Weekly Gear Review: BCA Float Airbags

Backcountry skiing is dangerous, especially this year where we live. So far, I’ve witnessed one of the more hazardous and unpredictable snowpacks that I’ve ever seen. But no matter the location or the stability, we all accept a certain level of risk in chasing the pow that takes us out of the sterility of the ski area to begin with. One rider’s acceptable risk might be vastly different from another’s. However, I think we can all agree that avoiding avalanche burial is the desired outcome.

Enter the Backcountry Access (BCA) Float Pack. It is one of several airbag packs that operate on the Brazil nut effect. This states that larger objects tend to stay on top of smaller ones while in turbulence (avalanche). When deployed, you become the nut, and theoretically, remain on top of the avalanche debris. This theory is being increasingly tested by one successful “save” after another. The most recent took place here in Colorado:
These packs have two distinct shortcomings. They are heavy- about twice the weight of a comparable pack without a Float system. And they are expensive. However, each additional save that’s attributed to this pack makes these criticisms less viable in my book.
There are three different Float packs available from BCA. I prefer the 36 liter model, which is built for folks that need the additional volume of a larger daypack. For 2011/12, BCA fine-tuned this pack to include all of the features that make their other packs so great. The pack includes ample storage space, back panel access, internal shovel/probe pockets, waist belt pockets, ski and snowboard carry system, lined goggle pocket and hydration sleeve. The internal frame and load lifter straps make the additional weight of the pack quite manageable.
I believe that in the near future, we will see these packs become a standard part of our avalanche rescue kits. But with such a great option out there now, why wait? We should continue to make smart and conservative decisions in the backcountry, but we’re all prone to the same errors that catch people in avalanches. Stacking the odds in your favor is never a bad thing.
-Mike Soucy
Colorado Mountain School Guide
AIARE Level 1 Instructor
800-836-4008 x3

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