Best Avalanche Airbags
Oh, did you think that airbags were confined to just being used in your car in the instance of an accident? Guess what, they have more uses than that. For those of you who love winter activities, such as snowboarding, skiing, or ice climbing, you need to be prepared in the instance of a disaster. Trapped by nothing but glistening snow, this can only refer to an avalanche. When you get caught in an avalanche, larger objects will naturally rise to the top while smaller objects will sink to the bottom. With an airbag, your life may be spared. But, they have several other user benefits outside of their ability to save your lives making them quite the nifty product.
The entire purpose of avalanche airbags is to provide you with a safety measure against an avalanche. While there are other design features that make them great, it all comes back to safety.
- Mammut Pro
- Adjustable suspension system
- Arc'teryx Voltair
- Several deployments on a charge
- BCA Float 32
- Ice axe carrying system
8 Best Avalanche Airbag Packs
MAMMUT PRO PROTECTION
Innovation is key here as Mammut has implemented a design to minimize the chance that your breathing is obscured when the airbag inflates and opens. The airbag opens in a horseshoe-esque manner to concentrate the floatation behind and above your head so you are facing above the snow.
To ensure that the pack does not escape from your grasp, there are included leg loops for security. In addition, for skiers and snowboarders, there are straps to carry either skis or a snowboard.
Even with this pack loaded to the brim, you are still promised a comfortable ride. First off, the length is fully adjustable with the U-frame suspension system. Also, integrated is a thermo-molded back panel.
On the front of the pack, there is a compartment for safety equipment such as snow tools and probes. Plus, the hip belt features an easy-access pocket for accessories such as small gadgets and compasses. To top it off, you can carry poles and tools in the side compressions straps.
While you can’t pick from any other color option (just black), you can select a 35-liter or 45-liter model.
Maybe the only gripe here is the excess weight. But, the superb suspension system and padding still provide comfort. Plus, this allows weekenders to pack it to the brim. However, it succeeds mainly in the compartment it should, safety.
Options for either a 35-liter or 45-liter pack
Features an adjustable suspension system
The zipper pulls of the main compartment are superb
With it filled to its max capacity, the pack can be very heavy
Safety is at the forefront here with a plethora of design features. This includes an impeller that is custom-engineered to increase the pressure for superior inflation, a single-leg safety loop that is connected with a carabiner and enough air to inflate even when minor abrasions are present.
With a durable and seam-taped design, this airbag is highly water-resistant. In addition, the pack can secure a single ice tool and features compressions straps for skis and snowboards.
While the adjustable sternum strap allows you to get the best fit possible, the compressions straps will help stabilize the pack when you are carrying skis or snowboards.
Past the dual main compartments, also integrated is an internal security pocket and an internal waterproof sleeve. All this considered, you can expect to hold up to 30 liters of gear and accessories.
The 30-liter capacity is the only size option, but you can select between two different colors (either black or cayenne).
When you see something from Arcteryx, you can expect only the best in craftsmanship and design. Their Voltair airbag is certainly no different and while it is not the cheapest version in the world, good luck finding any better.
The battery (which is not included) delivers several uses on one charge
It is constructed to be water-resistant with the seams taped
Design is glove-friendly, meaning you do not have to take off your glove to inflate the bag
The compartment for your ice tools could be built a lit tougher
BACKCOUNTRY ACCESS FLOAT 32
Backcountry utilizes a compressed air cylinder for this airbag which will instantly inflate the bag to 150 liters. In order to limit the force trauma from debris and hidden obstacles and to minimize the evacuation time, this will assist in keeping you near the surface.
If you are with someone else, they may not as so fortunate as you. In order to minimize the time, it could take you to dig out your friend, probe and shovel sleeves allow for rescue tools.
A few key design features assist in the overall comfort. One, the waist belt is adjustable to tailor for certain fits. Second, the compression straps help stabilize the pack while you are in motion.
Overall, this will fit 32 liters of equipment. Past the main compartment which can fit several pieces of gear, there are also hip-belt zippered pockets and a goggle bag.
Do not be too picky here as there are no additional seller options, only a black color and 32-liters of capacity.
The minor gripe about this airbag (outside of refilling it at certified locations, which is more of a note than a gripe), which will be addressed shortly, is so minuscule that it would be criminal for you to pass it up because of it. But, it is there and looking through an objective lens, you should be aware of it.
