Black Diamond 2019-2020 Airbag Backpack Comparo

Post by blogger | February 8, 2019      

This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry.

Three different approaches to airbag technology.

Three different approaches to airbag technology. From left to right: JetForce Tour26L, JetForce UL, JetForce Pro (with 10L booster).

This year, Black Diamond steps out guns ablazin’ with their snowsports airbag packs. Not content to try and hit the mark with one airbag system, they opted for the shotgun: three different types of rucksacks, using three different types of airbag systems. (Note, the only pack in this review that’s currently available is the JetForce Tour 26L, the other two packs will begin retail fall of 2019.)

The line comprises several models, utilizing three types of airbag technology. The JetForce Pro pack uses the JetForce airbag electronics, designed by BD and significantly improved this year. The JetForce Tour line uses Alpride’s E1 capacitor technology. Last, and least (in terms of weight), is the JetForce UL line, which uses the Alpride compressed gas system. Confusing? Yes. So we’ll call that actual JetForce battery/fan system the “JetForce electronics” or something like that.

Initially I thought three different airbag systems from one manufacturer was overkill for our ski touring community. Not so. Each one excels in areas the others don’t. Until we get the “holy grail” of airbag tech (and agree on what exactly that is), that’s the way it is going to be — like tech bindings, expect to see dozens if not hundreds of airbag backpack options become available. Here’s a brief overview of the BD options, and what they’re good for.

Testing out the JetForce Pro 10 on an icy tour in Washington.

Testing out the JetForce Pro 10 on an icy Washington ski tour.

Jetforce Pro is the Tesla of the line, and not only because it’s electric. It’s beautifully designed, high tech, packed with features, and… expensive at MSRP $1,399.95.

The Pro line consists of one “base” pack, that contains the JetForce electronic airbag components, and several zip-on packs (called “boosters”) that can be attached to the base, to make packs of different volumes. Initially BD will offer a 10 liter, 35 liter, and two 25 liter booster packs. The Pro system is a direct descendant of Black Diamond’s original JetForce electronic airbag system, which was introduced several years ago, and was the first electric fan pack to get on the market. The updated version keeps the same DNA, but updates the system in a few ways. Most importantly, it is significantly about two pounds lighter! Other updates are Bluetooth connectivity (for updating the firmware), and a simplified birthing zipper.

JetForce Pro with Booster options.

JetForce Pro with Booster options.

Being a “fan” pack, JetForce Pro solves many of the issues associated with compressed gas packs: Easy to travel with; easy to recharge; can be deployed multiple times; easy to see indications for when it’s on and ready. Also, the airbag is 200 liters, bigger than many other airbags, which are usually 150 liters. Although not integral to the JetForce Pro system design, the modularity of the zip-off booster packs is another important feature, allowing you to buy one expensive base unit and have several different size packs.

Open pack showing airbag components and interior. As you can see, the JetForce Pro is fairly bulky, and takes up quite a bit of room in the pack.

Open pack showing airbag components and interior. As you can see, the JetForce Pro is fairly bulky, and takes up quite a bit of room in the pack.

The main drawback of the feature-rich JetForce Pro is it’s gravity altering effects; it simultaneously makes your wallet lighter and your pack heavier. We’ve been testing the 10 liter version of the pack, expect a review soon.

JetForce Pro specs:

  • Base pack weight: 2636 grams (5.8 lbs)
  • Base pack with 10 liter booster weight: 2870 grams (6.3 lbs)
  • The Jetforce tour on a beautiful January day in the Cascades.

    The JetForce Tour on a beautiful January day in the Cascades.

    JetForce Tour is the next step down from the Pro, in both weight and complexity. This pack is currently available. The Tour utilizes Alpride’s E1 system. The E1, introduced last year, is the first capacitor based electric fan airbag system. Don’t worry, I don’t understand the difference between a capacitor and a battery is either, perhaps His Blogness does? The important thing is that capacitors are good at discharging lots of energy quickly, which is perfect for an airbag.

    The E1 has significant advantages over any other airbag system. It’s the easiest to recharge, either from a usb, or with AA batteries, and to travel with, as capacitors are even less restricted than lithium batteries. It’s also the lightest electric fan system yet.

