Snowpulse Guide 30 ‘lifebag’ Airbag Pack Review

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

I’ve reviewed many different airbag packs here on Wildsnow, but have spent little time covering the ‘lifebag’ style by Snowpulse. So here we go.

With the higher than normal avy danger these days in many North American regions, it's not a bad idea to stack the deck in your favor with an airbag pack. But, safe route finding provides more protection than anything else.

The Snowpulse lifebag design has been around since Snowpulse’s beginning. Essentially a horseshoe shape that wraps around your head, neck, and chest, the idea is to provide more trauma protection than other airbag styles. There’s no hard data that I’m aware of to prove that this style is any safer, but anecdotes suggest that it may be. My wife had an early generation of the Snowpulse Lifebag 30, which she happily used for several years. Now she’s very content with a Snowpulse RAS Pro 35, but sometimes I feel like I want her to have all the protection possible so the lifebag is definitely something we’ve been considering. Snowpulse’s latest version of the lifebag concept is called the Guide 30, and I’ve had a chance to take it out a few times this past month.

I’ve been remiss in not getting this review posted sooner. I’d hoped to be able to spend some time with the Guide 30 to give it a thorough run down. But with the “season” we’ve had here in Colorado… So, what follows is more of a quick look. Guide 30 is quite similar to the Snowpulse Pro35, (which I love) so I’ll compare it to that a fair bit.

The Guide 30 is 30 liters in volume, but actually feels about the same size as the Pro 35. It has the same disappearing cable loops for diagonal ski and ice axe carry, plus the disappearing straps for vertical snowboard carry. A big improvement is that the shovel pocket opens big enough to actually get into it. Also, you get a little zip pocket in front of the tool pocket and small goggle pocket between the shovel and main compartment. Diagonal ski carry works fine with the horseshoe airbag style.

There are straps for A-frame ski carry (work well as compression straps to slim down the pack), but not recommended if you might have to pull the trigger. There’s a pouch for a hydration bladder, and the hose is ported out the side of the pack. You can then run the hose through the elastic straps on the right hand shoulder strap (which are actually provided as a means of helping you pack the airbag). There’s no insulated place for the hose. You also get a small hip belt zippered pocket and a gear loop. The leg loop tucks behind the zippered pocket.

Snowpulse Guide 30. White zipper is a small pocket for odds and ends -- perfect spot for hats and gloves. Next zipper is a big panel opening for the avy tool pocket, then a completely opening panel zip for the main compartment.

The main compartment opens completely so you can spill it all out. You can fit quite a lot in there. I did a hut trip with this pack (had to strap some things on the back) and was happy with it.

A shovel pocket that you can actually open up and get at your tools, what a concept! Only fits small to medium handles and blades. Has two velcro loops to hold your probe and handle.

The horseshoe airbag system hasn’t really changed since the early versions. It consists of a zipper that runs all the way up one shoulder strap, across the back (where the breakaway zipper is) and down the other shoulder strap. A little bit tricky to pack, but once you do it a few times, it’s no big deal. You cannot transfer this airbag between packs like the RAS. The bag inflates in about 3 seconds and makes a nice snug fit around your head, neck, and chest. This seems like it ought to provide some degree of buffer from trees, rocks, and avy debris, but of course it’s only as strong as the airbag material is. One major difference between the lifebag style airbags and all others (including other Snowpulse and Mammut packs) is that once inflated, the airbag begins to slowly leak air. The idea behind this is that if you are buried, as the airbag deflates, it will provide an air pocket. The air leaking out of the airbag into this pocket is breathable as it is mostly just ambient air pulled in by the venturi valves, combined with air from the cylinder.

One of the first things you'll notice about this pack is that the shoulder straps are bulky. This is because the airbag is inside them. At first this is a pain, but once you've adjusted the straps and take the pack out a few times, you won't notice the straps.

Other manufacturers have claimed that this style of airbag hinders your field of vision, making it hard to escape an avalanche or see where you are going. I think this is a non-issue; see my post for more about how the Snowpulse lifebag doesn’t affect field of vision. Here is the video from that day (this is using last year’s Lifebag, but it’s basically the same):

Guide 30 uses the Snowpulse 2.0 system, which utilizes a cable trigger handle and user refillable air cylinder. Refill instructions here. This system helps the Guide 30 drop some weight from it’s former incarnation. The size large is 7.78 lbs with a filled air cylinder (also comes in size medium). See the airbag overview page for more weights and prices.

