Skiing, Snowboarding, Snowmobiling

Best Avalanche Airbag Backpacks 2019

Best Avalanche Backpacks

The avalanche backpack has become a vital safety tool for backcountry adventurers. Although wearing an avalanche airbag is no guarantee for survival, it has proved to significantly increase your survival chances as it facilitates you remaining afloat in the event of an avalanche (read this article for specific statistics). This is important for two reasons. First, you will be more visible to rescuers and second, you will be safer from moving objects which could potentially injure you.

An airbag system is made up of an airbag, a trigger, and uses CO2 which is stored in a cylinder. During an emergency, this system is deployed by yanking a cord manually, which then releases the air to inflate the airbag. Airbags come in different sizes and shapes, the most popular being that of an inverted u-shape. While some airbags will have the cylinder included in their packages, for others you will have to purchase the cylinder separately.

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Arcteryx VoLtair 30L Backpack 4.8
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Mammut Pro Protection Airbag 3.0 4.9
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Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack 4.5
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Dakine ABS Signal 25L Backpack 4.6
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Backcountry Access Float 32L Airbag Pack 4.7
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Black Diamond Saga 40 JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack 4.2
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K2 Ski Backside Float Pack, 30L 4.6
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Backcountry Access Float 25 Turbo Avalanche Airbag 4.5
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BCA Float MtnPro Vest Avalanche Airbag 4.7
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Ortovox Base 20 ABS Backpack with M.A.S.S Airbag 4.8
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Ortovox Ascent 30 Avabag Back Pack Kit 4.6

Jump straight to the Reviews Section

 

With many companies offering airbag packs with varying versatility, design, and durability, it is important to get the right backpack that meets your specific needs.

Selecting the right airbag depends on many factors. In general, here is what you need to bear in mind:

The type of snowboarding/skiing you’ll be doing

The selection process starts by knowing exactly what you intend to do out in the snow. Once this is established, you will look for specific features in an airbag that suit your sport. Backcountry sporting may include heli-skiing, touring, mountaineering, side-country skiing, cat skiing or a little of everything. Cat skiers and heli skiers, for instance, will need a smaller sized backpack since they need a minimal load to ride better. The longer lasting trips like backcountry touring need larger sized base unit backpacks whose design allows you to carry it conveniently alongside other gear.

 

Design

There are three airbag design types:

  • The base unit design. ABS base unit design is the most versatile of the three. This design features a backpack with an integrated airbag system. This lets you have all your gear, including the airbag, in one pack. A good thing is that it gives you the freedom to carry different sizes of backpacks with it because you simply attach them to the compartment using a zip and you are good to go.
  • Integrated design. While the airbag is integrated into the backpack, the integrated design is different from the base unit design because it works with a fixed airbag size. The airbag is integrated within the compartment of the backpack and not as an addition to it.
  • Detachable design. The detachable design allows you to separate literally every part of the backpack; the airbag, hoses, and the deployment mechanism. This means that you may opt to use the backpack without the airbag if you so wish.

 

Capacity

As far as size is concerned, it is important to know exactly where you intend to use the airbag and which riding style you intend to undertake. For instance, while a puffy coat of about 20 liters is sufficient for occasional heli and cat trips, a day tour may require a slightly larger capacity pack of up to 35 liters and a multi-day tour more than 35 liters capacity.

 

Type of activation

There are two common types of activation:

  • the canister or cartridge activation;
  • electric fan pack activation.

A canister is a metal fiber cylinder that holds high pressured gas which is what inflates an airbag. Most airbags used this activation mechanism in the past. These need refilling on arrival as TSA restricts travel with a filled canister. They will also typically be refilled after every use.

Nowadays, electric fan packs have become a more convenient option. Airbags, like the Black Diamond Jetforce, with this type of activation, have been designed to use a battery powered fan to pump gas into the airbag. The latter is obviously more convenient because the gas canister will require refilling after every use.

 

Safety features

Some packs are designed with a locking clasp to prevent unintended trigger. Others are designed with a leg loop to keep the airbag securely strapped to your body. Others still are designed with a left or right-hand side deployment.

