Arcteryx Voltair 20 — Nearly Perfect Size for Ski Touring


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | May 12, 2017      

I found the Arcteryx Volair 30 airbag backpack to be heavy and unwieldy for the type of tours I usually do. It’s returned to Arcteryx. I’m told they’re curious to see how hundreds of inflations junked on the blower (proudly durable, by the way). They swapped me for a 20, which while still surprisingly heavy is a compact little number that hauls as smooth as one can expect when you’re schlepping an extra kilo or so over what you’re used to. As a legit test, while I didn’t receive the pack early enough in the season for “airline travel testing” during my ISPO journey last winter, I did use it for ski touring this past winter in Colorado. The story in photos.

Sweet little number.

Sweet Voltair 20 little number is just about right for me. (Available in black or red.) Back panel height is medium. Notable volume for normal day tours without glacier gear. I’d actually prefer if the sack was slightly smaller, about an inch less in the direction out from user’s back, for less of a “bubble” effect when it’s on the back. Also visible in this photo, note the up-tapered sack bottom. In my opinion that’s the opposite of ideal for a ski pack as it pushes the load up higher on your back, away from your center of gravity. Not so noticeable in a non-airbag pack, but with the heavy battery already located about halfway up the torso, and the airbag balloon and plumbing up at the top, I noticed a somewhat top-heavy feeling unless I deliberately stowed all my heavy stuff down low, especially water.

Compression straps are the answer.

Compression straps are part of the answer to compensating for a pack with this sort of shape. You get them at the top, but not at the bottom.

There is no dedicated diagonal ski carry system, but it's easily rigged with a few accessory straps.

There is no dedicated diagonal ski carry system, but it’s easily rigged with a few accessory straps. The stock straps work well for shorter skis, carried vertically. Dedicated lashing is there for one ice axe, for two tools you’d need to rig something. Ok by me, this is a ski touring pack not an alpine climbing sack.

Larger avy shovel doesn't fit in the tool compartment but does fine in the main hold.

Larger avy shovel doesn’t fit in the tool compartment but does fine in the main hold.

Smaller avy shovel fits nicely in tool compartment.

Smaller avy shovel fits nicely in tool compartment.

Volume test. I could almost fit a pair of fairly large ski boots.

Volume test. I could almost fit a pair of fairly large ski boots.

Ski boot volume test.

Ski boot volume test.

Total weight with battery 3426 grams, 7.5 pounds
Battery 804 grams
Weight without battery 2622

Considering a nice optimized gas powered backpack weighs 2100 grams (4.6 pounds), is it perhaps excessive to haul around fully three pounds more just so you can inflate the pack more than once, or easily travel by air? You can be the judge of that. Me, I’ll pick the lighter pack when possible, but have to admit that being able to hop on a commercial jet with a fully functional balloon pack is an enticing option.

Conclusions: If additional weight as detailed above is worth the fun or necessity of multiple inflations — without compressed gas issues — this is your rucksack. On the other hand, for those of you who can configure a rig with carbon gas cylinder, you’re clearly enjoying much less added mass in comparison. Diagonal ski carry has to be rigged, is easy to do so. Interesting tapered sack bottom forces weight higher, perhaps nice for climbing but is that what you want for ski touring? Overall build quality is Arcteryx marvellous. Price is stratospheric but that means that sale discounts are potentially more substantial. Due to my testing of previous 30 liter, know that the “fan” and battery in these things are bomber. That pack was probably inflated at least a hundred times and kept on trucking.

For details on this pack’s airbag system, and more thoughts on the Arcteryx Voltairs, check out all our blog posts on the subject.

Shopping? I’d watch the price at backcountry.com



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Comments

18 Responses to “Arcteryx Voltair 20 — Nearly Perfect Size for Ski Touring”

  1. VT skier May 12th, 2017 6:44 pm

    Following the link to Backcountry.com,

    $1320 for the airbag
    $320 for LiPo battery
    $60 for the charger.

    A lot of money, that would let me ski two weeks or more in Europe

  2. Andrew May 13th, 2017 3:04 pm

    Crazy product in my view. My Mammut sack cost the same as the battery above (Mammut on sale) and is lighter and equally impeccably constructed.

