BCA Float 27 Airbag Pack Review — Ski Touring Safety with Less Weight

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | May 3, 2017      
Skiing with the Float 27 pack earlier this winter.

Skiing with the BCA Float 27 pack earlier this winter.

I’ve been carrying one of BCA’s Float backpacks during much of my skiing the last few years. I like the fact that their system is somewhat light, easy to refill, and inexpensive.

Quite a few people still do not use airbag packs in the backcountry — I often ask them why they do not. I get various answers, from the pack design, cost, to their reduced efficacy in the treed terrain where many ski in winter in the PNW. In some cases, the obvious answer it the person is so careful about when and where they ski, they simply do not need such expensive and complex safety gear (a valid take if that’s really the case). Invariably, however, almost everyone says they’d be more likely to carry a balloon rucksack if they weren’t so darn heavy. On the occasional mid-winter “safe” day that I leave the airbag at home, I’m always impressed at how much I notice the loss of a few pounds off my back.

The future of airbags is weight reduction. Features such as multiple inflations or easy airline travel are nearly nothing compared to how much that rucksack drags you down while you’re trying to go up. Airbag packs are getting lighter, but we’re not there yet. Most are still ridiculously heavy compared to non-airbag versions. The minute someone makes a pack that is functional, has sufficient capacity, and is TRULY light weight, a zillion skiers are going to be strapping it on.

Although BCA has offered different pack styles over the years — and reduced weight significantly — the internal components of their airbag system had remained the same (and weighed pretty much the same) since first introduced in 2013. There’s only so much weight reduction you can achieve with textile pack design. Most of the excess weight is in the airbag system.

This year BCA introduced an updated version of their internal system. The main focus is saving weight and reducing the space that the system takes up inside the backpack, thus saving weight by virtue of the pack not needing to be as large for a given load. Awesome. The new system is an evolution of the old, and works in much the same way. Inflation still utilizes compressed air, and the same basic trigger system and connectors.

The main change to the system is the compressed air cylinder. The cylinder is reduced in size from the previous version by about 1/3. While the old cylinder holds 2500-2700 PSI air, the new cylinder is filled to 2800-3000 PSI, providing the same amount of inflation power.

The majority of weight savings comes from the cylinder, however BCA made other tweaks too. The new cylinder connects directly to the venturi system, eliminating a few inches of rubber hose. The venturi valve system is also re-designed to be smaller, and it enters the airbag on the side, rather than at the top, so that the burst zipper opens on the side.

The way the airbag is attached to the pack is another change — it appears to me to be simpler and better. The only part of the system that appears unchanged is the trigger.

The old system weighs in at 1394 grams, and the new is 1200 grams. Those weights include the airbag, venturi valve, trigger, and a full cylinder. The old cylinder weighs 654 grams (full), while the new shorter cylinder 558 grams (full). That’s a reduction of 194 grams (6.8oz). Significant.

There’s also a small amount of weight reduction in the pack itself, although that’s harder to anatomize. The new metal toggle attachment system is a bit lighter than the old cord, and the plumbing takes up less volume allowing the pack to be a hair smaller.

New BCA airbag system on the left, old on the right. Nice reduction in size and weight.

New BCA airbag system on the left, old on the right. Nice reduction in size and weight.

BCA's new system , installed into the Speed 27 pack.

BCA’s new system, installed into the Speed 27 pack.

The airbag compartment of the Speed 27, showing the 5 metal toggles that attach the airbag to the pack.

The airbag compartment of the Speed 27, without the airbag components. Notice the 5 metal toggles that attach the airbag to the pack. The neoprene sleeve is for the airbag cylinder.

Airbag compartment of a 1st generation Float 32, for comparison.

Airbag compartment of a first generation Float 32, for comparison.

BCA is offering the new system starting fall 2017, in two packs: the Speed 27 and a Speed 17 (the latter of which is clearly too small to be relevant in the world of WildSnow dot com). Current Float packs will remain the same for next year, with the same airbag system that they currently have. It’s strange they’ll be offering both systems concurrently. I guess they have their reasons.

Sidebar: From what myself and Lou Sr. have seen during this winter’s travels, we can say that next winter is going to be interesting when it comes to airbag packs. We expect to see quantum improvements in the disappointingly heavy electric “fan” packs, gas pack weights-prices becoming ever more reasonable, perhaps optional balloons made from thinner “Dyneema” type fabrics, better leg loop systems, more options for those excellent carbon gas cylinders, and so on.

The Speed 27 pack sack is obviously designed to be lightweight as well. The pack is superficially similar to a current Float 32 that has been put on a diet. This is a clamshell design, but only has one zipper that opens to access the main compartment. Inside you’ve got a divider with space for a shovel and probe, as well as small mesh pocket. The outside of the pack has one compression strap on either side, as well as an ice axe carry system that doubles as the diagonal ski carry strap. That’s about it as far as the features go; it’s certainly stripped down. We like that.

I’ve been using the pack for the later part of the winter this year. It is quite a bit smaller than the Float 32 that I’ve been using for the past few years. With the airbag components taking up less space, the difference evens out a bit, but the speed 27 is still smaller. The pack is big enough to fit my touring gear for a small-medium size day of backcountry skiing. However, if I try to bring a ski-cutting rope, or some extra layers, or other extra equipment, the pack begins to get maxed out. The avy pocket is also fairly short and narrow. My BCA shovel is a tight fit, and my SMC snowsaw is almost too long for the pocket.

