Avalanche backpacks with airbags have become essential safety tools for backcountry skiers worldwide. The devices don’t just increase your survival chances if you’re caught up in an avalanche; they also make it much easier for rescuers to see you.
I’ve skied hundreds of days in my life and have yet to experience an avalanche. But I still play it safe when I venture into avalanche country and know what to look for in a high-quality avalanche airbag.
The Black Diamond Jetforce Tour 26L is my pick for the best avalanche airbag of the season. This is a very top-quality option that will give you reliable performance if you ever happen to get caught in a slide. It’s expensive but definitely worth it.
Several other good avalanche airbags are available, and I’ll show you all of the best options in this post. I want to make sure you stay safe when you are in the backcountry or anywhere else with serious avalanche danger.
Let’s get started.
Who Should Get This
Every backcountry skier or anyone who often ventures out into avalanche territory needs an airbag. The devices are incredibly useful, and they come in handy in any area where an accident might occur.
Though they are not designed for more casual skiers or those who stay in-bounds, if you plan on going off the grid, even for a short day run, you’re going to need a pack for some much-needed protection.
Do avalanche packs work?
While there is no guarantee of anything in a snow slide, avalanche packs can increase your chances for survival substantially if you are caught in one. They keep you near the surface of the snow and also protect your head from injury.
Are avalanche airbags worth it?
If you are skiing in an area with heavy avalanche danger, then an avalanche airbag is totally worth it. You may never need to use it, but you will surely be happy to have one on your back if you happen to get caught in a slide.
Why are avalanche backpacks so expensive?
You always want your airbag to be reliable and effective, so companies have built bags that feature innovative tech and cutting-edge materials. This keeps the cost pretty high, but it also ensures that they will provide you with their intended purpose when needed.
Best Avalanche Airbags for Skiing: Top Picks
Here are all of my top picks for the best avalanche airbags for skiing this season. These are the best models out there in terms of quality and reliability.
1. Black Diamond Jetforce Tour 26L
- Best for: Overall
- Key features: Effective design, reliable, powerful airbag, extra pockets
- Style: Backpack
- System: Rechargeable
- Cost: $$$$
The Black Diamond Jetforce Tour 26L is my top pick for the best avalanche airbag of the season. This is a backpack-style airbag that will provide you with effective deployment if you get caught in a slide.
The pack has an Alpride E1 supercapacitor airbag system that features innovative technology that has been created with safety in mind. The system is rechargeable to give you all-day performance.
The pack also comes with several pockets that let you store extra safety gear like a shovel, probe, or beacon. I also like the hipbelt stash pocket for smaller items.
It’s expensive, but the Jetforce Tour is a fantastic airbag anyway you look at it.
2. Mammut Removable Airbag System 3.0
- Best for: Lightweight
- Key features: Lightweight, affordable, reliable, durable construction, works in different backpacks
- Style: Backpack insert
- System: Compressed gas
- Cost: $$$
The Mammut Removable Airbag System 3.0 is a lightweight option that you can use in a variety of different compatible backpacks.
This bag has an impressive volume of 150 liters to give you plenty of float and protection from debris in a slide.
It also has a very reliable compressed gas system that quickly fills up when deployed.
You’ll want to make sure this is compatible with the backpack you are choosing before you take it into the backcountry.
3. Backcountry Access BCA Float 22 Avalanche Airbag 2.0
- Best for: Value
- Key features: Lightweight, comfortable, versatile, tough design, good value
- Style: Backpack
- System: Compressed Air
- Cost: $$$
The Backcountry Access BCA Float 22 is an excellent option for anyone who wants quality at a reasonable price.
Though this won’t run you as much as similar models, it is still one of the most comfortable picks money can buy. Not only is it snug, but it moves with your body as you head downhill.
While this doesn’t have as much room for longer treks, it still has enough interior space for other essential items like food, shovels, and lightweight gear. The tough design also holds up to elements quite nicely, which makes this a good pick if you like traversing through rough weather.
This one doesn’t have as large of an airbag volume as the other options, but that helps keep the price down.
4. Ortovox Ascent 30
- Best for: Fit
- Key features: Good fit, lightweight, strong construction, 30L volume, included activation unit
- Style: Backpack
- System: Compressed Air
- Cost: $$$$$
Those who enjoy going on more extended ski tours will enjoy the Ortovox Ascent 30, thanks to a reliable airbag and a fantastic fit.
This 30-liter model is compact and easy to carry and has plenty of internal space for your gear, snacks, or whatever else you need out in the backcountry.
It comes fully equipped with a rope attachment, compression strap, D-Skifix, and tough, water-resistant zipper. There are plenty of gear loops, and it is hydration system compatible.
Though the cartridge is not included, the locking clasp, chest strap, and signal whistle ensure you’ll stay safe in any situation.
How to Choose an Avalanche Backpack or Airbag
This section will highlight some important things to consider when choosing an avalanche backpack or airbag.
When picking out an avalanche backpack, you first need to consider its design. There are quite a few models out there, and they each use a specific system.
The base unit design has a system that allows you to keep everything in one pack. In contrast, the integrated system comes with a fixed airbag size, while detachable models will enable you to use the pack without the bag.
You can also either get a backpack that comes equipped with an airbag or an airbag that goes into a pack you already have. You’ll just want to make sure that the airbag is compatible with the backpack you choose if you go that route.
Of course, a good avalanche pack doesn’t do much if it can’t hold up in tough situations. You need something well-made and able to stand up to biting or harsh elements. Durability is essential in the backcountry.
Strong materials specially made to handle backcountry environments are a must. It’s also important to favor models from trusted brands, so you know you’re buying a quality item. That might cost more upfront, but it’s worth it in the end.
You also want to consider your avalanche backpack’s size. That largely depends on the type of skiing you plan on doing. You don’t want to be weighed down with too much gear, especially if you have a long uphill ascent.
If you’re going out on a lift-served backcountry trip, you probably won’t need anything bigger than an 18 or 20-liter pack. However, day touring probably requires at least 25 to 35 liters and multi-day trips require 40 to 50 liters.
Useful Tips & Resources
A good avalanche backpack brings you a lot of safety, but it’s far from the only piece of gear you need out in the backcountry. There is a wide range of essential items you need to stay fully prepared for any situation. Here’s a checklist of some other essential backcountry gear that you might need.
Beyond gear, you need to stick to a series of rules when traveling out of bounds. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the backcountry or a seasoned skier, this article will ensure you don’t run into any problems.
Whatever you do, always make sure to play it safe in the backcountry. Avalanches are a hazardous aspect of the sport, and getting caught in one is deadly.
The video below provides some good information about how avalanche airbags work if you are still curious.
The Black Diamond Jetforce Tour 26L is my pick for the best avalanche airbag of the season. This is a highly effective option that will give you good protection from debris and solid floatation to stay close to the surface of a slide.
If you are skiing in avalanche country and want to be prepared, an available airbag is a must. All of the options you see here can very realistically save your life in the event of a slide, and they are the best models currently available.