Highly Recommended Gear
The gear listed in the ‘Indispensible Equipment' section are the safety items that you must always carry (and know how to use) if you are traveling in uncontrolled avalanche terrain, i.e. outside the ski area boundary. Highly Recommended Equipment is further navigational and safety gear that should be carried any time that you are in the backcountry.
An inclinometer is an instrument used to measure slope angles. The incline or angle of the slope that you are planning to climb up (or ski down) is critical to the triggering of avalanches and important information when deciding if you are in avalanche terrain. Most slab avalanches start on slopes between 30°- 45°, although they can occur on slopes as low as 15°. An intermediate (Blue) run at a ski area is about 30°.
Compasses are critical tools for geographic orientation and along with a map essential for backcountry travel. When it comes to making decisions about avalanche conditions the elevation and the aspect (the direction a slope faces) are further key pieces of information. A compass allows you to know what aspect the slope you are about to access is and how that relates to the information in the Backcountry Avalanche Advisory. Is the slope loaded with snow from being lee to the wind? Is it mostly shaded or sometimes sun baked? Where am I and how do I get home?
It is a good idea to carry a map of the terrain in which you are traveling. At a base level they provide elevation and location information but in the hands of a practiced outdoor traveler they are an essential tool. There are many different types of maps; topographic maps (1:50,000) are the most useful for mountain travel. Maps can be useful for determining your location in case of an incident, which is critical information to convey to incoming rescue parties. Be aware that if you have copied a map of the internet it may not have the coordinates down the side or across the bottom.
A range of small, light and very powerful head torches are available from any outdoors shop. These are "must have" to carry in your backpack because you just never know when you will need it.
Avalanche airbags are a deflated air bag that is tucked into the top or straps of a standard backcountry backpack. If you are caught in an avalanche, then pulling a rip cord initiates as small gas canister to inflate the bag, similar to the life jackets on an airplane. The effect is to increase your volume and help you to float or stay near the surface of the avalanche. This in turn reduces the severity of the effects of being in an avalanche by reducing burial depth or even preventing burial. They also help to decrease the time it takes to locate and rescue you by providing a large visual clue and may provide some degree of trauma protection.
Statistics show that over 90% of people caught in avalanches, who deployed an airbag survived. But just because you strap an airbag to your back does not make you any less likely to get caught in an avalanche. You must continue to make safe and proper decisions. Be cautions to not become overly confident and make risky choices just because you are wearing an airbag.
Helmets reduce your vulnerability to trauma. Helmets should be part of standard equipment to potentially minimize injuries to your head. Full face helmets protect your face and mouth and could potentially increase the chances of having an air pocket if you are buried in an avalanche. There are many different makes and models of helmets, so find the one that is right for you and wear it.
Avalungs are a ventilation device that could potentially limit the chances of asphyxiation if caught in an avalanche. Avalungs consist of a mouthpiece, a flap valve, an exhaust pipe, and an air collector, which aid in the collection of air to avoid hazardous CO2 levels. While exposed to avalanche hazard you breath through the mouthpiece that way if an avalanche does occur you already have the Avalung system step up and operating.