Touring with the Float 27 pack.

Touring with the Float 27 pack.

Float 27 airbag pack. A minimalist clam-shell pack.

Float 27 airbag pack. A minimalist clam-shell pack.

Float 27 open (with BCA Link installed).  Not a ton of space, but enough for most ski days.

Float 27 open (with BCA Link installed). Not a ton of space, but enough for most ski days.

I've been using a carabiner for attaching my leg loop for years. BCA now includes a sewn slot that you can put  your own carabiner in. Nice.

I’ve been using a carabiner for attaching my leg loop for years. BCA now includes a sewn slot on the waistbelt where you can put in your own carabiner. Nice.

Ice axe carry strap doubles as a diagonal ski carry strap. Cool idea.

Ice axe carry strap doubles as a diagonal ski carry strap. Cool idea though it only works with narrower skis; fatter skis can be held with the lower strap.

Back panel and shoulder straps of the Float 27.

Back panel and shoulder straps of the Float 27.

Other than the size issues, the pack has worked very well. It carries well, and is comfy. The minimalist ice axe/ski carry strap is genius. The pack doesn’t have a helmet carry net, but it works well to clip a removable one to the outside.

Love-hate relationship with zippered clamshell pack. One the one hand, I like having easy access to all my stuff with one big zip. On the other, I don’t like that the pack volume isn’t expandable, and the zipper gets hard to close when the pack is at capacity. The light weight of the pack is, however, awesome. It saves a full pound off my old airbag pack (a first generation Float 32). I can certainly feel the weight reduction when it’s on my back.

BCA has always had an excellent existing airbag system, and they did an excellent job improving it. They made it lighter and more compact, while keeping the refill process and basic functionality the same. Bravo. For a clamshell, the pack is well designed, and is nice and light. I’m looking forward to BCA implementing their new airbag system into more packs.

Speed 27 weight without airbag components: 1410 grams (3lb 1.7 oz)
Speed 27 weight with airbag components: 2710 grams (5 lb 15 oz)
Float 2.0 airbag components: 1200 grams (2 lb 10 oz)

1st Gen Float 32 airbag with components: 3062 grams (6 lb 12 oz)
Float 1.0 airbag components: 1394 grams (3 lb 1.2 oz)

Shop for BCA packs here.


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10 Responses to “BCA Float 27 Airbag Pack Review — Ski Touring Safety with Less Weight”

  1. See May 3rd, 2017 9:57 am

    Helpful review as usual. Thanks. Can the new system be refilled with the Benjamin pump? https://www.wildsnow.com/19037/review-benjamin-pump-bca-airbag/ Do you still believe that is a viable system? Any further information about ensuring the air in the tank is sufficiently dry?

  2. Sedgesprite May 3rd, 2017 12:57 pm

    I was thinking about pack weights as as con for carrying the airbags. Then it occurred to me that, weights are an issue for all gear, but very few of us crossing a glacier wont take an ice axe or crampons or rope because because we are waiting for them to be less expensive or weigh less.

  3. Apingaut May 3rd, 2017 4:51 pm

    The above comparison to a rope/crampons/axe, I feel, is a bit of a miss-characterization. The advent of good ropes/prons/axes really help get it done. The avo-bag is only in case of emergency. People choose speed over safety all the time.

  4. wtofd May 4th, 2017 6:04 am

    Louie, which BCA shovel are you using with this pack? Thanks.

  5. VT skier May 4th, 2017 9:31 pm

    Can you get a carbon cartridge for these BCA packs in Europe? That would save a lot more weight than this update to the deployment system. I just came back from skiing in France, and these carbon cartridges are a lot lighter.

    If BCA can’t market a carbon cartridge like the Euro systems, ( the Mammut Ultralight 3.0 at 1500 gms ready to go, comes to mind) , the Euro packs will be more popular. I realize the Mammut Ultralight is only a 20 L pack.

  6. Eric Steig May 5th, 2017 7:46 am

    Louie, when you say the ice axe loop only works with “narrower” skis, do you mean, like <90mm? Or would something in the 95 range fit?

  7. Lou Dawson 2 May 5th, 2017 7:55 am

    Eric, Lou2 here, during the edit we added in the caveat about narrower skis so as not to mislead folks. It’s probably the less than 90 range, but when Louie is back from traveling I’ll get him to check the tester pack to be sure. BCA told me the loops could only be used for narrower “European” width touring skis, but they didn’t specify an exact width. Lou

  8. Brian May 5th, 2017 1:36 pm

    Any word on BCA offering more of their packs without airbags. I always thought it was odd that their airbags are removable, but they don’t advertise this much other than the 8. I own a 32 and would consider a 22 or 42 if they were readily available without airbag. Have also heard you can contact them and ask them to sell you a pack only.

  9. Lou Dawson 2 May 7th, 2017 1:46 pm

    Hi Brian, I asked BCS, they said “The latter is correct. We give them a good deal on a second pack…”

    My contact also explained that they don’t have enough demand for Float-sans-airbag to justify separate inventory and SKU, hence it’s not something you can just order off shopping cart.

  10. Al DeLaney February 28th, 2018 4:03 pm

    Looks like the Float 2 tank connects the same way as the Float 1 tank.

    Could I just use a F2 tank in my F1 32 BCA pack 🙂

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