I’ve been seeing a strong emergence of people wearing vests in the backcountry instead of backpacks.
Wearing a vest where you wear your avalanche gear on the outside in avalanche terrain in dangerous. Period.
Why is it dangerous? Simple: Your gear is not enclosed. Your shovel blade, your shovel handle, and your probe are on the outside of your vest.
One of the first rules of packing avalanche equipment is to have everything inside your pack. You want it inside so that it doesn’t become detached and lost.
People who have been in avalanches are known to have had their pants removed by the avalanche. If you are in an avalanche with a vest on where your gear is on the outside of the vest, there is a good chance it’s going to be removed and lost.
Here is why it’s the above situation is so dangerous: Imagine if you and your friend are in an avalanche together. You’re wearing a vest with your gear on the outside. After the avalanche stops, you’re on top and your buddy is buried 2 meters down.
You go to grab your shovel – gone. You go to grab your probe – gone, as well. Now, your buddy dies for sure because you didn’t have the tools to dig him out of the avalanche debris.
This is very simple. Do not wear a vest where your gear is on the outside, ever. Don’t wear your gear on the outside of your backpack either, for that matter.
I often call people out on this and they say “yeah, but this pack has a spot for my probe with a buckle.” Do you think an avalanche cares about that buckle and holster? Would you trust someone’s life with that buckle and holster? An avalanche can rip that shovel handle, shovel blade, and probe right off there.
There are some vests on the market that offer enclosures for your gear. These are swell. Get one of those.
Your best chance for keeping your avalanche gear is putting it inside a backpack or inside a vest that has enclosures for your gear.