Ski Touring Airbag Tech — How Much do those Cylinders (and batteries) Weigh?

Post by blogger | November 4, 2016      
Backcountry skiing avalanche airbag backpacks.

Cick for our airbag backpacks index.

Ski Touring Airbag Shopping Links
Arcteryx Voltair
Arva Reactor
BCA Float
Black Diamond (and Pieps) Jetforce
Mammut RAS backpacks
Scott Alpride

As always, we’re getting excellent support from the ski touring airbag industry. Lots of samps kicking around WildSnow HQ. Here is something for you balloon wonks. We’ll keep this updated as new product comes our way (e.g., we didn’t cover ABS yet). We’ll also do a few first-looks at the packs, but frankly, I’m more motivated to do “real” reviews provided by myself and our esteemed cadre of guest bloggers.

In terms of shopping recommendations, you now have a clear division between the electronic and gas operated rucksacks. As it stands, fan packs are heavier and costly, but much easier to practice and travel with. Gas packs are efficient and what we tend to use simply because they’re lighter. But due to annoying inconsistencies and vagueness in airline regulations regarding gas cylinders, I would generally not attempt to fly with a filled cylinder. Instead, I’d arrange to obtain or fill at destination — or use an electronic pack. I’m not that worried that a cylinder could be confiscated (and sometimes flying with filled cylinders does work out), of more concern is additional hassles and delays when flying these days is already fraught with such problems. Life with United Hairlines is already hard enough.

Scott system is different as it uses two cartridges, one argon and one carbon dioxide.

Scott system is different as it uses two cylinders, one argon and one carbon dioxide. 476 grams for the pair, filled.

Essentially, the compressed gas you carry with your airbag is a “power system” that not only directly inflates the balloon, but also provides energy that sucks ambient air into the bag via a valve system (usually a “venturi”). Thus, it could be said that the gas is a form of “battery” though it’s not electrical. With that in mind, for the purpose of mentation I included battery weights for Black Diamond and Arcteryx.

Bear in mind that weights for filled cylinders will vary by a few grams due to variations in final gas fill pressure, more, we usually weigh without protective caps that can be as heavy as 8 grams, but weights you obtain elsewhere may include the caps. Thus, when comparing filled cylinder weights always consider the big picture and don’t obsess on a few grams either way.

A word on terminology: While you could call these “tanks,” doing so implies larger quantities of highly compressed gas. Or, perhaps call them “cartridges?” But that alludes to firearms. “Canister” works as well, but is it a beer can? Terminology can lead to overwrought concerns about safety; especially regarding air travel. Overheard at TSA baggage check: “I knew I had a cartridge in my luggage, but ignore the gunpowder residue on my hands, I was at the firing range yesterday, and the “cartridge” in my baggage doesn’t have anything to do with my hands…” Thus,in our opinion the term “cylinder” is best — less threatening.

Arva Reactor downsized steel cylinder, argon, filled, 536 grams.

Arva Reactor downsized steel cylinder, argon, filled, 536 grams. It’s 438 grams empty.

Arva Reactor 18 with the new cylinder, it's quite large inside as an 18  liter pack, would work for me as my normal day kit, while most of the 30 liter packs are too large.

Arva Reactor 18 with the new argon cylinder, this rucksack is quite large inside for something called an “18 liter”, would work for me as my normal day kit, while most of the 30 liter packs I’ve been evaluating are too commodious. Weighs 2067 grams (4.6 pounds). Very nice. Should we start a new class of airbag pack weight, the “2.5 liter rucks?”

Arva Reactor empty, 438 grams.

Arva Reactor empty, 438 grams.

Arva nitrogen cylinder, filled, 594 grams.

Original (2015-2016 and earlier) Arva nitrogen cylinder, empty = 594 grams, filled = 694 grams. Now upgraded to argon cylinder above for a 58 gram savings.

Arva Reactor 18 has surprisingly adaquate cargo volume, weighs 2067 grams with new argon downsized cylinder.

Arva Reactor 18 has surprisingly adequate cargo volume, weighs 2067 grams with new argon downsized cylinder.

Mammut, Snow Pulse, air, 694 grams.

