Welcome to our guide on the avalanche airbags available for the safety-minded adventurer. In the interest of full disclosure, I have a personal favorite – the BCA Float 22. I always carry it when riding in the mountains, and fortunately, I have never had to use it (knock on wood).
So, let’s take a look at the best avalanche airbags.
- My Personal Favorite: Backcountry Access Float 22
- Best Avalanche Airbag for Snowmobiling: Klim Atlas 26 Airbag
- Best Overall Avalanche Airbag: Black Diamond Jetforce Pro 25
Best Avalanche Airbags
Backcountry Access Float 22 Avalanche Airbag
The Backcountry Access, also known as BCA, is a crowd favorite brand when it comes to affordability and reliability in the avalanche airbag market.
This airbag has a pack volume of 22 liters, providing ample space for your essential gear. However, at 6.1 lb or 2.78 kg (full system with full cylinder), it’s a bit on the heavier side, but the security it provides certainly outweighs this minor inconvenience.
When I first started using the BCA Float 22 Avalanche Airbag, I confess it felt a bit heavy to me. But as with anything new, it took some time to get used to. Now, I am adjusted to the weight, and it doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s just a part of the gear I wear when I head out into the backcountry. It’s as if it’s a part of me now, ready to protect me if the worst should happen.
Even though the Float 2.0 cylinder is sold separately, the overall price point remains competitive, making it a viable option for budget-conscious adventurers. In my personal experience, I’ve seen many of my friends choose BCA over other brands which speaks volumes about its popularity. I’ve never had to deploy the airbag, but knowing it’s there gives me confidence on my backcountry adventures.
An essential point to note about the BCA Float 22 Avalanche Airbag is its one-time use mechanism. This means that once you have inflated the airbag with your cylinder, you can’t use it again until it’s refilled. I understand it may seem a bit inconvenient, but remember, it’s all about safety. So, it’s crucial to refill your cylinder after every use. You never know when you may need it again on your adventures.
- Competitive pricing makes it a budget-friendly choice
- Ample 22-litre pack volume for all essential gear
- Highly popular and trusted among backcountry adventurers
- Provides additional safety and confidence during trips
- Float 2.0 cylinder sold separately
- At 6.1 lb or 2.78 kg, it may initially feel heavy
- One-time use airbag mechanism requires cylinder refill after every use
KLIM Atlas 26 Avalanche Airbag
The KLIM Atlas 26-liter Airbag Pack is another noteworthy addition to the avalanche safety gear market, packing numerous features designed to enhance backcountry safety. The pack is designed around the Alpride E2 electronic airbag system, a significant upgrade over the previous E1 system. The system is smaller, lighter and produces a larger airbag, reducing transceiver interference. It is created for multi-use, which means you can practice deploying it without the expense or hassle of refilling a cylinder, as is the case with the BCA Float 22 Avalanche Airbag.
The KLIM Atlas 26 stands out for its robust materials and construction, making it ideal for heavy powersports usage. It offers an increased volume of 26 liters as compared to the 22 liters provided by the BCA Float 22, allowing for more gear storage. It’s notably heavier than the BCA Float 22, but the difference is negligible once adjusted to the weight.
The KLIM Atlas 26 airbag system, unlike the BCA Float 22, is not a one-time-use airbag. It can be deflated and packed back in, ready to be deployed again if needed. This multifold usability can be a crucial factor for many adventurers, given the safety it provides without the inconvenience of refilling a cylinder after each use.
Even with a price tag of over $1000, the KLIM Atlas 26 Avalanche Airbag Pack is well worth the investment. Getting your hands on this gear means investing in a versatile and long-lasting piece of safety equipment that offers excellent value for your money.
- Larger pack volume allows for additional gear
- Multifold use airbag system eliminates the need for cylinder refills
- The Alpride E2 system is lighter, smaller, and creates a larger airbag
- Robust construction suitable for heavy usage
- A higher price point may be a barrier for some, but it is offset by the advanced features and robust construction.
BLACK DIAMOND Jetforce Pro 25L Avalanche Airbag
The Black Diamond Jetforce Pro 25L Avalanche Airbag, much like the BCA Float 22 and Klim Atlas 26, is a high-quality piece of safety equipment designed for adventures in the snow. The first thing to note about it is its rechargeability, which is incredibly travel-friendly. Unlike the BCA Float 22, which requires an external inflator, the Jetforce Pro uses a battery-powered fan for inflation. This means you can practice deploying it as many times as you like without worrying about refilling a gas cylinder.
The Jetforce Pro also boasts an incredible level of durability, which you’ll appreciate if you’re into heavy-duty snow sports. It’s not just durable though, it’s also highly functional with dedicated pockets for avalanche tools and a single ice axe attachment. This is something that the BCA Float 22 doesn’t offer, and it makes the Jetforce Pro a far more versatile pack for serious adventurers.
In terms of carrying capacity, the Jetforce Pro is slightly larger than the BCA Float 22, offering 25 liters of storage as opposed to 22 but clost of Klim Atlas 26. This could be a deciding factor for those who like to carry a lot of gear. The Jetforce Pro also features a tuck-away ski carry that allows the airbag to deploy while your skis are still attached – a truly unique feature.
