The Best Avalanche Airbag Packs in 2018

The Best Avalanche Airbag Packs in 2018

One of the more recent innovations in backcountry safety is the Avalanche Airbag. Airbag packs are particularly interesting because they greatly increase your chance of survival if you get caught in a slide. Update: check out our Best Airbag Packs in 2019 post for updated info.

best avalanche airbag packs bca float 32
BCA Float 32 avalanche airbag pack.

In this article I’m going to take a look at some of the best avalanche airbag packs that are currently available. I’ll give you a summary of the features of each one and let you decide for yourself which is right for you.

Related Post: The Best Airbag Packs in 2019

If you’re looking for info on other types of avalanche safety gear, check out my Backcountry for Beginners Gear Guide or the articles on the Best Avalanche Probes for 2018 and Best Avalanche Shovels for 2018. I also have a recommendation for the best avalanche beacon available in 2018 that you should check out if you’re looking for a new transceiver.

A Note on Avalanche Airbag Packs

I discussed this point in my article How do Avalanche Airbags Work?, but it’s worth mentioning again. Riding with an avalanche airbag pack doesn’t mean that you can venture into more dangerous terrain.

It’s an additional tool that will help you if you end up in the worst case scenario: getting caught in a slide. There is no guarantee that it will save your life (but it will help).

Continue to use caution, evaluate the terrain and the avalanche forecast carefully, and make good decisions.

Fan versus Compressed Air Airbag Packs

The two types of deployment mechanisms in avalanche airbag packs are compressed air and high-powered fans.

bca compressed air canister for avalanche airbag packs
A BCA float compressed air canister

Compressed air packs are significantly cheaper in most cases. The downside is that they can only be used for one deployment before needing a recharge. It can also be difficult to fly commercially with compressed air canisters.

The upside of compressed air systems is that the canisters can be filled at many different places: select dealers, scuba shops, paintball shops, and fire stations (depending on the area).

The ABS system uses compressed nitrogen, and can only be refilled at dealers. This could be a problem if you live or ski nowhere near a dealer.

High-powered fan airbag packs cost more (at the moment – this may change), but can be used for multiple deployments. They use a rechargeable battery system that is good for 2-3 inflations before needing a recharge.


The Best Avalanche Airbag Packs of 2018

And now for the main event – the airbag pack roundup. These are some of the best-selling models currently on the market. This list isn’t comprehensive, as there are a ton of models out there.

Hopefully I’ll get around to reviewing more airbag packs at some point. At the very least, this list will give you a good baseline for comparison.

Arc’teryx Voltair 30

arc'teryx voltair 30 avalanche airbag pack

MSRP: $1,300
Inflation system:
custom fan and battery pack
Capacity: 30 liters / 1,831 cubic inches
Weight: 3,487 grams / 7 lbs, 11 oz
Hydration compatible: No
Best use: Day trips

Buy Now: Backcountry.comAmazon, REI.com

Features

The backbone of the Arc’teryx Voltair 30 is the custom-designed fan, battery, and charger system (the battery and charger are sold separately). Unlike compressed air systems, this pack is easy to travel with on a plane and allows for practice deployments. The battery delivers multiple deployments on a single charge.

This pack is durable and weatherproof, with taped seams and highly water-resistant material. It is a top-loading design, with internal waterproof pockets for your shovel, probe, saw and skins.

On the outside, the pack has a vertical ski or snowboard carry, a top compression strap, and space to secure one ice axe.

Comments

*Important note: Arc’teryx recently revised the minimum operating temperature for the deployment system. Apparently this is due to an ‘unanticipated change during battery production.’ The new minimum temperature that Arc’teryx recommends for this pack is -20°C (-4°F), reduced from -30°C (-22°F). This won’t be an issue for some, but if you tend to tour in colder areas, this pack is not for you.

If I was to gripe about anything on this exquisitely designed pack, it would be that there is no external helmet holder. There is no hydration sleeve either, but this is a minor point.

The only other downside of this pack is the cost. It’s the most expensive of the group when you account for the battery and charger, but it’s Arc’teryx. You’re paying a premium for an excellent quality product. The battery and charger (sold separately) will set you back another $300-$400 on top of the cost of the pack.

