I’ll go against the proper writing rules and begin with a ho-hum lede: The data I include in this story comes from the Ortovox Product Manager for airbag backpacks, Patrick Wesch. Yup, Ortovox produces and sells avalanche airbags. Yup, Wesch lists out the specs of Ortovox products in this category and most of their competitors. (If anyone notices a mistake in the data, please let me know, and I will amend the spreadsheet.) WildSnow has not verified the information in the spreadsheets.
Primarily, from what I can discern, Wesch provides this data so consumers can make informed decisions. But let’s get this out front, from a pure weight perspective in the electronic airbag scene; Arc’teryx and Ortovox stand out for relative lightness. These companies joined resources to co-develop the Litric electronic system, which will come online to the public next ski season. So it’s not like Wesch provides data making Ortovox look anything other than industry leaders.
The email from Wesch arrived in late February after WildSnow published two pieces on avalanche airbags. The first piece created some comment buzz as it asked, “Should we be adding airbags to the shovel, beacon, probe safety arsenal?” The second story was a basic rundown of the Litrec system and what Ortovox and Arcteryx’ had in the works. If there is anything to conclude from the comments, many consider avy pack prices to be too high, the weights too heavy, or, in some or even all cases, avy packs are unneeded.
Backcountry skiing and riding are not cheap. I think we all struggle with the idea of how difficult it is to enter the scene and remain current with safety gear. The information presented in the spreadsheets appears concerned with weight only. But when considering weight, there are a few more details: there’s the system, say canister or electronic, the overall weight, which means backpack plus the system (we do not ski with the system alone), and then personal preference for backpack style. I’m not so much a gram counter when it comes to backpacks. I’d rather use a pack satisfying my design preferences and suffer an acceptable weight penalty. But certainly, others rightfully place the highest priority on weight. Variety makes the world go round.
Below, I’ll include some portions of the email that help explain Wesch’s overview of weight comparisons for avalanche airbags 2022/2023.
—The big brands are the primary focus: brands like Ferrino and Millet are not included. Also absent are Mammut and ABS. (I’ve got feelers out for that information.) FWIW, I’ve been testing their Pro Removable 3.0 45L avy pack this season (cartridge system), and I like it from a pack design perspective. You can find a full review here.
—According to Wesch, the data from competitors comes from product workbooks, and he assumes the data is accurate.
—From Wesch, “For ORTOVOX: I have decided to communicate the weight of the full product but without the extra strap for affixing a Snowboard since 95% of our customers will never use or carry this strap. I have also decided to exclude the weight of the helmet net from the communication if it is detachable since this is not standard in many products and a lot of touring skiers don’t use it.”
—Wesch also acknowledges form and function matter: “[Weight] is only one aspect of the performance for an avalanche backpack.”
The full set of data can be found here. At the top of the first spreadsheet, you’ll see a menu for additional spreadsheets.
Jason Albert comes to WildSnow from Bend, Oregon. After growing up on the East Coast, he migrated from Montana to Colorado and settled in Oregon. Simple pleasures are quiet and long days touring. His gray hair might stem from his first Grand Traverse in 2000 when rented leather boots and 210cm skis were not the speed weapons he had hoped for. Jason survived the transition from free-heel kool-aid drinker to faster and lighter (think AT), and safer, are better.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CxwdhAMuZA More details I found here
Loving the spreadsheet articles. Weirdly one of the things that makes me hesitate on an airbag pack is how much better they seem to be getting right now. They’re so expensive that it’s not the sort of thing you can just upgrade on a whim, and there’s a big difference even just between last years and this coming years electric system weights. Maybe a good case for getting a budget canister pack while they continue to iterate over the next few years and maybe get the electric pack weights into ul-friendly territory without costing 2000 bucks. It does seem like the “light but sturdy” pack category (sans airbag) seems to average about 2 lbs, and sturdy seems to be a design necessity for avy packs, so it seems like the weight savings question may be limited by how much lighter the battery/inflation system can get.
