all day, days where you only need it at certain times and days when you need it just to keep from freezing to death. It’s something you’ll always want to have on you unless you are absolutely certain the weather doesn’t call for it. A great mid-layer to look for is a puffy down jacket. The right puffy can pack small, keep you extremely warm and they’re incredibly lightweight.

Your shell or outer layer is what’s going to do pretty much everything, but most importantly it’s going to keep you dry while still being able to breathe. Snowboarding bibs are a nice piece of outerwear to have as they will keep any snow from getting through to your inner layers. Look for snowboarding outerwear, both jackets and pants, with taped seams and at least a 15,000-20,000k waterproof rating.

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4. The Splitboard

Some people choose to split their own solid snowboard which isn’t a bad idea if you’re willing to put the time into it. It’s fairly easy, will save you some money and you’ll learn a thing or two along the way.

Do note that splitting a board in half does create the added risk of messing up. As well, your inner snowboard edge seam will be more likely to get damaged without the metal edges and sidewall material. Those metal edges can protect the inner seam of your board and give you a slight advantage on edge hold while touring in hard pack or icy conditions. You can however, install metal edges and seal the inner seams on a custom splitboard. If you choose to go that route, you’ll need to consider which splitboard bindings and skins you plan on using. Some splitboard binding companies provide templates for you to set up your own splitboard properly to work with their bindings.

If you’re planing on getting a manufactured splitboard, you’ll want to make sure the board shape and profile is going to suit your riding style just like any other snowboard purchase. You’ll also want to make sure the splitboard shape is going to be compatible with your skins. Most manufactured splitboards come with tip and tail clips as well as board clips, so its best to take this into consideration when buying your splitboard binding system.

5. Splitboard Bindings

Splitboarding Bindings

Splitboard bindings can be a little complicated. When buying splitboard bindings you’ll need to make sure you’re getting all the required hardware, interface and the board clips or hooks to go along with the bindings themselves. Some companies supply everything you need along with the correct splitboard bindings while others sell solely just the bindings and you’re required to buy everything else separately.

One thing that should definitely be considered when buying splitboard bindings is weight. A snowboard can get pretty heavy when you throw not only bindings on it, but an entire splitboard interface as well. On top of that, overall functionality of your splitboarding bindings is crucial for traveling efficiently in the backcountry.

How fast can you changeover between snowboard and skis? Can you lock the heels down in tour mode? How well do the bindings deal with snow and ice buildup when changing over? These are all questions a beginner splitboarder might not be worried about at first. Although, once you go out for your first time you’ll understand pretty quickly that splitboarding can be frustrating at times due to the functionality of your bindings. One company, Karakoram, is actually making splitboard bindings that work as solid snowboard bindings, saving you the money you’d spend on a pair of regular old snowboard bindings.

There are a handful of little details to consider when buying a splitboard binding setup, so choose wisely as they tend to be the most frustrating pieces of equipment to deal with in the backcountry. On top of that there are additional binding systems as well for people who ride hard boots. You’ll also find approach skis, which seem great at first considering you can just ride the solid board you have already. But don’t be fooled. If you really want to get into splitboarding backcountry travel, approach skis are not going to take you very far because of the amount of space you sacrifice in your backpack and the weight you will constantly have on your back whether you’re climbing or riding.

6. Splitboarding Boots

Boots are boots. Not many people have found the perfect boot, especially not for splitboarding. A growing number of splitboarders lean toward a stiffer boot to get the best touring and climbing performance. Some even get hard boots which are much better than soft boots for climbing and mountaineering purposes but for actual snowboarding, soft boots are going to provide a more playful and less restricting ride down. If you’re fine with your current boots, stick with those for a little while and see how they do. If splitboarding is noticeably taking its toll on your boots, maybe consider getting a stiffer boot next time.

Some companies are even beginning to make soft boots specifically geared toward splitboarders and the overall walking motion that puts stress on boots while splitboarding. You’ll want a boot with a strong toe for kicking in bootpacks and a nice sole to give you as much traction as possible on foot. Sometimes boot crampons are necessary for backcountry travel, so companies are even making boots with heel welts for crampon use.

7. Splitboarding Skins

Next to splitboard bindings, skins are the next most finicky piece of equipment you’ll have. There are splitboarding skins that give you more traction, skins that glide better and skins that are going to do it all. It all comes down to personal preference, but generally the non-specialized climbing skin material is going to get you off on the right foot. Skins that come from backcountry ski companies typically are very good.

You have to give skiers credit, after all they’ve been doing it a little longer than we have! The skins that come with a splitboard package deal will likely give you trouble as they aren’t durable, the glue tends to fail much faster than most other skins, and overall the traction is just not up to par.

Most good splitboarding skins are either made of nylon, mohair or a combination of the two. Nylon will provide better traction and are usually more durable than mohair skins. While mohair will give you much better gliding ability on flats or moving downhill while still having some grip to get you up a majority of slopes.

I’d recommend starting on nylon or a combination of nylon and mohair to avoid frustration with losing traction on the skintrack. You’ll want to make sure you get tip and tail hardware that will work for a splitboard. Companies now make splitboard specific skins with clips meant to wrap around most splitboard shapes. It’s also a good idea to check and make sure the width of the skins is going to work for your splitboard. You don’t want the skins to be too narrow when you go to cut them.

8. Splitboarding Poles

Lastly, you’ll need some good splitboarding poles. Yes, you need poles to get around in the backcountry, and not just any poles but collapsible splitboarding poles! The more compact your poles can collapse, the better as it allows you to easily strap them to the outside of your backpack or if they are small enough you can even fit them in your pack. Directly in your backpack is better because you won’t get snow or ice built up in the locking mechanisms of your collapsible poles, saving you some frustration while out splitboarding. Aluminum poles are the most common and for those looking to really save some weight there are carbon fiber pole options out there as well. You’ll want to get poles with good powder baskets to stay afloat and keep from stabbing your poles straight through the snow.

For those thinking they might get into steeper more technical routes or snowboard mountaineering as a whole, it might be worth getting a tool called a whippet. This is basically a standard pole with an ice axe pick attached to the handle. A whippet is a very convenient tool to have and will give you some protection on more technical splitboarding routes.

Here is an excellent video rundown of what you should be packing. Some of the gear is mandatory to have, some optional but worth considering:

[vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/EBen1BfQO7Q”]

There are several other pieces of gear and snow safety equipment you’ll want to acquire along the way, but this should get you started and help you get an idea of what to consider while shopping so you don’t waste valuable splitboarding shred time!

Get after it, shred hard, but most importantly, ALWAYS come home safe.

– Paul “Baggels” Stanley

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