The Best Guide to Avalanche Airbags for Skiing and Snowboarding

If you are a skier, snowboarder, or climber, the risk of getting caught in an avalanche is always a concern. These deadly forces of nature can prove to be fatal for anyone caught in them. If you are hoping to improve your chances of survival, then you are going to need an avalanche airbag.

Now, you may not be all that familiar with this type of packs so we decided to create an article just for you. Here you will find everything you need to know about avalanche airbags, including how to choose one for yourself.

A Comprehensive Guide to Avalanche Airbags

Avalanches are actually a lot more deadly than many people think. In fact, it is estimated that around 150 people are victims of this natural disaster every year. Avalanches have a number of causes and triggers which can make it a little difficult to predict when they are going to occur. For the longest time, skiers, snowboarders, and climbers didn’t have any protection from these colossal forces of nature. More recently, however, there have been proven ways to help you survive such a disaster – an avalanche airbag. Here, we look at the mechanisms behind the functioning of this type of pack and how to choose one for yourself:

Why Do You Need an Avalanche Airbag?

As mentioned, avalanches have a rather high casualty rate. The most common reasons for these fatalities are suffocation due to being buried under the snow and trauma from being thrown around. Avalanche airbags aim to address the issue of being asphyxiated by a pile of snow.

These bags work of the principle of inverse segregation which is also referred to as the Brazilian Nut effect. This theory states that in a situation such as an avalanche, the bigger particles will rise to the top while the small particles settle on the bottom. The bigger particles make their way upwards since they have a greater volume.

In an avalanche, there are snow granules of varying sizes. Therefore, by having the greatest volume possible, you have a better chance of finding yourself at the top of the pile, when the avalanche finally stops. This is precisely what deploying an avalanche airbag does for you. It helps to increase your volume, thus making you a big particle and pushing you to the top. Since you will find yourself closer to the surface, you are less likely to suffocate from being buried under a ton of snow.

Of course, the question that you are most interested in is whether or not these airbags are actually effective at protecting you in an avalanche. The answer is actually a resounding yes. It is estimated that up to 89 percent of the people wearing an avalanche airbag will be able to survive a natural disaster.

Types of Avalanche Airbags

Avalanche airbags can be categorized by the air system that they use. While some options have common designs, some airbags are specific to their manufacturer. They can be differentiated accordingly:

Integrated Airbag

With this type of pack, the airbag is integrated into the backpack. This means that the bag, the harness, and the airbag are all dependent on each other. In doing so, the pack compartment volume is predetermined and cannot be increased or decreased.

Removable Airbag

As the name suggests, the airbag can be removed from this type of pack. The accompany hose and inflation system can be detached as well. This means that you can use the pack by itself, without the airbag. This pack also gives you the ability to remove the airbag and its associated components and add it to another compatible pack.

Number of Airbags

You can choose the number of airbags that you want to be deployed when you activate your pack. You have the option of a mono bag system or a dual bag system. Each of the packs have their own advantages and benefits during an avalanche.

In a mono bag system, the airbag will either deploy from the top of the pack or from the shoulder straps. This has the advantage of protecting the back of your head as well as making sure that you remain in an upright position. Also, if you are buried during an avalanche, this type of system will create a small air pocket for you.

With a dual bag system, the airbag is deployed from the sides. As a result, it will ensure that you are kept on the surface of the snow and in as flat a position as possible. In this scenario, you are provided with a much better field of vision. Also, if one of the airbags do happen to fail, you can rest easy knowing that there is another one that will prevent you from being completely buried.

Types of Activation

There are two main mechanisms for inflating your airbag. You can either decide on a canister or cartridge activation or you can opt for an electric fan activation:

Cartridge and Canister

The canisters and cartridges hold pressurized air between 2700 and 3000 psi. This pressurized air is used to inflate the airbags when they are deployed. The containers are cylindrical and are often made from either metal or carbon fiber. Now, there are two types of canisters – refillable and non-refillable.

The refillable cartridges contain compressed air which has one main benefit – ease. These canisters can be refilled at most ski and scuba stores, making it easier for individuals who travel. Not to mention, many airlines insist that you travel with empty canisters so you will need to fill them up when you arrive at your destination.

