Arva Reactor 18 Avalanche Airbag Backpack

Post by blogger | January 19, 2017      
This is WildSnow Field HQ, airbag backpacks welcome.

This is WildSnow Field HQ as of a few days ago, airbag backpacks welcome.

This is an Arva Reactor  18, neccesary equpment at WildSnow HQ with 2+ meter of snow on the ground and more coming.

This is an Arva Reactor 18, necessary equipment at WildSnow HQ with 2+ meter of snow on the ground and more coming.

French company Arva comes up with nice gear. Witness, their Reactor 18 L balloon backpack. While a bit heavy at 2672 grams, 5.9 pounds (with sweet little 536 gram argon cylinder), this bag yields a nice compromise of features some shoppers will consider essentials. The “file cabinet” effect may be somewhat excessive, but you organized types out there will like the 4+ zippered layers in the main body, along with an incidentals pouch on the waistbelt.

File cabinet effect could stand to lose a layer or two, but perhaps you like layers?

File cabinet effect could stand to lose a layer or two, but zippers do have their attractions.

Another view of the layers.

Another view of the layers.

Waistbelt pouch is one of our personal must-haves, but we like them slightly larger.

Waistbelt pouch is one of our personal must-haves, but we like them slightly larger.

This is another avy rucksack I found performs with higher cargo volume than the claimed 18 liters, no doubt because of the obviously smaller cylinder, but because the balloon is stored to the sides instead of as a “brain” taking up the top portion of the pack. A bit of added width seems to be there for the side balloon storage, thus overall you get more room.

Commodious 150 liter balloon is stored on both sides of the pack.

Commodious 150 liter balloon is stored on both sides of the pack. For you technical folks out there, the balloon is divided in half by a baffle that provides some shock damping during impacts, but more importantly maintains 1/2 inflation if the bag is slashed. The Arva guys made a big deal out of this. It seems smart, but I’d rather simply know that the bag was made from super strong fabric (apparently this is).

Arva’s trigger mechanicals are the tried-and-true spring loaded firing pin on a burst disk. Unlike at least one competitor the “gun” must be cocked using a separate threaded tool (remember, if you don’t reset you will waste a filled cylinder as it deploys when you screw it in!).

Torso length adjustment, this webbing goes to buckle inside pack.

Clever torso length adjustment, this webbing goes to buckle inside pack.

Torso length anchor inside pack.

Torso length anchor inside pack. I thought these were quite clever, especially since they are easy to razor blade out for medium to larger size folks who don’t need them.

Producing various torso lengths in these expensive packs is problematic: ever more specifications for the factory, more SKUs for the retailer. Thus, torso length adjustment can be useful. Arva has one of the more unusual solutions in this regard. The shoulder straps have an auxiliary anchor webbing hidden under the main upper shoulder strap anchor points. You pull this in via an internal cam buckle to do a sort of “faux” shortening of the torso length. Does this work? Probably, to one extent or another. This is a moderatly long-torso pack (21 inch back-panel from upper strap anchors to bottom of waist belt), so a slight shortening of the components probably has the desired effect.

The wide, heavily padded waistbelt is probably overkill for an “18 liter” backpack, but those with bony iliac crests due to 2,000 meters a day may enjoy. Zippered pouch on righthand belt is good, one of my favorite pack features. Waist buckle appears large, but easier to handle with gloved manos.

Leg loop is the simple type that’s anchored to the pack at the waistbelt attachment point, with a loop you thread the waistbelt through. The loop is too small for easy on-off. Fix by using a lightweight locking carabiner such as the classic BD Screwgate. NEVER attach balloon pack leg loop with non-locking ‘biner, too easy for the carabiner to twist and pop off.

Handle folds out into an easily grabbed shape -- that also easily catches on branches and other things.

Handle folds out into an easily grabbed shape — that also easily catches on branches and other things. I’m not sure what the best airbag trigger handle is. I like the somewhat cylindrical ones that don’t get caught on things as easily, but these easily grabbed elongated shapes are good too.

Handle folds, small nibs fold above rim as pictured, to prevent accidental release.

Handle folds, small nibs fold above rim as pictured, to prevent accidental release. It’s possible to fold this and have the nibs end up below the rim, thus not disarming. Easy to correct — but easy to miss.

In stock form left shoulder strap holds the ripcord, which is safetied using by folding the trigger handles and covering with a small neoprene pouch. Problematic, as this is fiddly and you can easily mess up by not folding the handles so they engage a small lock above the actuation cable end. if you mess that up, catching something on the handle, even while folded, can still trigger the airbag. Trigger can be swapped left or right, though only the has high-low positions. Strap without threaded trigger cable is available for hydration tube or radio mic cord.

