Float 32 First Look – BCA on a Diet

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 15, 2013      

BCA Float 32 with airbag deployed.

Airbag packs are sweet and I try to use one on as many ski trips as I can. Weight is the only thing keeping me from using them all the time. Thankfully they have been losing heft. BCA offers the Float 32 this year — one of the lightest ~30 liter airbag packs out there.

BCA Float 32.

BCA Float 32 weighs 6.75 lbs (verified at Wildsnow HQ), pretty good for a 32 liter airbag pack. I’m not usually a fan of clam-shell packs but the Float seems well laid out. It has most of the features I like such as a shovel pocket, waist belt pocket, burly zippers and compression straps. It is fairly minimal; thought obviously went into making it light and functional for backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering.

The 32 is light, but can it be lighter? A little nip and tuck is in order. I haven’t used the pack yet, so I limit myself to stuff that wouldn’t compromise function. I stayed away from structural stuff that would affect the airbag system. I cut out the foam layer on the pack exterior (what’s that for, anyway, magazine photos?). The fuzzy goggle pocket lining (I use a bag) and various straps got the slice. I was only able to take 2 ounces off the pack — a testament to its minimalism. Hopefully I’ll find more unusable stuff to slash, but as we always say, the ounces do add up to pounds so fewer is better.

Get a new pack and immediately start cutting!

The Float 32 has an integrated helmet hammock. Interestingly, it's not removable. The option could save a bit of weight.

The Float 32 includes these minimalist ice axe holders. Some of the nicest, simplest I've seen. We will see how they work in the field.

The hip belt pocket is roomy, enough space for a Canon G12 (a large point and shoot), a hat, and a GU packet!

I’m looking forward to testing the Float 32 during the rest of the winter. I think it’ll be a decent all-around pack for backcountry skiing. The only feature it lacks is a convenient way to carry a rope–necessary for touring in the Cascades. Now that I’ve got two ounces to play with perhaps I’ll get out the sewing machine!

Check out our awesome overview of every airbag pack out there. Shop for the Float 32 here.


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39 Responses to “Float 32 First Look – BCA on a Diet”

  1. Scott McMahon February 14th, 2013 1:37 pm

    How’s the packability on the new ones? I have the 2011 Float 30 and it doesn’t carry much at all, at least compared to my BD Covert 30, however retains all the size of a larger pack.

  2. Louie Dawson February 14th, 2013 1:43 pm

    They’ve done a great job of having a lot of usable interior space. It’s a big improvement over the float 30. I’d say the usable space is around 32 liters.

  3. Aaron February 14th, 2013 1:48 pm

    I have a few days touring with the Float 32 up in Alaska, and so far am happy with the pack. It packs a lot of gear (when you need it) and the separate wet and dry storage is a nice plus to keep your wet skins and avi gear away from your puffy coat. I too agree a rope carry was something they missed on this one, but did find an ok work-around by looping three long-length Voile straps through the white loops on the back (had to use a key ring to bridge the loops as the loops are too small for the strap directly).

    I hope that this pack holds up to many years of use given its price…I have been quite disappointed in the durability of BCA packs in the past with all three I have owned falling apart in year 2-3 if not sooner…but it does appear to be better made so I decided to give BCA another shot.

