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. 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.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 14 hrs of research
Comes with compression straps
Internal pocket for shovel and probe
Can be taken through airports and on airplanes
Top Ten Avalanche Airbags
1. Backcountry Access BCA Float 27
Comes with compression straps
Internal pocket for shovel and probe
Can be taken through airports and on airplanes
It does not come with the cylinder
This Backcountry Access BCA Float 27 is a great avalanche airbag with plenty of wonderful reviews. It comes with plenty of compartments to keep you organized including main compartments with an internal tool pocket for your shovel and probe.Read more
Not only can you practice deploying the airbag, but the deployment system also guarantees that you can transport the pack on an airplane without needing to pick up canisters. This avalanche airbag creates buoyancy and helps you float to the surface in any dangerous accident. Not only does this airbag decreases your burial depth but it also protects your neck and head from any trauma in an avalanche.
The Backcountry Access BCA Float 27 is one of the safest airbags on our list with its buoyancy feature to help while kayaking and 150-liter airbag to help you in an avalanche. There are many different storage compartments including an internal tool pocket for your shovel and probe and main compartments.
The straps of the backpack are padded and provide great comfort. The compression straps help to provide more stability.
The vertical ski-carry shoulder straps allow for a backpack-style airbag. Meanwhile, the compression straps help in weight distribution.
2. ORTOVOX TOUR 32
You can decide where to place the trigger
Multiple pockets on the waist belt for easy access
Hydration system compatible
Must refill air cylinder at certified locations
There are so many features that make the ORTOVOX TOUR 32 one of the best avalanche airbags in the market for even snowmobilers. The height has an adjustable waist belt for your torso length, it also has dual hip belt pockets and a fleece-lined goggle pocket all to keep you organized and stay fitting.Read more
The trigger can be on the left or right side which you get to choose to help with any convenience while in an emergency. There is also many external straps and attachments including a fixed leg strap and an internal and external shovel attachment to help too. The air canister and cylinder is not included. You will need to purchase the air canister to keep you safe while adventuring in the snowy weather.
A fleece-lined goggle pocket, while obviously possessing the capability to hold goggles, will also store your water bottle. For quick access to small items, there are pockets on both sides of the waist belt. There are also dual hip belt pockets for extra storage too.
The back section of this backpack is well-ventilated and breathable. The shoulder straps and hip belt are both decently padded.
With a hip belt and chest strap, this backpack is easy to carry. This is a wonderful avalanche airbag and has many overall features and attachments that will help keep you safe and organized when in need. It is able to hold everything you need when traveling to the backcountry.
3. Backcountry Access Float 32
Features an adjustable suspension system
Features a DWR durable water-resistant coating
Lots of room for gear
That it does not come with the Float 2.0 Cylinder
Backcountry is known for making exceptional outdoor adventure gear and their Backcountry Access Float 32 is another great product. This avalanche airbag has many different features making it a popular choice including having a fleece-lined goggle pocket to zippers with DWR coating and even is hydration compatible. This product may even save your life.Read more
The Float 32s 150-liter airbag creates buoyancy and minimizes burial depth and also protects your head and neck from trauma in an avalanche. This bag does not include the float 2.0 cylinder and so does not guarantee your survival. The cylinder must be purchased separately.
There are many special features in the Backcountry Access Float 32 including its dedicated shovel and probe storage compartment as well as a helmet carry to keep you organized. There are several different storage compartments including several special pockets and comes with an adjustable waist belt. It is also made with DWR durable water-resistant materials.
This avalanche airbag is very comfortable when it comes to long voyages and has wonderful ratings on its comfort and durability.
With a great chest strap, along with hip and shoulder straps, this bag is easy to bring along with you.
4. The North Face Patrol 24
Well-tested and praised
Great pockets and organization
Easy to use
Larger capacity options would be welcomed
Canister not included
With a 95% success rate, this is a backpack to consider. It has a slim and narrow design that provides stability and great weight distribution. It uses compressed nitrogen gas to deploy the airbag. The gas, airbag, and handle can all be removed, allowing you to use this backpack for many other adventures.Read more
The Patrol from North Face uses compressed nitrogen gas. There are two airbags, one on each side of the backpack. They are easily and quickly deployed by pulling down on the ceramic handle on the left shoulder strap. One of the great things about nitrogen airbags is that you can practice at home and then have the canister refilled. It should be noted that the canister is not included.