The non-refillable cartridges are quite specific to the manufacturer. Due to this, they cannot be replaced all that easily. These canisters tend to be more expensive and aren’t readily available. The advantage of these cartridges, however, is that they contain compressed nitrogen. This type of compressed gas is much more suitable for colder temperatures and can also help to save space.

Electric Fan Packs

The electric fan packs rely on a fan that is powered by a rechargeable battery. The fan is quite high powered and uses this action to inflate the airbags. This makes canisters and cartridges redundant. The plus point with this mechanism is that you can reuse the same pack numerous times with a single charge. There is also less hassle involved in traveling, particularly via airplane.

Choosing Your Pack Size

There are a few pack sizes to choose from when deciding on avalanche airbags. Due to the design of the airbag, these packs tend to stay are often medium-sized to large packs. Here is how to make your decision:

  • 15 – 20 liters: this is a good size for heli and cat skiers and snowboarders. This is because it is the perfect balance between size and capacity. This type of pack will allow you to carry the bare minimum but this is fine since you will not need much more space in this type of situation.
  • 20 – 30 liters: this is an ideal capacity for anyone who is going backcountry touring. Since these type of skiers or snowboarders are often out for the entire day, a pack of this size will let them carry everything that they need. Unless you are really cutting down on weight, it is unwise to look for a pack smaller than this.
  • 30 – 40 liters: a pack of this size is a good fit for anyone planning a multiday trip. As you will need to carry more supplies and a greater amount of equipment, a pack of this size will allow you to accommodate all of these needs.

Deciding the Right Fit for You

An avalanche airbag will only truly be useful to you if it fits you properly. Most importantly, the bag must fit you around the torso properly. The first, of course, is the volume and the size of your pack. This needs to be in proportion with your torso length and your body size. You need to make sure that the shoulders straps are adjustable enough for your particular height. When deployed, the airbags should sit in a position around your torso to provide you with the greatest amount of protection.

The chest strap should sit a little below your clavicle so that it comfortably fits around your chest and will prevent the pack from moving around. The hip belt is also quite important in helping distribute the weight of the bag properly. If you are wearing a small airbag and aren’t carrying a lot of weight the hip belt doesn’t need to be padded. However, if you are planning on carrying a greater load, a padded hip belt will prove to be more comfortable. Also, this belt should rest just above your hip bones for maximum impact.

Many avalanche airbags have an additional feature – a strap that goes between your legs. This is what creates a harness and makes sure that the bag doesn’t fly off during an avalanche. It is important to check that these straps are appropriate to your height. You should also double check the straps once you have added weights to the backpack.

Testing the Avalanche Airbag

Wearing your avalanche airbag alone is no guarantee that you will survive an avalanche. You should be well versed on how to deploy the bag at precisely the right moment. This is what will really help to save your life. This is why you should make it a habit of getting used to the activation mechanism of your pack before you actually hit the slopes. In the event of a disaster, you will rely on muscle memory to react instantaneously.

Even if you don’t ski frequently, you should make it a point of checking the state of the airbag at least once a year, particularly before a ski trip. This is to make sure that everything is still in working order and will respond efficiently in a disaster.

This is what you need to know about avalanche airbags and how to decide on a model that is right for you. Remember, with these type of packs, you are equipping yourself with something that could potentially save your life.

Top 10 Best Avalanche Airbags


1 – Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce


Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack
  • JetForce Technology airbag system built-in; rechargeable, travel-friendly and extremely durable
  • reACTIV suspension with SwingArm shoulder straps and zippered backpanel access
  • Dedicated avy-tools pocket and single ice-axe attachment
  • Tuck-away diagonal ski carry allows airbag to deploy while skis are attached
  • HiLo helmet holder, hipbelt stash pocket and internal accessory pockets

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce:

Reviewers like these things about the Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce

  • According to users, the Black Diamond Halo backpack is comfortable to use.
  • Reviewers noted that its shoulder straps provide comfort to users.
  • Testers said that it has a built-in airbag system which may become useful when needed.
  • Testers found out that it is durable due to its construction and materials.
  • Other testers discovered that the pack includes a zippered back panel access.
  • Reviewers noted that it is versatile and functional.
  • Reviewers pointed out the presence of a pocket designed for avy tools.
  • They noticed that it also has an attachment point for an ice ax.
  • Several testers also indicated that it consists of a diagonal ski carry that could be tucked away.
  • Several users noted the presence of a helmet holder.
  • Other reviewers also found that the bag is spacious in stashing essential contents inside of the bag.
  • Users discovered that the bag has internal accessory pockets for added organization options.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A reviewer thought that the capacity of the bag is limited.
  • A tester said that the bag is a little heavy for longer ski tours.