If you are looking for a more streamlined pack for heli-skiing, cat-skiing, or light-duty day trips, there is a smaller version of this pack: the Arc’teryx Voltair 20 (check it out on Backountry.com or evo.com). It’s basically the same, but with a storage capacity of 20 liters (1220 cubic inches) and is slightly less expensive. Slightly.


Black Diamond Halo 28 Jetforce

black diamond halo 28 jetforce avalanche airbag pack

MSRP: $1,099.95
Inflation system:
custom fan and battery pack
Capacity (S/M): 26 liters / 1587 cubic inches
Capacity (M/L): 28 liters / 1709 cubic inches
Weight (S/M): 3,289 grams / 7 lbs, 4 oz
Hydration compatible: No
Best use: Day trips

Buy Now: Amazon

Features

This pack shares the same excellent fan-based inflation system as the Saga 40 (below) – the JetForce system. It uses a rechargeable battery, so it’s easy to travel with and good for practice deployments. Like all the packs in this review, the airbag is repackable.

It has a dedicated pocket for avalanche tools and a dedicated attachment for one ice axe. The Halo 28 also has the HiLo helmet holder, which is widely praised. Aside from the top-loading design, you will also appreciate the hipbelt stash pocket (woo snacks!) and the internal accessory pockets.

The diagonal ski carry is great, and still allows the airbag to deploy with skis attached. This is a great feature in my opinion, and the Saga 40 also has this capability. You can also carry a snowboard with this pack.

Comments

Overall this is a solid pack from Black Diamond. It’s constructed with very durable material and the JetForce system has received nothing but praise.

Due to the somewhat limited size, this pack is best for moderate length day tours, heli or cat-skiing. It’s hydration compatible, but the sleeve is fixed to one shoulder strap. Not a big deal. The only other minor downside is that the snowboard carry isn’t vertical.


Backcountry Access (BCA) Float 22

backcountry access float 22 avalanche airbag pack

MSRP: $579.99
Inflation system:
compressed air
Capacity: 22 liters / 1,343 cubic inches
Weight without canister: 2,342 grams / 5 lbs, 3 oz
Weight with canister: 2,992 grams / 6 lbs, 10 oz
Hydration compatible: Yes
Best use: Inbounds, Short day trips

Buy Now: Amazon

Features

This is the smallest pack in the group, but is great for inbounds skiing in avalanche terrain or heli-skiing. There isn’t really room for much besides the essentials, but if you’re a very efficient packer it could be used for shorter day trips. If you’re looking for a larger pack with similar features, check out the BCA Float 32.

Although small, this pack has a number of good features. It has a dedicated shovel/probe pocket, an external helmet carry system, and padded waist belt pockets. It has diagonal ski carry loops and an optional snowboard carry system.

Comments

BCA is a very trusted name in terms of backcountry gear, and this pack is no exception. The Float system has been around for years, and is very reliable. This is also the lightest pack of the bunch here due to its compact size. Note that the Float canister is sold separately for around $200.

The lime green color might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it will definitely help with visibility in the backcountry!


Mammut Ride Protection Airbag 3.0

MSRP: $749.95
Inflation system:
compressed air
Capacity: 30 liters / 1,830 cubic inches
Weight without cartridge: 2,410 grams / 5 lbs, 5 oz
Weight with cartridge: 3,090 grams / 6 lbs, 13 oz
Hydration compatible: No
Best use: Day trips

Buy Now: Amazon, Backcountry.com, evo.com

Features

This compressed air-based system is Mammut’s latest offering in the avalanche airbag space. The new 3.0 Protection Airbag System is much more comfortable than their previous offerings and is somewhat more user-friendly.

The pack uses highly durable triple-ripstop material for enhanced durability and has an external avy tools pocket. It will fit most large shovels, probes, and snow saws.

The hip-belt is height-adjustable (great feature for comfort) and the trigger height is also adjustable. You can move this to the best spot for fast activation in an emergency. It has 3 external pockets (including the avy gear pocket) to help organize your gear.

Comments

Mammut’s airbag systems looks like it would provide more head protection than others due to the shape of the airbag. Luckily, I haven’t had to test this theory in the wild.

Another interesting thing to note is that this pack has a ‘trigger-test tool’, so you can ‘practice’ without actually deploying the airbag. This is kind of halfway between traditional compressed air systems (no practice without a canister refill) and battery operated systems. Nice one, Mammut.


