Arcteryx Voltair Avalanche Airbag Backpack — Review

Post by blogger | December 14, 2015      
Arcteryx Voltair 30 backpack deployed.

Arcteryx Voltair 30L avalanche airbag backpack deployed. Click all images to enlarge.

Arcteryx designer Peter Hill sporting their totally disruptive creation, Voltair.

Arcteryx designer Peter Hill sporting their totally disruptive creation, Voltair.

This is getting fun. A bit pricey, but fun. I’ve lost count of how many brands and models of compressed gas airbag backpacks you can get. Now we’ve got two competing brands offering electric “blower” packs, totally viable options with features such as multiple balloon inflations on one battery charge, easy air travel, and most importantly, zero hesitation to pull the trigger (a very real problem that’s caused deaths according to some studies).

I recently spent a few days in Canada, listening to airbag engineering details from the Arcteryx industrial designers — and actually using the pack while backcountry skiing (including a number of inflations and re-packs). In the end, I had enough for a take. (Officially spelled Arc’teryx but with a nod to carpel tunnel syndrome we forgo the apostrophe.)

“Our intent here was to design a superb ski touring pack that just happens to have a balloon that pops out of its head.” That’s how designer Pete Hill describes the Arcteryx philosophy for Voltair 20L & 30L packs. “We also wanted a super reliable system,” he added, “So we minimized the electronics (no electricity in the trigger cable) and put an amazing amount of effort into how the bag exits the pack during an event.”

From there, the list went on. And on. So that’s the way I’ll organize this review. Just as Pete suggests, I’ll look at this as a backpack first, then talk about the balloon that pops out.

30 liter Voltair 30L from the rear, note single set of compression straps.

30 liter Voltair 30L from the rear. Note single set of compression straps. A-frame ski carry not allowed, due to balloon.

Designers Gord Rose and Peter Hill gave up one powder run to instead expound on the virtues of Voltair, impressive dedication to the cause.

Designers Gord Rose and Peter Hill gave up one powder run to instead expound on the virtues of Voltair, impressive dedication to the cause.

Overall look and feel
Arcteryx is known for “clean” backpacks, Voltair is no exception. These are panel loaders with one partition and a place for the balloon. A simple tool and skins area is provided to the outside, while the compartment closer to your back has nothing but a small goggle pouch near the top, and the surprisingly small and flat electrical components. You’ll find a single compression strap on each side, near the top. That’s to discourage A-frame ski carrying (airbag can’t inflate). Instead, a strap Velcro loop system is provided on the back face of the bag for diagonal skis or alpine tools.

I guess I should mention color (yawn). Voltair 20 liter is “Cayenne” red, 30 liter is pretty much black though it probably has a fancy color name. We prefer black backpacks if they’re getting heavily used or traveled worldwide. Red attracts attention when you don’t want it and gets dirty quickly. On the other hand, red is always wonderful for photography — get out that selfie stick!

Somewhat basic suspension etc., and that's good.

Somewhat basic suspension etc., and that’s good. Waist belt ‘pivots’ a bit. Probably unnecessary but one can’t have a pack without some sort of pizzazz.

I had no issues in the comfort department. Torso length was perfect for me, long enough to feel like a “real” backpack yet not so tall as to resemble wearing an oversized pickle. Torso length is not adjustable, and the pack does not come in different lengths. Belt and shoulder strap padding is perfect for my taste, though if you’re packing the 30L to the gills with heavy stuff it’s possible you might want a little more width in the straps.

Fabric, zippers, etc.
Have to say I love the Arcteryx “waterproof, taped AC2” way of building a pack, and it was tested in wet snow and rain. Worked. AC2 is a double coated pack fabric that essentially creates a dry bag you could use on the river (without the zippers). They make stuff like that up in the coastal ranges because it rains a bit. The zippers are the usual per the big Vancouver bird, waterproof without covers. Love those too.

If I could get all the airbag backpacks together and measure actual volume vs. claimed, I’ll bet Voltair would be one of the best in class. Both models have a surprising amount of room inside. While doing our Arcteryx factory visit during this press trip, I did see their pack volume measuring system. Nothing surprising or unusual: a bucket of plastic beads. (This was next to the skunk works where they were making weird one-off gear for their athletes, sorry, no pictures.) So, their volume measuring isn’t somehow causing them to add volume, they simply did it to be sure a 30 liter pack is a 30 liter pack — excluding the airbag guts.

The trigger handle is there, but I'd like it slightly bigger and sticking out from the pack strap a bit more.

The trigger handle is there, but I’d like it slightly bigger and sticking out from the pack strap a bit more.

Green dot indicates trigger handle is rotated to the armed position. It's easy to rotate off,  to prevent accidental deployment.

Green dot indicates trigger handle is rotated to the armed position. It’s easy to rotate off to prevent accidental deployment.