 

Safe for flights

Various airlines have regulations on traveling with airbags and cartridges. According to the standards stipulated by the International Air Transport Association, you can only fly with a gas cylinder that meets the required standards otherwise you will have to travel with an empty canister. For this reason, you need to be sure beforehand that you will be able to refill your canister on arrival. If you must, get an airbag that is safe for flying.

 

The right fit

As with all other gear, getting an avalanche backpack that fits well is vital. Depending on your height, go for one that will fit well in terms of volume. In this regard, also consider the position of the cord and on which side it will be easier for you to pull it from.


Best Avalanche Backpacks

Here is a review of the 7 best avalanche backpacks based on functionality, construction and design.

 

1. Arcteryx VoLtair 30L Backpack

The Arc’teryx VoLtair 30 is an all-round airbag pack designed with great functionality as well as comfort. You will love the fact that this backpack is not only resistant to weather, but also easy to use and has excellent padding on the shoulder straps for your comfort. The VoLtair’s airbag system comes with the convenient battery powered fan that’s strategically positioned making it easy for you to pull its trigger in different ways when the need arises to inflate it. The 22.2 Volt lithium batteries (sold separately) are powerful enough to inflate the bag up to 20 times at 14°F. When inflated, it encloses your head to enhance protection from shock yet still allows you a good side view.

The VoLtair’s leg strap is a feature to behold. It is easy to use as it has been designed with a small carabiner connected to the waist belt making it easy to hook and unhook with one hand. Its mechanical trigger too is out of the ordinary and by far more reliable compared to the electric counterparts. With easily noticeable armed and not armed symbols, you will know at a glance if it is off when you are touring.

The pack, however, comes in only one regular size and hence will be more appropriate for small folks of between 5.4” and 6.2” better. The roomy gear compartment saves you a great deal as it can carry a number of important items you will need during your tour.

 

2. Mammut Pro Protection Airbag 3.0

The Mammut Pro Protection Backpack is designed for long-term touring as it comes equipped with one of the finest airbag systems. The pack is designed with a supportive back panel and a higher volume if you will need to carry some extras with you but only if you can comfortably bear this extra weight.

The backpack’s interchangeable airbag system operates quite efficiently thanks to its compatibility with different backpack models that use the Protection Airbag System (P.A.S.). Its P.A.S. is designed to reduce trauma and comes integrated into the backpack and shoulder straps and uses canisters integrated within it to inflate. This feature makes it easy to deploy so that it inflates around your head and neck.

The backpack performs perfectly on the overall and can maneuver steep, narrow or difficult terrains. The Mammut Pro Protection Airbag Backpack is considered a heavy backpack and hence not appropriate if you prefer a lighter one. Other important features include its meshed helmet holder, aluminum frame for protection, and a goggle pocket.

On the downside, its front pocket will only fit average size snowboards or skis and its trigger, positioned on the left strap makes it more convenient for right-handed users.

 

3. Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack

Here is a ski airbag backpack that will provide a good level of comfort with a very decent design. The Halo 28 Backpack is also among the heaviest weighing 7.5 lb (3.4 kg). This backpack makes an excellent option for descents, especially on steep slopes. A remarkable feature is that it is designed with multiple deployment options to cut across different convenience preferences.

Apart from the back panel, this backpack comes with loops at the top and towards the bottom for your skis or snowboard. Underneath the top loop is a goggle pocket while the lower strap conceals a helmet pocket.

Its lithium-ion battery powered trigger can be used four times a day before the need to recharge which quite frankly is more than a user needs. So forget about the cumbersome task of refilling canisters.

The only con with this backpack is that the access to its back panel is not convenient thanks to it’s a little complicated zipper which makes packing a bit difficult. The Halo 28 is, however, among the best airbag backpacks that you can invest in, especially if you are considering air travel and deployment convenience.

