What’s in your pack?

“Got any blister tape!?” Jack blurted as he was coming toward me on Cascade Valley today. I could hear the anxiety and pleading in his voice. Maybe some desperation, too, as I was the ninth person he had asked.

When I mentioned that I had duct tape, you could hear the sigh of relief. Jack was wearing new socks today, and a hot spot had developed which would have soon turned into a painful blister.

Jack did a couple things right. He turned around when he realized he had a hot spot on his heel, and he wasn’t afraid to ask for help. He said his girlfriend continued on to the end without him. I asked for a description so I could tell her what happened when I met up with her. “She’s wearing a bright-coloured jacket and is really cute and attractive.” Now there’s an incentive to ski fast. It turns out all the women on the trail today were cute and attractive. Nice scenery all around.

Cascade Valley was in great condition

This situation is a reminder to me that I should get a small emergency/first-aid kit, and I thought this would be a good opportunity for all of us to share some information with each other. What emergency supplies do you carry in your pack? What do you consider vitally important to have with you, especially on those longer ski trips such as Cacade Valley?

Duct tape is a staple in my pack.  A few years ago, I was double-poling on a fast stretch of Tyrwhitt when suddenly I had no pole in my right hand. The strap broke. I cobbled together a make-shift strap from duct tape which worked amazingly well. I always have a spare pair of gloves, mitts on cold days, and a down-filled jacket. Also a headlamp and a Leatherman tool. What am I missing?

Conditions on Cascade Valley are great once you get past the first kilometre. The paved road and the meadow are hard-packed, icy, and have only a semblance of a track. When you arrive at the actual trail, conditions improve immensely and only get better the further you go. I went all the way to the end of the tracksetting, 14.5K(round trip 29K). The photos will show you all you need to know. I’ve always referred to this trail as Cascade Fire road, but it’s officially now known as Cascade Valley.


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  1. Was thinking about Bob’s comment about use of a “butt bag” equating w/ not having emergency supplies. I just got a new BB and here’s what i fit in: wax of the day & mini cork/scrapper combo (which i’ll ditch when i get my skin skis), 2 energy gel packs & cliff bar (blood sugar emergency), car key, micro 1st aid kit w/ lighter & duct tape, & emergency refective blanket thingie. Cell phone now goes on arm band thingie, figure this way i’ll stop missing great photos because it’s in the BB and i don’t want hassle of fishing it out. Lashed on to my BB is a windshell. When i no longer need the cork & wax i’ll probably sub in a pair of over mitts, maybe a hand warming pad. And of course, there’s a 600 ml insulated bottle that has luke warm water. And….wait for it….Bob’s your uncle.

    • For contents of the “micro” 1st aid kit
      – reflective space blanket (cheap campmor)
      – small roll duct tape (sold at mec)
      – razor blade, safety pin
      – wound clotting sponge
      – small roll gauze
      – large wound pad
      – 6 band aids various sizes
      – neosporin single use packet
      – 2 aspirin, 2 mega-dose ibuprofen
      – mini lighter, firestarter
      – mini flashlight

  2. Lint collected from a dryer lint filter is an excellent fire starter with twigs. I always take off the (lithium) batteries of my headlamp, in case it gets turned off while in my pack; it happened to me twice! Carry bear mace in winter ski season until early January and starting mid-March. A spare tuque is good on long trips, especially for long and warm spring ski days, in case of an unplanned overnight.

  3. Besides trying to bring cookies for the various locations of groomers, I am a bit of a “Candy-holic” so as soon as I see those Dark Chocolate BRANDY BEANS on the shelves before Christmas, they are in my pack!

  4. After an incident where someone was injured and lay on the snow for a while and getting extremely cold before being airlifted out I always carry space blankets. Better than hypothermia from laying in the cold snow. Besides the items everyone has suggested I also have a whistle. We always ski on weekdays when there weren’t many people around, may be different this year. I will include duct tape in my pack from now on.

  5. Kind of obvious but be sure to carry a cell phone.

  6. I always ski with a light pack that contains the following,
    leather man, and or swiss army knife
    lighter and tinder kit
    small compass and map
    emergency bivy bag
    small first aid kit
    gloves, toque, insulated/waterproof jacket
    1 litre water bottle with a titanium cup that fits over the bottom of the bottle
    energy bars, powdered gatorade, and other snacks
    wax kit
    and as of now duct tape.
    Sounds like a pile of stuff but it all fits inside an 18l pack with plenty of room to spare, come summer time I stuff a couple of tubes and a small tool kit in there and use it for mountain biking.

  7. My gloves can get soaked through when skiing flats and uphills and I found that the wind on a significant downhill would turn them to ice (e.g. going down Whiskey Jack after climbing Elk Pass and skiing Tyrwhitt). Once my hands are cold, it’s really hard to warm them back up. So, I started carrying an extra set of gloves to for these occassions. It’s made my life much better!

    I also carry my first aid kit (same one I take hiking/backpacking with blister care), chemical hand warmers, extra toque, jacket, flashlight and my Swiss army knife (both flat head and Phillips screwdrivers and a small saw).

    I like Peter’s idea about the cotton balls/jelly. I think I’ll add that to my kit as well.