Mammut, Snow Pulse, air, 694 grams. Interestingly, this cylinder is filled to 3,000 PSI, that’s quite a bit of pressure. BCA is filled to 2,700 PSI and weighs 654 grams full.

Here is the BCA, 654 grams full, nicely downsized canister somewhere between the long Mammut and the short little Arva.

Here is the BCA, 654 grams full, nicely downsized ‘canister’ somewhere in size between the long Mammut and the short little Arva. It’s about 606 grams empty.

Black Diamond Jetforce battery is actually on top of the electronics, attached with small screws.

Black Diamond Jetforce Battery is attached to the backpack electronics with small screws. Voltair also has internal electronics in the battery case, clearly has more excess power than Jetforce, but also is attached to a small “black box” that obviously provides more electronics. Voltair battery 774 grams, plus black box at 150 grams for a total of 924 grams. Black Diamond battery assembly weighs 540 grams (does not have an additional “black box”). It’s our understanding that the ‘fan’ mechanicals in the electronic packs weigh significantly more than the simple plastic venturi pipes in the gas packs. Combine that with the weight of the batteries, and clearly you can end up with a lighter weight airbag if you use gas for your power.

See our Jetforce posts.

Regarding the fan packs, Black Diamond appears to be ok with enough reserve power for about 4 inflations, while Arcteryx felt they needed a much bigger battery that can go 14 rounds or more (both at room temperature). Main idea here is these batteries have less available power as they get colder, so you need the reserve to make sure you get one good inflation if you happen to be skiing Vinson at 30 below zero fahrenheit. Such a huge discrepancy in the two designs causes one to wonder. Stranger still, with a lighter battery the BD pack has only slightly less mass than the Arcteryx (see spreadsheet below)! Are we still in the sophomore stage with electronic airbag design engineering? Such things indicate we probably are.

Arcteryx Voltair OEM battery to left, LiPo 1250 mAh 45C battery to right.

Arcteryx Voltair OEM battery to left at 774 grams, experimental LiPo 1250 mAh to right only weighs 250 grams and easily powers several balloon inflations at higher temperatures, but probably doesn’t have enough excess power for redundant safety and cold weather performance. Interesting, however, that a battery that weighs significantly less than the gas cylinders can power an electronic pack. Note that the Arcteryx also has an additional black box located above the battery, it weighs about 150 grams. In our comparison to Black Diamond, which appears to have most electronics integrated with battery, we add the Arcteryx black box weight of 150 to the battery 774, for a comparo weight of 924 grams.

Oh baby, this is better than a date with a supermodel.  Mammut Snowpulse carbon cartridge, nitrogen filled, 318 grams.

Better than a date with a supermodel. Mammut Snowpulse carbon cylinder, nitrogen filled, 318 grams. Winner of the overall earthling cylinder weight wars? We are unclear as to if this is a 100% carbon cylinder, or carbon wrapped aluminum. Only available in the ever enlightened EU (and probably Canada), might be possible to transport during individual air travel (that’s how we got ours) but can’t be shipped as a commercial product.

Mammut Light Removable Airbag 3.0, 30 Liter, configured with carbon cylinder.

Mammut Light RAS 3.0, 30 Liter, configured with 318 gram carbon cylinder, pack available this fall (carbon cylinder only available in Canada & Europe). Excellent cargo volume and nice features, 2075 grams (4.5 pounds). This weight class gets down to the point where you’re carrying nothing more than the weight of an over-built rucksack from the 1980s.

Mammut Light RAS 3.0 30 liter in my opinion has excellent cargo volume, especially so when configured with smaller carbon cylinder.

Mammut Light RAS 3.0 30 liter in my opinion has excellent cargo volume, especially so when configured with smaller carbon cylinder.

Now, before everyone gets their balloons in a bunch, yes indeed, how much the airbag and associated plumbing-mechanicals weigh is of course just as important as the cylinders and batteries. Everything goes together. Weighing those components is somewhat tricky as some do not easily divorce from the backpack, but we’ll work on it. Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy this overview of what is what in energy storage.