    The JetForce Tour is unabashedly my favorite of the bunch for ski touring. However, it isn’t without its drawbacks. Compared to the Pro, it is significantly less user friendly. You turn the system on and off using a switch inside the pack, and the indicator lights are located on the side of the pack. This means you can’t turn the system on or off without opening up your pack, and you can’t see if it’s on or off without taking your pack off or asking someone to take a look. “Hey, is my airbag blinking?”

    Also, it doesn’t feature the Bluetooth diagnostic capabilities of the Pro. There’s some compromises likely made for weight reasons; the airbag is an industry standard 150 liters, and doesn’t deflate automatically like the Pro does. We’ve been using the 26 liter version extensively, expect a review soon. Compared to the JetForce UL, the system is simply heavier.

    26 liter JetForce Tour weight: 2630 grams (5.7 lbs), MSRP $1199.95

    The all-new Jetforce UL, utilizing Alprides canister airbag system.

    The all-new JetForce UL, utilizing Alprides canister airbag system.

    JetForce UL is light, just like it sounds. The 26 liter pack is only 1991 grams. The pack uses Alpride’s original gas system, which is unique in that it uses two small gas cylinders (argon and Co2) that, again, are not refillable. The advantages of the pack are simple, but not insignificant: lightest in the line and the cheapest at MSRP $849.95

    The UL does have its downsides. It’s still somewhat difficult to travel with due to confusion as to whether the cartridges should be in checked baggage or carried on, as well as if they should be inserted into the pack. The initial low cost is offset a bit if you have to buy new cylinders, which cost $50 for a set, and can only be used once (not refillable). Like any compressed gas system, if you test it, it has to be reset, and there’s no other way of verifying that it’s functional other than to fire it. (Why is it we keep gravitating to the electronic systems?)

    So that’s the different airbag systems that Black Diamond is or soon will be retailing. Asside from the plumbing, the designs of the backpacks themselves are significantly different from one line to the next. This will affect your shopping decision. We’ll go into more detail on each pack in individual reviews. For now, know that BD is not messing around!


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    24 Responses to “Black Diamond 2019-2020 Airbag Backpack Comparo”

    1. Lukasz February 8th, 2019 3:42 pm

      Well done!
      Ive tested new Jetfroce PRO, and BD need to change some ski carry issues (upper loop is to small/short to carry skis with 25L or 35L booster attached).
      About UL (gas) version – Lou I strongly suggest to change “Alprdie” to “Alpride 2.0” – this will be confusing for people who try to google this system :).

    2. Louis Dawson February 8th, 2019 4:44 pm

      good to know about the upper loop on the 35 liter, we didn’t test that pack, so I can’t confirm. I did notice the ski carry loops seemed tight, although they fit my 115 underfoot pow skis fine. Since the top loop is a buckle, I think it could probably be extended by putting a voile strap through it (that’s what I do with most packs anyways).

    3. Kristian February 8th, 2019 6:13 pm

      I purchased the JetForce Tour from Cripple Creek. My primary reason was the Alpride capacitor system. It is suspiciously similar to the pack offered by Polaris. My guess is that they are essentially the same.

      I called Black Diamond and they disappointingly told me that this is the only pack that would be offered with the Alpride system.

      It carries and skis well, but the usable internal volume is somehow surprisingly limited due to a a large awkward shaped object right in the middle of the main compartment.

      1) I hope that Alpride does a major redesign so that their device zips neatly into one long corner of a pack just like a carbon cylinder. Or sits sandwiched neatly just below the folded bag.

      2) Offer multiple different types and sizes of packs.

      3) Make the expensive system easily movable to different packs.

      4) I agree with the concerns expressed about the strange internal switch that does not work easily and is frustratingly difficult to check.

    4. justin wilcox February 8th, 2019 7:15 pm

      If I’m not mistaken, the Jetforce UL is significantly lighter than anything else in that volume range, correct? How about some more info and pics of it?

    5. Jeremy C February 9th, 2019 12:34 am

      I have the Pieps Jetforce Tour Pro (34ltr), and before that the Tour Rider (24ltr), and neither of them live up to their size rating, so hopefully the new zip on packs are better. I had thought that ABS had some sort of patent on the zip on pack addition, and that was why no one else could do it, as it such an obvious feature.