  4. beach February 14th, 2013 10:00 pm

    I have this exact pack and have had it out 4 days so far- really, really disappointed with it for several reasons;
    Frame- the flimsy frame doesn’t stay rigid with a full load (no internal stays), so it folds. When hiking with weight, it buckles in and out, which puts more weight on the shoulder straps and changes the load bearing capacity.
    Snowboard carrier- terrible. obviously not field tested. There is no way to synch it tight to a binding- so the board rides really low (all of the weight is hanging of the top binding). I ride a 171 and its hitting the back of my boots- and there is no way to have it ride any higher. Also, the snowboard carrier folds outward under pressure, making the board ride even lower. no way to adjust this. The hooks that attach the board carrier to the pack have already bent under the load! they will break soon.
    Bladder- huge pain to get the camelback bladder tube to the shoulder strap, and once its in it must stay (some days I’d rather not carry it). there is not a separate pocket for the bladder, so gear in the pack (on the tube) pulls the bitevalve further into the shoulder strap sleeve, making getting a drink a huge pain.
    Airbag zipper often comes unzipped while in the field, especially when stressed with the weight of skis or a board.
    Helmet pocket is worthless when carrying a board or skis (ie: hiking! the only time I would have my helmet on my pack).
    Overall very disappointed with this pack:(

  5. Louie Dawson February 14th, 2013 10:44 pm

    beach, thanks for the input, interesting point about the helmet carrier and skis on the back, didn’t think of that.

    I’m looking forward to testing it out this weekend, hopefully on some lines that require booting!

  6. Ben February 15th, 2013 9:51 am

    The Helmet carry has two positions. The mid-pack one shown in the photo above and a higher one that works just fine with the diagonal ski carry system. I’ve carried skis and helmet several times with out a problem. Can’t speak to a snowboard.
    I noticed the lack of a frame also, but only when packing it. It tends to be a little floppy making packing the clam-shell design a little harder. I have yet to notice it in the field, even with big heavy skis strapped on. The combination of all my avy gear and the stiff/thick material seem to keep everything stabilized.
    I do wish the pack had more tradition compression straps. The current design creates a kink in the zipper that is a bit of a pain when getting in and out of the pack. Forces you to loosen it then re-tighten almost every time.
    I can also attest that BCA has done a good job tucking up the airbag stuff, creating more usable space inside the pack. There is more capacity in this years 32, then in last years 36.
    As a working guide I carry a lot of crap and have yet to run out of space on day trips.

  7. 3J February 15th, 2013 11:33 am

    blackdiamond come save us !!!!

  8. GIR February 15th, 2013 1:51 pm

    I’ve toured 2 days with the pack, and so far I like it. Its minimalistic, you can tuck all the straps out of site, and there are not a ton of bells and whistles to add weight. Its a bigger/heavier pack than I am used to carrying, but it carries well, and skis quite well. I think the BCA is the best airbag system because I can get it refilled for free at a dive shop 1 mile from my house. That said, I have a few complaints:

    The zippers, while burly, don’t have the streamline waterproof look that previous BCA zippers had. I liked those.

    The compression strap interferes with zipper function, which is frustrating on an otherwise well thought out pack.

    I don’t understand why there is not another hip pocket. I love those things.

    Finally, when skiing (wearing a helmet) last, I crouched down to duck some branches on the trail out. When doing that, and craning your neck up so you can still see where you are going, the back of my helmet pushes against the top of the pack. Maybe I can adjust it so the pack sits lower. Or maybe my head’s too big.

    Otherwise great pack. Cheapest, lightest out there.

  9. billy grimes February 15th, 2013 5:08 pm

    I have several of the same complaints as ‘GIR’ and ‘beach’ after many days of use. I ultimately also got the 22 due to all the issues I have had with it (but still have days where the 32 is necessary due to the slight ammount of more volume and ice axe carry etc.) I plan to do a side by side stuff test to see just how much more the 32 can hold over the 22, I don;t think it’s 10L. I’ll likely mod the 22 and eventually ditch the 32 altogether for the following reasons:
    1) Flimsy frame on back ( I do feel it bind back and forth in the middle of my back while touring which is super annoying). This may just be due to my short torso.
    2) Speaking of a short torso. Packs like this with shoulder straps below the top of the frame never work out for me and i should have known better…my fault. Like ‘GIR’ said it seriously inhibits neck/head mobility (at least for us short guys)…
    3) Some day, maybe, BCA will design a functional compression system. For reasons mentions above their compression system gets a capital FAIL.
    4) I am seriously questioning whether the top strap of the ski carry is big enough to hold at set of fat skis (120mm+ waist) when the pack is filled to capacity, but like I said I have not confirmed.
    5) After several different adjustments of the tension on the suspension straps (which sinch the upper shoulder strap to the top of the pack), I cannot prevent the shoulder straps from digging into my collar bones with a decent load on a long tour. My clavicals are always tender and sore. It seems the shoulder straps do not evenly distribute the load across them. If you notice there is an inner cord on the straps which seems, at least in my case to bear the brunt of the load.
    Those are the ONLY criticisms I have! It is light, very reasonably priced, and provides crucial insurance. I only mention the above to be constructive for BCA development. If they look for feedback anywhere I would expect it to be here! I do commend them for providing an affordable, potentially life saving system which will only help drive down the prices throughout the industry.

