ABS Airbag Packs 2012 – First Look

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | December 26, 2011      
Backcountry skiing avalanche airbag backpacks.

Airbag backpacks.

ABS’s latest airbag offerings for this season recently showed up on my doorstep – a big box required by how many different packs they make! The ABS airbag backpacks are unique in that they consist of a single base unit that can have several different types and sizes of packs zipped on to give the ultimate in versatility. New for this year everything has gotten lighter and has sharper looks. ABS has been in the airbag game for over 20 years, and although they seem to have found a winning formula with their airbag system, they are still making small changes to ever improve their backpacks.


Dr. Andy Gnar models the Vario 18 Ultralight while contemplating some sidecountry turns. Need more snow!

New for this season, the ABS Vario series has 40, 25, 18, and 15 liter zip on options, plus a bonus cover. The Powder series has 5 and 15 liter zip ons. There’s not as much reduction in weight from last year as I’d hoped, but things have gotten lighter, and that’s great. If you have an older zip on from previous years, or have one of the many third party zip on packs, you can still use it on the new base units, as the zipper size standard has remained in place.

The Powder 15 base unit is unchanged, including the long neoprene hip belt strap. The zip on now has two big zippered openings.

ABS Powder Line
The Powder series packs are small and lightweight, perfect for sidecountry and mechanized skiers. The Powder base unit is practically identical to last year’s, save for a new back panel material. The 15 liter zip on has been beefed up and has a two clamshell zip compartments that completely open up- a shovel and probe pocket in front, with the main compartment in back. Included are a hydration bladder pouch and hanger, but no hose port, so you’ll have to route it through the zipper. Gear loops are added to the front, but the diagonal ski and vertical snowboard carry system are the same as last year. Basically some webbing loops that come with some straps. Doesn’t interfere with airbag opening. See last year’s ABS Powder review, as not much has changed. It’s still geared towards mechanized skiing and freeriding as it has a short back so that the hip belt will ride high on most people. This works well for light loads, giving lots of mobility. My 5′ tall wife skinned with it and found that the length worked well for her, but the hip belt wouldn’t cinch tight enough around her skinny waist. In fact it only just gets tight enough for me. So, if you’re short and fat or like to free ride with a light load, this is the pack for you.

Comes with a detachable helmet carrier. Very easy to use and hook onto the gear loops.

Easily get to avy tools with the big opening. Only short shovel handles will fit.

Leg loop strap- necessary for keeping the pack on you in an avalanche. Most manufacturers have figured out a way to have one side stay fixed to the hip belt while the rest can be quickly stashed into a pocket when not in use. ABS continues to baffle me by not making their leg loop this easy to use. You have to completely remove the leg loop when not in use. They do provide a pocket for it, but it's on the opposite side of the hip belt. The Vario packs have the same issue.

ABS Vario Line
The Vario pack system has been around for a few years, and was one of my favorites for the last couple seasons (see last year’s Vario Review). This year, ABS has dropped some weight from the base unit by using lighter, but stronger, airbag fabric like the Powder series and improved the hip belt buckle. The zip on size break down has changed; the 15 and 18 remain, but the 30 and 50 have been replaced by a 25 and 40. I’m a little sad to lose the 50 liter for big hut trips, but the 40 should actually be fine for that. Regardless or which one you order, your base unit will now come with a new fabric cover, which can actually be used as a pack in itself! I’ve been calling this the ‘Vario 0’.

The Vario lineup. Top row, left to right: 15, 18 Ultralight, 25, and 40. Bottom: 'Vario 0', base unit, and cartridge and activation handle.

The 'Vario 0' carries just as much as the 15 liter, but without the bells and whistles. It comes with any size of zip on ordered.

The only way to open up the '0' is by the zip on connecting zip which runs around the entire circumference. No big deal if you don't need to get into it that often. Shovel pocket and handle straps included. Just enough space to also have some water, skins, extra layer and some food.

The Vario 15 now has two full clamshell opening zips — main compartment in front and avy tool pocket in back. It actually has a bit more volume than the Powder 15, and comes with a hydration hose port, though the port runs the hose across both zips on the outside, making it seem like an afterthought. Ice axe carry and similar diagonal ski carry and vertical snowboard carry to the Powder 15.