2 – Ortovox Tour Rider 28S


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Here’s what the reviewers think about the Ortovox Tour Rider 28S:

Reviewers like these things about the Ortovox Tour Rider 28S

  • Users have noted that the Ortovox Tour backpack is optimized for long day tours.
  • Several users said that the bag contains a separate safety compartment.
  • Other reviewers noted it is equipped with fastenings for a ski and a snowboard.
  • Reviewers pointed out that the main compartment could be accessed from the rear or in front.
  • Testers said that it has a body-hugging cut.
  • Other testers said that they could store their essentials well in this bag.
  • They also noted that the pack was well-balanced and fully functional.
  • Many of those who have tried the bag indicated that it also has fastenings for ice axes and hiking pole.
  • Reviewers noted that the presence of a chest strap with a signal whistle which may come in handy when in an emergency.
  • They also mentioned that its shoulder straps are ergonomic, making it an ideal backpack due to the comfort and support the straps provide.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A reviewer found that it is quite heavy.
  • Another reviewer noted its Velcro flap becomes worse in time.

3 – Mammut


Mammut 2610-01320 Light Protection Airbag 3.0, Phantom - 30 L
  • Protection Airbag System 3.0: Trauma protection (protection from mechanical injuries); lightweight (around 1.2 kg with the carbon cartridge); extremely small packing volume; dependable compressed gas technology; height-adjustable deployment handle; airbag balloon in bright signal color
  • Hydration system-compatible
  • Hip belt pocket
  • Gear loop on hip belt
  • Attachment for ice-screw carabiners on hip belt

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Mammut:

Reviewers like these things about the Mammut

  • A lot of users find it comfortable to carry.
  • Others said that it skis really well.
  • Some travelers said that it is easy to get stuff in and out of the pack.
  • Other travelers were pleased with the size of the pockets.
  • Many users said that the number of pockets was just right.
  • Others love how it is light for a pack.
  • Some reviewer said that there is an airbag in it.
  • Many users laud how it handles the added weight.
  • Owners said that they could easily access its hip belt pocket.
  • Some users were surprised by the increased protection from trauma.
  • Other reviewers said that it is easy to carry.
  • Many users said that it is roomy inside.
  • Other find the helmet flam on the outside convenient.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • Some users wanted more color options.
  • Others were doubtful of the durability.

4 – Arc’teryx


Arcteryx VoLtair 30L Backpack
  • Automotive grade, sealed locking plug allows battery removal for airline transport or hot swapping a freshly charged spare
  • N400r-AC2 body fabric with #8 WaterTight zippers for top and right side access to the two main compartments
  • Internal usable volumes are 20L for the Voltair 20 and 30L for the Voltair 30
  • Voltair 30 has a separate front compartments for shovels and probes, Voltair 20 has an internal waterproof sleeve to separate shovels and probes from the pack's contents
  • Front lash ladders and straps diagonally carry skis or snowboard plus single ice/mountaineering tool, top compression strap stabilizes pack while carrying skis

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Arc’teryx:

Reviewers like these things about the Arc’teryx

  • Most of the users said that the pack effectively raises their buoyancy.
  • Some users confirm that it is durable.
  • Owners commend the design.
  • Other users praise the construction.
  • Reviewers said deployment is easy.
  • Most of the buyers like how it is glove-friendly.
  • Many owners like how the sternum strap is adjustable.
  • Many users thought that its sturdy.
  • Some owners like the color.
  • A lot of owners said that they could carry a snowboard vertically with this pack.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • Many users were disappointed that the charger and battery were sold separately given the price.
  • Few users said that the ‘multiple deployments’ is not guaranteed.