    No complaints so far with the 22, love it and it holds much more gear than I was expecting. External attachments for ice axe etc. would be a plus. Copy this design, make it bigger and put 2 horizontal compression straps crossing the clam zipper but not inhibiting the airbag and you have a large capacity winner as well (which is pretty darn close to the Mammut). Unlike some of you (Lou et. al. !), I prefer the clamshell design and dedicated snow tool pocket.

  10. Mark February 15th, 2013 6:26 pm

    I actually WANT an aftermarket “helmet hammock” for my Mammut 30-whatever airbag pack. I pretty much wear a helmet and the airbag pack every time I mid-winter tour, since I live in Colorado (i.e. unrelenting high avalanche danger) and I have kids under 18 (i.e. I’m not permitted to “die doing what I love”).

    So where can I get a helmet sling that I can clip to the Mammut?

  11. Frank K February 15th, 2013 7:32 pm

    Beach said “Airbag zipper often comes unzipped while in the field, especially when stressed with the weight of skis or a board.”

    I haven’t had this happen myself, but it did happen to my wife’s pack. That’s because she uses a water bladder and I don’t- the bladder hook inside the pack is directly underneath the breakaway zipper of the airbag, so if it’s weighted, it pulls the breakaway zipper open. Not a problem if you don’t hook the water bladder.

    Overall, I’m very happy with this pack- even on a bigger day (2,000+m) with a rando rope and crampons, it carried great for me though packs definitely fit some people better than others.

    Would agree that I’d take the extra 1-2oz for another hip pocket.

  12. James B February 15th, 2013 8:17 pm

    I bought a Float 32 around Jan 1 and took it to Rogers Pass. There’s a lot to like. The function & feature list is just about as good as any pack I’ve got, although if not for the airbag I’d reach for my Arcteryx Silo 40 (love that folding top).

    I particularly like the helmet sling.

    About the only thing I really dislike is the alloy waist buckle. Tedious to get in, tedious to get out, makes noise, seems like I’m always futzing with it. I suppose the strength of that buckle may save my life someday, but I’m thinking about either doubling it up with a normal plastic buckle (so that I can use either) or replacing it completely.

    Unlike some of the others who commented I found the straps to be very comfortable, but I’m 6’2″ (188 cm) and there are some suggestions above the discomfort may be limited to the “vertically-challenged”.

    One thing unrelated to the pack design that bothers me is the exorbitant amount of money some “authorized” BCA dealers are charging to pressurize the cylinder. In Golden BC there were two authorized vendors, one quoted me $30 and the other quoted $40. I find that pretty outlandish. I followed Lou’s excellent illustrated step-by-step instructions on WildSnow and got it filled at a paintball store in Calgary for $4.

  13. Chris Simmons February 17th, 2013 11:26 am

    Hi all – just wanted to chime in on Louie’s excellent review, and address the questions I read about in the comments:

    The foam on the outside of the shovel pocket minimizes the fabric wear that WILL happen when a pair of diagonally-loaded skis rub against a shovel blade. The foam creates a sliding layer between the fabrics to keep abrasion wear to a minimum. I experimented cutting this out, like Louie did, with a prototype last spring and found out the hard way.

