My Arcteryx Voltair Airbag Pack Makes Espresso

Post by blogger | October 17, 2016      
Backcountry skiing avalanche airbag backpacks.

Cick for our airbag backpacks index.

Not long ago, esteemed wildsnower Crazy Horse made a blog comment that said something like “I won’t be impressed until you make an espresso with that Voltair.” Here you go. I acquired a Handpresso portable electric espresso press, hooked it to the Voltair, fired off the balloon, then when survival was certain I made myself an electric cuppa to celebrate life.

In all seriousness, the idea here is to illustrate just how commodious and nicely engineered the Arcteryx Voltair battery is. We are NOT recommending this as any sort of consumer modification. In fact, we don’t recommend modifying any safety gear. Not only is the Voltair LiPo lithum battery 3,700 mAh in capacity for ultra reliability no matter how cold soaked it gets, but it’s fully overload protected and includes logic that records some temperature metrics along with how many total inflations it’s powered. Something you simply don’t want to be interfering with.

We do wonder if they’ll make us a special version that records how many espressos we brew (just kidding).

Voltair battery specs:

Type: Lithium Ion Polymer (LiPo)
Voltage: 22.2 volts
Amp hours: 3.7 AH, 3,700 mAh
Watt hours: 82 (well under TSA limit of 100 watt hours for carry-on battery)
Water Ingress Protection: IP65
Battery maker: Tex:energy
Compliance and Certification stamps: CE, RoHS

Since we’re on the subject of batteries and mods, a note of caution. Samsung’s recent epic problems with smartphone batteries bring the point home; electrical batteries contain energy. When released quickly and improperly, battery energy can cause everything from smoke, to fires, and even explosions.

Thus, batteries in electronic devices in theory need various protection circuits. While Samsung clearly lacked such, I did ask Arcteryx about how the Voltair battery is protected. Most importantly, they told me the Voltair battery has a couple of redundant levels of short circuit protection, both software and hardware, as well as over-heating protection. Nonetheless, any battery with this much stored power should be handled with care. Avoid damage to both the case and wires. Specifically to alpinism, that means care with how you pack items such as crampons, ice axes, and shovel blades.

(For those of you with no electrical chops, a “short circuit” means somehow directly connecting the positive and negative sides of a battery, causing a huge surge of electricity that in turn can heat up the wires and battery to the point of proverbial smoke and fire. Quick intermittent shorts may only cause sparks, while connecting the plus and minus sides with a firm connection, known as a “dead short” is what can really produce fireworks.)

It’s worth restating that our previous Arcteryx hack involving a small lightweight aftermarket RC helicopter battery was fun, most RC batteries do not have the protections built into the Voltair battery. I verified this with real-life testing.

We continue to be fans of the electronic airbag packs, but in our opinion they probably won’t come into their own for mass consumption until battery technology and better balloon materials trim at least a pound (~500 grams) off the weight. I say that because compressed gas airbag packs coming online this season, some with composite cylinders and others with downsize tanks, are winning the weight wars.

Handpresso 12v car espresso maker.

Handpresso 12v car espresso maker.

Oh, and regarding the Handpresso espresso maker. That thing is cool. It makes a nice squirt of go juice and works well off your car cigarette lighter. I’ll ramp up a review sometime soon. In case you’re curious how I connected it to the Voltair, I used an Amazon acquired “buck” voltage converter that drops the Voltair 22 volts to 12, along with a cigarette lighter to Metri-pack 480 connection converter I cobbled together here at the WildSnow mod studio. The Handpresso yanks up to 12 amps from the buck converter, which in turn dumps quite a load on the Voltair battery. Again, testimony to the robust nature of the Voltair power pack, which had enough energy to inflate the balloon, make an espresso, then inflate the balloon again!

Voltair will be available this fall at

Please enjoy our numerous other Voltair posts — all intended to be educational and help with your shopping plans.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


20 Responses to “My Arcteryx Voltair Airbag Pack Makes Espresso”

  1. Bruno Schull October 17th, 2016 9:12 am

    Very cool Lou. Next challenge: hook up the battery to built-in hand and feet warmers. The future = the electronic skier/climber? Maybe you could interface with the electric bike batteries 🙂

    A more serious question: to my mind, it seemed like the airbag actually inflates kind of slowly. Are all airbag packs like that? Are the electronic packs faster or slower than compressed air packs? In the time it takes for that pack to inflate, or partially inflate, I can see getting buried. But I don’t really know much about how these packs work with the dynamics of lots of moving snow. Is speed of inflation important?

  2. Charlie Hagedorn October 17th, 2016 9:16 am

    Taking it to a new level — Thanks Lou.

  3. Lou Dawson 2 October 17th, 2016 10:13 am

    Bruno, the CE declaration they conform to requires an inflation speed that’s been tested using dummies in real avalanches, it works. The electric inflation speed in my experience is pretty similar to the gas speed. Neither is instant. Remember that the gas is actually a power source as well, and is used to activate a venturi that sucks in ambient air, it’s not just the gas in the cylinder that inflates the balloon. In other words, both gas and electronic packs depend on a power source and mechanicals to inflate the balloon. That said,. the gas systems are clearly simpler and perhaps inherently lighter weight when they’re optimized, but the electric has huge advantages such as easy airline travel, multiple inflations, and, yes, it’ll make an espresso.