 

4. Dakine ABS Signal 25L Backpack

The Dakine ABS Signal backpack is based on an innovative technology that has greatly revolutionized the avalanche airbag system and helped a great deal to protect skiers and snowboarders in avalanche situations by keeping them afloat. The DAKINE ABS Signal backpack designed with an activation handle which with a single yank instantly inflate its two airbags on either side of the backpack. With a 170 l volume, these airbags are quite effective at rescuing someone who is going down fast.

The backpack is made of TwinBags which provide stability to the body while still increasing the buoying when you find yourself in a threatening avalanche zone. Other great features you’ll find in this backpack include a retractable ski carry, a vertical snowboard carrying system, a shovel pocket, helmet carry, and a separate ice ax carrier. Quite uniquely, it also comes integrated with a rescue whistle hanging from a strap for easy access.

For comfort, its shoulder straps and padded waist belt are designed with minimal strain as this backpack is bound to get heavy if you were to make use of all its pockets and loops.

 

5. Backcountry Access Float 32L Airbag Pack

The Backcountry Access Float 32 comes as an improvement of the earlier model with its U shaped snow safety pockets and a 150-liter airbag to protect your head from trauma and also decrease your burial depth in an avalanche. You will find its dedicated safety pockets and padded waist belts quite effective for carrying snow tools like shovels.

When it comes to refilling, this pack’s airbag uses a compressed air canister which has the advantage of easy and cost-effective refill. Of course, you will have to observe air travel regulations concerning gas canisters in case you intend to travel.

Its modular trigger mechanism can be worn either on the left or right shoulder making it a great option for both left and right-handed individuals. Secondly, it is customizable and can be adjusted for touring and snowmobile.

Other great features in this backpack include its fleece lining useful for placing your goggles. The pack has a diagonal carry system that is easy to setup and use. The float 32 can carry compressed and clipped traditional boards. You will also find its zippered hip pockets useful for putting ski straps and even snacks. On the overall, this backpack makes an unbeatable option for backcountry adventure.

 

6. Black Diamond Saga 40 JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack

The saga 40 backpack comes with some great convenience and comfort users. Firstly, its design is based on JetForce Technology just as its name suggests. This technology features an inbuilt large, perhaps the largest at 200 L, airbag system compared to others in its space. It performs self-diagnostics at certain preset time intervals to keep the airbag ready for use at any time indicated by a green light and saves you the hassle of checking the system every other time. Secondly, the airbag is battery powered so it only takes charging at home and you are good to travel without having to worry about refilling a gas canister.

The Black Diamond saga 40 is the first airbag system to make use of a fan powered by a battery to inflate its airbag. The rechargeable ion battery will provide more than four deployments per charge in addition to its reACTIV suspension connected with the SwingArm shoulder straps for easy carrying along with a zippered back panel for convenient and fast access.

This backpack comes with a dedicated pocket for your snow tools and a Tuck-away diagonal ski carry that can also be used to deploy the airbag with the skis connected.

If you are looking for an avalanche backpack for a multiple-day trip that you can carry over a long period then the Saga 40 JetForce makes a great option. Finally, it makes an excellent choice when you need to carry a heavy load on steep slopes.

 

7. K2 Ski Backside Float Pack, 30L

The K2 Backside float backpack has several designated storage areas hence its recommend for people who spend considerable time on backcountry adventures. This pack allows you to carry all the necessities that you need since it has a large volume and other storage pockets for your gears. The pack has a molded back panel that is designed according to the natural shape of the human back to give it a good fit and support.

With so many waterproof compartments, be sure your items will remain dry throughout. It is also easy to access the pack since you don’t have to remove its buckles or straps. You can also carry devices to shred the snow on the integrated diagonal ski carry or the vertical snowboard. The pack has easy-access Stash Pockets on its waist belt functional for carrying items like gloves, tools, camera, and snacks that you may need to access while on the move.

The pack’s airbag is designed based on the Float Bag Technology that uses 2700 psi compressed air. The airbag is placed strategically behind the head to offer a good vision and support in the event of an avalanche. In addition, the customized Airbag trigger can either be placed on the left or the right side based on an individual’s preference. It has a hydration sleeve that is placed on the alternative shoulder with the trigger which plays the crucial role of keeping the fluid flowing.