    The snowboard carry is meant to be HORIZONTAL, not vertical. The snowboard panel is meant to connect to the bottom tabs, then be folded up to the top tabs, with the board resting horizontally in the fold. Anecdotally, I’ve been surveying splitboarders about their preferred pack carry. Out of the 22 I’ve spoken to (I’m keeping count), ALL of them prefer to carry their boards in ski mode, but said a horizontal carry was nice for snowmobile runs. Do any of the splitboarders here disagree?

    Due to some design constraints to gain TUV certification – to sell in Europe – an intentional vertical snowboard carry and an A-frame ski carry had to be eliminated from the pack. I don’t know the ins-and-outs, but that was what I was told.

    Finally – BCA made a strong effort to make these packs as light and as affordable as possible this year. That meant, amongst other things, to simplify the pack frame and suspension system. A larger pack, we found, mandated a beefier frame, which would automatically increase manufacturing costs and have to be passed on to the buyer. As would adding an adjustable yoke or other features.

    Regarding the refill stations – it can be a complete shot in the dark. My local dive shop charges $5 if you’ve reset the O-ring/pin assembly, and $15 if you expect them to do it for you. My ski shop will do it all for free. You’ll need to shop around, but I think you’ll find that most of the time the cost reflects the shops cost of getting their tanks refilled (a single scuba tank is worth 4-5 canister refills before the pressure becomes too small). I’m also 3-for-3 on walking into a random dive shop that wasn’t listed as a refill station, holding up my canister and asking, “Can you fill this?” One shop charged me $3 because the employee felt that he had to charge me something (I agreed), and the other two shops didn’t charge me at all, especially after I took the time to show them my pack and explained what it was for!

    Caveat: My name is Chris Simmons, and I’m the Pacific Northwest Tech Rep for BCA. I’m also an IFMGA Mountain Guide, and work with Pro Guiding Service and Pro Ski & Mountain Service in North Bend, WA. I’ll try to continue to watch the comments thread here to answer questions. Thanks for the review, Louie!

  14. Lou Dawson February 17th, 2013 2:27 pm

    Try carrying a horizontal snowboard when you’re rock scrambling 4th class terrain, good way to die. As for preventing wear of the pack during ski carry, that is indeed always an issue. Next time, make the foam removable via a slit in the pocket of fabric where it resides, that way it’s optional. Overall, wonderful to see the improvements, but no pack can ever be perfect for everyone, hence the continued tension between the blade and the designer (grin). Lou

  15. beach February 17th, 2013 5:17 pm

    To Chris, thanks for that input. A horizontal snowboard carrier?! I agree with Lou that its unsafe and uncomfortable, awkward in tight trees and wind… but even so, there is no way to synch it tight! If the board is just sitting there in the carrier, whats to stop it from really sliding to one side or the other? (I ride a long, directional board, and the center is definitely not directly between the bindings). Also, there is no picture, directions or any mention of this on the instructions (which I rarely read, but this time I did)? As I mentioned, the hooks holding the board on have already bent, if there is more stress, they will break.
    To Billy, the ‘back and forth with the frame is not due to a short torso- I’m 6’ with a relatively long torso and it happens to me.
    I cat ski guide and wear a pack 3-6 days a week. So far this has just been my backcountry pack, and I have my comfy Dakine for work. I will change if conditions get worse, but the BCA is definitely not my pack of choice for daily use in our mostly low-angle terrain.

  16. Chris Simmons February 17th, 2013 10:48 pm

    @ Beach (and others): please feel free to send photos of the issues you’ve described – and how you’re carrying your snowboards – to info@backcountryaccess.com. I can say that for next year the snowboard panel will come with better instructions describing how its intended to be used.