  8. I’m often surprised by how little some xc skiers are carrying. As a backcountry skier I’m all too aware of how badly things can go wrong, many km from the trailhead, and like Peter carry a whole pile of stuff, just in case.
    For cross country though I go lighter. As much of my xc is done late in the afternoon at West Bragg, this is what I consider the basics-
    Water, food, headlamp, spare mitts, warm hat and windbreaker if not on already, extra insulating layer (with hood!) ranging from light wool to light down jacket depending on weather, small sil-tarp for emergency shelter from wind or snow. For repairs- a leatherman with decent screwdriver, scissors and pliers, tape (duct and fiber strapping tape wrapped around a piece of alum. pole that can be used as a splice), a few electrical “zip ties”, and a couple of stretchy Voile ski straps. Matches, firestarter and a mimimalist first aid kit- (tape, gauze, bandaids, etc.)
    That sounds like a lot to carry, but it all fits easily into a small daypack that is comfortable to ski with. I’ll add or remove items sometimes depending on weather, length of trip and how committing it is.
    On solo trips in less busy areas ( for example dusk skiing at West Bragg where I often see no-one else) I also carry a Spot device.

  9. I also carry an emergency blanket (silver on oneside), two large black garbage bags (for shelter), spare socks, a spare ski tip, spare pole basket, trail map, pack repair items, and a foot care kit (with molefelt, Q-tips, friar\s balsam(to paint on the foot with Q-tip to ensure tape sticks to foot when put over the molefelt), small scissors, and medical tape) in addition to all of the above items in other comments.

    The foot care kit has saved me from many a blister and I have never had to use some of the other emergency equipment but carry it anyway.

    • Gail,

      What is friar\s balsam and where do you get it?


      • Friar’s balsam is a sticky substance that keeps medical tape from rolling up and falling off. I “paint’ it on my foot with a Q tip and let it dry before putting the tape on over the molefelt to hold it in place. It can also be used anywhere medical tape is used to keep the tape on.

        I get it at the drug store (I think it is also used for something else in a medicinal sense) but the staff at the drug store should know where it is.

  10. Since most of my ski trips are in the backcountry (and alot of them start or finish in the dark!) I ALWAYS carry a headlamp. Actually I usually carry two of them with spare batteries as on previous occasion I had to resort to skiing directly behind my friend for many hours as my one headlamp had malfunctioned (cold temperature?) It actually happened in the Cascade valley years back. We arrived at Stony creek and decided ( as we occasionally do!) to continue skiing and see how far we could get. We eventually ran out of steam ( and daylight!) at the Flints Warden cabin where we turned around and prepared for our 25 or so km ski out. Its here I realized my headlamp wasn’t working! Unfortunately skiing behind someone with a headlamp in pitch darkness(especially on steep downhills) is not the most pleasant experience! The problem with alot of headlamps is the battery pack is attached to the headband and in really cold temps the batteries drain quickly. I ended up buying a Petzl Myobelt headlamp where the battery pack is seperate and goes inside your clothing where it is kept warm. A way better system for the cold! Its always better to check at home that the batteries are fresh and its in good working order! As you mentioned before duct tape is great to carry. I used to wrap it around my ski pole shaft where it was easy to get to. ALWAYS Carry a firestarter! It can keep you alive! I take cotton balls and mix them with petroleum jelly. They light very easily (even in the wind) and burn for a long time. In a survival situation use only one of them at a time. You can squeeze a whole bunch of them into a film container which takes up little space. A box of wood matches (wrapped in celophane to keep them dry) and a handfull of bic lighters are a must to! A short candle can also be very useful. A leatherman is great especially if it has a philips bit (or posidrive bit) for loose binding screws and a saw blade or better yet an actual folding saw. Once i was in the Elk valley below Petain falls (a long ski or much worse walk out) and noticed my binding moving side to side. I tried using a car key to tighten the screws (which sort of worked!) then slowly made my way towards upper Elk lake. It started getting loose again at the lower lake when I realized (my brain must have been frozen!) that my leatherman tool with a philips bit was in my pack all along!! Problem solved! On long remote trips (only) I have a very substantial toolkit. Some of the things it contains are binding screws, bolts and nuts, wire, gorilla glue (Easier to use and as strong as epoxy) drillbits(to drill through a broken ski overlap the ends and bolt the ski together) I actually know of someone skiing out of Assiniboine to Sunshine with this repair! Hose clamps and aluminum sheetmetal (to repair a broken pole) and many other things…… Mind you this repair kit is to heavy and complicated for day trips. One of my buddies who does alot of solo stuff has a SPOT device which sends a help signal to satellites which can help rescuers pinpoint your location in an emergency. One can carry a whole bunch of emergency supplies but for daytrips a headlamp (or two!), spare batteries, a leatherman tool, firestarters, a small foamie to sit on (this can definately keep your butt alive!) Duct tape, a map or gps, spare clothes…. these could definately prevent someone from having a long night shivering or long walk out if something goes wrong!

  11. Skied Bluebery Hill today and the trail is groomed about 2/3 of the way with no tracksetting and hollow in alot of places. The last 1/3 is skier tracked only.

    Thanks, Walter. Good to get a first-hand report. -Bob

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