 

8. Backcountry Access Float 25 Turbo Avalanche Airbag

The Float 25 Turbo airbag by Backcountry Access has been designed with the backcountry snowmobiler in mind. This is one revolutionary avalanche backpack that will equip you fully for an emergency situation, only that you will have to purchase the air canister separately. Its package includes a shovel, BC link radios for easy communication, a deployment unit that can be attached to the left or the right side of the backpack depending on whether you are left or right-handed, as well as an easily accessible hydration sleeve.

Furthermore, the fixed leg strap and height-adjustable waist straps are great additions to this bag, that will keep your backpack secure. It comes with a dry main compartment, numerous pockets including two hip belt pockets, a goggle pocket lined with fleece to protect its lenses, and other internal pockets to organize your items. Your shovel can be strapped on the interior or exterior thanks to the internal and external shovel attachments on this backpack.

 

9. BCA Float MtnPro Vest Avalanche Airbag

For sustained backcountry skiing or snowboarding, this BCA airbag is definitely worth your consideration. This unit creatively incorporates three protective features into one product and if you thought this might end up being a little too bulky for your rides, you are in for a pleasant surprise. The protective vest, airbag, and the comfortable molded back panel is a sure guarantee for an all-round protection. Built with an adequate outer hard shell with a dual-layer of PE foam in between, there is no worrying about possible injury from an object.

This MtnPro Vest airbag’s design accommodates a hydration pack, a BC link Radio, a transceiver, a probe, and a shovel. It comes with side release buckles to secure it to your body, articulated shoulders for maximum comfort, and big size pockets to make it easy to organize all your items in the backpack. It refills with 150 l of gas but you will have to purchase the 1.0 cylinder separately.

 

10. Ortovox Base 20 ABS Backpack with M.A.S.S Airbag

The Ortovox Base 20 airbag takes versatility to another level with its removable ABS M.A.S.S (Modular Airbag Safety System) system. Being one of the lightest and the smallest in size, this backpack can be used for several applications conveniently. Its design can accommodate a TUV certified back protector for those in need of enhanced protection.

The Ortovox Base 20 airbag also comes with incredible safety features including Hypalon leg and chest straps with aluminum buckle closure along with an easily accessible safety compartment for keeping your safety items. A whistle is attached to the chest strap which comes in handy during an emergency. With locking aluminum clasp to prevent accidental trigger. It features fasteners for your ski, snowboard, and horseshoe as well as a net pocket for your helmet. Other impressive features in this airbag include a hip pocket and a water-resistant zip closure. You can adjust this backpack angle and height wise or set your trigger on the left or right strap.

 

11. Ortovox Ascent 30 Avabag Back Pack Kit

This 30-liter volume airbag is an excellent option for those who intend to have a longer skiing vacation. It features the lightweight AVABAG airbag system with plenty of space to store your gear. The airbag system is removable and allows for activation even without the cartridge. This makes it easy to practice deploying the right way it before hitting the snow. It also comes with loops for attaching items like ice ax, ski poles, helmet, rope, snowboard, snowshoe, and keys as well as two compartments; the main compartment which can be accessed from the front and a safety compartment.

This backpack is incredibly comfortable thanks to its foam molded 3D back. It is also waterproof thanks to the PU coated material. It is compatible with your hydration pack so you will have all of your items in one pack. The leg and chest strap attached with a signal whistle. Its handle has been designed to facilitate quick activation even with gloves on in the event of an emergency.

 

Conclusion

Getting the right fit requires trying out your selected avalanche airbag physically since not all manufacturers provide a wide choice of torso lengths. You may also need to test the backpack by putting it on with the weight you intend to carry to test the resilience of its straps and waist belt.

Depending on the avalanche bag that you choose, it is vital that you observe the manufacturer’s guidelines on regular checks of the trigger mechanism and the airbag. Finally, the best avalanche backpack for you may not be the best for someone else, so even with reviews, better spend your time getting what’s best for your needs.

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