Includes a dual-ice axe carrying system
Has ample space for all your gear and goodies
Backcountry Access has a very extensive network of cylinder refill centers
When the pack is full, the goggle pocket can be hard to access
As with other avalanche airbags, the main design of this product is to save your life when you need to be pulled to the surface. Even though it has multiple uses, you can tell this was designed with a snowmobiler in mind.
With the integrated vest, there are several convenient features that go alongside with it. For example, the integration for BC Link radios and transceivers and the option for either a left or right trigger mount.
On the front, sides and back of this vest/airbag, there is one mm of hard shell protection in-between multiple layers of PE foam. To aid your shoulders, the waist belt also takes the brunt of the weight.
On the vest itself, there are storage locations for essential items; including two zippered pockets. Past this, the low-profile pack can carry larger gear that you may have.
What you see is what you get here; both in terms of color design and size.
Clearly, this is a little different than a traditional avalanche airbag. But, it manages to not only be creative but also effective. If nothing else, the vest is a convenient location to store valuables you want to be kept safe and secure.
The weight is evenly distributed
Quick access radio storage
Convenient vest design with front pockets
Main storage could be more
BLACK DIAMOND HALO 28
Yes, jet-flan inflation technology is integrated here and it is fabulous. Besides the fact that it will inflate within four seconds, it will deflate after three minutes to create an air pocket. Plus, the system also performs a self-diagnosis on every start-up to conclude if there are any issues.
Even while your skis are attached to this bag, the system will still deploy when needed. In addition, it is also easily repackable and provides zero-cost user practice and friendly performance.
The zippered back panel access system and reACTIV suspension system with SwingArm shoulder straps should deliver enough comfort for everyone.
Past the main compartment, which when totaled with everything else will hold either 26-liters or 28-liters of equipment (depending on the size you pick), there is an internal pocket, a hip-belt stash pocket, and an avy-tools pocket.
Black Diamond provides you with a few color and size options. For colors, select between either black or fire red. Sizes, on the other hand, consist of either small/medium (26-liters) or medium/large (28-liters).
Some may feel this does not offer enough capacity and that is fine, but do not overlook the other design features that make it spectacular. Features such as the amount of separate storage compartments, safety and inflation technology.
When practicing, you do not need to refill an air canister
Has updated firmware
Features puncture-resistant material that is easy to repack
Could have been larger capacity options available
BLACK DIAMOND SAGA 40
Just as the others, the safety of the Saga 40 all stems in its airbag. If you are really concerned, you can practice deploying this airbag as often as you like. As the inflation is powered by a rechargeable battery, you can charge it when it gets low.
If need be, you can easily transport this pack onto an airport with no restrictions. In addition, the design allows the airbag to be deployed even while skis or snowboards are attached.
As with their other airbag, Black Diamond designed this pack with a reACTIV suspension system with SwingArm shoulder straps. Plus, they also included a zippered back panel access.
All sorts of compartments are integrated here including an avalanche tools pocket, hip-belt stash pocket and a zippered top accessory pocket. But, all in all, expect to hold either 38 or 40-liters of gear (depending on the size you choose).
You can select from either black or fire red (for colors) and small/medium (38-liters) or medium/large (40-liters).
If not for a few minor flaws, this could have received an even higher rating. But, do not let this placement fool you, the competition is just really stiff and elite.
Utilizes a jet-fan inflation system to provide air
Repacking the airbag is incredibly simple
The rechargeable system allows you to practice as many times as you want
Putting the clips back when the pack unravels can be annoying
K2 SKI FLOAT
This float system uses 2,700psi compressed air to deliver you with the means to rise to the surface in the case of an avalanche. But, the strategic position of the airbag, when inflated, also does not affect your peripheral vision.
Whichever side you want the airbag trigger to be on, right or left, you can choose. Plus, the pack also features an ice axe storage with a protective sheath. Lastly, the helmet sling easily deploys from a Velcro pocket.
For long journeys, this pack is designed to be comfortable for the entire time. With a molded back panel that contours to the natural degree of your back and padded shoulder straps, expect comfort for hours on end.
A fleece lined goggle pocket, while obviously possessing the capability to hold goggles, will also store a 1-liter water bottle. For quick access to small items, there are pockets on both sides of the waist belt. Finally, the overall capacity rating of the entire pack is 30 liters.
Once again, you do not have any further design options other than the one provided for you.
Look, for what it is, this is a stupendous airbag with the ability to perform its designed purpose flawlessly. But, sometimes it can become tiresome to refill the air cylinder at certified locations.