The Jetforce Pro also stands out for its innovative technology, with Bluetooth connectivity that allows for easy software and system updates via a smartphone. This means you can always have the latest features without having to purchase a new airbag pack. And speaking of innovation, the deploy trigger on the Jetforce Pro features status lights and can be switched between the left or right shoulder strap, making it accessible for both right and left-handed users. You can also adjust the height of the trigger to suit your personal preference.
While the Jetforce Pro is undeniably a remarkable piece of kit, it demands a hefty investment, with a price tag that exceeds $1500. This hefty price tag is justified by the numerous features it carries, some of which might not be relevant for snowmobiling enthusiasts, like the tuck-away ski carry. While this pack is undoubtedly a great piece of gear with top-tier tech and superior functionality, it’s worth considering that its extensive set of features might exceed the requirements of a casual or occasional snowmobiler.
- Rechargeable and travel-friendly
- Extremely durable design
- Bluetooth connectivity for easy updates
- Dedicated tools pocket and single ice axe attachment
- Tuck-away ski carry for deployment with skis attached
- Adjustable deploy trigger with status lights
- Higher price point compared to other airbag packs on the market
- Some features may not be relevant to snowmobiling enthusiasts
How to Choose Avalanche Airbags
When it comes to avalanche airbags, the volume is a critical factor to consider. The volume, which is measured in liters, refers to how much space the airbag occupies when inflated. A higher volume may provide more lift in an avalanche, but it will also be larger and heavier to carry.
The trigger mechanism is another critical component of avalanche airbags. This is the device that you will use to inflate the airbag in an emergency. It should be easy to reach and simple to operate even while wearing gloves.
In today’s market, we see a wide range of avalanche airbags that come equipped with cylinder flotation systems. These airbags inflate using a compressed gas cylinder, offering impressive lift and flotation in avalanche situations. They function by creating a larger surface area that increases the wearer’s buoyancy, helping them stay on top of the moving snow. This advanced technology is an asset in life-threatening scenarios, but it does come with some drawbacks. The cylinders can be heavy, adding weight to your pack, and require careful handling as they contain pressurized gas.
Once a cylinder is empty, it’s crucial to have it refilled to ensure the airbag’s functionality in case of an avalanche. Refilling is typically done at dive shops, paintball stores, or authorized dealerships that have the equipment to handle pressurized gas. This process is straightforward, but it can be inconvenient if these facilities are not readily accessible in your area.
Another popular trigger mechanism in contemporary avalanche airbags is the electronic trigger system. These systems use a battery-powered fan to inflate the airbag, offering the advantage of multiple deployments on a single charge. Unlike cylinder systems, electronic systems are lighter and allow for practice deployments without the need for refills. However, they do rely on battery power, which means you’ll need to ensure your battery is fully charged before each outing, adding to your pre-trip checklist.
The weight of the avalanche airbag is another factor to consider. Heavier airbags might be more durable, but they can also be more tiring to carry. Look for a balance between durability and weight.
Cylinder airbags indeed tend to be heavier compared to their electronic counterparts, mainly because of the metal canister that houses the pressurized gas. This added weight might be noticeable during long outings in the backcountry. On the other hand, electronic airbags are typically lighter and more convenient thanks to their ability for practice deployments and multi-use on a single charge. However, they do require you to remember to charge the battery before each outing. So, when it comes to choosing between the two, it essentially boils down to your personal preferences and priorities. If weight is a major concern for you, you might find an electronic airbag more suitable. On the contrary, if you prefer a reliable, one-time setup without the need to worry about charging, a cylinder airbag could be the better option.
When it comes to price, there’s a clear distinction between electronic and cylinder avalanche airbags. In general, cylinder airbags are the cheaper option, mainly due to their simple, mechanical nature. They have fewer components, so there’s less that can go wrong, keeping production costs down. Meanwhile, electronic airbags, with their more complex systems, tend to be more expensive. Their advanced technology, while beneficial, requires meticulous design and precision manufacturing, which is reflected in the cost. So, if price is a major factor in your decision, a cylinder airbag might be the way to go. However, if you’re willing to pay a higher price for the added convenience and features of an electronic system, then the increased cost might be justifiable. The choice comes down to what you value most in your avalanche safety equipment.
After a thorough examination of the various avalanche airbags on the market, I’ve found the BCA Float 22 to be my personal favorite.
The BCA Float 22 is the most affordable option on my list. It may not be as user-friendly as the Klim Atlas and BD Jetforce Pro, but its functionality and cost-effectiveness make it a compelling choice.
Indeed, if your budget allows, exploring higher-end options like the Klim Atlas and BD Jetforce Pro can offer you an outstanding experience. These models are equipped with premium features and craftsmanship that truly set them apart. With advanced technologies and superior quality, they justify their elevated price point. These options are truly amazing and can significantly enhance your safety and comfort on the slopes.