When the guides get wide-eyed, you know you’re in a special place. That’s exactly what happens on our third day on the Freshfield Icefield: after descending from our basecamp that morning, we round a ridge and ascend to an overlook. The view is an all-timer, with the Freshfield extending in a white sheet down the valley and jumbled, snowy peaks filling the skyline. None of our three guides from Yamnuska Mountain Adventures has been here before—unlike the popular Wapta Icefield to the south, the Freshfield is rarely visited—so this is all new to them, too. “I want my ashes scattered here,” one says.
It hadn’t always been smiles and sunshine on the Freshfield. Two days prior, a few hours after we helicoptered over an unending parade of peaks into our camp on the far western border of Banff National Park, a storm blew in. And not just any storm: This was an event, with 70-mph winds and blinding snow that kept us tentbound for a full night and day. The 11 of us huddled in our cook tent, chattering to keep our unease at bay as gust after gust rattled the shelter. What if our tents blow away? we worried. But also: This is awesome testing weather.
We awoke on day three to cloudless skies and an intact camp. (The only casualties were one partially collapsed tent and a few vestibules filled with snow.) The Freshfield was finally ready, and so were we.
We didn’t see another soul on the glacier for the next three days. What we did find was the perfect setting to pick the season’s best new gear. There’s something here for every type of winter adventurer. These 10 products are protective, warm, and light enough to handle anything that places like the Freshfield—beautiful and daunting all at once—can throw at you. And who knows? They just might help you find a place worthy of eternity. —Eli Bernstein
Appalachian Gear Company All-Paca Fleece Hoodie
The perfect midlayer is soft over just a T-shirt, warm when wet, odor-resistant, and light and packable and durable. We’re never going to call any product perfect, but the All-Paca Fleece Hoodie comes awfully close. Read the full review.
Flylow Siren Bib
Well-fitting technical ski pants have long been elusive for women. Either they’re too slim and lack usable pockets, or have plenty of features but a baggy cut that affects both performance and aesthetics. Not so with the Siren. Read the full review.
Montbell Ignis Down Parka
Sometimes our gear testers act like kindergartners: They know they’re supposed to share, but they just don’t want to. And we’ve never seen a product bring out the childishness like this down jacket. Read the full review.
Smith 4D Mag
Chasing views is one of our favorite things here at BACKPACKER, but we never thought that one of our top sights this season would be of our own feet. Read the full review.
MSR Lightning Ascent
When the temperature is in the single digits, adjusting a fiddly snowshoe binding is a race against frostbite. That’s where the Lightning Ascent’s new Paragon binding comes in. Read the full review.
Sweet Protection Ascender MIPS
Sometimes, gear advances come in incremental steps before one big leap pushes the whole category forward. Sweet Protection has made that jump with the Ascender. Read the full review.
Gold Award: Mountain Hardwear Trango 2
When a blizzard hit our group in Banff, two testers snoozed the night away, oblivious. They simply battened down the Trango 2 and slept through the worst winter weather we’ve encountered on an Editors’ Choice trip. Read the full review.
Gold Award: Osprey Kamber 42/Kresta 40
Ski packs, perhaps more so than any other piece of winter gear, boast an incredible number of features. The Kamber is no exception, and for the past 11 years—since it was first introduced as the Kode—it’s proven time and again that its feature set is the most dialed one on the mountain. Read the full review.
Gold Award: Exped Downmat XP 9
Nothing wrecks a winter night quite like shivering through the dark hours. It happens more than it should because some campers pack the right sleeping bag but the wrong pad. Bring a DownMat and that will never happen to you. Read the full review.
Gold Award: Alchemist Yvette 100 RP
We’ve been fans of the Wailer since its debut in 2011, due to its ability to handle every type of snow—from powder to chop to hardpack—at a touring-friendly weight. Read the full review.