Black Diamond JetForce Tour 26 — Review and Mods!

Post by blogger | March 18, 2019      

Gary Smith

This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry. They won’t drill holes in your pack for you, but they’ll discuss it.

Skiing a new-to-us line in a Colorado February moderate rated snowpack. The Tour 26 was welcomed insurance.

Skiing a new-to-us line with a Colorado February “moderate” rated snowpack. My Black Diamond Tour 26 airbag backpack was welcome insurance.

This winter is my first season skiing exclusively with an airbag backpack, the new Black Diamond JetForce Tour 26. While avalanche airbags have been in development since I was born, cost and weight have been the primary reasons for slow adoption by myself and many other skiers. Also, here in the United States, terrain type is another reason for limited use. Efficacy of a balloon bag is proven for long slide paths lacking trees and and terrain traps. Instead, much of our winter skiing on this side of the pond, and particularly in Colorado, is near or below treeline in rolling terrain, often terminating in creek beds where you might initially come to rest on the surface, but snow sliding above you can bury you deep — if you survive being “strainered” through the forest.

All that said, with diligent monitoring of snow stability, there are still many opportunities to ski long steep, sparsely timbered pitches throughout our ski season. That’s when the airbag comes in to play.

The past two winters, I occasionally skied with the Black Diamond JetForce Halo 28 airbag. The pack is well built, and carries well, but it is too heavy for everyday use. I would often switch back to my favorite ski rucksack of all time — BDs Cirque 45 for longer tours. Guessing when to sport an airbag, and when not to, is fine if you are a combination of Bruce Tremper and the Buddha. But for the rest of us, given conditions that are anything but full green-light, a daily commitment to wearing the airbag pack is the best way to ensure the intersection of missed stability assessment and powder fever happen with a balloon on your back.

This fall, Black Diamond received their eleventh-hour license to use the Alpride E1 system, making the JetForce Tour 26 about 2 lbs lighter than the Halo 28. I opted for the BD over the Scott version of the E1 due to easier main-cavity access, padded hip belts, and longtime personal success with the BD pack line.

(You can go lighter with the Mammut Ultralight backpack and a smuggled-from-Europe carbon cylinder. The Ultralight is too minimalist for my taste. It lacks back panel reinforcement and has a tight 20L capacity. My more weight conscious friends run this configuration and while impressively light, I have seen them struggle with jamming more than a basic amount of gear into the pack.)

Trenching through deep snow in the trees and entering into a more open path.

Trenching through deep snow in the trees and entering into a more open path.

I wear the Tour 26 medium/large for my 6 foot and 150 pound “hungry” build. The breaking point in height tends to be between 5’8” and 5’10” depending on torso length. The padded belt sections rest nicely on my boney hips and the belt cinches up well, clasping together with a small aluminum climbing-harness style buckle. The shoulder straps have an appropriate amount of dense foam and lock to the top of the pack with adjustable load lifters. Sternum strap is the same that BD uses for most of their packs: height adjustable, whistle buckle, and elastic segment to aid mobility. Back panel is plastic for structure with dense foam facing the wearer.

The only gripe I have with the feel of this pack is that the avy tools are in a separate compartment furthest from the wearer. Without any compression ability, this creates a sloppy swing weight when the pack is anything but completely loaded. If you look closely in the promo video for the pack, the tested one actually has two straps on either side. Waiting to hear back from BD about what happened with that!

Sitting largely unused in my garage was an old BD Slide 20L pack that was going to have to make a sacrifice to its descendant. I cut the buckled compression straps off the Slide and began drilling into the new Tour 26. Two suitable attachment points just below the balloon closure zipper were located, one in the back panel and other in the dense foam outer shell. Four screw rivets with copious red Loctite fastened the straps to the pack. Voila, the pack feels like one unit no matter how empty it is.

Slightly nerve wracking drilling into an $1,100 balloon bag. After much internal investigation, this was the spot.

Slightly nerve wracking drilling into an $1,100 balloon bag. After obsessive internal investigation, this was the spot.

One of the biggest benefits of an electric airbag is cost-free and simple system testing. All the more important when drilling holes in it and modifying the shape (bring the comments). Furthermore, my BCA radio cable crosses over the airbag closure, which was mildly concerning. A quick cost-free inflation of the system showed that my mods had not hindered the pack and that the balloon easily pushed the radio cable out of the way.

Successful deployment with pack mostly empty, bolt on compression straps fully cinched, radio cable crossing over the top. Great to be able to test so easily.

Successful deployment with pack mostly empty, bolt on compression straps fully cinched, radio cable crossing over the top. Wonderful to be able to test so easily.

The E1 system’s operating switch is internal (located on the inflation mechanism), compared to the trigger handle button on the Halo pack. The E1 switch knob must be pulled out, twisted 90 degrees, and held for 2 seconds. The deflate knob is also inside the bag, it functions similarly yet is purely mechanical. The inflation mechanism is housed in an awkwardly-tight zippered pouch. An externally visible indicator LED blinks green every 3 seconds when the pack is charged, on, and ready to inflate. I generally plug the E1 system in every night but have gone several days on end without needing a charge. As Lou discovered in his testing, it charges nicely with AA batteries as well. He says that’s all he uses.

