Backpack or tunnel bag? Proper snowmobile gear placement for mountain riding

By BCA sled ambassador Mike Duffy

The evolution of avalanche gear has necessitated many changes in gear placement when snowmobiling. With the advent of protective airbag vests, a tunnel bag is now a must-have. But what snowmobile gear do you put in each one?

Not too long ago, we were trying to get the word out not to put your probe and shovel in your tunnel bag or under the hood of the sled. That gear was to be carried in a backpack. The reasoning was that if you got separated from the sled–or the sled was buried–you could still perform an effective rescue and had the gear with you to survive the night out. We were pushing for all your gear to be in a backpack.

mtnpro-tunnel-bag-duffy-5-940x705

The first BCA avalanche airbag pack was the Float 30, and it had the room to carry everything. The thinking on airbags was that you now needed to carry two shovels when sledding: one in the pack and one in (or on) the tunnel bag. You certainly don’t want to take off the airbag pack if you’re stuck on or below avalanche terrain, as you would lose the protection the airbag offers. Not having to take off the airbag pack to access the shovel is an important safety concern, but we still want to carry a shovel in the airbag pack in case we’re separated from the sled.

mtnpro-tunnel-bag-duffy-6-940x705

Once you try a pack that’s smaller and lighter than the original Float 30,  you realize how much easier riding is, especially in technical terrain. Having less weight on your back makes a huge difference in comfort and rider performance. Many riders prefer the lighter Float 8, Float 22, Float 25 Turbo and the Float MtnPro Vest. I use the Float MtnPro vest due to comfort, protection, ease of transceiver access and the lightweight, but where do I put all the gear I used to carry in one big pack?

I split my gear between the airbag pack and my tunnel bag. The avalanche, survival and first aid essentials should be in the pack and the rest should be in the tunnel bag. Here are my suggestions. Note that some gear should be transferred to the pack in extreme weather conditions.

mtnpro-tunnel-bag-duffy-4-940x705

Avalanche Airbag pack contents:

  • First aid kit.
  • Bivy sack.
  • Survival kit which includes fire starters.
  • Headlamp.
  • Avalanche probe.
  • Avalanche Shovel.
  • Two-way radio.
  • GPS satellite messenger.
  • Spare batteries.
  • Knife.
  • Energy bars and small water bottle.
  • Map and compass/GPS.

mtnpro-tunnel-bag-duffy-3-940x705

MtnPro Tunnel Bag contents:

  • Extra goggles.
  • Extra gloves.
  • Extra layers.
  • Saw.
  • Tow system.
  • Second shovel (hoe mode preferred for digging out sleds).
  • Tools.
  • Duct tape.
  • Extra food and water.

If you’re looking to be more nimble on your sled, let your machine carry the weight instead of your back. But don’t compromise safety.  A protective airbag vest and tunnel bag are the ideal combo. Check out the BCA MtnPro Collection here.

mtnpro-tunnel-bag-duffy-8-940x705

Mike Duffy teaches snowmobile backcountry skills classes and avalanche safety courses in the U.S. and Canada, like this one (above) in Silverton, CO.  Find a class near you at Avalanche1.