You can decide to place the trigger mechanism on either the left or right
Multiple pockets on the waist belt for easy access
Must refill air cylinder at certified locations
With the jet-fan, this system is able to spin at 60,000 revolutions per minute ensuring it fills the 200-liter airbag within seconds. Besides this, even if there is a small tear or leak, periodic refilling ensures it stays inflated. To top it off, the system performs a self-analysis check.
Not only can you practice deploying the airbag, the deployment system also guarantees that you can transport the pack on an airport without needing to pick up canisters.
The vertical ski-carry shoulder straps allow for a backpack-style airbag. Meanwhile, the suspension system aids in weight distribution.
All in all, expect either 24 or 26-liters of space. For other storage compartments, there is also a dedicated avy-tool pocket and an accessory pocket.
With small/medium, you get 24-liters of capacity and with medium/large you get 26-liters of space. Color-wise, choose between either black and yellow or black and red.
Outside of its heavy nature, yet minimal storage space, this airbag pack holds up extremely well against the competition. No doubt, it is headlined by its plethora of safety features.
The lithium-ion battery will deploy four times in one charge
The system performs a self-check to find any issues
Can be taken through airports and on airplanes without needing to acquire canisters
For a small volume, it is rather heavy
The Main Points We Looked At For Our List
The Overall Design and Safety of the Inflation Technology
If they are not integrated with the utmost safety in mind and do not perform what they should, then they turn into an overpriced backpack. Anyway, one of the key design elements to take note of is the way the airbag is activated. Typically, this will either be by compression air or a battery or jet-fan.
Even though both are great, those with batteries or jet-fans do hold the advantage in terms of inflation. Here is why. With compressed air, you must get the cylinders refilled with air every time you use it. Not only this but you must do so at certified locations. With a battery-operated airbag, you can simply recharge the battery and are good to go. Again, both work fantastic but one is clearly more convenient. But, there are also other safety features to keep an eye out for. Features such as the system performing a self-diagnosis to see if there are any issues, inflating air in even when abrasions are present and even a locking clasp to prevent accidental activation.
Integrated Convenient Features
To be honest, these types of features are not necessary but they are ones to keep an eye out for. After all, anything that offers convenience to you is a positive. The question is, what is deciphered as a convenient feature? Well, as stupid and obvious as this is going to sound, any feature could classify. In reality, this entire guide could have been dedicated to it. This section is more for those features that are terrific but do not have a specific section they fall into with other airbags.
This could include the inclusion of leg loops for security. When an avalanche hits, the worst thing that could happen is for you to lose your pack. Also, how about water-resistance? You do not see it very often, but some designers will integrate water-resistant technology. Or, this could be as simple as having the option to choose which side the trigger mount goes on. Do you feel more comfortable activating the trigger with your left or right hand? Those that give you the option may appeal to you more.
How Comfortable They Are for Long Journeys
Safety and convenience are both great, but it can be argued that comfort is just as important (or even more). On long journeys, your back and legs will be aching so it is helpful when you have a pack that is not exaggerating the pain. Of all the specific comfort implementations to look for, perhaps the most important is adjustability. With packs, it is nice when you are given the option to adjust the shoulder straps and waist belt (if one is there). At times, you may want it tighter to fit snug to your body. However, this can grow tiresome and you may want the option to loosen it up. With avalanche airbags that offer a stable fit, it can quickly become a hindrance.
However, it does not stop there as padding and stabilization are also important. Padding is self-explanatory, as straps can get uncomfortable on your shoulders after too long. But, features such as a thermo-molded back panel and compression straps will assist in the overall fit and stabilization of the weight.
The Storage They Provide
There is a high likelihood that when you are off on your adventure, you will need to bring along gear and accessories for the trip. Why tag along another bag when most airbags provide you with enough storage space? That is if you choose the right one. It is important to analyze the different sections of storage that are designed into an airbag. For example, are there pockets on the outside for valuables, pockets on the hip belt, or interior compartments for accessories?
But, probably more importantly, what do you intend on using your avalanche airbag for? Is it for weekend trips or all-day adventures? This is an extremely important question as it will decide the capacity that you aim for. Speaking in a general sense, a pack that holds 20 to 35-liters of volume will work best as a daypack. Beyond this, packs from 40-liters to 50-liters will adapt for weekend trips.
Size and Other Options
A lot of times, you will only get one choice when it comes to airbags. At least, this is the case with most on this list. However, that does not mean it is not important as even a slightly different option can make the difference. For example, deciding between a 35-liter (great for a day) and 45-liter (better for weekends) version of the same bag. Though, color can also play a role. Unlike other types of gear and accessories, manufacturers do not put too much of an emphasis on color scheme and design. But, you will run across those that give you a few different color options. Not hugely important, as it certainly does not overshadow features like safety and comfort, but still something to ponder.