Shopping Links
Arcteryx Voltair
Arva Reactor
BCA Float
Black Diamond (and Pieps) Jetforce
Mammut RAS backpacks.
Scott Alpride


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


37 Responses to “Ski Touring Airbag Tech — How Much do those Cylinders (and batteries) Weigh?”

  1. Lee November 4th, 2016 2:05 pm

    ABS has had the carbon cylinder in Europe for at least 5 years. The problem as I understand it is getting DOT certification.

  2. Lou Dawson 2 November 4th, 2016 2:29 pm

    Thanks Lee, now that I think about it, I’d known that, but totally spaced it out… ABS still has the pyrotechnic trigger, correct?

    DOT is indeed the issue. Aparantly it’s easier in Canada, however.


  3. Mammut Dave November 4th, 2016 3:08 pm

    Hey Lou–unfortunately the Mammut carbon cylinders are not available in Canada either–only the rest of the world. I promise I am making as much noise about this as I can, I want these more than probably anyone in North America, believe me! On the plus side, we do have cylinders available for Japan this winter, and are setting up some rental locations for those lucky enough to make the trip.
    Thanks as always!

  4. Tom November 4th, 2016 5:21 pm


    What else can you tell us about the Arva? Some people have November birthdays and others are already doing Christmas shopping…

    Can you fit all your any tools and skins easily in the Arva 18? How does is compare to the 24 and 32?

    Can they carry skis well? T

    orso lengths that they fit?

  5. Paul November 4th, 2016 11:10 pm

    Dave, where in Japan will the carbon cartridges be available and what’s the purchase and rental costs?

  6. Wookie November 5th, 2016 9:48 am

    Orthovox has a new bag out that is its own design – and they are claiming lightest on the market….

    Probably too regional yet….but I think I’m gonna go out and get one. I’m a little heistant about first gen airbags – but I always liked the old Ortovox backpacks- and this appears to be a bagged version of it – so I’ll probably spring.

    Want me to deconstruct it Lou-Style?

    PS – the spam question will not accept “Wife” as an answer.

  7. Robin November 5th, 2016 12:30 pm

    1. Will the Mammut carbon cylinder retrofit to the older “Pulse” packs? (Going to France in March.) 2. Re: “Personal transport” does that mean taking an empty canister in in your carry-on? 3. Then there’s the issue of will any domestic commercial refiller i.e. paintball or scuba dealer refill it after my return. Perhaps the marathon manual pump method.

  8. Robin November 5th, 2016 12:31 pm

    er, pardon me, I meant “cylinder”

  9. Lou Dawson 2 November 5th, 2016 12:33 pm

    Wookie, thanks for the heads up on the Ortovox! We’ll see what’s what. Lou

  10. Matus November 5th, 2016 9:46 pm

    I had Avabag Ascent 30 in my hands. Generally not bad for the first gen. However, Mammut seems to be more fine tuned and less expensive.

  11. Marc November 6th, 2016 4:27 pm

    Thanks for the comparo Lou. In addition to weight considerations is the ease (or difficulty) of travel. Last year I invested in the Scott 40 L pack because not only was it the lightest 40 L pack (by almost a pound!) but in theory it was OK for air travel, whether as checked or carry on. First time I tried traveling with it it was confiscated by TSA in my checked luggage, despite having the cartridges labeled as to what the were with supporting documentation from the IATA stating they were OK in checked or carry on luggage! Fortunately for me when I arrived in Japan I was able to buy new cartridges. When I returned states side I decided to leave the new cartridges in Japan with a friend (I return each year) and purchase replacements once I was home. Turns out I could not purchase any in the US because they require Hazmat Shipping which is too cost prohibitive for retailer and consumers alike… So, ultimately I believe the battery / fan system will replace the canister / cartridge system, for many reasons, one being ease of travel. I just don’t want to cough up $1000 and carry that much weight!!!

  12. Lou Dawson 2 November 6th, 2016 7:14 pm

    Hi Marc, sorry to hear about the hassles with Scott. It’s my impression that it’s better to carry the blister packed cylinders as carry-on, with the pack. But I could be wrong. At least when it’s carry-on you can argue with the idiots. I’d agree about the fan packs, they’ll be the thing for traveling, or already are… Lou

  13. Mammut Dave November 7th, 2016 6:42 am

    I dont have final info from Japan yet, I will try to get word out as soon as I have details, should be in the next few weeks.