This is a very durable bag. Not only can it be used for avalanche safety, but it can also be used a regular backpack. You can remove the airbag system and handle and replace it with a hydration pack. There are also attachments for skis or a snowboard. There are plenty of pockets and organizational areas for your gear and tools. Additionally, the hip belt has dual zippered pockets. The areas of the bag that take the most damage are reinforced for extra durability. To top it all of, there is a built-in safety whistle on the chest strap.
The slim profile of this backpack is comfortable and provides great stability. The shoulder straps are nicely padded and there are a hip belt and chest strap for even weight distribution. The hip belt has a strong metal clasp to ensure that the bag stays firmly on your body in the event of an avalanche.
This backpack is both versatile and portable. It is slightly heavy, at 6.6-pounds, but it literally is a lifesaver so we can’t complain. Without the canister, it can be taken on a plane without issue.
5. Thule Upslope Snowsports
Available in different sizes and colors
Easy access to your gear
Airbag system not included
The Upslope is a great backpack for many different adventures. It is a shame that the airbag system must be purchased separately, but it does add a bit more versatility to the backpack. There are well-thought-out pockets and storage compartments that are easy to access. You can also choose between multiple colors and sizes.Read more
This bag can be used with or without the airbag. The recommended airbag system is the Mammut Removable Airbag System 3.0. Sadly, they are sold separately and the price of the airbag itself is more expensive than this backpack alone. However, the airbag system is highly rated and uses compressed gas. The compressed gas is dependable and not affected by the weather. It has a T-shaped deployment handle which can be adjusted to your comfort.
Accessible is a great way to describe this bag. There are great pockets that provide easy access to the things you need. There are two large zippered side pocket, a front pocket dedicated to tools, and a large main compartment that can be easily accessed from the back panel. One of the pockets is lined with fleece, making it an ideal pocket for your goggles. The built-in hydration sleeve and reservoir pocket are specifically designed to help prevent the hose of the reservoir from freezing. As for your gear, you can easily attach your skis or snowboard to the bag. The bag is durable and features reinforced seams and stress guards.
The Thule Upslope is comfortable and stable. The straps are well-padded and the side pockets wrap around your body and meet in the front with a buckle. There is also a chest strap for even weight distribution.
The bag itself weighs about 3.5-pounds. It is important to remember that adding the airbag system or hydration reservoir will make it a bit heavier. The Upslope is highly versatile and can be used for many sports and in many climates. The exterior compression straps ensure that your gear stays where you packed it, no matter how many tumbles you take.
6. Mammut Ride Short
Ideal for small framed people
Removable airbag system
Comfortable back panel
Not ideal for tall or large people
Could use more organization
The Ride Short from Mammut is a great choice for short or small-framed people, or also for women in general. The design and length of the backpack are slightly shorter and very comfortable. For versatility, the airbag system is removable.Read more
Luckily, all of these airbag systems are easy to use. You pull down on the deployment trigger and boom! The Mammut Ride Short is no different. This removable airbag is powered by compressed gas. When activated, the airbag is deployed from a break-free zipper compartment behind your head. It quickly inflates and highly raises your chances of survival. As an added measure of safety, this backpack features a safety leg loop.
There are decent storage and organization in this backpack. You’ll find an integrated helmet carrier, a padded fleece goggle pouch, and a small internal zippered pocket for small items such as your keys or phone. The backpack is compatible with a hydration pack, but it is not included. When attaching your skis or snowboard, they will sit diagonally.
The overall design of this backpack is meant for short or small-framed people and women. The removable hip belt is well padded and the foam back panel provides an extra layer of comfort. Also, the padded shoulder straps are nicely articulated. Some say that the aluminum frame sits slightly off the back and can cause the bag to feel a bit cumbersome.