Verdict:
Guide 30 is most certainly heavier than the Pro 35, but if you ski in the trees a lot and the extra level of potential trauma protection seems worthwhile to you, it is probably worth the extra weight and bulk. If not, I’d save the weight and take the Pro 35, which apart from the shovel pocket, is a better designed pack.

Comments

28 Responses to “Snowpulse Guide 30 ‘lifebag’ Airbag Pack Review”

  1. Jon March 17th, 2012 9:34 am

    I am pretty sure Lou was the one that said it affected your field of vision. While other sites already busted that myth a long time ago. This is by far the best airbag on the market for the simple fact that 1: It protects from trauma (some could argue this, but it does protect better than the competition) and 2. If in the really odd situation where you are buried or face down it provides a pocket of air for you.

  2. Phil March 17th, 2012 10:52 am

    One of the things I’ve been told and read about the ABS 2-bag system is that having two balloons gives redundancy. If you puncture one, you still have one balloon.

    Is that a valid argument?

    Do the Snowpulse bags have some internal divider to keep one half inflated if the other side is torn (e.g., from ripping past a tree)?

  3. palic March 17th, 2012 1:01 pm

    To Phil: It is not a valid argument, as there is not 150 liters of air available, and only 75 liters – it is not enough to have full functionality of avalanche airbag system.

    In general, I have practical experience with Snowpulse Guide 30, Mammut R.A.S. Pro 35 and BCA. The best head protection is for 100 % by Snowpulse, R.A.S. and BCA protect perfectly from the back side, but not from others.

    Field of vision – see http://mountainski.cz/images/2526.jpg approximately 90-120 degrees forward and to sides..

    I see only one small disadvantage of Snowpulse for standard ski-touring, ski-randonee, extreme skiing (not for freeride and heliskiing) – size and thickness of the backpack harnesses which cover part of airbag avalanche system. Not all people like these harmesses for long climbing on skins (for sure, ther is not any problem during the descend)

  4. Paul March 17th, 2012 2:20 pm

    Not quite correct. Since the airbag uses the gradient principle, having any amount of extra volume is a benefit. Whether half the flotation is enough is dependent on a lot of factors – in some avalanches it may be, in others it may not. Also you are incorrect with your volume – the ABS is the only pack to have 170L so if one goes you are left with 85L. The rest of the packs are 150L

  5. Rob March 17th, 2012 4:57 pm

    I was the one asking about the stifness/bulkiness of the straps in the airbag thread. I ended up buying the Guide 30 anyway and have been using it since new year’s. Used it for 3 hr long touring trips a couple of times as well and I don’t have any problems with bulky straps. They do become a lot softer after some use. The shovel pocket was a bit too short for my old plastic Ortovox shovel shaft, but I have bought the new K2 backside shovel since and that one can be stored in there easily.

  6. Lou March 18th, 2012 12:58 pm

    Yes, Jon, you are correct, one of the two times I’ve been wrong in the last 30 years, I forgot the other one (grin). I terms of “field of vision” it’s accurate to say it doesn’t affect, but to be fair, it does somewhat affect your ability to look over your shoulder. Is that a deal breaker? I’d agree it is not and that this is an excellent solution. I think the important debate is if there is any real degree of trauma protection, or if their might be some mythology in there as well, as with ski helmets. If the trauma protection is real that is super important for us U.S. skiers who chance hitting trees.

    But in all seriousness, the way people are skiing these days one has to wonder if some folks who’d use this pack should simply ski with it inflated at all times.

    Lou

  7. Chuck Gorton March 19th, 2012 9:56 am

    Hey Lou,

    In terms of trauma protection here are some real life accounts of the Lifebag. The trauma protection shape works. If you are actually in an avalanche there is no doubt in my mind that this pack offers way more security than any other airbag on the market. The only proof is real life accounts but there are more and more of those all the time.