ABS Vario 15. Two full zippered openings make it much easier to get into the pack than last year's.

Main compartment opens to reveal a couple of smaller zippered pouches and enough room for water, puffy, skins, and a snack.

Shovel tool pocket is a full clamshell zip. It is between the main compartment and your back, rather than the typical outside of the pack. The Vario 15, 25, and 40 all have this feature, which apparently some people like. I feel that putting the shovel blade in this position creates a dead space where you don't want dead space, right against your back.

Because shovels are curved, you can't get around the dead space. If you flip the blade around as in this picture, you still get dead space behind the neck, and the neck then protrudes into the main compartment. The end result of putting your shovel and probe in the avy tool pocket is that the heavier pack contents are pushed further out away from your back, increasing swing weight, and to make matters worse, if you use a long shovel, it will poke you in the small of your back at the bottom of the pack. Solution? Don't use this pocket and store all your gear together. Better yet, cut the divider out (as tends to happen over at WildSnow HQ).

Excellent helmet carry mesh easily clips into the gear loops, way easier than ones I've tried from other manufacturers. Ice axe goes on too, but if you deploy the airbag, the bag on the ice axe side might puncture, so use tip protectors. One great thing about ABS is the dual bag system, so if one punctured, you still have another!

Vario 18 Ultralight
The Vario 18 Ultralight zipon is unchanged this year, save for new colors and little bungies on the inside that hook in with buttons to organize your shovel and probe. I found them difficult to use, so pulled them out. The 18 was one of my favorites last year, a super light pack and just big enough for short tours or side country skiing (see my review of last year’s Vario 18).

Same diagonal ski carry as the other ABS packs, it works well if you add your own strap to the top and trim the bottom strap. Two side pockets (one is visible in this photo) are great for quick access to snacks or gloves. Tele bindings, not Dynafits. Hah, take that Lou.

Vario 25
The Vario 25 replaces the original 30, and instead of a top loader drawstring, it has a zippered main compartment and a clamshell zipper avy tool compartment in back. You also get a small goggle type pocket accessible from the outside, small zippered pouch inside the main, and a bladder pouch. Hydration hose port is between the main and avy tool zippers, so at least it will only interfere with the avy tool zip and not both. Ice axe loop and the standard ABS diagonal ski carry and vertical snowboard carry as well.

The Vario 25. You can see the avy tool zip running long along the bottom, while the main compartment is just a short zip around the top. Note the gear loops and ice axe holder.

The main compartment has a relatively small zippered opening, which works well if you don't overstuff the pack. A slight constriction just below the zipper makes getting things in and out somewhat tricky.

The avy tool pocket, which is nice and big, but has the same issues as the 15. If you decide to put everything, including avy tools, in the main compartment, the opening is too small to be able to get at anything effectively. If you swap places- shovel and probe in front, everything else in the tool pocket, the tool pocket is too slim to hold much. I say cut the divider out and be happy.

The Vario 25 and 40 come with load lifter buckles on the shoulder straps to connect to the pack, which is great for pulling the weight in closer to your body. The problem is that the connecting straps on both the 25 and 40 are on the wrong side of the avy tool pocket, so if you use these straps, you can't fully open up the zip. Not the end of the world to have to undo the strap or to just open the zip part way and reach in from the side, but it's a definite oversight.

Accessing the shovel through the side, without opening the zip all the way. This will work with small shovels, but it's tight with a fully loaded pack.

As with all ABS pack ski carry systems, it won't interfere with the airbag. Helmet mesh carrier is the same as the ones above- easy to use.

Vario 40
The ABS Vario 40 is superb. It offers a significant amount of space for it’s weight, making it ideal for long days, ski mountaineering, and overnights. It’s definitely bigger than Snowpulse’s Pro 35 and will hold more than BCA’s 42. It’s a top loader, making it easy to stuff full, yet has a side zip for easy access to the bottom. And for those of you waiting for an airbag pack that has A-frame carry which is actually compatible with the airbag, here it is at last, and well executed to boot. The lid (which is permanently attached, unfortunately), has two pockets, and there’s an ice axe loop. No snowboard carry, though it could easily be accomplished with some mods. This pack (and all the other Varios) comes with the ‘0’ pack cover, so you get the versatility of a small side country pack and a full featured touring pack in one- well done ABS!