Black Diamond Saga 40 Jetforce

black diamond saga 40 jetforce avalanche airbag pack

MSRP: $1,149.95
Inflation system:
custom fan and battery pack
Capacity: 38 liters / 2,320 cubic inches
Weight: 3,430 grams / 7 lbs, 9 oz
Hydration compatible: No
Best use: Hut-to-hut trips, guiding, patrolling

Buy Now: Amazon

Features

This is the largest capacity pack featured here, and is best suited for longer tours. If you pack efficiently, this could definitely be used for a hut-to-hut trip. It’s a fairly hefty pack at 3,430 grams (7 lbs, 9 oz), but the benefit is more space.

It features the proprietary JetForce inflation system, which is rechargeable and repackable and is currently the highest volume airbag system. Since the airbag system is battery operated, this pack is travel and practice friendly.

It has a dedicated pocket for avalanche tools and special pockets for ice axes. The Saga 40 also has the HiLo helmet holder, which is widely praised. You will also appreciate the hipbelt stash pocket (woo snacks!) and the zippered top accessory pocket.

The diagonal ski carry is great, and still allows the airbag to deploy with skis attached. As mentioned in the Halo 28 review, this is a great feature. You can also carry a snowboard with this pack.

Comments

Some users have noted that the avy tools pocket doesn’t accommodate larger avy shovel blades very well (like the Black Diamond Evac). There also isn’t a zip-up hydration sleeve, so if you’re looking for that you’re out of luck, unfortunately.

Overall this pack seems well constructed and durable. If you’re looking for a large capacity avalanche airbag pack, this is definitely your best option right now. Black Diamond has an excellent reputation in the pack industry, and the JetForce line of airbag packs is no different.


Ortovox Tour 32+7 ABS

MSRP: $1,200
Inflation system:
compressed air (nitrogen)
Capacity: 32 liters / 1,953 cubic inches + 7 liters / 427 ci
Weight: 3,260 grams / 7 lbs, 3 oz
Hydration compatible: No
Best use: Hut-to-hut trips, guiding, patrolling 

Buy Now: Amazon

Features

The Ortovox Tour has a capacity of 32 liters (1,953 ci) that can be expanded to a total of 39 liters (2,379 ci). You accomplish this by unzipping an expandable area, similar to many suitcases that are expandable. Genius. This pack has a ton of features (almost too many), and has a very supportive frame, which adds to the total weight.

The Tour uses the ABS MASS (Modular Airbag Safety System) airbag system, which is removable from the pack, similar to the Mammut Ride. In theory, one MASS unit can be used in multiple packs, and it turns out it is quite easy to remove. Another upside to the ABS MASS is that its unique horseshoe shaped airbags provide a moderate amount of head and neck protection in the event of a slide.

Users report that this pack is extremely comfortable, and the stout frame provides ample support. There is also a women’s version available that has a 3-4″ (7.6 to 10.2 cm) shorter back panel length. Being on the large side, the Tour doesn’t ride quite as well as some of the smaller packs in this roundup, but it is definitely passable.

Another useful feature is the wet gear/skin compartment near the bottom of the pack to keep wet gear separated. There is also a huge pocket for avalanche gear, which had no problem accommodating larger shovels and probes. The helmet carrier and fleece lined goggle pocket are a nice touch as well.

Comments

Unfortunately the Ortovox Tour uses compressed Nitrogen, which is expensive and somewhat difficult to get refilled. In fact these canisters can’t be refilled by the end user – you are forced to do a canister swap, which is possible in most major city centers. It also isn’t travel friendly due to the compressed canister, so keep that in mind when shopping for an airbag pack.

Some backcountry travelers may find that there are too many compartments in this pack. If you’re used to throwing everything in one large compartment, the Ortovox Tour might take some getting used to.

The bottom line is that this is a very capable multi-day/hut-to-hut pack that would be a good alternative to the Black Diamond Saga 40 for tours longer than a day.


