Three Days Of Jetforce, Halo 28 Backpack


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Previous extensive Jetforce look.

We recently had a Black Diamond Jetforce loaner here. We’re skiing nearly every day so it was easy to hump the revolutionary electric airbag backpack on a few backcountry missions. I wish I could say this rucksack jet propelled me up the hill as much as it protected me from suffocation in an avalanche, but the latter is much more true than the former. While we still feel this technology is nothing less than disruptive, it’s a pity Jetforce Halo weighs about 7 1/4 lbs (3.3 kilogram) when gas cartridge airbag packs are getting into the sub two kilo range for mass. When loaded up with more than my most minimal kit, I found Jetforce was too heavy for my normal day skiing. Yeah, I’m a spoiled wimp. Yeah, I’m biased.

Yours truly hauling Jetforce.

Yours truly hauling Jetforce just a few days ago. Click all images to enlarge.

I’m not sure how much weight could be trimmed from the Halo. It includes the Black Diamond “ErgoActiv suspension system” consisting of a steel cable running behind your back, ostensibly to make the pack ride better. With normal day-trip loads I’ve not found this system to have any benefit, so it could be eliminated. Likewise, some of the straps and fabric appear to be overkill. On the other hand, this is indeed an expensive safety device so it needs a certain amount of beef — if for no other reason than it must hold up for numerous backcountry days. Perhaps the most effective weight savings could be a smaller battery and an airbag made of thinner lighter “Dyneema” type fabric. That’s just a guess.

Beyond the weight issue, lots to like here. We got four inflations out of the battery. That’s a few less than I expected when first learning about the Jetforce system, yet totally adequate. We did our real-life inflations by pulling a couple in colder temps as well as leaving the system switched on a few times until it timed out — which no doubt sucked up some battery power. In my view, main thing is that the bag will most certainly deploy twice during any given session between charges, in nearly any temperature excepting ridiculous arctic chill that normal people would not even consider skiing in (even then, you could throw a hand warmer in with the battery and probably have no worries).

Trigger handle has LEDs indicating various things. Mainly, the number of lights above (left) of power light indicated approximately how many inflations remain.

Trigger handle has LEDs indicating various things for the backcountry skier or rider. Mainly, the 4 lights above (left) of power light indicated approximately how many inflations remain, in this case none.

Some of you were asking about the diagonal ski carry system. Pretty simple and effective, this is the lower loop. All straps have stowage so you pack looks good  in your GoPro footage.

Some of you were asking about the diagonal ski carry system. Pretty simple and effective, this is the lower loop. All straps have stowage so you pack looks good in your GoPro footage.

We covered this in previous blog post, but it's cool how the deployment system is part mechanical and part electronic.

We covered this in previous blog post, but it's cool how the deployment system is part mechanical and part electronic. The clips snap over the steel rods. Takes literally seconds to put back together after a deployment. No velcro prone to icing and unreliable closure.

After the bag is deployed you'll see bare cable in the area where the clip is supposed to attach. A simple pull of a 'reset tab' brings the cable back to the closure position with larger diameter that the clip can attach to.

After the bag is deployed you'll see bare cable in the area where the clip is supposed to attach. A simple pull of a 'reset tab' brings the cable back to the closure position with larger diameter that the clip can attach to.

To reset the mechanical closure system, you just pull this tab. Super easy.

To reset the mechanical closure system, you just pull this tab. Super easy.

Operation was pretty much flawless; only glitch was zipper catching in the mesh airbag compartment.

Operation was pretty much flawless; only glitch was zipper catching in the mesh airbag compartment when I repacked. I'm certain this will be remedied in the retail pack version.

Yes Virginia, the pack has a tool compartment with slots for probe, shovel, etc.

Yes Virginia, the pack has a tool compartment with slots for probe, shovel, etc. For those of use not needful of carrying around extra fabric, all appears easily razor bladed without affecting integrity of the pack, but further research is required. Honestly, I was sorely tempted to return a heavily modified backpack to the BD PR folks, but the punishment for that would probably involve connecting the Jetforce battery to certain body parts and triggering the inflation cycle. I'll take a pass on that.

An issue with all airbag backpacks is how much haulage volume do they really have for backcountry skiing and riding? Halo 28 is indeed said by Black Diamond to be a 28 liter capacity rucksack. Using my scientific method of measurement (packing all my stuff) I’d say the Halo does deliver the promised volume. That said, it could use a few extra lash tabs on the exterior in the event you’d need to carry a rope or haul extra gear during situations such as bringing overnight kit to a hut.