The Vario 40 might seem to hang off your back a little bit if you forget to use the load lifters and hip stabilizer straps. With those cinched up, it carries very comfortably.

Solid A-frame ability, and if you must have diagonal as well, it wouldn't be hard to set up with an extra strap.

Side zip access is nice to get things at the bottom. Expansion collar for loading it full.

Ski carry poses no problem with the airbag. Ice axe spike might be an issue, but the rest of it is protected by my skis (assuming they don't get ripped off in a slide).

Quick weight breakdown, including zip on, base unit, filled US steel cartridge, and activation handle:
Vario 40: 7.65lbs
Vario 25: 7.29lbs
Vario 18: 6.95lbs
Vario 15: 7.17lbs
Vario ‘0’: 6.44lbs

Both the Powder and Vario series packs use the same ABS non refillable cartridge which must be sent back in the mail to one of their many distribution centers, including several in the US and Canada now. They use a dual airbag system, which provides some extra safety through redundancy — if one malfunctions or rips, you still have another. Each bag is 85 liters, for a total of 170 liters, 20 more than other airbags. This system has been around for many years and has saved many skiers lives in Europe. See my ABS How To for more on how to set up and use ABS packs. For weight comparison and pricing on this and other airbag backpacks for backcountry skiing, see the Wildsnow airbag overview.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


46 Responses to “ABS Airbag Packs 2012 – First Look”

  1. Feldy December 26th, 2011 8:26 pm

    ABS is the oldest airbag company? And most real world data on survivability is therefore on ABS??? And ABS has a different design with the twin side airbags of pretty much ever other manufacturer?

    (The period on my keyboard isn’t broken. Those are all meant to be questions)

    Point being, is there any data out there that says other airbag designs are just as good/worse/better than ABS? I mean, ABS is more expensive, it must be better, right? 😉

  2. Nick Thompson December 27th, 2011 9:03 am

    ABS has been around the longest (since the 80s) but was originally a single airbag. They switched to a twin bag design in ’96. Most of the stats out there appear to involve ABS since they’ve been around for so long, however there are plenty of documented cases of other designs saving people. ABS is great. So are other packs. I wouldn’t say one system is necessarily superior, just different; there are lots of variables. Your choice.

  3. Feldy December 27th, 2011 3:29 pm

    cool. Thanks for the reply.

  4. Dimi December 28th, 2011 3:12 am

    Feldy: ABS is PROVEN to work beyond question, something the other airbags simply do not have the data to prove yet..

  5. Mark December 28th, 2011 7:30 am

    Given that the physical principles are the same, the designs extremely similar, and field tests yield similar results, I’d say the ABS data provides solid insight into the performance of all the airbag packs. The only open question (IMO) is whether one bag design is more likely to leave you face down. The main thing – putting you on the surface – seems like just a function of total bag volume.

  6. Lou December 28th, 2011 8:11 am

    Mark, yeah, I’d say that quibbling over which airbag is somehow superior is similar to the beacon wars (worthwhile sometimes, but easily excessive). But that’s just me. Perhaps the features that are touted as giving additional safety really do save more lives. From my studies over the years, I’d say that if the airbag provides protection from cervical injury then that’s a valid feature. But whether it leaves you face up or down is getting a bit esoteric. One of the most important and overlooked features (other than by Nick, who does cover it well) is how well the leg strap works and how easy it is to stow or deploy, as if you don’t use the leg strap all bets are off on how effective the airbag will be in a real life use. Indeed, it would seem a leg strap would be a good idea for the Avalung as well, not to mention a strap behind the head to hold the mouthpiece in.

  7. John December 28th, 2011 9:05 pm

    My 2 boys and myself have the SnowPulse Guide 30l L as our everyday touring pack because of torso legth, fit and features, aside from how the airbag is configured. I also have an ABS Vario L where I will use the 15l for heli trips and the 40l for the occasional overnight trip.

    The extra benefit I see in the Mammut/SnowPulse 2.0 packs is you may be able to fly with an ABS cylinder for quick trips.