Airbag trigger
Let’s be clear that Voltair differs from the other brand electric airbag by having a fully mechanical trigger that contains no electronics. It’s said this is to avoid complexity and “increase reliability.” Time will tell. Meanwhile, I can tell you that the trigger handle is indeed nicely shaped, and locks/unlocks with a simple twist. Mode (locked/unlocked) is indicated by a green or red dot. Low tech. If the electricity is turned on (switch on the battery) and you forget to unlock the handle, you can unlock while you pull by twisting your hand. Probably a good habit to get into. I did find the handle a bit small and too close to the shoulder strap for panic grasping. Practice is key here as with all other airbag rucks. A rigging hole is provided so you can string a cord from the trigger over to the opposite shoulder strap, thus creating a “guide” ripcord. In extreme conditions, while for example wearing bulky mittens, you’d probably want to do that.

Simple leg loop attaches to a nice clip on the waist belt.

Simple leg loop attaches to a nice clip on the waist belt.

Harness (leg loop)
This is where Arc’ broke the mold. While their leg loop does clip to the side of the waist belt, it’s actually integrated to the balloon with a length of webbing. The pack thus does NOT need an annoying “safety” buckle on the waist belt. Instead, you get a normal plastic buckle that’ll clip as fast as your non-airbag friends (and which in truth is probably plenty strong).

The clip looks simple, but too quite a bit of work to get it easy, strong, and intuitive.

The clip looks simple, but took quite a bit of work to get it easy, strong, and intuitive.

The designers told me the leg-loop-to-pack attachment was inspired by ice climbing clips. It’s a small spring gated device that you clip into similar to a carabiner, but operates easily with one hand for the exit once you get a fancy little flick with your hand figured out. As with other airbag packs YOU CAN DIE IF YOU DON’T USE LEG LOOP, so how these things work is one of the most important aspects of a balloon pack. We obsess on the size and shape of the balloon, but how it’s attached to our bodies is way more important. Me, I’d still like to see airbag leg loops built into pants, with a nice little clip down by the hip pocket. We do have a sewing machine. Another WildSnow mod?

One of my only cons with Voltair is while the leg loop clip does “snap” nicely, I found it difficult to see with bulky clothing, and a bit too far to the rear for easily clipping. It appeared both things could be remedied by mounting the clip a few centimeters farther forward on the waist belt. But like anything in engineering, change one thing, change something else. So perhaps the clip needs to stay where it is.

Airbag balloon
Nothing paradigm shattering here. a big sack of coated nylon that is indeed shaped to perhaps provide some cervical protection (but not advertised to do so). Volume is 150 liters, which engineers tell me is perfectly adequate for an average size person with a day-pack load. If you’re a 250 pound NFL linebacker needing to carry a load to Denali high camp, you might need a larger airbag. If so, talk to the Arcteryx custom shop, they might be getting bored and need something fun to work on. On the other hand, you’re not a hockey player so don’t even think about it.

The balloon does inflate quickly with lots of pressure, due to the screaming centrifugal blower — really the heart of the system. It is loud. The bag ends up surprisingly taut. Volume and pressure of the blower can overcome small tears.

Deflation tube in the balloon valve. Lots of jokes about this little guy, we  will not go there.

Deflation tube in the balloon valve. Lots of jokes about this little device. We will not go there.

You deflate by inserting a small hollow plastic tube into a fabric valve on the bag. Deflation is fairly quick (just a few minutes) but I could see the tube and valve being a bit larger for even quicker venting. You leave the tube in while you pack, then remove at the final stuffing of the balloon. No special folding or other tedious packing is required, you just stuff the bag in and re-do the exploding zipper. If you make a mistake and leave the deflation tube in the balloon, it’ll still inflate (which is perhaps the reason the deflation system isn’t larger.)

Repacking is incredibly easy.

Repacking is incredibly easy.

I do have a serious point to make about avalanche airbags. There are two issues with the balloon that current standards do not address — and the industry tends to dance around. First, since around a quarter of avalanche deaths involve serious injury, if we’re going to haul around all this expensive and heavy technology shouldn’t it provide some trauma protection? Secondly, in a larger avalanche you quickly loose all body control, twirling, tumbling and “tomahawking” at speeds sometimes approaching 100 mph. Lengthening your body with a balloon above your had could exacerbate this. Keep that in mind, oh ye of total faith in avalanche airbags. Sure, a helmet might be helpful, but remember that current ski helmets actually provide little protection, in some cases, in my opinion being little better than a few layers of cardboard and bubble wrap taped to your head.

Tower of power intake tube , enclosed in mesh fabric.

Tower of power intake tube, enclosed in mesh fabric. Designers told me that during testing they got reliable inflations even with the external air vent compromised with tape, and they’re not even sure the intake tube has to be so large.