Q: How Effective are Avalanche Airbags?
You know, it seems like a million-to-one chance that you could survive something as detrimental as an avalanche. However, as Dr. Pascal Haegeli (a doctor from the University of British Columbia) tried to prove an avalanche airbag can significantly increase your chances of survival. Dr. Haegeli conducted a study and concluded that those who have an avalanche airbag, in the instance that an avalanche hits, will see their survival rate double as compared to those who do not have it.
Though, it can’t be stressed enough that this is not guaranteed to save your life. While your chances increase, you can still fall victim to the furious disaster. Most of the time, as Haegeli points out, terrain traps such as gullies, cliffs, crevasses, and trees can cause you head trauma. However, having a 50 percent higher likelihood of survival is certainly not too shabby.
Q: How Do You Refill or Exchange a Compressed Air Cylinder?
If you choose to forego a battery-operated or jet-fan operated avalanche airbag, then you may have to deal with compressed air cylinders. As stated before, this means that you must get them refilled at certified locations for future uses. But, that is a little vague so let’s further explain the process. Let’s say you are dealing with a BCA (Back Country Access) air cylinder, they have an extensive network of refill locations that are published on their Refill Center Locator web page.
Examples of these locations include fire stations and SCUBA and paintball shops. Also, with BCA, they offer you an exchange program in which you can exchange empty air cylinders for full ones at their location. Basically, you want to ensure that you are near a refill center because if you are not, you may have a hard time finding the means to get compressed air for your cylinder.
Q: Will These Work in a Heavy Avalanche?
It may be hard for you to understand at first, but avalanche airbags actually work better when the snow is heavier and thicker. With the way that they work, floating to the surface because they are larger than other objects, the heavier the snow, the greater the density. For math and physics majors, you will then know that this means a lower volume. While it is not important to fully understand the algorithm that goes with this, take this into example. When the snow is wet and heavy, there is not as much volume that is required from the airbag to float you to the surface. However, when it is light and fluffy, it may require more volume and thus more air. Even though it seems confusing and backward, you are better off getting hit with heavy snow than light.
Q: How Often Should You Test an Avalanche Airbag?
This is the one area of concern for compressed air cylinders. Because you must get them refilled after each use, you may try to save your time and money and forego running a test to ensure there are no issues. However, can you imagine anything worse than having an avalanche approach and having your airbag have malfunctions? In this case, the airbag will do you no good and your chances of survival will be cut in half. But, for battery-operated airbags, you can test them as many times as you please as you can simply recharge the battery.
No matter, though, you should partake in a test run every once in a while. For instance, BCA encourages doing so at least once per year. Given that you should not run into avalanches very often, once should more than suffice. Honestly, there is a high probability you will hardly ever use your airbag but when you need to, it is comforting to know it already worked.
Q: Can You Fly with an Avalanche Airbag?
It is important for you to understand that the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) will not allow air cylinders on commercial airlines. That is, as long as they are filled with air. If you keep them empty, then they will be allowed. If you need to travel via airlines and you want to bring along your compressed air cylinder avalanche airbag, this would be an ideal time to test it as the canister needs to be free from air.
However, the TSA will check inside to ensure that it is empty (and nothing else peculiar is inside). As such, before they even have the chance you could separate the head from the cylinder. From there, you will be good to go. But, more importantly, ensure that a refill center is near your destination. BCA, in specific, aims to do their best to have refill centers near every resort and every city near a ski area.
Q: Is It Really Necessary to Use a Leg Strap?
It is safe to assume that some of you may think it is overkill for a leg strap to be included in an avalanche airbag. Just as some may believe that riding a bike with a helmet is not necessary. But, if you do not have the hip strap pulled tightly on the pack then there is a chance the pack will be pulled over your head when an avalanche hits. However, if you have it attached to your leg then this will be prevented. Of course, if you securely tighten the hip strap then you may not feel the need for a leg strap. Basically, it is an extra precaution and it can also assist in saving your life.
When you are skiing, snowboarding, or partaking in an adventure that revolves around a giant mountain of snow, you must be prepared for the chance of an avalanche. It may sound farfetched, but it can happen to you. While you can’t stop it, you can increase your chances of survival by investing in an avalanche airbag. Of course, as you now know, they offer many other benefits.