    Just refilled cylinders tonight at AE Highlands, BCA, SnowPulse, and Mystery Ranch.

    People seem to be making choices on features and fit more then bag design.

  8. Dimi December 29th, 2011 1:48 am

    Mark: the devil is always in the detail, and not basic design or principle.

    Not to quibble I do like the leg strap on the Mammut system more, it looks a lot stronger than the ABS ones. I still want a company to introduce a airbag with built in harness, not only would that help the pack stay put in a slide but also save a ton a weight from wearing a separate harness 🙂

    I would love to see more bag design go the way of the snowpulse and aid in trauma injuries etc.

  9. Dom January 3rd, 2012 11:19 am

    Nick, can you provide some more detail about the hydration options?

    You mention a “hydration hose port”, which sounds like it is just a reinforced hole in the bag to allow a hose to emerge to the outside. If so, that’s disappointing.

    I’ve experimented a lot with bladder systems for winter use, and have found that the only kind that don’t freeze up are the ones which route the hose inside the main straps, and enclose the mouthpiece too. These freeze too, if it gets cold enough, but seem to work more than 90% of the time. In my experience, the ones with any of the hose or mouthpiece exposed only work on the warmest days.

    I’m guessing from your review of the BCA Float 36 that hydration bladders are not very important to you. Quote: “Or just don’t even bother and bring a water bottle.” I sometimes carry a bottle as a backup, but the big plus of a hose is that taking a drink takes a few seconds, and little effort, so you can do it any time you have a moment to spare. Getting a bottle out of the pack involves a lot more time and effort, and so I find I do it a lot less frequently and am more likely to get dehydrated.

    So: if the ABS vario packs don’t route hose inside the main straps, can you say which models do? Sounds like the BCA Float 36 does (although you mention the routing issue). Can’t tell from your Mammut Ride review.

    This is an important enough issue to me that I probably would not buy a pack which doesn’t enclose the hose inside the strap.

  10. Nick Thompson January 6th, 2012 1:18 pm

    Dom, correct, the mentioned hose ports are just reinforced holes. I personally don’t use a hydration bladder w/ hose, but I agree that it can be nice when it works and an insulated sleeve helps immensely with that.

    All that aside, back to your question: Mammut, Snowpulse, and ABS do not have an insulated sleeve specifically for a hose. Mammut and Snowpulse have insulated sleeves for the airbag trigger cable.

    You could always run some insulation and zip ties for a DIY mod…

  11. Jeff February 23rd, 2012 6:08 pm

    Is it valid to be concerned that the ABS packs use a charge to breach the canister and deploy the bags while the other manufacturers simply use a cable and a valve? In my mind it seems like you would want as few pieces of equipment as possible from the handle to the canister so that there’s fewer things that can go wrong. The charge, to me, just seems like one more thing that could fail and prevent the bags from deploying. Is there any real upside to this method vs. the cable/valve that the other companies are utilizing?

    I’ve heard that moisture and ice could potentially affect the cable, but that seems like a longshot to me and something that, at worst, would just require a stronger pull.

    As you can see, I’m trying to decide between Snowpulse and ABS and want to make sure I’m considering all options and potential issues.

  12. Nick February 24th, 2012 7:49 am

    Good question. ABS has been at this a long time, and at some point during their r&d felt that the explosive cartridge was more failsafe than a cable. I think you can argue either way as to what is simpler and less likely to fail. Cables break, cable connections break, more friction/ice. But the explosive must be intact (handles have to be replaced after a few years) and it’s an extra thng to fiddle with. I don’t thnk you need to base your decision on this point, as i’ve been happy with both.

  13. matow February 26th, 2012 10:27 am

    Hi and thanks for the review. Could you please specify the pack sizes you tested out? I tried on a Vario L 25 Liter and it felt questionable large. It was comfortable enough on the back but similar to your account I couldn’t fasten the waste strap enough for it to be much use. I am 5’10” and about 170lbs, so not quite a tall guy and not quite a short guy, somewhere around average I’d say. I am curious how the small size pack fits to an average sized guy? Thanks again!