While the guts of this thing took years to develop, simplicity and compact size indicate a mature state of design. There really is not much to see inside the pack. Battery is a big flat brick with a red switch on the side (you turn the pack on-off here, through a small zipper on the outside of the pack). Small “black box” controller lives between battery and blower. Blower is at the end of a big tapered air intake tube known among Arteryx insiders as the “tower of power.” When you pull the trigger, you switch on the blower and also unlatch a small catch on the airbag’s exploding zipper.

Cutaway of impeller at left, tower of power air intake tube to right, blower mounts on the right end of the tube.

Cutaway of impeller at left, tower of power air intake tube to right, blower mounts on the right end of the tube. The impeller required years of development that included hiring a couple of boffins from the UK to do advanced computer simulations. Injection molding the resulting design is another challenge, as it has to be incredibly strong and free of flaws. The thing spins at 40,000 rpm and has to deal with events such as frozen condensation getting sucked into the blades. An impressive bit of engineering, if I do say.

Battery weighs 800 grams and in my opinion is  way over done, but required by regulations and reliability concerns.

The 22.2 volt lithium-polymer battery weighs 800 grams and in my opinion is way over done, but required by regulations and reliability concerns. Battery DNA hardens to the radio controlled model car and jet community, where amazing things are being done with stored electricity.

The black box is a sealed system. Interestingly, Arcteryx can download info from a data logging component, with permission of user. They hope to use this data (temperatures, number of inflations, and probably more) to figure out what is truly necessary for effective use of electrical airbag rucksacks. Current airbag standards are perhaps overly strict in terms of how many inflations per a given temperature. The question: “How many people really need a pack that inflates several times at negative 30 degrees centigrade (-22 F)?” That is ridiculously cold. Perhaps a better standard would be a simple alarm built into a smaller battery that began beeping if you actually did go out for a ski at 30 below zero, warning you that you might die of hypothermia.

Battery is 'dumb' and connected with a beefy and moisture sealed automotive connector.

Battery is somewhat ‘dumb’ (though it does have some data recording capability) and connected with a beefy and moisture sealed automotive connector (Delphi Weatherpack, high amperage). The pack does have an external led indicator so you know when it’s turned on. It’s said you can leave it switched on for several days without any significant drain on the battery, though it’s of course better to switch it off and keep the battery charge topped. It takes literally seconds to remove and replace the battery.

Gord showing off the blower wires. Wires?

Gord showing off the blower wires. Wires? You can’t just stick a chunk of hardware store wire into a backcountry safety device. These wires are special for high amperage and cold temps. Thousands of tiny copper strands, covered with a primo layer of silicon. Flexible, reliable, and won’t burst into flames while you’re riding out the avy.

So, overall what does it feel like to ski with the Voltair?
Most importantly for me, I swear I did notice this pack weighs a few ounces less (progress!) than a roughly equivalent competitor. It carries fine, standard plastic pack buckles are no surprise, and it’s plenty waterproof. We did a simulated avalanche (!) inflation that involved triggering while skiing down fairly rough terrain. I pulled, stayed on my feet, made some (sort of) turns and then easily repacked the bag. That’s the key with electric balloon packs. Pull when you want, pack it quickly, and get on with the day. No fuss. Lovely.

Catalog weights
Voltair 30L, 3465 grams, 7.6 pounds
Voltair 20L, 3235 grams, 7.1 pounds

Voltair available for purchase fall 2016, 20L – USD $1,650, 30L – USD $1,700

30 liter Voltair 30L from the rear, not single set of compression straps.

30 liter Voltair 30L from the rear, note single set of compression straps.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


52 Responses to “Arcteryx Voltair Avalanche Airbag Backpack — Review”

  1. Steve December 14th, 2015 10:16 am


    What is the pricing? I have heard several different prices-could be Canada retail vs US retail?

  2. Lou Dawson 2 December 14th, 2015 10:32 am

    Steve, I added USD prices to bottom of post. I’ll tripple check in a moment. Lou

  3. Lou Dawson 2 December 14th, 2015 10:40 am

    Here it is, copy pasted from the official PR

    ? Voltair 20L – US $1,650

    Weight – 3235g / 7.1 lbs

    ? Voltair 30L – US $1,700

    Weight – 3465g / 7.6 lbs

  4. See December 14th, 2015 10:48 am

    Pack looks excellent, although I’m not sure I’m totally happy about what the effects of widespread air bag use will be on decision making in the bc. And who want to be the one person in the group that isn’t packing a balloon?

    Re. hockey players: I thought they wouldn’t need a bigger air bag because of the Brazil nut effect (bigger pieces migrate to the top of an agitated mixture). Isn’t that how these things work?

  5. Lou Dawson 2 December 14th, 2015 12:07 pm

    See, good point about the hockey players and nuts.

    As for decision making, of course the ideal is the pack does NOT change your decision making one bit. On the other hand, we all know that beacons and the availability of quick rescue are totally obvious contributors to changes in behavior. Reality strikes.