    And no problems so far flying from Europe to Japan and Iceland so far. In my opinion compressed air airbags are so common nowadays that there is no issue unless traveling well off the beaten track.

    I also think Wildsnow should have questioned whether large batteries will be allowed on planes in future. The trend seems clear to me.

  3. Gregory Foster May 13th, 2017 10:28 pm

    Huh, too small for the northern big wet. Not big enough for side country resort either.
    Wondering what you’re thinking, maybe too much free stuff.

  4. Daniel May 14th, 2017 12:28 am

    I like the colour. For everything else, I like my RAS Mammut Pro 35l pack, which has great access, volume, compressiblity, attachments for everything, tons of functionality, and is perfectly balanced on one’s back.

  5. Lou Dawson 2 May 14th, 2017 5:24 am

    Andrew, good point about the battery. When I looked into that issue a while back, the battery was well under the max amp-hours size allowed for lithium battery carry-on, but indeed that limit could change at any time (as it has on certain routes). TSA and ITA could also get stricter about carrying compressed gas cylinders… or pencils, for that matter. I totally agree the price seems high. I’d expect that to remain so, but that we’ll see some fairly rapid innovation in this space, such as a _much_ lighter power system. That said, even when this pack was rigged with my smaller battery hack it was still heavy, due to built-in electronics and the weight of the sack itself.

    The airbag backpack makers are up against a challenging situation. The overall trend in backcountry recreation gear, be it climbing or skiing, is less mass. A backpack has to follow that trend and even lead it. Otherwise it ages poorly. Look what happened with Black Diamond Jetforce. It’s seemed pretty neat when released. A few years later, you pick up a Jetforce pack and can’t believe how heavy it is, yes, compared to elegant offerings from BCA, Mammut, etc.

    Speaking of weight. I didn’t want to get into this in the blog post, but I actually still do not entirely understand (after tons of talk with designers, and experiments) why the Arcteryx pack is only sold with a battery that’ll inflate it more than 15 times at room temperature. I’m told it needs that capacity so it works when super cold, or aged. (and to conform with CE standards biased against electric fan packs). But a lighter battery option with a warning chime that told you it was compromised would be entirely adequate for 95% of the ski tourers around the world. In fact, the battery is sold as a separate SKU from the Voltair…. hmmmm, one wonders if that was done to work around some bogus CE requirement, or perhaps to prepare the way for different battery options?

    As I’ve alluded to in my blog posts about battery hacking, I have indeed cold soaked my smaller test batteries and the pack still worked. Sure, it only inflated 2 or 3 times. I’m only planning on getting caught in one avalanche a day (smile).

    By the way, last winter I did bring my test batteries and charger to Europe, to hand over to another tester. No problems with any sort of battery restrictions even though I had a backpack with a ridiculous amount of lithium in it, everything from an extended life smartphone battery to a laptop computer.

    Lou

  6. See May 14th, 2017 9:11 am

    Sometimes I wonder if exorbitant prices and/or over-engineered (and over weight) products aren’t intended to limit demand because of limited supply, fear of liability/recall expense, to get beta testers to pay for the privilege of refining a new product? Given the rapid evolution of balloon packs, I can see how a manufacturer might want to enter the market slowly and cautiously.

  7. Jernej May 15th, 2017 5:43 am

    When is the ski review coming? 🙂

  8. Lou Dawson 2 May 15th, 2017 8:20 am

    We’ll certainly review the first fan powered ski that comes along! Though we’re thinking the battery modifications might be beyond our basic tool set.

  9. Jernej May 15th, 2017 10:43 am

    Technically that Ibex is fan powered via backpack 🙂

  10. Lou Dawson 2 May 15th, 2017 10:58 am

    Ok, now I understand (smile).

  11. PQ May 17th, 2017 11:09 am

    A couple of comments.
    I haven’t skied with the 20L Voltair, but I’ve skied a lot with the 30L. I would guess that not being as ‘deep’ or ‘thick’ a pack, the 20 will carry much better than the back-heavy 30L.