  14. Nick February 26th, 2012 4:42 pm

    I tested them all in size large. You might need to adjust the hip belt strap so that the female part of the buckle is shorter. The L Vario fits fine and I’m pretty skinny.

  15. John February 27th, 2012 10:46 am

    Anyone know if I can rent ABS or SnowPulse cylinders in Whistler? A couple of us are skiing there for a few days prior to heading up to central BC.

  16. John February 27th, 2012 11:04 am

    Escape Route

  17. John February 29th, 2012 12:43 pm

    Excess Backcountry rents ABS cylinders in Whistler.
    Avalanche Safety rents in Revelstoke.

  18. Shaun November 7th, 2012 12:34 pm

    Do the zip on backpacks for the abs system come with straps for none ski touring use? I’m trying to figure out which pack to buy and have started leaning toward the abs and snow pulse. I have also hear the abs helps with avoiding anchoring in an avalanch. However, if I’m strapped to a snowboard wouldn’t this cause anchoring regardless of which pack I wear?

  19. Nick November 7th, 2012 12:54 pm

    You can get an ABS base unit that does not have an airbag system in it, just a back panel, shoulder straps and hip belt. Airbags help keep you on top while the slide is moving. Skis/snowboard attached to your feet will try to drag you back down, but an airbag should still function and keep you near the surface. Different airbag designs produce different body orientations during a slide, but it’s hard to say which is best. ABS argues that their system keeps your body parallel to the surface, causing less drag from your feet and any equipment attached. Hard to say for sure. Any airbag would be a huge help.

  20. Shaun November 7th, 2012 1:51 pm

    Thank you for the quick reply Nick,

    I wasn’t aware you could purchase the base unit without the airbag system. I assume I can add this feature later on. I need a new backpack regardless and like the idea of multiple packs attached to the airbag system. The dual airbags seem better for obvious reasons. With that said I also like the snowpulse systems coverage of the head and neck. Vision is likely reduced however, if I have to deploy an airbag vision will be a problem with or without an airbag. The snowpulse bag appears to throw you in a more upright position whereas the abs more horizontal to the slope (like you said keeping you afloat better). Snowpulse might actually create a better air pocket perhaps? What would u suggest for a snowboarder accessing backcountry in coastal heavier snow? $$$$ aside


  21. Shaun November 7th, 2012 2:17 pm

    Another feature I like about the abs is the ability to drop the larger zip on pack and take a day trip or short hike with just the base pack. I think this will be the deciding factor in my decision.


  22. Nick November 7th, 2012 3:00 pm

    If you want to be able to switch airbags between packs, then ABS would make more sense over Snowpulse unless you get Snowpulse’s RAS system (which does not wrap around your head, but is a pillow). Mammut will likely debut a swapable wrap around the head system next season.

    Can’t really say which system is ‘safer’ there’s arguments going both ways. I’d think about the pack itself, swapability if that’s important, and refills vs shipping cartridges with ABS.

    BCA and Mammut also have great packs that I’m a fan of.

  23. Jimmy November 9th, 2012 5:28 pm

    Thanks Nick for the overview and photos – it’s hard to find a shop that has all the bags in stock & out for display. The overhead of systems that are not cheap I’m sure contribute to being able to find them in abundance. All more the photos, the better I think.

    As for the comparison of the different systems, the charge on the ABS wouldn’t be susceptible to leakage as they are sealed up and need an explosive charge to detonate. I have heard (no personal experiences) that some of the air filled canisters have been know to leak and this problem would increase with time & temperature fluctuation as you would get coming in and putting the packs inside overnight etc. I am curious to know more about this as I would be shattered to spend a load of cash on a pack that would possibly fail when my life would depend on it. I’m sure the tread will be on who fills it but I guess having less error built into a system would be an advantage.


    Finally, ABS should think about partnering with shops to have canisters available for people w/ their packs. That would get more people into those shops (and spend money) and probably would get more people to use their bags given canisters are available wherever you travel. Free if returned un-used, charge for a fill if not. Come on ABS, own this space and lead the way!!!

  24. Nick Thompson November 11th, 2012 6:27 pm

    Jimmy, I would not be concerned about other manufacturers’ cylinders leaking. I have kept Snowpulse, Mammut, and BCA cylinders for over a year with no leakage. The nice thing about those cylinders is that they have a gauge so you can quickly verify that they haven’t leaked. I have never had an ABS cylinder leak, but they do recommend you check them seasonally by weighing them.