    Robin, if you have a Mammut-brand pack (if it says “Mammut” or has a Mammut logo ANYWHERE on the pack) it takes the same cylinder we use today, and all of the Mammut cylinders (the North American refillable air cylinder, in addition to the steel and carbon european cylinders) all function identically in Mammut airbags and are interchangeable.

    If you have a Snowpulse brand pack, then you need to look closer. Before the 2011 season Snowpulse used a different cylinder that is not compatible with any of the Mammut packs. After 2011 they used the same cylinder as Mammut. This should allow you to tell which one you have:

  14. Robin November 7th, 2016 8:34 pm

    Mine’s the Mammut R.A.S. 30. Thanks Mammut Dave!

  15. Mammut Dave November 8th, 2016 5:51 am

    Perfect–then if you travel to europe or anywhere else you can rent or buy any mammut cylinder to use in your pack. The euro ones are much smaller in size, but they have the same volume of air inside and they all function identically.

  16. Bob November 9th, 2016 7:21 pm

    Dave – I’m contemplating bringing a Mammut EU carbon cylinder back home from an upcoming trip to Germany. I’ll check it and hope it doesn’t get pulled from my luggage. My concern is that it appears to have no pressure gauge. How does the user know for sure the cylinder hasn’t lost pressure over time? I make checking my current air bag cylinder pressure gauge part of my normal pre-tour ritual. I personally have had cylinders that have leaked slowly over time. Rare but has happened. Seems to me that any sealing system, no matter how bomb proof, does have some chance to leak. Would hate to not have a way to know the pressure is actually at the correct level.

  17. Matus November 10th, 2016 12:16 am

    Bob, with euro cartridges (cylinders if you want) you do cannot check the pressure. You can check the weight. Each cylinder has a label with the correct weight (e.g. 507g). Kitchen digital scales are precise enough for this test. BTW, My snowpulse cylinders hold the pressure (weight) from 2012 with no leaks.

  18. Lou Dawson 2 November 10th, 2016 6:35 am

    Thanks Matus, checking weight is indeed the best way to 100% verify the fill of a compressed gas cylinder. In my experience It’s the way it’s generally done whether it be propane or a CO2 tank. Gauges can fail. Weight doesn’t lie. On the other hand, advantage of gauge is you can glance at it and get a read without removing cylinder from pack and placing on scale. All said, it’s very rare for current airbag systems to leak if they’re assembled properly, since most cylinders are sealed with a burst disk that if intact when you install the cylinder, isn’t going to change after you install (unless you mess up with your trigger cocking and screw the cylinder into the firing pin. In that case, you’ll know it!

    There are also other problems with gauges, due to the physics of various compressed gasses, air temperature, etc. Weight doesn’t change with temperature and ambient (outside) air pressure, the reading on a gauge does.

    One other thing. Gauge is yet another thing that adds weight. I’d recommend no airbag company includes gauges on their cylinders. Or, I’ll take that back, I guess if the cylinder can have a pump refill DIY, it would need a guage, or would it?


  19. Bob November 10th, 2016 7:19 am

    Thanks Matus & Lou. Makes sense. My leaking cylinder experience was an older Snowpulse style with the sliding pin mechanism. Burst disk should be more reliable. Curious. How often would you do the weight check? Obviously, each tour not practical. Once a month? Also, has anyone had a burst disk style mechanism ever leak? Thanks!!

  20. Lou Dawson 2 November 10th, 2016 7:36 am

    Hi Bob, I’d just do the weight check several times over a season. If there is a problem with a particular brand, you’ll hear about it right away. There will be a recall or surge in web coverage-comments.

    Frankly, the factory sealed cylinders with a burst disk are very unlikely to leak. I’d say it’s more important to clean your goggles and sunglasses than it is to be weighing those types of cylinders every time you go out (smile).


  21. Jeremy November 11th, 2016 1:58 am

    Hi Tom, et al,

    Coming in late with regards to your question about the new Reactor pack from Arva. I have extensive experience with this pack as Lou is using mine. The ski and overall carry is nice. The 3 small sizes- 18, 24, and 32 Liter sizes are all rigged with both Diagonal carry ski straps and snowboard straps that also can serve as tension straps too, plus all the straps can tuck away when not being used. Usually A-frame is kind of a no-no with the balloon and brakes/edges not getting along. The position of the “cylinder” and system are balanced in the middle and you can pack your load strategic for balance, some other of the “older” designed airbag packs did not do this well.