This is a front panel loader. Lower compression strap heads all the way around, but the upper has to terminate before running over the vertical packed balloon on the sides of the pack. Indeed, some problematic stuff going on here when it comes to diagonal ski carry (and A-frame certainly not in the picture). A lighter pair of planks will probably hang fine, but gigantic skis might sag backwards unacceptably unless you cinch them in by anchoring to the top of a shoulder strap or the hanger loop, while doing so will compromise airbag deployment.

Guts and glory. New smaller cylinder is excellent, but as with many airbag packs the plumbing is smack dab in the middle of the cargo space.

Guts and glory. New smaller cylinder is excellent, but as with many airbag packs the plumbing is smack dab in the middle of the cargo space.

Another view of the guts.

Another view of the guts. Astounding how far they have miniaturized this stuff. The threat of the electric fan packs no doubt gave all the gas pack makers a kick in the rear.

And, yet another view of the entrails.

And, yet another view of the entrails. This time showing the deflator clip employed (it has to go on both sides of the valve as there are two ducts, one for each side of the balloon.

Overall, I like this pack. The build quality is excellent and much thought clearly went into the design. Due to how the trigger works and ski carry is configured, shopping for it at a retailer where you could evaluate in person would be wise.

The Reactor 18 is available now, but in limited quantities. Try the usual etail suspects.

Bonus shot, back panel has vents required for super fast inflation of the 150 liter balloon.

Bonus shot, back panel has vents required for super fast inflation of the 150 liter balloon.


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20 Responses to “Arva Reactor 18 Avalanche Airbag Backpack”

  1. Lee January 19th, 2017 11:21 am

    Nice looking pack. Sure do seem to be borrowing heavily from their former partners ABS.

  2. Lee January 19th, 2017 11:21 am

    Nice looking pack. Sure do seem to be borrowing heavily from their former partners ABS.

  3. Jeremy from Arva January 20th, 2017 1:32 pm

    Hi Lee,

    Yes we worked with that company for some time, and serviced a few hundred accounts for them over the years in Europe. While the canister is similar much of the pack is improved for efficiency, and weight, and last cost to the customer!

    On our scale we are less than 5.9 lbs, maybe Lou or I needs to double check this, regardless this pack is nearly 2lbs lighter than battery packs, and the big difference is the way the pack skis to all other airbag packs. You can load gear low and close to the body; good balance and less chance of a hernia.

    One other note worth mentioning is flipping your shovel blade upside down disperses the pressure away from airbag system and does not impead on the canister or mechanism.

    Glad this gear is getting lighter and more affordable, all we need is the TSA and DOT to allow similar travel to Europe for the canisters/cartridges but I am not holding my breath.

  4. benwls January 20th, 2017 3:52 pm

    Hernia? That’s a new one.

  5. Craig January 20th, 2017 4:49 pm

    Which drawer of the filing cabinet are the shovel/probe supposed to go in?
    A question about packs more generally. Is there a pack (not neccesarily an airbag) that has the tool storage on the ‘back panel’ close to the body, where that weight would ski better, rather than the traditional tool pouch on the outside of bag.

  6. John January 20th, 2017 5:09 pm

    I have an ABS Vario 30L that I bought a couple years ago that puts the tools closer to the back than the main pouch.

  7. Louie III January 20th, 2017 6:04 pm

    Cilogear ski packs have the avalanche tool storage next to the back. It has it’s pros and cons, the hard shovel can be kinda uncomfortable against the back unless it is packed carefully

  8. cody January 20th, 2017 10:57 pm

    Craig what kind of heavy shovel and probe are you using where you can notice that?

  9. Ray January 22nd, 2017 10:11 am

    Avalanche condition are dicey in the Backcountry of South eastern British Columbia.
    A lady from Alaska was killed in an avalanche near Ymir, BC.

  10. NT January 24th, 2017 1:25 pm

    I’m not a fan of putting the shovel against my back as it can create dead space, but the ABS vario 30 and 42 packs have a dedicated pocket against your back.

  11. Craig January 26th, 2017 5:09 pm

    Fair enough – the hard shovel against the back may be an issue, I though padding might take care of that. My set up is an Oprey Kode 40, w/ G3 shovel, BD 3m probe. Maybe it’s more of an issue w/ the Kode Pack. It doesn’t have compression straps on the bottom, and the top one’s are limited by how much you can pull the compression straps tight. So when the pack is not full, the shovel/probe feels floppy… no one likes a floppy pack.