  6. Lou Dawson 2 December 14th, 2015 12:08 pm

    20 liter pack in lead photo. Sorry. Will edit. Lou

  7. Jernej December 14th, 2015 1:38 pm

    Remove the 1000 from the price and I might be interested. Great pack or no, without the airbag part it would cost 100-150, battery is another 200 or less, the baloon and trigger a generous 400 (e.g. Mammut RAS). The blower part is just some cheap moulded plastic and with the electrics it doesn’t come even close to the missing 1000.

    I can appreciate the inflated price to cover development, marketing etc. but this is ridiculous.

  8. Dan Nelson December 14th, 2015 2:16 pm

    “Arcteryx Philosophy” = find a way to charge significantly more for already over-priced technology.

  9. Andrew December 14th, 2015 3:10 pm

    I spent $350 on my airbag pack including cylinder, so I’m mystified why this is worth buying. Yes some money was spent on development, but the product combines a $100 pack with a $200 edf system so buyers are paying the cost of a nice weekend skiing to be an early adopter.

    Also I’m skeptical about the air travel benefits. Anyone buying it to get around regulations for traveling with compressed air will instead face similarly bureaucratic and non-standard regulations on travel with lipo batteries.

  10. Lou Dawson 2 December 14th, 2015 3:18 pm

    Andrew and all, valid points for sure. As for the battery, it’s no different from carrying a laptop computer battery. Such are legal as carry-on, not in checked baggage. If they find one in your checked baggage you’re in for a delay. Much of the confusion about all this comes from regulations not being enforced. Guys get away with things like packing a compressed gas cylinder in their baggage and suddenly it’s “ok” to fly with a full gas cylinder.

    I think the price will drop way down real fast as it appeared the only truly expensive part is injection molding the impeller to high standards. But keep in mind that if you actually want to practice inflating your gas airbag, you do end up paying for cylinder replacements or refills. Over a few years that will add up.

    Above all, I think the feature of triggering at will is way worth some extra money. How much extra, I’d agree is an open question. Another thing is the extra money doesn’t save any weight. To me that’s a disappointment. I actually should have mentioned that in the review but I’m still drunk on the broth of the prehistoric bird. Lou

  11. Patricia December 14th, 2015 3:20 pm


  12. Ed December 14th, 2015 4:23 pm

    Actually I’ll support the -30 degC testing standard Lou. Way north, it isn’t that unusual to start out on a Wapta trip in -10–15 degC or so but then have -30 or -35 to contend with due to storms, etc some time in the trip. We don’t plan to be out that cold, but sometimes stuff happens. It is funny what it does to gear at that temperature – binding plastic breaks, I’ve seen ski boot heels come off as the sole begins to split and ski poles shatter, esp. composite ones. So I vote for keeping the rather chilly air bag testing temp (and perhaps going for even colder to -40 degC – a lot of our stuff in gas plants and process industry has to work to that temperature up here).
    I remember one trip years ago out of Bow Hut – we left to try and go north in wind and snow – even the dogs were in quilts and booties – when out of the fog and snow emerged two other skiers – it was Pat and Baiba Morrow – Pat remarked this’d a felt cold even if we were on Everest! We all bailed that day as I recall. It was -37 degC with a fresh breeze from the North with just hint of spring! And yeah we busted stuff that day.

  13. Lou Dawson 2 December 14th, 2015 5:26 pm

    Hey Ed, _testing_ it to -30 is fine, the problem is the _requirement_ that we all haul around a battery that’s often way too bulky and heavy. To be more specific, I’d think they should actually test to even colder temperatures, and have options for battery setups depending on the climate you’re skiing in. Also, the battery next to your back stays at least a few degrees warmer than ambient, add a little insulation around a battery that starts out at room temperature, cold might not be an issue at all for shorter day trips. Lou

  14. Lou Dawson 2 December 14th, 2015 5:27 pm

    LOL, so, the soles fell off your shoes and everything else broke, but the airbag pack kept on ticking! Very useful. (grin). Lou

  15. GeorgeT December 14th, 2015 6:16 pm

    I think the $300-$400 price point is the “market” with a weight penalty of only 2 lbs. for the airbag should be the goal for BC skiing. Put a 2 lb. airbag in my 2.5 lb pack (4.5 lbs) for $350 bucks and I might buy it. The BCA Float 27 (6 lbs. 13 oz) is still 2+ lbs too heavy at this time. IF you heli-ski or have cat skiing you might not be weight or price sensitive, but currently 6-7 lbs. is a big weight penalty compared to 2.5 lbs. The masses will not adopt at the price and weight penalty we see today.