    A side note too on the other conversation when checking weight/seal; it is labeled on the “can” but you want to be within 5g is the recommendation. I have a carbon bottle that is 4 years old and still good. PS- if you fly them home from EU make sure you fly direct to your final destination, another domestic leg could lose your precious cargo.

    The other reasons Arva stuck with sealed/argon (vs air) is its stability at temperature, elevation, and resistance to corrosion, plus the high PSI bursting power. Air travel does take planning and can be a pain, but we will see where that goes and hopefully options for all brands will improve with time.

    Nice job with the graph and info Lou. It is great to see this product catagory improving, and getting lighter and less expensive in some cases.


  22. Jeremy November 11th, 2016 2:05 am


    Also torso length is adjustable per pack, so one size fits all. You can see the adjustment in the open photo above the red trigger reset tool. This adjustment is 3-fold- strap length, torso, and it places the handle in just the right spot for easy reach and natural pull direction. The 18 and 24 are both great sizes, I am a minimalist packer and I will be mostly using the 18 this year.


  23. Tom November 17th, 2016 9:46 am


    Thanks for the info. I’m looking for something around 30 liters for day trips in the backcountry that can be cinched down for days at Silverton or when at a regular resort. I still can’t picture how well the Reactor 30 or 24 could be cinched down when desired.

    I’m also just not sold on single-use cartridges. Seems expensive and wasteful, and I want to practice with the bag a few times per season.

  24. Me November 22nd, 2016 8:14 am

    Mammut Dave, when talking about carbon canisters availability in the US, are we talking months or years? Do I need to fly to the EU and smuggle one back? I am trying to lighten my load this year.

  25. Mammut Dave November 22nd, 2016 8:26 am

    Me, that’s a bit of a hard question to answer because much of it is out of our hands–at best the process moves at the speed of a very slow govt bureaucracy. I can say for certain they wont be available before the winter season of 2017/18 and probably later than that. I really can’t promise anything except to say that we’re working on it.
    As far as smuggling one in you truly would be breaking the law so I certainly can’t recommend that.

    Not much of an answer but hopefully it helps.

  26. Lou Dawson 2 November 22nd, 2016 9:19 am

    Smuggle is the wrong word, and I’m not sure it’s illegal unless resold… In fact, it probably is not. Only catch might be TSA regulations for compressed gas. Like Jeremy says, if you fly direct from EU you’re ok as they allow airbag cylinders, but if you have a domestic leg you might end up without the cylinder. Lou

  27. Kristian November 22nd, 2016 9:11 pm

    Hey Mammut Dave,
    I do not believe you. I have just read through everything that is needed. It’s all on the internet. You/Mammut have been telling us the same line for multiple years. My guess is that Mammut does not want to pay the money required for testing and subsequent liability insurance.

  28. Mammut Dave November 23rd, 2016 7:25 am

    Kristian, my role is to be a liaison between our sales, marketing and product development–in that capacity I have a pretty good handle on a lot of things, but I’m not the one actually doing the certification, etc, so it’s entirely possible I’ve misrepresented the process to a degree, but the above is how I understood it directly from the product manager. Also realize that the cost IS part of that equation–we are a business, so the cost has to make sense within the context of the market volume, so time to build up the market volume is something that has absolutely been part of the delay. Part of making that cost work is spreading it between different markets–the cylinders we do in the US also need to pass the Canadian transport laws as well as other locations, all with different criteria, different timing, different levels of cost and complexity, etc…but all of which affect the ultimate cost-calculation when it all trickles down to the bottom line. After that, there is the timing of our sales cycles and production that add to any timeline–even if someone handed me a fully certified cylinder today it’s already too late to get that into our 2017/2018 winter sales material, hence my statement that it would definitely not be for that season. We absolutely are trying to get these available in the US as soon as possible, and it’s totally fair to say that is contingent on making all the pieces (cost and process of certifications in multiple countries, multiple productions in different countries and time zones, etc, production sizes and timelines, ++++) fit together in a way that makes sense within all the other things we have to do and also allows us to offer a level of service that’s acceptable to users–as a for instance, part of that also means having an exchange network for people to be able to switch out the cylinders since they can’t be refilled at just any dive shop, and we can’t just plug into an existing network of exchange locations.
    Anyway, hope this helps–trying to be as transparent and forthright as I can be on this without writing a book every time I try to answer a question, just know that Mammut and me personally are both trying to make this happen and that it’s not as simple or fast a process to make it work as anyone would like.

