The WARY Avi Vest Impact by (company out of business, links removed 2015) is basically a fully featured small volume (20 liter, about 6 lbs total) backpack that’s designed to be worn more like a clothing vest than a backpack. If you’re not carrying much and figure out a layering system that works, the Avi Vest is a good safety piece for nearly any activity in backcountry avalanche terrain. Though, it you need much weight or volume capacity, you’ll want to look at full backpacks (hint, Avi Vest may have one in the works).
The Avi Vest “Impact” model I review here is designed snowmobile specific with a chest protector, but can easily suffice as a small daypack for human powered activities as well. If you’re a hybrid sledder skier, look no farther for a very nice solution to several personal protection issues.
The big difference between the Impact model and regular Avi Vest is the designers replaced the center torso zipper with a vest you throw on over your head and fasten from the sides. That might sound odd, but it works, and perhaps even works better than the center zip style as the side straps on the Impact are easily adjusted for differences in clothing layers and to transfer the load to your torso. (In testing, we’ve found the regular model 2010/2011 Avi Vest to need more and easier adjustment options when used for backcountry skiing, due to the need to quickly adjust to changes in clothing layers.)
I’ll admit, when I first checked the Impact out at WildSnow HQ, I thought this “pack” would require too much fiddling to take on and off. But after riding with it (on both sled and skis) I’ve gotten to like the sense of security of having an avy airbag, and have found working with the Avi Vest Impact to be nearly as easy as a conventional backpack. Main thing, when I’m in the backcountry, this thing was definitely not coming off!
It should be mentioned that just as with most other airbag backpacks, the Impact has a crotch strap that’s probably mandatory if you actually get caught in a slide. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a while before sledheads or skiers are all seen with their crotch straps anywhere but stowed away. Indeed, one has to wonder if they can invent a better way to secure an avalanche airbag. With that in mind, if you want any Avi Vest product to be comfortable and stay on in a slide, sizing is extremely important. I demoed a size large but a medium might have been better.
Again, as a backpack this sack is on the smaller side of the spectrum (about 20 liters of storage volume). Most of the time that works well for snowmobiling, since you usually have have some storage on or in your sled. For extended backcountry skiing, 20 liters might be tough to deal without leaving essentials behind.
For testing as a ski backpack, I used the Avi Vest Impact for side country access in areas such as Jackson Hole, and concluded the potential of the Avi Vest for sidecountry is nothing less than awesome. What kept it on the level of “potential” is that this version of the Impact doesn’t have straps for skis or snowboard, a major problem me. I found that by using an accessory strap and the attached crotch strap I could carry my skis, but a couple of ski or snowboard specific straps would be nice (and could double as a way to increase carrying capacity for things like a jacket).
Do note, if you are doing resort accessed sidecountry any Avi Vest product loaded with gear may be an interesting experience since you can’t just slip it on and off like a normal pack. You get pushed off a good bit from the back of the chair, which takes a little getting used to, but trams are perfect, and yes, it was a very good season up there!
Other small changes I would make on this pack: Replace the hook and loop fastener that’s supposed to hold the crotch strap from dangling around when you are not using it, with a zipper. After a day or two the hookloop didn’t stick anymore. The side zippers need to zip down, rather than up, because gravity doesn’t pull up. The ripcord needs to be interchangeable for each shoulder (a common failing of all avy airbag backpacks), it is currently on your left shoulder which means you have to use your right hand to pull it. Anyone who has ridden a snowmobile knows that your right hand is the throttle and if you are caught in a slide the last thing you are going to do is take your right thumb off the go paddle. I would also like to see the red orb at the end of the ripcord be a little bigger, if you have mittens on it is a bit hard to grab.
To replace the air canister you send it off to Avi-Vest, they have a few dealers who can refill the canister’s but none in Colorado. To their credit, Avi Vest has good programs for getting your canister back to you, depending on how soon you need it replaced and how much you want to spend. Having two or three canisters is a good idea if you are going into an area off the grid for a while. (As we’ve stated often here on WildSnow, you should test deploy your airbag backpack at least once a season, and get used to deploying it in the field if you even THINK you might be in an avalanche, as waiting too long to pull the cord can be a very bad thing if you are caught in a slide.)
In summary, the Avi Vest Impact is super compact and light in weight. For any combination of skiing and snowmobiling, it makes wearing an airbag pack an everyday thing. Many thumbs up, on top of the snow!
Please note the Avi Vest company is also known as WARY. The naming conventions will eventually be sorted out, for now just remember both.
(WildSnow guest blogger AJ Smollen lives in Carbondale, CO and Alaska. He’s a photographer, along with the vast skillset mountain boys frequently acquire in this part of the world. AJ skis well, snowmobiles like a true sledneck, and likes to cook now and then.)