I tested the Jetforce for user friendliness by skiing it for three days without reading the user manual. I’d had my familiarization tour some months ago, so I cheated. But still, I remembered little to nothing about how to turn the unit on and off or how to pack the balloon. Everything was nicely obvious; only confusion was what exactly some of the flashing lights on the handle meant. Not a big deal, as the “code of the lights” would be easily learned and retained by an owner who used the pack regularly (the pack also has a vibration unit in the electronics, so it buzzes against your back during certain phases of activation or de-activation). I have to wonder, how about a speaker in the trigger handle that would enunciate verbally for the sight impaired? Could happen, after all, it’s electronic.

My favorite thing about Jetforce Halo? The airbag is so easy to pack as to make other systems seem like a joke. I mean, do I really need to be spending time packing my airbag like a parachute rigger? Life is too short. I want to ski, not be a parachute packer. Likewise, even with the weight penalty the no-fiddle electrical energy system of this thing makes compressed gas airbags seem neanderthal. Not that neanderthals had compressed gas cylinders, but you get the idea. Charge the battery. Pull the trigger. Repeat. Breathe sigh of relief as you step on the airplane with no issues, and never ever go searching around for gas refill options. The future is bright.

Comments

9 Responses to “Three Days Of Jetforce, Halo 28 Backpack”

  1. dan thuente March 14th, 2014 10:24 am

    Very nice photos of the mechanisms Lou! They will sell a lot of these next year. Is Black Diamond a publicly traded company? If so, I’m buying their stock. More people will be coming out to enjoy the back country.

  2. Lou Dawson March 14th, 2014 10:33 am

    Hey, thanks Dan, we’re always striving to improve the photography but at the same time keep it “real” rather than generic product shots. Fun, and one sure does learn their camera settings!

  3. Steve March 14th, 2014 10:52 am

    If you were using a binding analogy to compare to this review, would you say that the Jet Force is kind of like a Marker Tour F12 (heavy but great ease of use) and that other airbags are more like various tech bindings because they weigh less but could possibly be more difficult to use?

  4. Charlie Hagedorn March 14th, 2014 10:58 am

    Black Diamond is publicly traded. There are larger parts to their business than avalanche safety equipment; this product line may or may not have any real bearing on the future of the business.

    Nice article, Lou! It’ll be fun to see what these packs look like in a decade.

  5. Lou Dawson March 14th, 2014 11:18 am

    Steve, sure, that’s somewhat of an accurate analogy. In a nutshell my take is that the bounty is convenience, the price is more weight to haul. For stronger, larger skiers I think the trade is very doable, but a smaller or less fit person might find that starting with an almost 8 pound backpack, then adding day gear, water and food, they might end up with simply too much weight to be practical or enjoyable.

    I think early adoption of this product is going to be prevalent, but I’ll bet in a few years the concept is quite refined, and perhaps even provided by other companies.

    I’d really really like to see the half-sized battery and a reduced weight backpack.

    Perhaps the aftermarket will come through.

    Lou

  6. Chris March 15th, 2014 7:32 am

    What charging options exist for backcountry trips when you’ll be out for a week or so. Possibly in huts that don’t have power outlets. Would a solar charger work with this pack’s charging system?

  7. Lou Dawson March 15th, 2014 7:51 am

    If you’re going to huts without power, the best option would be to simply purchase a spare battery and bring it along. At huts with power, you’d need a small inverter to run the wall-wart 110v charger provided with the Jetforce. You could bring a solar panel setup of your own, but you’d have to run an inverter from your portable solar and that would require quite a bit of panel watts. Once the retail version of the Jetforce is out, we’ll cover the charging options in more detail, including voltages. I don’t want to publish a bunch of that stuff at this time, in case they change something. Ditto for weight, as you’ll notice we didn’t publish an exact weight.

    When we have the retail version next fall, we’ll hook it up to our solar system in the most efficient way possible, and report on that.

  8. Phil March 16th, 2014 9:25 pm

    Any news on the ArcTeryx fan pack yet?
    It will be interesting to see how their version stacks up in terms of weight and performance.

  9. Dave J. March 26th, 2014 12:05 am

    Thanks, Lou. I’ve held off on an airbag pack but after being close to a massive avalanche on a trip in BC recently, I’m in the market. I like everything but the weight (and price, but it is in the ballpark of ABS systems). In my mind something around 5 lbs is the tipping point. It might take a few years, but I’ll bet it’s possible. Looking forward to seeing the final products this fall.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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