  29. Kristian November 23rd, 2016 7:42 am

    Thanks for the detailed response. Looking forward to using this. Regards.

  30. Bob November 23rd, 2016 11:05 am

    Mammut Dave – I really appreciate that you take the time to reply to us avid users. Thank you! I’ve worked in the winter snow-sport industry and your logic is fully understandable. However, is there any assistance you can provide those of us who are “champing at the bit” to get the carbon cylinder knowing it would currently be a one use and done situation AND we could not fly in the USA with it? Some “pro user” program would be ideal. However, even just some info on how we can legally transport the cylinder from Europe to the USA would be helpful. I plan to use the refillable aluminum cylinder when I travel and just use the carbon cylinder when I’m touring in my home mountains (Utah, Idaho, Montana). Towards this goal, I bought the carbon cylinder in Europe and had it shipped to colleagues in Germany. Now I’m trying to get it back to the USA. Two routes I’ve been exploring: (1) having a German colleague bring it to Chicago on a Lufthansa flight and then UPS ground shipping to SLC. However, Lufthansa, oddly, only allows the cylinder when it is attached to a pack and not as a separate item. (2) trying to find a parcel service that ships from Germany to USA via ocean freight. I’ve had no luck with this route either. Can you provide any shipping help or suggestions in this regard? I own 2 Mammut air bag packs and a bunch of other Mammut gear… THANKS again. Bob.

  31. Bruno Schull November 23rd, 2016 11:35 am

    Hii Bob. I also really appreciate Dave for providing answers about all things Mammut. But I would say that asking him to help you get a cylinder into the US is overstepping the bounds a bit. It crosses a line at his work. Mammut can not be in the business of “helping” people import one of their products that is not on the market. How about just having your friend in Europe put it in a Deutsche Post cardboard box with some other things, books, clothes, whatever, and sending it to you? It might get snagged at customs, but better that than than involving an airline somehow. I live in Switzerland, and I buy stuff in Europe and the US, and often ship things back and forth, as well as items sure to arouse suspicion, like ice axes. It almost always works just fine. I would say, keep the package relatively small and light, include some labels and such, so that customs people, should they open it, realize thy are looking at sports safety gear, and send it.

  32. Mammut Dave November 23rd, 2016 12:26 pm

    Yeah, sorry guys, regardless of how I personally feel about anything I can’t recommend anything “outside the system”. I don’t personally have one of these mythical creatures, my approach is to substitute cheap swill beer for IPA and thereby remove the 8 ounces from my own midsection. 🙂

  33. Me November 23rd, 2016 2:28 pm

    Mammut Dave, thanks for the info. That is what I needed to know. Now all I need to do is get Bruno to send me a carbon cartridge. ;-P

  34. Kristian November 24th, 2016 10:48 am

    Mammut Dave,
    Use kickstarter to get this done asap. The genius of kickstarter is that your customers become active participants, cheer leaders, and early adopters. Mammut would then immediately dominate the market.

    Here’s an example – this year, over 1 million dollars was raised just to create and manufacture simple bicycle bells.

  35. Brent MacGregor March 27th, 2017 10:15 pm

    I have a carbon cylinder and a steel one both of which we brought from Europe. I am happy to sell them at cost rather than take them home. I am currently in Whistler. I could deliver locally including Squamish or Vancouver

  36. Equilibrium September 24th, 2017 1:07 pm

    Brent, Do you still have the carbon cylinder. I am in the USA and would like one.

  37. Oscar November 17th, 2017 4:29 am

    @Paul I don’t know where you are going in Japan (or if you live there and need to buy), but at the Hakuba Powder Lodge in Hakuba there are Mammut carbon canisters available to rent/loan.

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