The additional compression strap cinched down. Would be nice to have two smaller ones professionally sewn in just behind the outer compartment. Outer attachment point for mine was chosen for better anchor point. Green LED means ready to inflate.The additional compression strap cinched down. Would be nice to have two smaller ones professionally sewn in just behind the outer compartment. Outer attachment point for mine was chosen for better anchor point. Green LED means ready to inflate.

The additional compression strap cinched down. Would be nice to have two smaller ones professionally sewn in just behind the outer compartment. Outer attachment point for mine was chosen for better anchor point. Green LED means ready to inflate.

The main compartment is accessible by a 270-degree two-way zipper, creating a book-like full opening or options to open from the top or side. I pack my bag in the fully open position, but access contents throughout the day via a side opening. Probe, shovel pieces, and snow saw fit in the tools compartment. Inside the top portion of that cavity is a zippered pocket that holds miscellaneous small items. The Halo had a clever white colored zipper pull on the avy tool closure to distinguish it from the main compartment. I have grabbed the wrong zipper many a time on the Tour 26 — white acrylic paint will remedy that. A small pouch on the right hip has enough space for some TP, a ski strap, and stability column isolation cord.

Only the facial expression is awkward here. Traded attached axe for diagonal ski with ease for the summit push.

Only the facial expression is awkward here. Traded attached axe for diagonal ski with ease for the summit push.

External gear attachment points include a diagonal ski carry setup, helmet carry, and single ice tool. Helmet and ski carries tuck into zippered closures when not in use and are not available at the same time. The lower ski carry loop is a fixed piece of webbing sewn into the center of the pack inside of the padded exterior panel. Seems to me that it could be better attached and larger or adjustable. The leg loop lacks a stowing place which seems like an oversight. I added a simple wire gate carabiner to the leg loop for easy on-off. When not in use, I simply attach that biner to the shoulder strap webbing at the hip. The Tour 26 is overall very clean and has been quite durable as one would expect from a BD pack.

Headed towards the objective. Tour 26 with stowed leg loop via biner, pack compressed via modded strap.

Headed towards the objective. Tour 26 with stowed leg loop via biner, pack compressed via modded strap.

I have carried a Black Diamond pack nearly exclusively during this season. Solid, simple, and utilitarian; BD packs carry essential gear well and have held up to many seasons of my best abuse. I am happy with the Jetforce Tour 26 and will to continue to carry it in any conditions other than full green-light. And I might even carry it then.

(Wildsnow guest blogger Gary Smith is an avid backcountry skier and ski mountaineer residing in Eagle County, Colorado. You can find him at Cripple Creek Backcountry in Vail when he is not in search of steep lines or face shots. Please visit @ghostrider.gary on Instagram for ski shots and snippets of mountain life.)


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6 Responses to “Black Diamond JetForce Tour 26 — Review and Mods!”

  1. Kristian March 18th, 2019 2:20 pm

    Nice mod!

    The ski carry can be twisted for size adjustment and the leg loop is stored in the small bottom zip pocket that also holds the elastic helmet carry (not obvious).

    5′ 10″ 155 pounds, long legs, shorter torso, s/m size from Cripple Creek Backcountry.

  2. Kristian March 19th, 2019 2:16 pm

    The video (currently) on the vendor’s website shows two compression straps on each side of the pack. The upper ones appear to block the deployment of the airbag. Probably a prototype.

    I hope that someone comes up with a wholly self contained easily detachable and movable to another pack top module that contains both the bag and the deployment mechanism that does not use any of the main backpack’s internal body volume or interfere with any of its functions. A longer leg loop could be threaded down through the back panel.

  3. Chris April 13th, 2019 9:39 am

    I’ve been trying to figure out battery management with the JetForce tour and I’m not getting an answer from Black Diamond. Do I only need to replace the AA batteries if I’ve discharged the pack in the field and it’s recharged on battery power? What if I have it sitting on the shelf at home for a few weeks, but I have it plugged in?

    I had one set of batteries in for the season, and was careful to recharge it between skis. I did try discharging it a couple times at the end of skis, but turned it off promptly, so it wouldn’t try to recharge from the battery. Lately, when I don’t recharge it, it’s showed a yellow charge light (whereas earlier, even if I didn’t recharge it, it was staying green when I turned it back on).

    Or is there a way to test my AA batteries periodically?

  4. CHRIS C TONOZZI April 13th, 2019 9:42 am

    PS I’m using a lithium battery, which I think was recommended by Black Diamond.

  5. Kristian April 13th, 2019 4:27 pm

    Lithium batteries show fairly good voltage until they die off. Having a testing multi meter is handy for checking and also for home and auto repairs. There are fairly good inexpensive ones available.

    Carry a couple of spare AA Lithiums in your backpack. If the used batteries still have some life, they can be cycled into a TV remote, etc.

    I bought this pack 4 months ago and USB charged. I have not USB charged the pack since the first time.

    Looks like the batteries have been topping off the charge since then. They now measure 1.49 volts. 1.4 volts is considered depleted. New ones are 1.8 volts. The pack now shows green when turned on with the 4 month old 1.49 volt batteries.

  6. Kristian April 13th, 2019 4:31 pm

    Periodically turning on the backpack, running the electronics and the blinking LED was the tiny current drain over time.

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