    As for ABS lending out free cylinders on deposit, that would be a sweet program!

  25. mike November 18th, 2012 6:13 pm

    Wondering if the Small size ABS Vario pack would fit someone 5’9″-5’10”?

  26. Nick Thompson November 20th, 2012 12:55 pm

    Mike, measure your back length from hip (find hip bone, then transfer that point across to your spine) to shoulder. Vario size Small fits up to 19″, the size Large fits 18″ and up.

  27. Shaun November 27th, 2012 2:01 pm

    This pack (and all the other Varios) comes with the ’0? pack cover, so you get the versatility of a small side country pack and a full featured touring pack in one- well done ABS!

    Does this mean if I buy the 40liter pack it comes with the 0 liter pack as well? I assumed I had to buy the 2 separately. This would be great if true!

  28. Nick November 27th, 2012 2:08 pm

    Yes. If you buy a Vario with a base unit, it will also come with the “0” cover. It’s super limited as you can see above, but it’s a great option.

  29. etto December 20th, 2012 5:33 am

    I realize this is an old post by now, but I’m considering getting a bigger zip-on for my ABS. How would you compare the old 50l (still available in some shops) to the current 40l? 10l is quite a lot on paper, but how big is the difference really, and how do the designs compare? It seems to be quite different between the two, but different doesn’t necessarily mean the newer is better…

  30. Nick December 20th, 2012 6:54 am

    The 40 is a bit smaller than the 50, but (as far as I recall, as I no longer have the vario 50) might not actually be a full 10 liter difference. The vario 40 is still a big volume pack, and if you cut out some of the fabric dividers (take out the shovel pocket in the back of the pack, which is a stupid place for it to be), then you gain a bit more volume. Vario 40 is nearly a pound lighter than the old 50, partially due to the improved airbag material. It is a nice standard ‘alpinist’ style top loader with a lid on top.

    That said, the old vario 50 actually has a shovel pocket that is usable and has a bit more volume.

    If you can get a deal on the 50, want a bit more space and don’t mind lugging around an extra lb of weight, then that might be the one for you.

  31. Grif January 6th, 2013 12:24 am

    Question with regard to the A-frame carry. How wide of skis could this pack handle? I have a pair of 35mm waist skis and am looking at a pair of 45mm waist skis.

  32. Nick Thompson January 6th, 2013 3:32 pm

    The ABS vario 40 will carry up to about 150mm waist, but 120mm would be the widest at the most secure setting. Wider tails will work because the bottom loop is velcro and can be opened and then closed around the ski. Any ski narrower than 150mm waist should work fine. The smallest the straps go is 100mm, but no problem if your skis are smaller; still works.

  33. Anthony January 12th, 2013 3:32 pm

    ABS sales staff have told me that because they use Argon it is better than the Snowpulse system using compressed air because the pressure in an Argon cylinder wont vay with temperature as much as a compressed air system. is this a significant advanatage for ABS and argon based systems?

  34. Nick Thompson January 12th, 2013 6:09 pm

    Anthony, ABS uses nitrogen (not argon) in their cylinders. Everyone else uses breathable air (which has a lot of nitrogen in it). Both are subject to varying pressures at different temperatures which is why you must make sure your ABS canister has the correct weight prior to use (and make sure other companies’ cylinders are filled to ‘green’ at room temp).

    ABS contends that compressed breathable air can contain moisture which could freeze up the system in other brands’ systems. However, the likely hood of this happening is marginal provided you fill your cylinder with dry air. Authorized refillers, fire stations, and SCUBA centers have specialized equipment to do this. So, as long as you get dry air, ABS’s argument is just ‘hot air’.

    For those that argue that breathable air is better than nitrogen if the airbag ruptures and you have to breathe it (not a likely situation), remember that a small fraction of the air that fills the airbag is actually from the cylinder. Most is brought in from the surrounding air by the venturi valve. So, again, no big deal in air vs. nitrogen.