  17. Billy grimes February 17th, 2013 11:32 pm

    Great venue for constructive input as always, especially when the vendor is in on the conversation.

  18. Tomahawk February 19th, 2013 1:45 pm

    I’ve been out with the 32 at least a handful of times so far, including some longer tours. In terms of fit, I’ve got a longer torso, and have found the pack to be quite comfortable. I see what folks are saying regarding the lack of internal frame support and the way it gets in the way of smooth zipper operation, but I find it to be a non-issue considering how easy it is to work around. Plus, once I’ve got this pack on, I think the lack of internal frame support actually allows me to tighten it up against my body quite nicely–granted, it would be a problem if I were filling it with full cans of beer and rocks, but how much weight are you really putting inside this thing?
    I’m not a huge fan of the waist buckle, but I assume this is a safety thing. It’s just a little difficult to maneuver sometimes. It would be nice to see the zippers upgraded as well, as was mentioned above. And I’ll be the third to be surprised at the lack of another waist belt pocket.
    The only thing I consistently complain about is that there isn’t a great way to attach my water bottle to the outside of the pack without having it flop around like a dead chicken–just a mesh pocket on the side beneath the ill-regarded compression straps would do the trick.
    Just tiny details in my estimation–overall I’ve been very happy with the pack.

    And Mark, Deuter makes a helmet carrier that you can buy separately, and it’s not too hard to find a good way to attach it to your pack.

  19. kh February 19th, 2013 3:33 pm

    Its a shame, I really like the BCA pack. But, the horizontal snowboard carry and poor functionality of it is what is stopping me ( and a few other splitboarders I ride with) from purchasing it.

    I could see where it would benefit riding on a sled, but it doesn’t work for me in trees, couloirs, the wind, and scrambling as Lou said. Not only that I have to pay extra for that non-functionality.

  20. Lou Dawson February 19th, 2013 5:28 pm

    Tomahawk, most American backpack designers have no concept of the mesh pocket thing… I usually get vacant stares when I mention it. Indeed, the waist buckles on these things have to be strong and reliable and thus may not be as easy or at least as familiar is the old Fastex styles we’ve all come to know so well. Lou

  21. Louie Dawson February 19th, 2013 6:08 pm

    Thanks everyone for chiming in, and thanks Chris for joining the conversation as well.

    I was using the pack this weekend, and overall was impressed. I’ll hold most of my thoughts for when I put together the full review.

    I do think airbag packs need a new buckle system. It is of course a balancing act between it being convenient to buckle, and not susceptible to coming apart inadvertently. These are kind of interesting, although I think they are probably heavy and expensive.


  22. Nick February 20th, 2013 10:31 am

    Mystery Ranch and WARY use plastic buckles. The MR one is just a beefy version of a standard buckle. They claim that it passes their in house strength tests (not sure what TUV would have to say about that, but who cares?). I haven’t personally used them, but they do seem more user friendly than the standard metal air bag buckle.

    Nice review of what appears to be a huge improvement over earlier BCA Float packs.

  23. Dane O. February 24th, 2013 10:46 am

    Kh – if you have a split, you can carry your board using the diagonal ski carry system which works quite well. Probably be more comfortable than carrying the board vertically through the back panell anyways… Just a thought…

  24. Jason March 13th, 2013 11:50 am

    I’ve been using this pack all season. Great pack. Only complaint: Why did they put a small plastic clip for the top part of the ski carry system?! Dumb. Broke 4th or 5th time out. I just run a ski strap through the loop. Something like that would be so much better anyhow…

  25. Jim April 4th, 2014 10:03 pm

    Slightly embarrassing but – the simple ice axe attachment? Do I put the axe handle through the lower loop and shove the pick/axe portion in the sleeve on the bottom? Seems like the pick and blade (BD raven) almost fit in the cordura sleeve on the bottom of pack but not quite?


