(The Gear Loop) - As more and more skiers, snowboarders and backcountry explorers wear avalanche bags, increasing numbers of brands are jumping on the bandwagon and offering them.
The devices essentially work by inflating like a balloon to increase the volume of the wearer and help them to "float" to the surface in the unfortunate case of an avalanche - and when all the stars are aligned, they undoubtedly save lives.
But with a raft of new releases on the market this winter, what’s the difference between each of the different airbag systems?
Well, we’ve been looking at the numerous set-ups and delving into what makes them different and which is best for you.
Air supply pack
Db and Safeback Backcountry Vest (coming 23/24)
USP: First product to "actively supply air to snow burial victims"
Powered by: rechargeable lithium batteries
Overall weight: 480g
How it works: At the first sign of an avalanche, the user must activate the SBX pump by pulling a T-shaped handle on the shoulder strap. The unit on the back of the vest pulls air from the snowpack delivering oxygen to the victim’s breathing area via two over-shoulder tubes and draws away CO2. When fully charged, the system claims to run for 90 minutes at -30°C.
These packs use fans powered by rechargeable batteries, and are fast becoming the norm in avalanche packs. There have been several new launches on the market in the past two years (see below) using super-capacitors, which provide huge amounts of power to the fan to inflate very quickly and save weight and space in the pack.
These new launches join the likes of the popular Osprey Soelden Pro and Black Diamond JetForce, packs that have long led the charge (excuse the pun).
While electric-fan airbags are around twice the price of packs that use compressed air canisters, these electric packs are rechargeable, can be re-inflated multiple times and some can be swapped into different size backpacks for day and multi-day tours.
The JetForce auto-deflates after three minutes to increase the victim’s air pocket in the event of a burial. Crucially, too, electric-fan airbags are easier to travel with on commercial airlines.
POC Dimension Backpack with Alpride E2
USP: Deploys faster and with more volume than previous packs
Powered by: Two AA rechargeable lithium batteries
Overall weight: 3,200g
How it works: At the first sign of an avalanche, the user must activate the airbag by pulling a T-shaped handle on the shoulder strap. POC has teamed up with Alpride, and incorporates their E2 Electronic Airbag which uses an electric motor (no canister needed) to fully inflates in under four seconds. The 25L day pack also includes an embedded RECCO reflector and medical ID NFC chip from twICEme, storing the user’s vital first-aid data for first responders.
LiTRIC from Arc’Teryx and Ortovox
USP: One of the lightest airbags on the market; one charge lasts 60 hours and provides at least two inflations
Powered by: Rechargeable lithium batteries
Overall weight: 2,160g for the 42L Arc’Teryx pack.
How it works: In the event of an avalanche, the user must activate the airbag by pulling a T-shaped handle on the shoulder strap. The LiTRIC system uses an electric motor to power a fan that inflates the airbag.
While avalanche bags that use compressed air canisters are cheaper, often lighter and smaller systems that are quick to inflate and do not need to be charged before use, there are two significant downsides.
The first is that once deployed, a compressed air cylinder must be refilled or replaced before a second use, and these airbags are a headache to travel with on a commercial airline.
While it is possible to carry them on an airplane, rules vary from one airline to another and users must read regulations beforehand and always allow extra time at the airport (we once spent an hour in Siberia while our airbag was scrutinised by Russian officials).
We’ve picked out one brand familiar to us - Mammut - to compare, but a large number of other brands make avalanche airbags that use compressed air, including ABS, BCA, Arva, Black Diamond, Arc’Teryx, Ortovox.
Mammut Pro 45L Removable Airbag 3.0
USP: One of the fastest and lightest on the market
Powered by: Compressed air
Overall weight: 2,635g
How it works: The user pulls a T-shaped trigger on the shoulder strap which deploys the airbag using a compressed air cartridge. The bag inflates fully within three seconds.