Backcountry Shit Kit

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what emergency gear is worth carrying in the backcountry. It all began while I was on a hut trip and my binding screws decided to start backing out… it was only at that point that I found out they were mounted with Torx T-20 screws, and nobody carries that screwdriver.

I hate carrying things. I rarely carry more than 10 oz of water and a single bar for day-long tours because weight sucks. If I finish a tour with extra water or food, that seems stupid. It follows that I don’t really want to carry gear that I don’t need with me on backcountry tours. Still, I was inspired to finally some gear together by two other Wasatch tourers, Noah Howell and Brody Leven.

The way that I see it, the goal should be to have just enough gear to limp my way out of most situations without risking life or limb. That narrows my scope:

  1. Repair: I’m not going to carry bailing wire and a bunch of other junk. I just need to be able to make common adjustments to my bindings, and jerry-rig attaching a ski to a boot/force a boot into ski mode.
  2. Medical: I care a tiny bit about disabling blisters. I care much more about delivering life-saving medical interventions for ski-related injuries.
  3. Rescue: I appreciate being able to call for rescue. In the Wasatch mountains a cell phone will usually suffice. I often also carry an InReach in the bottom of my backpack, and that’s not pictured here.
  4. Bivy: Should all of the above fail, I should be able to spend a night out and survive. I assume that any time I’m touring, my kit includes a puffy jacket and a shovel, so this category is small.

So, ladies and gentlement, I give you the…

Shit Kit V1.0

The Shit Kit 1.0

Contents from top to bottom, left to right: Hyperlite mountain gear nano dynema stuff sack, Voile strap, CPR mask, tiny roll Leukotape, pill carrier, SWAT-T tourniquet, space blanket, WetFire tablet, SPF chapstick, lighter, Leatherman skeletool, Petzl E-Lite.

The total contents of this kit, including stuff sacks, is 549g (1.2 lbs). The rationale for each piece of gear is listed below.

  1. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dynema Stuff Sack: ($20) Durable, highly water resistant, insanely light. Used to bundle and organize small items in the kit.
  2. Voile strap: ($6) Long, and with metal buckle. Can be used for all kinds of repairs, including strapping boots to skis and forcing boots into ski mode. Can also be used to make a snowshoe out of a pine bough, or whatever else you might fancy. I usually have more than one around, because I store my skis with them, but this guarantees that I’m carrying at least one.
  3. CPR mask: ($7) In my view, the one indispensible piece of backcountry first aid gear. Since asphyxia tends to kill avalanche victims who don’t die of trauma, CPR can be a life-saving measure for people that you pull out of the snow. Having the mask, which while the bulkiest item in the kit is actually one of the lightest, lets you deliver high-quality rescue breaths.
  4. Leukotape: ($8.20/roll) Forget the moleskine, this stuff is a blister lifesaver. This is 12″ wrapped around a toothpick.
  5. Pill container: Carries 1000 mg tylenol, 800 mg ibuprofen, and 3 narcotic pain tabs with no room to spare. Padded with a bit of cotton to prevent pills turning to dust. Intended to treat pain in case of unforseen injury.
  6. SWAT-T tourniquet: ($11.88) Uncontrollable bleeding due to either open fractures or stab to a compressible area is the other life-threatening condition that I want to be able to treat. This tourniquet is basically a really manly yoga band that can be stretched tight across your limb of interest. In contrast to other types of tourniquets, this also has other uses. Can be used as part of your repair kit, or to construct a splint if need be. It’s a huge rubber band.
  7. Space blanket: ($9.99 for 5) For bivy or medical care. Avy victims are often hypothermic and need to be bundled. Spend the night out and you need to be bundled too. Very cheap, very effective, very light vapor barrier.
  8. Wetfire: ($7.95 for many) An incredible fire starter tab. Will burn floating in water, is extinguishable for future use, 5 year shelf life. Most places that I tour have wood, but most don’t have dry dry kindling. This is my advantage, and it’s tiny.
  9. SPF chapstick: a small form of emergency sunscreen for when you’re stuck in the sun and getting fried on your face. A very packable shape.
  10. Lighter: For making fire. Bic is tried and true.
  11. Leatherman skeletool: ($59.95) Just what I need and nothing more; a knife, real pliers, and a bit driver. As it’s set up here it carries two torx, two pozidrive, and two flathead bits. Weighs just a fraction of an ounce more than a tool that only drives bits. Bought the extra bit set to get pozi and torx bits, comes with phillips and flathead.
  12. Petzl E-Lite: ($29.95) Backup headlamp with built in whistle that has a tremendous battery life and weighs nothing.
CPR mask with pill carrier and leukotape stored inside, ski strap on the outside.
The remainder of the kit, as pictured above, all bundled up.
Leatherman skeletool, with a small piece of gorilla tape securing a third pair of bits to the exterior.


That’s it. I think I like it, and I’ll be carrying it. I’ll update this post as needed or write a follow up and link to it here. If folks have additional ideas or thoughts on how to carry less, I’m all ears!


Category: Gear & Reviews


  1. Written in reply to an email with some questions:

    Would you consider a micro CPR mask to save weight?

    I considered the barrier mask, and carry one in my daily backpack in case I have to do CPR in a coffee shop or something. That said, I have a lot of experience ventilating people using a standard mask, and know that for some people, it’s very difficult to get a good seal even with a proper mask. Because I’m carrying the CPR mask to deliver care to people that I care about, like wife/friend/etc, I want a good tool. It weighs very little, it’s just a bit bulky.

    I carry a life-straw and I like it:

    I too have a life-straw type thing for summer, but don’t think it’s useful in winter.

    Do you have an InReach Mini?

    I wish I had the inreach mini, but was given a full size one (sans gps model) a couple years ago. There’s a new single use SOS device coming out in the next couple of years that will mount on a backpack strap and weigh very little. I’ll be looking forward to that one.

  2. Another question from email: Can’t you use a voile strap as a tourniquet?

    So I looked into this and as far as I can tell, it hasn’t been tested. A couple of observations though:
    1. Many ski straps don’t have holes far enough up the strap to be used for thinner limbs.
    2. The wider the strap, the less pressure is required to occlude arterial blood flow, which is the goal. Compared to commercial tourniquets, a Voile strap is at best half the width of the narrowest version endorsed by the military.
    3. Imagine application over bare skin… I can see the skin being pulled through the buckle. Not a deal breaker, but I think that the width in combination with this might make the voile strap an intolerable device in a conscious patient.

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