To keep all of your gear in place and travel without worry, there are compression straps on the outside of this backpack. You can easily fly with the backpack and airbag, as long as the cartridge is empty. The weight of the backpack is 6.6-pounds.
7. Black Diamond Halo 28
You do not need to refill an air canister
Has updated firmware
Features puncture-resistant material easy to repack
Could have been larger capacity options available
Black Diamond integrates jet-fan inflation for their Halo 28 Airbag and that is certainly what is most notable here. Not only does this provide exceptional inflation power, but it also does so in the blink of an eye.Read more
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. 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).
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. 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 number of separate storage compartments, safety, and inflation technology.
8. Mammut Light Removable 3.0
Not many features
If you're looking for lightweight, look no further than the Mammut Light Removable 3.0. It's sized appropriately for most day tours and is the lightest airbag pack in the 30-liter volume range. You don't have to spend a ton to save a pound or more vs typical balloon pack models.Read more
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. This pack doesn't have a ton in extra features, but it has a zippered pocket on the side of the waist belt and a fixed gear loop on the other. There is also a small zippered pocket on the top of the pack to help keep small items from getting lost. It is also hydration system compatible.
Even with this pack loaded to the brim, you are still promised a comfortable ride. The pack fits a lot of people, from 5'4" to 6'2".
While you can’t pick from any other color option (just black), you can select a 35-liter or 45-liter model. The Mammut Light Removable Airbag is a unique pack that will work for most backcountry skiers. It's lightweight, with a simple design, that can still hold plenty of your gear.
9. ARCTERYX VOLTAIR
The battery delivers several uses on one charge
It is water-resistant with the seams taped
Design is glove-friendly
Compartment for the ice tools could be built tougher
If you have followed the brand, anytime you see an Arcteryx product, then it will not be a surprise if it features some sort of weather protection. Besides this, they actually implement a battery design for their inflation.Read more
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. 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 padded shoulder straps make this bag easy and comfortable for all-day trekking.
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.
10. BLACK DIAMOND SAGA 40
Utilizes a jet-fan inflation system to provide air
Repacking the airbag is incredibly simple
Rechargeable system allows you to always practice
Putting the clips back when they unravel is annoying
Black Diamond makes another appearance on this list and their Saga 40 and Halo 28 are closer in practice than 100 to 101. Honestly, you could flip a coin to decide and both would satisfy your needs. But, the Saga 40, in specific, does have minor blimps that slightly hurt its overall rating.Read more
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. The inflation is powered by a rechargeable battery, meaning that you can charge it when it gets low.
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).
As with their other airbag, Black Diamond designed this pack with a reACTIV suspension system with SwingArm shoulder straps. Plus, they also included zippered back panel access.
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.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
If avalanche airbags 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 fantastically 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.
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 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.
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.
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 bring 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.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
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 crazy, 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.
Investing in an avalanche airbag BY NO MEANS that you can or should venture out into more dangerous territory. These bags are designed to help save your life in the event of an avalanche during a normal trek. Do not feel invincible with these bags because you are NOT. Stay safe and take the same safety precautions that you would without the airbag.
Even though you'll have your avalanche airbag, you should still be knowledgable about how to (try to) survive an avalanche without it. The center of the avalanche is the strongest. When you see or feel it coming, try your best to move to one side of it. Much like swimming, but in frozen water, it's best to try to stay above the snow. If the snow is already coming at you, try to swim in the direction of the fast-moving snow. Once things calm down, you should land a little bit higher and be buried in less snow.
Other Factors to Consider
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.
While the initial price tag of some of these bags can be a bit shocking, some of them are highly versatile. Some of the designs can be fully disassembled, meaning you can use the backpack without the airbag. If you opt to do this, we only hope that you aren't heading for the snow and that you have an amazing memory and will remember to put the airbag back in. Having the ability to use the backpack for summer hiking trips, travel, and running errands makes the backpack versatile and more valuable. If you are looking for a product that you can use in multiple different scenarios, you'll want to look out for this feature.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.