Backcountry Access’s new avalanche airbag offerings recently showed up here at Wildsnow: Float 36 and Float 18. Each of these packs represents a significant improvement over BCA’s original Float packs — it looks like they have figured the airbag thing out. These backpacks are tailored to skiers, not sledders like the old pack. What’s more, you’ll now be able to find them in Europe, as BCA has just received TUV certification. The price is perhaps the best part: far below what most airbag packs are going for!
Float 36 is designed for ski patrollers and snow professionals; thus it is big, burly, and has lots of features. Dual hipbelt pockets, goggle pocket, interior zip pockets, ice axe holders, helmet mesh carrier, insulated hydration bladder hose sleeve, vertical snowboard carry, vertical ski carry, and a sort of diagonal ski carry are among the myriad features. I’m not a fan of vertical ski carry, but it’s possible to push the skis diagonally a bit by being creative with the straps. Nearly all of the straps tuck out of the way, leaving a simple looking pack with clean lines. Gone are the ice and snow catcher ‘gap’ between the airbag compartment and the rest of the pack, and the velcro airbag closure, which has been replaced with a break away zipper.
BCA has done an impressive job of providing clear and concise directions. Everything is clear, from how to use the various features, to the methods of air travel. BCA’s float packs are IATA certified to fly with the cartridge filled internationally. If flying to, from, or within North America, however, you will need to discharge the cylinder and remove the cylinder head. See the bottom of the refill post on how to remove the cylinder head.
The Float 18 is small, light, and geared towards mechanized and slackcountry skiers. It fits close to the back and has a shorter back length than the 36. You get a solid, dedicated diagonal ski carry system, which easily tucks out of the way. For snowboards, you can purchase a $35 accessory which clicks into some webbing loops on the pack to give you horizontal snowboard carry–great for snowmobiling. You won’t fit much inside besides the bare essentials, but that’s the point. In our review testing, skiers such as Louie Dawson are saying they’re indeed using the Float 18 for true backcountry skiing, but only for short trips where they can take minimal equipment. Take care with this issue. When using heavy airbag backpacks, it is tempting to leave essentials behind to save weight. The mountains don’t like that kind of false economy and might tell you so.
Both the 18 and the 36 are one size fits all, which is billed as 17-22 inches. The 18 is shorter, but since you won’t have much weight in it, it shouldn’t matter if you’re tall.
All of BCA’s Float series packs use the same user refillable airbag system, which is super easy, just follow our refill instructions. I just spent two minutes getting a cylinder ready to refill, now I just need to run to the refill center of my choice (fire station), and get it done. BCA has done an outstanding job of setting up refill centers throughout North America (and to some extent in Europe). But, if you don’t want to bother, just mail the empty back to exchange for a full one.
The Float 36 weighs in at a fairly standard 7.93 lbs, while the Float 18 is a svelte 6.63 lbs. So, the 36 is a little on the portly side for backcountry skiing, but you get a “ton” of features in what appears to be a very durable package. For more than we can fit in this airbag backpack review, see BCA’s videos on the Float 36 and the Float 18. To see these stack up against other airbag packs, see the Wildsnow airbag overview page, prices are listed there as well. Stay tuned for full reviews of these packs as we get a chance to ski with them.