  16. Michael December 14th, 2015 7:00 pm

    regarding the crotch strap thing, an easy mod is to tie a small piece of 3mm cord around the waist belt with a double fishermans knot. I clip the leg loop to this cord with a carabiner. A full size keylock wire gate like a Wild Country Helium makes the whole thing pretty light and easy to clip (full size biner and no snags with the keylock). II find this much easier than threading the loop through the waist belt each time.

    I figure the 3 mm cord should be strong enough. It just needs to keep the bag from riding up in a slide so I don’t think it needs to be full strength.

  17. Ben December 14th, 2015 9:05 pm

    Argh, another backpack that won’t fit me. They lost me at “only one size…” Really you’re going to make a $1700 backpack that isn’t adjustable?

  18. gringo December 15th, 2015 5:24 am

    interesting packs, but what caught my attention was when you said you prefer a black pack for world travel.

    If you think that its the color of your backpack that ”attracts attention” to a crew of wealthy white westerners schlepping skis through a mountain village in the Andes or Himalaya that has no running water, then maybe you have not travelled as much as you think you have!

  19. Lou Dawson 2 December 15th, 2015 5:43 am

    Gringo, if you want to run around a third world village dressed like a circus clown, be my guest, I think neutral and earth tones work much better and I do have some experience, though my not having climbed Mount Everest perhaps disqualifies me somewhat. Most certainly a valid case of not wanting to look so much like a tourist in, for example, an Italian city downtown. Lou

  20. Lou Dawson 2 December 15th, 2015 5:51 am

    Michael, yeah, the whole idea of the Arcteryx system is it’s much less fiddly than some of the other methods. You don’t have to thread anything or unbuckle the waist belt to attach leg loop. It’s the best system I’ve seen, though like I mentioned, a small tab of webbing that clipped to a built-in loop in your pants would seem to be a no-brainer — and much easier still. But it’s like beacon pockets inside pant hip pockets — it’ll probably be 2060 before we see these as common options. Lou

  21. Lou Dawson 2 December 15th, 2015 5:56 am

    George, I agree with your numbers, that is indeed where the sweet spot is. With the 7+ pound packs I find myself leaving gear at home to compensate, and I’ve ski touring with folks who have the airbag pack but surprise me with how little other gear they bring, due to the weight of the pack. Not to mention carrying a smaller shovel because their chosen pack has less volume. That’s confirmation.

    The weight has gone down, but it seems with both gas and electricity we’ve reached some sort of practical limit. They can do things like making lighter balloons with high tech fabric, but the cost goes up even more.


  22. Dave December 15th, 2015 8:20 am

    Did Arcteryx have anything to say about the lifespan of the battery and potential loss of capacity over time or after repeated charging? I pay $5 at the local dive shop to have my cartridge filled, which isn’t really a cost burden so I’m wondering about what the real lifespan of one of these batteries will be with relatively frequent use. It can’t be cheap to replace one of those batteries?

  23. Lou Dawson 2 December 15th, 2015 9:39 am

    Hi Dave, we did discuss service life of everything but I’ll have to find out more about the battery. The service life of the pack is 10 years, and it gives you a red light after 50 inflations indicating you should send it in for a free checkup. They told me you can keep using the pack after that, and that the amount “before inspection” is actually 100, but 50 is the fail safe dictated by engineering principles so that’s what the warning light is set to. (I’m coming up with these numbers from memory, I’ll check and verify.)

    They told me they anticipate the pack will be good for a “lot” of inflations. From what I gather, the weak point is the injection molded impeller, and of course the battery gradually losing capacity. All components are easy to inspect, test, replace. They also told me the impeller is “very resistant to problems and will keep working even if it begins to self destruct, or wobble.” The impeller axle has bearings on both ends, which makes it much more robust, for example.

    The batteries are basically RC car/aircraft batteries. They are going to get really cheap, soon, I’m certain.


  24. Bryce December 15th, 2015 9:40 am

    One feature not talked about is the auto-deflate feature that the BD pack has, which in my opinion is one of the biggest advantages of a blower-type pack over a canister pack. Having the bag deflate after 4 minutes in a full burial situation to provide a large air space could be life saving. Does the Arc’teryx pack have this feature?

  25. Lou Dawson 2 December 15th, 2015 9:46 am

    Regarding size of pack, and even the weight, sheeesh, this and the other brand are just getting started! What with Scott making gas recharge a commodity and two electric brands, and BCA showing it can all be done super nice for a reasonable price, this is going to get very interesting very soon.

    Of course I predicted that about tech bindings a few years ago, and instead they got delayed, broke and otherwise stuttered along. But this is the Winter of the Bindings, and I’ll bet next winter or the one after is the Winter of the Airbags.