  12. Lou Dawson 2 January 26th, 2017 6:25 pm

    In my experience, when carrying minimalist loads the shovel sometimes needs some sort of custom padding, a foam and duct tape envelope or? I’m having a lot of trouble with that at the moment, as my shovel, handle and probe just sit there and grind against my 2-way radio, airbag cartridge and satphone that live inside my pack (Mammut). I’ve not gotten around to figuring out padding. Some packs have the padding built in of course, but it never seems to work right and just adds bulk and weight. Lots of room for improvement in all this stuff! Lou

  13. Eric B April 6th, 2017 1:57 pm

    I recently purchased the Reactor 40 and it looks like a great pack for hut-to-hut tours. However, I gave the handle a dry pull without a cartridge (I like to know the handle pressure required for activation before having to do it for real) assuming I could just reset it with the re-arming tool. However, after screwing in the re-arming tool as far as it would go it still doesn’t seem to have reset the firing pin. Unfortunately the manual isn’t very helpful on this. Does anyone have any experience with this? (Jeremy from Avra?). Was planning to head off on a week long trip with it shortly so any help appreciated!

  14. Eric B April 14th, 2017 2:42 pm

    So, I managed to get the firing pin re-cocked by taking a socket driver without a bit, placing it carefully around the firing pin and giving it a mighty shove with someone else bracing the mechanism. Not ideal. The problem was the plastic on the re-arming tool was too soft and compressed and the threads stripped. Avra really needs to supply a metal re-arming tool.

    I just finished 6 days with the pack carrying full glacial kit in a spring hut to hut tour in the alps. Overall it performed well. It felt like a true capacious 40L, it carried well, was comfortable, and while there is still a noticeable weight penalty with the airbag, it felt far lighter than my ABS. The handle design is probably the best I’ve used and the pack is well organised and held up to abuse. Having the airbags on the side vs top (e.g. Mammut) made the bag easier to pack, and get things in and out of. A few things Avra could improve though: 1) the ski carry and ice axe attachments are very fiddly, hard to use with gloves or cold hands, they also didn’t look very durable, 2) the black interior makes it hard to find stuff, a lighter colour would help, 3) the goggle pocket is too small for modern oversize goggles. But overall if you need a large pack and want the extra security of an airbag, thie Reactor 40 seems to be the lightest and best designed of the ones available.

  15. Lou Dawson 2 April 14th, 2017 3:16 pm

    Eric, thanks so much for chiming in! Believe me, you’re really helping a lot of people. I hear you on the black pack interiors, hateful! The side airbags do make sense, though when they start using even lighter more compact fabric it’s probably a moot point. Too bad about the rearming system… Lou

  16. Jeremy from Arva April 14th, 2017 3:45 pm

    Hi Eric, Sorry for the delay. Glad you liked the pack and were able to figure out at least one way to re-arm the system after a successful dry fire. We have produced both metal and plastic reset tools and given factors of production include the plastic tool with all bags. If the thread were stripped just email us ( your address and we can ship you another one. I have reset the pin many many times and have seen thread start to fade but never a total strip that made the tool useless. I will will forward the other notes to our product designer in France, thanks for the input and use testimonial, I wish people could demo airbag packs like skis to know the differences and see the innovation in this category. Until then, we will rely on useful forums like this one. Take Care,

  17. Eric B April 15th, 2017 9:47 am

    Thanks Jeremy, I’ll send a note re the reset tool replacement. Again, there is a lot I really like about this pack and it will be my go to for multi-day tours. I hope that manufacturers like Arva will continue to invest in iterating airbag designs, shedding weight and refining features based on user feedback so that eventually bringing an airbag into the BC becomes as standard equipment as a shovel, probe and transceiver.

  18. Andrew April 19th, 2017 7:57 am

    We had exactly the same issue with Arva rearming tool just a month ago. Testing shooting was ok, but rearming failed. It was in the area with no service available and our DIY approaches to reset did not work. So avalanche back pack served as an expensive and heavy rucksack for the whole week 🙁

  19. Jeremy from Arva April 19th, 2017 9:33 am

    Andrew, sorry to hear this. I assume the tool worked at a later time, if you need a new one let us know at the same email as above? Was it a cross thread issue that did not allow the tool to push back the pin when dry-fire testing? In my experience and what is recommended is to conduct an initial dry-fire when you first receive the pack, to feel the use of the handle and also be familiar with the pin indicator and position. After this I rarely if ever would have the need to reset the pack through the season.

  20. Andrew April 19th, 2017 1:14 pm

    Jeremy, the rearming tool did not work a single day after that faulty drill 🙂
    So after we returned from the mountains the backpack was brought to the ski store were it was originally bought. The servicemen said that the rearming handle was damaged. After couple of testing rearmings the plastic got worn and handle’s thread (plastic, soft) could not match the thread in the mechanism (aluminum, hard).
    Now it seems to work, but we’re afraid to test it too often..
    I wish Arva used the same type of rearming tool as Mammut (Aluminum).

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