  26. Chris Simmons April 5th, 2014 12:33 am

    @ Jim – its a “pick pocket” carry system – invert your ice axe, slide the pick into the horizontal sleeve, and then simply pass the loop over the adze.


  27. alessandro June 25th, 2014 3:33 am

    Nice review and great comments!!!
    I’m just going to by an Airbag backpack and i’d really like the BCA Float 32.
    I’ll use this pack on the alps so my usual gear to stove inside will be:
    1) shovel and probe + skins in wet pocket
    2) nano puff+ gore jacket+ hot spare gloves, 1 liter water or Camepack, small emergency kit, 50 mt half rope, helmet and some food, crampons, 1/2 axes.
    3) Pocket camera, gps, map, spare batteries, knife and small head light

    Does have anybody tryed the pack with this kind of load and if do in case have some pictures?
    Or maybe make a dry load trial in summer hot and send me a pic?
    Thank you in advance!
    I’m italian…forgive my errors!!!

  28. Lou Dawson June 25th, 2014 6:04 am

    Alessandro, you can fit those items in this pack, with helmet holder on outside and axe on outside. I’ve seen it. The crampons and rope will be the limit. Lou

  29. alessandro June 25th, 2014 6:21 am

    Thank you Lou… but forgive my “not sure if i translated well” question.
    “The crampons and rope will be the limit” means i will be able to put them inside or not?

  30. Lou Dawson June 25th, 2014 6:32 am

    Inside. But depends on how everything is arranged. Can you look at the rucksack at a shop? Note that in the review Louie says the pack lacks rope attachment anchors, which is surprising but something you should consider. Lou

  31. alessandro June 25th, 2014 7:05 am

    Unfortunately i’m internet dependent

  32. alessandro June 25th, 2014 7:06 am

    Here in my area and in Italy in general there few shop that sells backcontry / freeride technical equipment and I’ve seen only ABS on shelfs…

  33. Lou Dawson June 25th, 2014 12:36 pm

    Alesandro, I think you’ll be ok. Lou

  34. Chris Simmons July 1st, 2014 7:52 am

    Alessandro, I successfully skied the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route the last year with crampons, rope, and ice axe stowed inside my Float 32. My ice axe was a BD Raven Pro Ice that I kept strapped on the outside, stowing it inside for chairlifts and shuttles. My rope was a 30m 8mm glacier/rando cord. I kept my crampons in a BD crampon bag. In addition to this I was able to pack a few extra layers, socks, a thermos and lunch without any difficulty. Hope this helps!

    Chris Simmons, IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide and Tech Rep for BCA.

  35. alessandro July 1st, 2014 8:33 am

    Thank you Chris…. i think i’ll go for it!
    Thank you all for for your feedback!

  36. alessandro July 8th, 2014 8:36 am

    looking on BCA website i found this….
    1) the Owner manual says that the airbag is removable and can be installed on other packs
    2) there are 3 new backpack for the next season! A 0 liter tha could me the perfect choice for hut to hut and multidays tours!

  37. harpo October 19th, 2016 4:51 pm

    hi lou, did you ever do a full fledged review of this pack? I could not find it, can you post a link?

  38. Lou 2 October 20th, 2016 7:22 am

    Hi Harpo, not sure, II’ll look back. The recent BCA packs are all pretty similar and the brand has been around so long now, our “review pace” is indeed slow. But we have had quite a few BCA Floats in play over the past few years, and we had one going last winter here at HQ. I like their combo of price and solid engineering. For people who want tool partitions and slots, you’ll find them here. No black marks. We’d like to see a lighter “European” version but that’s just a minor point. Lou

  39. Lou Dawson 2 October 21st, 2016 6:12 am

    Hi Harpo, sure, here is Mike Arnold’s review of Float 32 from last winter:


    Hopefully we always categorize each airbag review so it’s on our category list:


    You can find links to all our archives by using our main nav menu (on desktop, it’s in the horizontal bar above). Our search function is quite powerful as well.


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