    Fun to be involved in all this, quite a bit different than sewing up my own mittens in 1971, and learning how to use an avalanche cord. That was cool, but I like how technology progresses…


  26. Lou Dawson 2 December 15th, 2015 10:02 am

    Bryce, no. That is indeed a cool feature in theory, though I’d like to hear that it actually saved someone. Could be an advantage, I’ll totally give it that. I think what’s going on with that is that the high pressure impeller of the Arcteryx probably can’t reverse very effectively. I’d advise anyone to think about the basic features here, and wait until more actual proof shows ancillary stuff is worth thinking about. Basics are weight, reliability, ease of triggering, pressure, ease of refills in the case of gas, ease of repacking the bag. Extras are things like supposed head protection, auto deflation… IMHO.

    It is worth mentioning that the guys researching this stuff have examples of avalanche deaths when the bag was inflated but the victim was buried anyway. Usually when the victim was not in the “flow” enough for the segregation (brazil nut effect). It’s also worth mentioning that the way an avalanche airbag works has nothing to do with “weight” or “flotation.” It is a matter of size. The bigger chunks hopefully end up on the surface. If there are bigger chunks than you, the airbag won’t help….

    I have trouble remembering that this has nothing to do with body weight.


  27. Rudi December 15th, 2015 10:02 am

    As a first stab at a safety oriented product of course they need to be conservative. In time the batteries will shrink as they figure out how much margin they really need on these things. Having several different batteries offered sounds like a headache, but perhaps a heavy duty version for cold climates and/or multiple inflations and a smaller sinlge use warm temp battery? I’d be willing to forgo multiple inflations and cold temps for serious weight reduction. What that reduction is would probably determine if offering two batteries is worth it. What a great project to work on.

  28. Lou Dawson 2 December 15th, 2015 10:12 am

    One battery for spring skiing, one for Vinson (weighs 2 kilos) and one for Mars (weighs 6 kilos and also heats your spacesuit).

  29. daimen December 15th, 2015 10:56 am

    Why oh why is there a zipper closure on this pack? Zippers all fail at some point… I’m a huge fan of conventional top loading, drawstring and flap top packs. If the string breaks, its super easy to fix… Mountain packs have gotten way too complicated with all the goggle compartments and unnecessary do-dads.

  30. swissiphic December 15th, 2015 11:37 am

    Looking into the crystal ball: Nasa spacesuit like michelin man inflatable fully enclosed trauma protection one piece ski suit with self contained oxygen for breathing in full burial situations with built in avy transceiver that has limitless range and can be localized by searchers looking at a screen showing the exact dot or dots in multi burials in a zoomable grid without the inherent limitations and liabilities of present day technology. oh, and can you make it light and cheap?

  31. atfred December 15th, 2015 12:22 pm

    Yes, what I would call a “PAB” – Personal Air Bag; and, don’t forget the micro sensors throughout the suit to initiate inflation within milliseconds of imminent trauma impact!

  32. XXX_er December 15th, 2015 1:18 pm

    “Why oh why is there a zipper closure on this pack? Zippers all fail at some point”

    IME if I blow a zipper on my Beta/ rip a shoulder strap on my Bora / delam my Fury softshell without wearing any of it out, Arcterxy will repair or replace the piece SO … I can’t afford to buy any thing cheaper

    Arcterxy made some nice upgrades to the new Procline AR softshell pant … a cut above my old Fury’s

  33. Ed December 15th, 2015 2:14 pm

    What’z the temp spec on that Mars battery – it’d awesome up North here . . . 🙂
    And would go with the electric jacket, gloves and boots . . . .

  34. Lou Dawson 2 December 15th, 2015 7:34 pm

    It’s called soldier power, and it is real. One central power pack for a variety of needs. Right now I’m sitting at Denver International having some dinner, not an electrical outlet in sight. I wish I had an electric balloon pack with an auxiliary port, problem solved. Lou

  35. See December 15th, 2015 7:57 pm

    The recent crop of car jump starters with both 12v and usb seem pretty useful (still experimenting), but the multitude of cables and connectors… not so bad in an airport restaurant, but a pita “in the field.” (First I heard of “soldier power.”)

  36. Drew Tabke December 16th, 2015 9:09 am

    Anyone have links to some recent data on avalanche airbag use and effectiveness?

  37. Shawn December 16th, 2015 11:20 am

    The inflatable suit is perhaps not far off. Expect inflatable spine protection to be required gear for alpine speed events within a few years. Here’s a fun demo.

  38. Mammut Dave December 17th, 2015 11:48 am

    Drew Tabke, there is a good article on the Utah Avalanche Center blog written by Bruce Tremper and based on a paper written by Pascal Haegeli and presented at the ISSW in 2012, here:

    Here is a PDF of Dr Haegeli’s most recent look at this from The Avalanche Review:

    Also, here’s a link written by our airbag product manager regarding the most recent study by Pascal Haegeli, which is also referenced in this wildsnow article on the Arcteryx airbags:

    At least in the short-term it appears the biggest improvement we can make to the effectiveness of airbags in general is to reduce the incidence of non-inflation through user-error or lack of practice. Obviously the electric airbags make it easier to practice, but notably it’s also a big part of why we made our airbags trigger-able without even using a cartridge or deploying the airbag itself, so you can practice at home without needing to deal with the cartridge. People will want to test the airbag itself periodically, but to practice the muscle memory of simply triggering it, it’s not necessary to do a full inflation, only to practice reaching for, grabbing and pulling the trigger. You’ll also see new airbag systems from us for 2016 that, among other things, have a trigger with adjustable height so different-sized users can more easily position it for easier and more ergonomic deployment.