Hey Ben, yeah this info is informative for a good baseline of comparative weights. The electronic packs, yup are pricey, I think from around the $1100-$1200 range upwards to $1800 for the Arc’teryx Litric coming out next year. I hope incremental improvements in avy packs are made moving forward, but I agree it is hard to think about plopping down say $1400 for a pack and finding something similar but 500g lighter the following year. And yes, maybe a budget canister pack is the way forward for many. We’ll have a great looking Arva Tour UL 25 coming in soon for a review. You are spot on, my intent here is to look at some packs that have a solid feature set, aren’t too heavy, and get folks into the avy pack game without dropping mega-$$.
Nice write up, data is always fun! ..and coming from a manufacture pushing a new product it is bound to be at least 80% accurate 🙂 In all fairness I work for one here in the US. There is a few missing models, for example the Arva Switch 25 would be lighter than the Switch 32, and strange no Mammut, but whatever hopefully it can found more complete later. What is important and discounted in the raw math here though is the application and function. Two thing that are the MOST critical about airbags and should influence ALL purchases and consideration are – First, the placement of the system, or “relative weight”. If the system and canister or engine are in the top or side of the bag it can make the feel top-heavy or side heavy, same principle of holding a 2# weight close to your body or far away from your body. In the worse case it makes skiers/riders out of balance. The Second item is the function of the system, to oversimplify, how many moving parts does it have. More moving parts or variables creates more potential for failure or mis-use. There is other factors such as inflation power, airbag location and rigidity, two bags or sections vs. one.. that really makes one think outside of a spreadsheet. Personally I am a fan of simple physics and proven systems (currently using a carbon canister and this is a comparison few US folks even know, yet) So yes, while there is a more expensive market emerging and it is easy to travel with, I think the bottom line and part of the concept of this article is an affordable and simple solution is out there, just find what you like and wont hesitate to wear.
Great points Jeremy- thanks for your input.
As someone in the industry using a carbon canister in the US, do you have any predictions about when carbon canisters will be obtainable/refillable in the US without having to travel to Europe and/or hope that customs doesn’t block your order from Europe? Seems like the carbon canisters have gone a long ways towards solving the weight problem, and could prompt higher adoption rates if they were readily obtainable here.
@Ben. December 2022 🙂
That’s great news!
Any other details you could share?
Which system (perhaps Arva Reactor)?
Serviceable in SLC or even better Jackson?
I also wonder how well the sucking of the air from outside is tested. This is both for electronic ones that suck all the air from outside and also for the newest crop of cartridge ones that only have cca half of the bag filled with the cartridge and the rest is sucked in. I get it that it works just fine when testing outside of an avalanche, plenty of clean air around. But once you are in a real avalanche there is a lot of debris flying around that could block the vents etc.
Strangely the Ortovox cartridge models are missing as well, those are generally cca 200g lighter than their electronic counterparts with the exception of the Zero 27. I was touring around Dachstein last week and Ortovox Avabags were like 80% of all the airbag packs I saw. I now see in the other comment that it probably has to do with the carbon cartridge being a problem in the US?
Hi Jason, thanks for the table. Care to share it as data (CSV, online spreadsheet) instead of a screenshot? It would make sorting an just working with the data easy, instead of retyping the whole table again..
Hey Pingi, Let me know if you are looking for something different than the spreadsheets linked at the bottom.
Hi Jason, thank you! Have I blatantly missed the link in plain sight?! Apologies!
Maybe but unsure. The link will let you see the spreadsheets, but not sort data. Let me know if you still have an issue locating it.
While I agree that weight is not everything, in many cases lighter weight backpacks (airbag or not) are just better.
Many backpacks are over engineered, with multiple layers of fabric and weight-inefficient attachment points and closures.
Due to that, when I look at a backpack, my first check is always the weight. Once that is in a reasonable area, then I start checking out other things like fit, function, etc.
The other complaint many of us have, is how small many airbag packs are (especially once the volume of the airbag system is subtracted).
Given that, I am very excited to see what the ARC´TERYX MICON LITRIC 42 is like: 42 liter electronic pack at 2160 grams? Color me very interested!