5 – Backcountry Access


Sale
Backcountry Access Float 25 Turbo Avalanche Airbag - Black
  • Air Canister/Cylinder NOT included.
  • Features integration for BC Link radios, hydration sleeve, left or right side trigger mount, fixed leg strap, internal and external shovel attachment
  • Dedicated shovel/probe sleeves, dry main compartment, multiple internal pockets, storm zipper flaps
  • Height adjustable waist belt for torso length, dual hip belt pockets, and fleece lined goggle pocket.
  • If you are a backcountry snowmobiler, this avalanche airbag pack is for you.

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Backcountry Access:

Reviewers like these things about the Backcountry Access

  • Most of the users like that include a dual-ice ace carrying system.
  • Reviewers said that it has ample space for all their gear and goodies.
  • Many said that is has a very extensive network of cylinder refills.
  • A lot of owners confirm its durability.
  • Several users liked its design.
  • Some of the users said that they like the size.
  • Many said that it is spacious inside.
  • Reviewers said that it is functional and practical.
  • Some other said that it isn’t too heavy.
  • Users commend its quality.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • Some users said that when the pack is full, the goggle pocket is hard to access.
  • One user said that it does not quite handle the added weight.

6 – Arva


Sale
Reactor 40 Avalanche Airbag Black/Grey
  • Material: 210D cordura double ripstop, 330D polyester double ripstop
  • Volume: 40L (2440 cu in)
  • Airbag: Reactor
  • Deployment System: nitrogen
  • Support/Suspension: ventilated, padded

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Arva:

Reviewers like these things about the Arva

  • Many users agree that it is easy to travel with.
  • A lot of users confirmed that it has an ergonomic hip belt with a single pocket.
  • Some owners said that it is easy to use.
  • Many users like how it has a functional diagonal ski carry system.
  • Reviewers said that it has a cool and yet truly practical design.
  • Others said that it is very sturdy.
  • Many owners said that they do not have to refill the air canister everytime they deploy.
  • Many users said that it is a well-made product.
  • Others said that the build quality is impressive.
  • Some owners said that it is precisely as described by the company.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • Some users said that it is too heavy.
  • Reviewers said that it is too expensive.

7 – BCA


BCA MtnPro Float Vest Avalanche Airbag
  • Avalanche Airbag
  • Protective Vest
  • Even Weight Distribution Vest Pack
  • Canister NOT Included
  • BC-Link Radio integration.

Here’s what the reviewers think about the BCA:

Reviewers like these things about the BCA

  • Many users commend its quality build.
  • Reviewers said that it is durable.
  • Others like how it focuses more like an airbag.
  • Many reviewers said that it has an even weight.
  • Owners said that it is functional.
  • Some users said that it is sufficient for its purpose.
  • Many owners said that it is comfortable.
  • Many users love how it has a quick access radio storage.
  • Some users said that it is an ergonomic product.
  • Several owners like that it has pockets.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • Some reviewers said that the price was not reasonable.
  • Users pointed out that the primary storage could be more.

8 – Black Diamond


Black Diamond Saga 40 JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack, Black, Medium/Large
  • Jetforce Technology airbag system built-in, Rechargeable, travel-friendly and extremely durable
  • Reactor suspension with swingarm shoulder straps and zippered back panel access
  • Tuck-away Diagonal ski carry allows airbag to deploy while skis are attached
  • Hilo helmet Holder, hip belt stash pocket and zippered top Accessory pocket
  • Dedicated avy-tools pocket and ice-tool pickpockets

Here’s what the reviewers think about the Black Diamond:

Reviewers like these things about the Black Diamond

  • Functional top-loading design allows they to maximize space.
  • Many owners said that it carries a lot.
  • A number of users commented on the great backcountry friendly feature.
  • Some owners are that it is a hassle-free traveling experience.
  • Owners said that it has an optional multiple deployments.
  • A lot of users said that it is easy to handle.
  • Some users noted that its excellent quality.
  • A lot of owners like the size of the pack.
  • Many owners said that it is practical.
  • A lot of users find it appealing.

Reviewers don’t like these things

  • A lot of users said that it is really heavy.
  • Some users said that the snow safety gear pocket isn’t really that big.

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Last update on 2018-12-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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