    Lou, did Arcteryx say anything specific about the reduction in trauma using this airbag? I noted that you said they will not be communicating this “feature”, but I’m curious if they had data or other info that was presented as part of this PR trip that led you to note it?

    Thanks as usual.

  39. Zach Winters December 19th, 2015 9:55 am

    Wow, yet another incredibly well done review, Lou! Great to see Arcteryx breaking the mold. Of course even better if they could break their own pricing mold too… Eager to sift through all the comments, but Louie is in route to help me take care of this deep powder problem we’re trying to address out here…

  40. Lou Dawson 2 December 19th, 2015 10:49 am

    Dave, the trauma reduction thing is of course the big un-measured PR buzz that everyone wants to allude to… Nothing like something undocumented and unmeasured to make a good thing to claim as a feature (grin). I suspect that the way an airbag makes you more likely to tomahawk and otherwise flop around in the slide probably cancels out most gains in trauma protection, but that’s not measured either (grin). When airbag use is pretty much 100% of the ski touring population, we’ll probably be able to get a read on this. First step would of course be a good record of what injuries happened _without_ airbag. Pascal had enough trouble just finding enough accidents to make his research valid, I can’t imagine adding accurate injury reports to all that. But then, I’m no statistician. Lou

  41. Mammut Dave December 22nd, 2015 10:48 am

    Lou, as I’m sure you know the Mammut Protection Airbag System is the same shape as the Snowpulse Lifebag was–this paper has test data on the trauma protection claim, which is based on the measured acceleration force on the head and neck of a dummy during an avalanche.

    It’s difficult to do real testing on this, but in this case it showed peak forces of up to 27 g’s and higher with the other airbag (which was the only other commercially available airbag at the time of the test), and only 12 g’s with the Lifebag/protection airbag shape. The force with the other airbag was actually slightly higher than the dummies not wearing an airbag, as it placed them in faster-moving surface of the slide, but the lifebag/protection airbag shape still shows a significant reduction in force from this. Our own testing also shows similar results. This isn’t a perfect test and for sure would be great to have more and better data, but it is based on testing used by the automotive industry that has been more or less accepted as a predictor of injury, so for now it’s what is available. Anyone who wants to volunteer for continued testing just look me up. 😉

    I was wondering if Arcteryx has anyting similar or if they conducted their own testing, etc. So little has been done (for obvious reasons) that every little bit is good to know about!

  42. angel manguel March 5th, 2016 6:33 pm

    At 20 and 30L, this pack is waaaaayyy too small for serious BC use. Will be hanging a lot off the outside to make this puppy work.

  43. Peter August 4th, 2016 11:11 am

    Beautiful design, still not the pack to rule them all. I’d like to see a lighter battery that does 4 deployments rather than a heavy one that advertises 8. I’d like to see more of a protective shape like mammut/snowpulse bags, and finally and maybe most importantly, I’d like to see a bag that actively deflates itself after a few minutes in case of a deep burial like the BD bags do.

    Terrain traps remain one of the major and often underestimated Achilles heels of airbag packs and BD’s programming that deflates the bag after x minutes could save the life of someone drug buried under a cliff, in a chute or against a wall of trees. Protective shaping of the bag pays benefits for similar reasons. Did the Canadians mention adding the deflating functionality in the future? Did they mention making a 40L in the future?

  44. Robby Stout August 5th, 2016 5:38 pm

    Thanks for the review Lou!

    Do you happen to know if the pack is hydration compatible?

    If yes, how big?

    If no, can you fit a 32 Nalgene with all your gear in the pack?


  45. Lou Dawson 2 August 6th, 2016 7:54 am

    Robby, I don’t recall, but I’d imagine it includes a place for a hydration tube. Thing is, all the “normal” size airbag packs are somewhat small inside, and it’s hard to predict what’ll really fit in there for different folk’s styles of packing. We’ve found that the weight if the airbag pack, and limited space, often inspires us to strip our gear down to ever more minimalist levels. It’s no joke that during some tours close to civilization, especially in Europe, I don’t carry much more than a cell phone and a shovel, and even limit the amount of water to a half-liter thermos. It’s situational, we carry quite a bit more stuff if we’re in real wilderness backcountry or in places/countries with limited or time delayed rescue services. Lou

  46. Lou Dawson 2 August 7th, 2016 4:25 pm

    Hi Peter! I’d agree, they clearly need to sell some smaller batteries. What’s going on with that is they’re trying to conform to a worst case cold temp situation dictated by the CE certification for a personal protection devices. It’s quite the stifling effect, but better than nothing I guess. I’d agree that a bit more neck and head protection could be nice. On the other hand, I’ve not seen any clear concrete numbers that show that really works. Fact is if you’re caught in a slide big enough to need that, the pack is going to be moving around all over the place unless you’ve got some kind of cinched down body harness holding it. Probably better to just use a good helmet.