    A tip – take out the aluminum stays. I found the 30L carries like a bit of a brick/suitcase with the stays in, but it feels *much* better without. The stiffened back panel provides quite a bit of stiffness on its own anyway. Plus you lose a tiny bit of pack weight. I’m sure the 20L would fit/perform better without the stays as well.

    As for the size and the 20L being the ‘nearly perfect size’. Boy, the 30L is too small for me on the majority of trips! The ‘what is the perfect size pack’ debate – a different answer for everyone!

    For me, 20L would be a nice slackcountry pack size, as long as I wasn’t doing any glacier travel and it wasn’t too cold/wet/variable a day, and I wasn’t taking a big camera with me and I wasn’t carrying the first aid & repair gear for the group. Although I am very gear-weight/volume conscious, a 20L pack would almost always be too small for me and what I do.

    Again, it is very personal, but I’ve skied a lot with the ArcT 30L Voltair and even it is too small for me when doing glacier/mountaineering trips, in part because you can’t nicely keep a rope on the outside. You can’t put the rope over the top due to the balloon exit zipper but if you hang a rope off the back, the very deep/thick pack design means that the rope weight makes it very unbalanced.

    35-38-ish seems about right for a do-everything pack for me. So that is what normally I use all the time.

  12. Lou Dawson 2 May 17th, 2017 12:39 pm

    It’s a big 20, but for me my fave is around 30 liters, just because I like having a bit of extra room. My wife and I tour in non-glacier terrain with “Euro” style smaller kits, I can use a 20 for that, but without extra room. I’ll try taking the stays out. What’s weird about the Arcteryx packs is they measure the same torso height has some of my other better-riding packs, but yeah the bubble out from the back and feel odd, I think the up-tapered bottom has something to do with that, it jacks the weight upward and out, and combined with the weight of the airbag plumbing and balloon, the center of gravity is high compared to other packs. I don’t understand the purpose of the up-tapered base, it seems like a solution without a problem. Lou

  13. See May 18th, 2017 8:24 pm

    What’s “eurostyle?” I hope not “go light and depend on helicopter.”

  14. RAGE May 19th, 2017 1:50 am

    Thanks for review Lou.
    Imho this is not worth it. My Mammut 20L backpack with carbon cylinder weights 1510g. And still with Arva carbon shovel and probe it’s 40-45 percent lighter than empty Voltair.

    With Ultalight Mammut it became possible to use it in hard multiday ski-mo missions. It’s so compact and i simply put it inside my Osprey 65L bakcpack.

    Weight saving is essential.

  15. Lou Dawson 2 May 19th, 2017 7:33 am

    Actually, that’s just about it. In other words, we don’t carry sleeping bags and medical oxygen tanks, though we do tend to have a satphone and a first aid kit (smile). Reality is in this part of the world (Colorado) as in western Europe, we do depend on helicopters for rescue. Happens all the time now. Self reliance is still a noble endeavor but is somewhat of a construct to one degree or another. For example, if a person is not ambulatory, you as their partner are not going to be doing a full evac on the ground, out from a remote mountain that involves distance and low angled terrain. Doing so is physically impossible in most cases. Lou

  16. See May 19th, 2017 8:03 am

    Don’t get me wrong— I’ve paid for evacuation insurance more than once, and have a friend who took an unplanned helicopter ride. I’m very glad that service was available. But I also carry a few items of clothing and a repair kit that mostly just ride around in my pack. When my “extra” gear gets used, it’s often by friends with lighter packs.

  17. Lou Dawson 2 May 19th, 2017 8:42 am

    I’m often the person with the repair kit, but it’s minimal. Multi-use items are the key. But having a good multi-tool and a variety of screwdriver bits is important as well, at least one person in any group should have that unless it’s s super short trip with easy exit. On Denali we had a 5 pound + repair kit. It was probably too much but then, we were clearly one of the more prepared non-guided groups up there, and had 100% success. Lou

  18. See May 19th, 2017 8:00 pm

    Helicopters, satellites, etc., have changed how we approach outdoor activities. That’s ok with me, but I fear we have lost the wild in wildsnow.





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