      I always had the impression that the current Jetforce V1.0 packs were more of a late prototype rather than a fully production ready pack, as they had a number of poor design features that appear to have been addressed in the V2.0. Examples being the right hand only release handle, the very poor crotch strap design, poor internal positioning of the hardware, poor unstable waist strap design, poor manual deflation process, and the biggest for me the lack of size options with zip on packs.

    6. Lukasz February 9th, 2019 1:24 am

      Lou here is a pic:
      But you are right – simple extension will work :).

      If i may – here you can find a tons of pictures (Jetforce PRO):

      @Kristian I agree about system placement – in the middle of nothing :\.

    7. Lou Dawson 2 February 9th, 2019 7:47 am

      Agree that the E1 guts are awkwardly located, that’ll probably be improved as happened with the Alpride gas versions 1.0 and 2.0. The internal switch on the E1 system is not a big deal once you get used to it. It’s a toggle. Pull up and rotate, turns the pack on or off. When turning on it does a self check, you get used to hearing the sound, then you know you’re live. Likewise, when live the lights flash and can be seen from the outside of the pack, when you switch the pack off the lights go away. The internal switch is designed to prevent accidental operation due to gear pressing against it and that sort of thing. As Louie alludes to, it would be better to have the lights show where you could see them with the pack on your back, but the lights are not a deal breaker. Lou

    8. Cantankerous Pinhead February 9th, 2019 8:21 am

      Who designs this website. It’s ugly AF. Is optimized for Netscape or something? Great content, I just can’t bring myself to look at it.

    9. John2 February 9th, 2019 9:28 am

      It’s true that it’s a hassle turning the E1 on and off, but since a single charge lasts approximately 3 months you can just turn it on at the start of an extended ski trip and leave it on. No need to turn it on and off every day.

    10. Louis Dawson February 9th, 2019 2:53 pm

      We’ll have detailed reviews of each of the packs coming up, with more pics and info. It was a bit to much to put into one post.

      Agreed about the awkward placement of the E1 components, probably my biggest complaint about the pack.

      It’s getting difficult to keep track of all the new packs on the market, but I believe you’re right, the Jetforce UL will be the lightest ~26 liter airbag pack on the market. I believe the next lightest contender is the Mammut light 30, with carbon cylinder (which is admittedly difficult to get in the US), which weighs 109 grams (4oz) more (and also has more volume). There are a few other packs that are about a pound heavier than these, such as Scotts Backcountry Guide 30, and BCA’s speed 27. It’s awesome to see this stuff getting lighter!

    11. Lou Dawson 2 February 9th, 2019 5:08 pm

      John2 and Louie, yes, it would not be necessary to turn the pack off it it was being used frequently, but a convenient on-off switch is good for heli skiing and other situations where it’s good to have a fully disabled trigger. Personally, the E1 switch location bothers me not at all. Lou

    12. Paulus February 10th, 2019 6:10 am

      I wish they could make one of these electric avalance backpacks with larger than 35l capacity. BD could take note of their own cirque 45 backpack. that one is pretty darn nice. 35l is enough for alot, but they dont carry very well when you stuff them full because you needed all of the 35litres. And when you fill the pack to the brim, you can never find what you need and have to take everything out, and then stuff everything back in since there is no room to maneuvre in the pack. Also diagonal carry is usually no good when the backpack is stuffed. And why do backpacks need to be black? and why do backpacks need to be black on the inside? black insides of backpacks should be criminal. And i cant understand why they cant make a backpack where you can carry your skis diagonally and carry a helmet at the same time. That would be a super easy problem to fix. Sorry. This was not supposed to be a very critical post, but i guess i have a lot of supressed backpack anger that has built up over time and needed to get out. Anywho, i wish someone would make a modern electric avapack for those few of us that live in alpine terrain north of the arctic circle.

    13. Kristian February 10th, 2019 6:30 am

      Ha! I looove all black backpacks! Seriously. They color coordinate with everything and you are all set to match your tactical setup when the Zombie Apocalypse arrives.

      All black from 12 – 85 liters – I finally figured out that they can be stored Russian Doll style for space savings.

      You can keep smaller items grouped in 1 gallon freezer zip bags, stuff sacks, or left over mesh bags.