  35. Jan January 19th, 2013 1:05 am


    I’m asking my question here as you are very friendly in providing great advice. I have the possibility of buying an ABS dynafit proline backpack quite cheaply. I have been told it was bought from new in 2007 and has not been used much.

    Do you know if ABS uses the same cannister system as 4/5 years ago? And do you have any experience with this pack as it is difficult to find information of it online.

    Thanks a lot


  36. Nick January 22nd, 2013 6:55 am

    Hi Jan,
    Yes, the canister system is the same. Sorry, I don’t know much about the old Dynafit proline pack. If you can get a good deal and it’s in good shape, it could be a good deal. Be sure to get a new activation unit (cannister and trigger) before using in the field. If they have the old one, that could be fine for a test fire, but not for backcountry use. The trigger handles expire after a few years.

  37. etto January 22nd, 2013 7:21 am

    Jan, do keep in mind that the backpacks themselves have a limited life span too. I’ve heard 10 years, but I can’t find a definitive source for that. You should consider that when deciding on what’s a good bargain.

  38. Nick January 22nd, 2013 7:24 am

    Good point etto, thanks.
    ABS recommends sending it in for inspection. You’re call.

  39. Jan January 22nd, 2013 7:52 am

    Etto and Nick,

    Thanks a lot for your help. The bag had not been used in three years and was in great condition and I paid 150 USD – new bag price in Denmark for a similar is around USD 1000.

    I still have to testfire it to check everything but all the parts had been kept dry and warm and seemed OK upon inspection so i’m expecting that all is OK. I’ll also get a dealer to look at it.
    Thanks again for your help.


  40. Kevin January 28th, 2013 3:24 pm

    Great review thanks. I have a Black Diamond Deploy shovel, would this fit comfortably in the dedicated compartment, or would I still be better cutting out the divder?

  41. Nick Thompson January 28th, 2013 6:39 pm

    Really a matter of personal preference. I’d still cut it out, but while at OR I argued extensively with the ABS and Ortovox guys who all think having the shovel in the back makes sense. They argue that the shovel shaft and probe fit nicely between the stowed airbags- true, but what about the blade? And then when the pack is full, it’s still a pain in the ass. And then the biggest issue- the straps holding the pack to the shoulder straps block the zipper. A small shovel like the deploy wouldn’t be a big deal I guess, but I’d still cut it out.

  42. skier April 7th, 2013 7:03 pm

    I recently looked into buying an ABS Vario 30 airbag from a big online retailer..Their online information shows that this airbag will ship with a “Canister Included”, but it is only a “practice canister”. So what is this practice canister? Is this a fully charged nitrogen cylinder and squib handle?

    So you get this ABS system with a “practice” canister, then you are required (I was told) to test your new airbag with this canister (and blow the squib in the handle too).
    At that point you have a useless system until you order a new nitrogen cylinder & squib (plus hazmat fees)
    Is this correct information? just wondered you were told by the ABS people when you tested their systems

  43. etto April 8th, 2013 6:10 am

    Normal procedure in Norway (and some places in Europe as far as I know) is that you get two sets of handle and canister. One set is for the practice release, but as far as I’ve seen there’s no difference between them. Typically you pay a deposit for the practice set, and the store refunds you when you send it in again after having done your practice release.

  44. Brian April 8th, 2013 6:39 am

    I can’t speak to the fact of whether or not they include 2 sets, but I can speak to the fact that its very important to test your airbag before you plan to carry it around all the time to make sure it works. A bunch of friends and myself got together to test our ABS vario 30’s, and out of maybe 10 or so of us, two blew out the stitching instead of the velcro, obviously a big hazard, as one of the 2 bags only inflated to about 50-60%.

  45. etto April 8th, 2013 8:27 am

    I’ve had the stitching tear instead of the velcro once, but this did not affect the deployment of the bags. Are you sure the limited inflation was due to the stitching vs velcro tearing? What about canisters not being full, wrongly packed airbags, and other possible reasons?

  46. Phil January 28th, 2017 4:40 pm

    Hi Lou,
    I’m borrowing a 2012 ABS powder 15L from a friend. It is a little too small for my use, I’d like something like 32 L or more. Do you know if I can purchase any zip on cover in 32L or more, from any vendor?

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