Scott Backcountry Patrol AP 30L Airbag with E1 Alpride Kit

scott backcountry patrol alpride 30

MSRP: $1,100.00
Inflation system:
turbo radial fan/supercapacitors
Capacity: 30 liters / 1,831 cubic inches
Weight: 2,665 grams / 5 lbs, 14.4 oz
Hydration compatible: No
Best use: Day trips

Buy Now: Backcountry.com

Features

This is another pack that uses a fan to inflate the airbag, just like the Black Diamond models discussed above. The neat thing about the Alpride system is that the fan uses regular old AA batteries to charge supercapacitors, which are guaranteed for 500,000 charging cycles. Wow. Charging these using AA batteries takes about 40 minutes, and testing has shown that 2 full inflations can be had from one set of lithium AA batteries. Pretty impressive. There is also the option to charge the capacitors using a USB connection, and the charge is guaranteed to last 6 hours, but real world testing has shown that it lasts even longer.

So there is no need to buy an expensive (and heavy) battery pack and charger. There is no gas or air cartridge, so you can fly with this pack without an issue. The E1 Alpride kit is also removable, and can be swapped between packs that can use it.

30 liters is a great size for a day pack, and this is one of the lighter packs available. It’s almost 2 pounds lighter than the similarly sized Arc’teryx Voltair 30, which is quite significant. There is a separate pouch with sleeves for avalanche gear, a diagonal ski carry system as well as a dedicated goggle pocket. The airbag trigger is swappable from side to side depending on your preference.

Comments

To me this is one of the more interesting inflation systems on the market. Regular batteries and no compressed canister seems like a winning combination. Scott is know for making quality gear, so I wouldn’t hesitate to make this my go-to airbag pack.


Backcountry Access (BCA) Float 42

MSRP: $799.99
Inflation system:
compressed air
Capacity: 42 liters / 2,560 cubic inches
Weight without cartridge: 2,630 grams / 5 lbs, 13 oz
Weight with cartridge: 3,254 grams / 7 lbs, 3 oz
Hydration compatible: Yes
Best use: Hut-to-hut trips, guiding, patrolling 

Buy Now: Amazon

Features

The BCA Float 42 is another pack in this roundup that is best used for guiding or longer trips. It’s comparable in weight and space for gear to both the Ortovox Tour and the BD Saga 40. It’s capable of both diagonal and A-frame ski carry, and can accommodate a splitboard with the snowboard carry attachment (sold separately). The trigger can be moved to either shoulder, so it’s good for right and left-handed skiers.

With a height adjustable waist belt, this pack will fit a wide range of torso sizes with a bit of adjustment. It has a dedicated tool pocket for your shovel/probe and/or skins, and has dual ice axe carry loops for glacier travel.

This pack is quite feature rich as it has a fleece-lined goggle pocket, hip belt pockets, a stowable helmet sling and more. Using compressed air gives this pack the nod over the Ortovox, as it’s way easier to get air canisters refilled than nitrogen. It still isn’t quite as versatile as the JetForce system in the BD Saga 40, but it’s a close second.

Comments

Like all BCA packs, the Float cylinder is sold separately and will set you back around another $200. The only notable downside is the weight, but this is somewhat unavoidable. It’s a fairly large pack with an airbag system, so it isn’t going to be light. Personally I would have a hard time deciding between this and the BD Saga 40 for a hut-trip pack, as they are both great options.

I have some sad news – it looks like this pack is now only available in black and not the killer red color pictured here. Okay not really sad, but it’s news. And the rest of the pack is still great.


Feel free to leave any comments below relating to your experience with these packs or with any questions you have. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

2 thoughts on “The Best Avalanche Airbag Packs in 2018

  1. Hello Mike
    Nice break down of the gear and very informative I can see you love the sport and have been into it for years. I have skied my whole life but not the back country, in my day it was known as extreme and only for the rich. I remember rope tows and t and J bars and we never had high speed lifts.

    I think these Avalanche Airbag are a little pricy but can you put a price on your life if you ever need to use it? You have done a great job explaining the most important aspects or this sport, if you are not careful you could get seriously hurt lose a limb or even worse you may die. on the other hand I have had some of the best times of my life out on the slopes. so I have to say nice work Mike

    You are very lucky with all the advanced gear they are making now it sure makes skiing a lot easier for sure. I wish we had fiberglass skies when I was in my teens even though we always had fun and that is what it is all about!
    Thanks for the info Mark

    1. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the comment! You’re right, we’re very lucky that technology is making backcountry pursuits much safer than they’ve ever been with high-tech beacons, ultralight shovels and probes, and now avalanche airbags! Sounds like you had some fun back in the day haha!

      Cheers,
      Mike

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