    In all seriousness, yes, balloon packs will no always save you. For example, it does require that you are in the flow of the avalanche, a small quick slide might indeed not have enough time to float you, or you can get dumped into a terrain trap and end up with snow piled on top of you. I like the balloon packs, but the general media and consumer take is they’re a lot more effective than the reality, it’s exactly the same as the situation with helmets, and beacons, for that matter.


  4. Andrew McLean October 17th, 2016 2:49 pm

    Latte or cappucino?

  5. DavidB October 17th, 2016 5:41 pm

    Classic!!! It had to be done.

  6. Zachary Winters October 17th, 2016 8:53 pm

    THIS is why I love Wildsnow!

    ps – What do touring skiers use to carry their gear on their back? Can’t believe the spam quiz doesn’t take “barista pack” as an answer!

  7. Scott McCullough October 18th, 2016 11:29 am

    I still want to see a buddy deploy system. In case the person in the slide forgets/panics/can’t deploy the bag.

    I can dream

  8. Jeremy C October 18th, 2016 1:20 pm

    @Scott, ABS had a remote wireless trigger system for a number of years. There still appear to be some for sale.

  9. Crazy Horse October 18th, 2016 6:07 pm

    5 *****!

  10. Sam October 19th, 2016 7:27 am

    I’m honestly a little mystified by all the excitement over the fact that this fan based airbag has a battery. I mean the fan based airbag seems very cool and compelling all on its’ own, but batteries have been around for a long time. If you really want to power a bunch of stuff while ski touring it is super easy these days to buy a battery of whatever size you need and tote it with you. Whether you need to power a cell phone, heated footbeds, espresso machine or whatever…just calculate you power requirements and select the right size/power battery. For my own self, there is nothing I would need to power so much that I would want to draw down the battery powering my airbag more than toting around a few extra ounces of standalone battery.

    Maybe I am missing something here Lou? Shouldn’t the excitement be about the reusability without refilling of a cartridge rather than the fact that you have electrical storage capacity?

  11. Bruno Schull October 19th, 2016 9:40 am

    I guess cause it’s just kind of fun, and you can do it? A little tongue in cheek, poking subtle fun at the industry? Perhaps suggesting that battery could in the future be smaller? Sort of a joke, a kind of play, which is the best kind of experiment in life?

  12. Lou Dawson 2 October 19th, 2016 9:53 am

    Just having fun Sam, and indeed placing some attention on the battery as it’s integral, potentially dangerous, and a lot more complex than a gas cylinder. Calculating the power requirements and sourcing battery is not as easy as it sounds, variables:
    – Battery aging.
    – Battery mistreatment by consumers.
    – Operating temperature.
    – Shelf discharge.
    – More

  13. ptor October 19th, 2016 1:51 pm

    Flippin’ awesome!

  14. Wookie October 21st, 2016 5:25 am

    oh man. Keep this up and you’ll have to start buying carbon offsets.

    PS – Kegerator.

  15. Lou Dawson 2 October 21st, 2016 6:20 am

    Hey guys, please leave off the “adult” type humor. Apologies for deleting a couple of comments. I do sometimes get a chuckle out of clever adult humor but it can really mess with how Google sees our website, as well as this indeed being a site we try to keep friendly for most ages and worldviews.

    Thanks, Lou

  16. Lou Dawson 2 October 21st, 2016 7:07 am

    Hey Wookie, in all seriousness, we’ve bought carbon offsets before, but I studied up on it and realized that small lifestyle changes and choices are way more important, and better for those of us who constantly have budget issues. In the vein of “reduce, reuse” in the “reduce, reuse, recycle” concept. Lou

  17. Lou Dawson 2 October 21st, 2016 7:11 am

    Everyone, while our Arcteryx battery hacks are meant to be illustrations, the concept of tapping into the battery does have valid applications. For example, a SAR operator could have an available tap for a high lumen LED light used for night rescue, and of course having an available 12v and USB tap for emergency recharge of radios and other devices could be useful. Idea being that SAR people might be carrying around the pack on every mission, but often end up doing rescue or recovery in situations with zero avalanche danger when it would be totally appropriate to utilize their battery. Just thinking outloud. Lou

  18. Jeremy C October 22nd, 2016 1:30 pm

    Just found that ABS has introduced a major update of their airbag system called the P.RIDE, with a larger surface area and partner activation options.

  19. Sam October 22nd, 2016 3:38 pm

    Lou, I will respectfully continue to disagree on this point. I’ll be treating any batteries designed to power life saving equipment as dedicated batteries. If I need something to power light or radios I’ll carry a few extra ounces of battery around.

  20. Lou Dawson 2 October 22nd, 2016 6:21 pm

    Point taken Sam! But please note I made the espresso AFTER the avalanche! Lou

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