    “When the dust cleared I was only buried to my thighs and had no injuries. The rocks I bounced off of should have broken something without the protection of the bag.” – DAN TREADWAY PRO SKIER

    “All the medical professionals agree that although I was seriously injured, I would have been killed without the protection that the Snowpulse backpack offered to my chest and neck.” – MATT PETERS ACMG GUIDE

    “The slide carried me down about 1500 ft of vertical on a 45 degree slope, both my skis broke and I am sore and bruised from head to toe. However without the Snowpulse I would not be writing this! – BRAD ZEERIP

  8. Lou March 19th, 2012 10:51 am

    That’s fine Chuck and I agree that perhaps the pack provides some protection. I just question what seems to be the nearly thought-free buy-in that folks sometimes have with this stuff. Helmets are the best example. Sure, they protect sometimes. But how much? And could they be better? 1st person anecdotal accounts are good, but sometimes are given too much weight in evaluating this sort of thing. It’s like, wow, I survived the avalanche and had pink socks, therefore pink socks are highly effective at saving people from avalanches. Lou

  9. Jim March 19th, 2012 7:48 pm

    http://www.chilkatvalleynews.com/cgi-bin/htmlos.cgi/004989.1.6238477011115406533/id-031620121540419790427

    A heli skier died last week near Haines AK while wearing an airbag, but the rip cord was still zipped in the strap and the bag was not deployed.

    Also read on Teton Gravity site that ABS and other bags cannot get thru TSA to fly. This is a big problem. The others have to have the valve pulled off and emptied. Kind of a hassle for fliers.

  10. vanessa March 20th, 2012 7:20 am

    I’ve had this pack for 2 years and other than the pressure valve recall, I’ve been quite happy with it. I’m a 5’6″ and 125 female and have used the 30l pack for day and overnight trips frequently. I think it’s very well designed, carrys well, and is comfortable enough to use on really long days. The super large pockets on the waist band are so great for stuffing a hat/ small gloves/camera/snow study tools into. Thanks to Lou and everyone else on this site who make so much great info available to all of us. Be safe and have a great spring!!!!!

  11. Nick Thompson March 20th, 2012 8:47 am

    I knew Rob Liberman. Very sad to hear. Wish he’d had an airbag and that his client had had the trigger deployed so it could be pulled. Doesn’t do much good if it’s tucked away. Who knows if it would have helped anyway, but still such a bummer.

    Snowpulse packs can get through TSA, you just have to empty the cylinder and remove the cylinder head. Refill when you get to your destination. See the refill instructions linked in the post for into on that. More and more places are popping up over here that will do the refill for you, and if you have the adaptor, there’s a fire station everywhere you go.

  12. John March 20th, 2012 10:17 am

    My son and I spent the last few weeks skiing in Canada. We flew with our ABS and SnowPulse Guide 30 as carry ons, without cylinders. We were able to rent ABS cylinders in Canada, with the proper date code for the SnowPulse.

  13. colin March 21st, 2012 6:18 am
  14. Jimmy November 7th, 2012 3:44 am

    How about the lifebag lite 35? Anyone used it or at least fondled it?

  15. Nick November 7th, 2012 6:58 am

    Stay tuned for a post on the Lifebag Lite 35 later this month. It’s a sweet pack- big volume but very light weight.

  16. Brad November 26th, 2012 11:15 pm

    Any news on the Lite 35 post? Really interested in it and am itching for as much info as possible before buying.

    Thanks!

  17. JonnY! November 29th, 2012 10:54 pm

    Just got my second SnowPulse today in the post, the Lite 35. Ordered the Lite 35 for the girlfriend, skied the Guide 30 last year. The LIte 35 is just as much a pack as the Guide 30 and lighter. It’s not as organizeable as the Guide 30, but I think a few stuff sacks will make that slight deficiency go away. Compared to the Guide 30, there are alot of external straps.

    I bought into the Snowpulse technology due to the trauma protection. Arguments can be made in either direction, but it was a selling point for myself. The construction of the SnowPulse gear is top notch, no complaint at all.

  18. Jeff December 26th, 2012 10:27 pm

    I’ve narrowed my pack search down to the mammut ride 30 or the snowpulse lite 35 so I too am eagerly awaiting Nick’s upcoming review (unless I missed it somehow) and any other information or advice.