    14. Lou Dawson 2 February 10th, 2019 10:23 am

      It’s like the debate between dark and light skis. Luckily there are about 15,000 backpack models out there…. though fewer choices in airbag packs. Interesting that Mammut and Scott do have light colored interiors. I agree, much nicer. I don’t care much about the outside color so long as it’s mellow, not dayglow, though I do prefer black.

    15. Louis Dawson February 10th, 2019 4:09 pm

      Agreed that since you don’t have to turn off the E1 all the time the location of the switch isn’t a huge deal. I’ve been noticing the inconvenience recently since I’ve been traveling, so I’ve been turning the airbag off so it didn’t get deployed accidentally while being put in a taxi, bus, etc. Over ~6 years of using airbag packs, I’ve accidentally deployed them a few times, at least once while pulling it out of the back of my car. Pretty funny, but a bit of a hassle.

    16. Eric Raymond February 10th, 2019 11:22 pm

      How do these compare to other E1 offerings for 2019?

    17. RyanD February 11th, 2019 11:28 am

      Does anyone else notice the “new” packs move away from the previous marketing points of deflation/air pocket theory “if” buried, and multiple blasts of air for a better inflation chances? Glad they moved away from that huge and heavy airbag material, but not sure why they would make their own technology closer to extinction while licensing that of Alpride, maybe its a corporate $ thing. I try not to follow the marketing stories and base my own decision on what I have seen and used, none of these are for me yet. I don’t have to fly with my pack, but I love the weight balance and design on the Arva Reactor system, @Paulus you might check out the Reactor 40L if you are looking for a large airbag system.

    18. Jason Speer February 11th, 2019 11:43 am

      Hmm…I think this changes my mind on waiting until next year to buy an airbag pack. I had heard rumors that BD was going to put the Alpride capacitor based system into more packs and have them be interchangeable like the Mammut system. I had planned to buy something in a ~20-25L and a larger pack around ~35-45L. I’d like a pack that works well for splitboarding (carries a board in both the solid config and carries wide skis that are around 135 in the waist and up to 160 at the tips) and I’d like to buy only one airbag/motor and be able to swap it between pack. I might be back to looking at the Dakine packs with the Mammut cartridge-based system.

    19. Klaus February 11th, 2019 12:29 pm

      Airbag packs provide a false sense of security as could be experienced by four German skiers in Lech this winter: 4 airbags fully deployed, for people fully buried, all dead:,RF2rvzO (in German)

    20. Lukasz February 11th, 2019 1:35 pm

      @Klaus they were burried because they were at the bottom of the terrain. And hit by an avalanche from above. Avalanche Airbags had nothing to do with this situation.
      Do you know how airbags “works” ?

    21. Kristian February 11th, 2019 1:52 pm

      @Lukasz Your webpages are helpful.

      I read the webpage link from @Klaus. His comments are about what was reported.

      “Lech’s mayor warns of too much confidence in the technology.”

      “The skiers were currently on the route “Langer train” on the way. With a gradient of up to 80 percent, the slope is considered one of the ten steepest in the world. “

    22. Lou Dawson 2 February 11th, 2019 2:12 pm

      Klaus, there is no way to know if those guys would have skied the same slope without airbags. Right? Lou

    23. Louis Dawson February 12th, 2019 3:02 pm

      Interesting point about the Polaris pack, it does look like almost exactly the same pack as the BD Jetforce Tour, with some changes (side compression straps, for one). I was wondering who designed the Tour pack, because it doesn’t share many of the features that are identical across BD’s entire line of packs (for example the helmet net is a different design). According to BD, it’s designed in-house, but that could mean many things.

      Here’s a link to the Peips/Polaris pack:

      I’ll ask BD about the removability/interchangeability of future E1 packs. It looks to me like that would require a redesign of the system.

    24. Jason Speer February 18th, 2019 12:04 pm

      You might want to take a look at the Klim Atlas 26 pack as well. Klim seems to have some sort of business arrangement with Pieps/BD as they sell Pieps transceivers and have used the Jetforce engine in previous packs. It would make sense that the Klim pack and the Polaris pack are very similar if not identical since Polaris owns Klim but seems to run and market Klim separately. They’ve had some interesting features on previous packs like the Rapid Probe Deployment tube that was on the side of the Krew pack.

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