    Biggie here in design philosophy is that the general consumer assumption is that somehow these airbag packs are pretty much 99% insurance, while in reality airbag packs might not even be worth their weight in a lot of situations. Yes, I’d like to see them keep improving — and they will — but it’s going to be a long time before a person can get caught in any avalanche and have a 100% chance of survival due to what gear they’re sporting.


  47. Douglas November 7th, 2016 9:29 am

    Hi Lou,

    Wondering if you’re planning a comparo of Voltair vs Jetforce?


  48. Lou Dawson 2 November 7th, 2016 9:40 am

    Douglas, is that a hint? (smile).

    Correction: I thought there might be some Halo 2 packs floating around the ether, but word is that Halo 2 will be available for gear bloggers NEXT fall, and then retail some time after that.

    So, I’ll go ahead and consider a direct comparo of Voltair and Halo 1. I have both available.

    Main things to remember is both packs do work nicely, and BD could end up quite a bit lighter if they can trim some weight of the pack, fan, and balloon. Arcteryx has that nice overall Arcteryx backpack look-feel-function and in my opinion the trigger assembly is mechanically simpler than the Halo, which probably trims a few grams. If it’s of any use, Arc has that amazing battery capacity, though I’d imagine their battery might end up being a little smaller and lighter on the next generation, but not by much, as the issue with battery chill is very real. The rumor is they will indeed have an espresso port on the right shoulder strap.


  49. Jeremy C November 7th, 2016 1:57 pm

    Hey Lou, Thanks for the correction update on the Halo II. I like to keep up with what is coming out, and hadn’t heard/seen the slightest hint of such a revised pack.

    Although a Mk2 version is to be expected, they would have a lot of unhappy customers if they were replacing it after 2 years of retail. Your estimated 4-5 years after initial launch (2-3 years from now) makes much more sense, and allows real world testing to highlight any issues.

  50. Jeremy C November 7th, 2016 1:58 pm

    btw: I have the Pieps Tour 24 and 34.

  51. Douglas November 8th, 2016 9:46 am

    Thanks Lou. Have read lots on the weights, batteries, etc., but it would be good to hear your comparo of all that. As best I can recall, most of the airbag packs seem to be designed with ski touring as the focus. The Mammut Pro series may be an exception if I remember correctly. It’s been awhile since I have been able to get my mitts on one.

    Specifically wondering about ski mountaineering capabilities such as the ability to carry two axes, crampons and a rope. Guessing the market for ski alpinism is too small for these features on the fan bags? With that, it does seem odd that a 30l pack designed for backcountry skiing cannot have a rope lashed to the pack. What to do for even simple glacier travel?

    Stuff the rope in the pack and the space is mostly used up, leaving room for not much else. I’ve thought about contacting both manufacturers to ask about custom add on features.

    Any enlightenment that you have is appreciated. And maybe Ptor, if you read this has some thoughts?

    Thanks again. Looking forward to that comparo! Cheers.

  52. Douglas November 8th, 2016 9:53 am

    Guess I didn’t mention there that although I do like Mammut gear, I’m pretty sold on the fan bags. Just wanted to clarify that.

Anti-Spam Quiz:

While you can subscribe to comment notification by checking the box above, you must leave a brief comment to do so, which records your email and requires you to use our anti-spam challange. If you don't like leaving substantive comments that's fine, just leave a simple comment that says something like "thanks, subscribed" with a made-up name. Check the comment subscription checkbox BEFORE you submit. NOTE: BY SUBSCRIBING TO COMMENTS YOU GIVE US PERMISSION TO STORE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS INDEFINITLY. YOU MAY REQUEST REMOVAL AND WE WILL REMOVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WITHIN 72 HOURS. To request removal of personal information, please contact us using the comment link in our site menu.
If you need an emoticon for a comment just copy/paste off the following list, or use text code you might be familiar with.

:D    :-)    :(    :lol:    :x    :P    :oops:    :cry:    :evil:    :twisted:    :roll:    :wink:    :!:    :?:    :idea:    :arrow:   
Due to comment spam we moderate most comments. Please do not submit your comment twice -- it will appear shortly after approval. Comments with one or more links in the text may be held in moderation, for spam prevention. If you'd like to publish a photo in a comment, contact us. Guidelines: Be civil, no personal attacks, avoid vulgarity and profanity.

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring 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 ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version