  19. Lou Dawson December 26th, 2012 11:21 pm

    Jeff! You are in luck. I’ve been using/testing the Snowpulse 35 Lite for the past days here out of Nelson. Louie is using/testing an ABS.

    I can’t do a comparo to Mammut but can say that the Snowpulse functions fine. It has some extra gewgaws that seem unnecessary and add weight, but it’s still really light. Thankfully it has a fairly simple sack that lacks the dread “file cabinet” effect. I’ve triggered it twice and thus packed the bag twice. I’d like the bag compartments in the straps to be slightly bigger, as they’re a bit of chore to pack and a bit stiff on the shoulders because they pack so tight. The waist belt buckle is easy to get used to, and the crotch strap is super simple and works. Top compartment in the top flap needs to be slightly larger as it’s fiddly to pack goggles in. Overall I like it, but as with nearly any airbag pack I’d prefer it had a few less “features.”

    The mechanical trigger is impressive technology.

    Anything specific you’d like me to evaluate?

  20. Jeff December 27th, 2012 10:41 am

    Thanks, Lou. That is exactly the type of information I was hoping for. (ie. how comfortably the bag carries with the air bags in the shoulders versus other bags, etc). I had been told the diagonal carry on the snowpulse is not very functional, so any feedback you have on that issue would be appreciated. Glad your hut trip turned out so well.

  21. Nick December 27th, 2012 10:47 am

    The shoulder straps seemed on the Lite seemed less bulky than previous Snowpulse models. Obviously, it’s still more bulky than another pack, but it does free up some room in the pack by storing the bag in the shoulders, not to mention you get the “lifebag” wraparound shape.

  22. Lou Dawson December 27th, 2012 10:54 am

    I’d say that diagonal carry on the Snowpulse 35 Lite is an issue. It doesn’t come with a system that’s fully configured, and rigging one would require some thought since you can’t just run the upper strap over the airbag deployment area. I’m looking at the pack right now, and rigging a diagonal carrry. It’s sort of a ‘faux’ diagonal carrry that results in the skis being more vertical than I’d like, but might be possible to rig better. Photo will be in review, possibly even tomorrow. Verdict is the pack _does_ have some methodology for diagonal carry, but it’s not as obvious and easy to put together as I’d like to see. Lou

  23. Lou Dawson December 27th, 2012 11:56 am

    re the shoulder straps, my shoulder bones are sore from them being hard and stiff due to the bag stuffed tight in there. They need a bit more room in my opinion, better, they need to be making the bags out of Dyneema or something that could be half the weight and volume. Give all these backpacks two more years and it’ll be a different world.

  24. Lou Dawson December 27th, 2012 1:28 pm

    Since Jeff was asking about it, I stayed home from skiing today and finished the Lite 35 review Nick and I were working on. Permalink:
    http://www.wildsnow.com/6821/snowpulse-2013-airbag-packs-review-lite-35/

    Please leave Lite 35 comments over there, not here.

  25. Fraser Galloway January 4th, 2014 3:48 pm

    Has anyone experience with travelling to Japan with snowpulse.?
    I fly from Australia to Japan and take a pre filled ABS cartridge as I canot buy a snowpulse pre filled in Australia. To my knowledge I cannot fill a snow pulse cartridge in Japan. This year I go to Japan Via colorado and have had to get freinds take the cartridges to japan whils I get refillable ones in the USA.
    Does anyone know a better system for using snow pulse in Japan. Is there a refiller there yet? BCA can be filled in Japan. Is there an adapter?

  26. Nick January 6th, 2014 12:19 pm

    I don’t know of the specifics of Japan, but have heard that their shops are not permitted to fill these cylinders (don’t know if this is true or still true). However, if you can get a BCA filled, then you should be able to fill Snowpulse as they are pretty much the same (same adapter, just different psi). Failing that, you could use an ABS cartridge (not ideal, but it will work in Snowpulse and Mammut 2.0 systems).

  27. Fraser Galloway January 6th, 2014 2:17 pm

    Are you saying that a Bca refillable cartridge will work and screw onto a Snowpulse back pack?

  28. Nick January 6th, 2014 3:02 pm

    No. If you can fill a BCA cylinder, you can fill a Snowpulse one.

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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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