The Best Airbags on the Market

The most effective safety tool for backcountry skiing has improved (but is still no substitute for making good decisions)

Arc’teryx Voltair 30L
$1,680 | 7.6 lbs
Air source: Centrifugal blower powered by a 22.2V Lithium-ion battery
Air canisters are so 2014. The Voltair uses a custom-engineered impeller with a centrifugal blower (powered by a battery) to inflate its airbag—instead of a canister of compressed gas or air like most other airbags. So it’s easier to practice pulling the bag’s trigger (without having to pay to refill a canister), and flying with it is more practical, as the Voltair is TSA approved.

This story originally published in Volume 45 of POWDER Magazine. Subscribe to “The Skier’s Magazine” for only $14.97.

Scott Air Free AP 24
$750 | 6.1 lbs
Air source: 2 cartridges (1 compressed argon,
1 compressed C02)
Backcountry days can be long and arduous and it’s no secret comfortable gear is clutch. The Air Free fits all skiers comfortably thanks, in part, to its relatively light weight. Gear stows away neatly in smaller compartments, like a fleece-lined goggle pocket and hip belt pocket, and various carry systems for hardware.

Mammut Ultralight Removable Airbag 3.0
$680 | 4.18 lbs
Air source: Compressed air
Turns out Mom was right—good things do come in small packages. Mammut’s newest removable airbag system is 30-percent lighter (and smaller), with the 18-liter pack and airbag system together weighing in at just over four pounds. It’s perfect for short trips where you don’t need much beyond a shovel and probe, or for packing inside other luggage for travel. (Mammut will even ship a canister to your final destination.) Standard details round it out, but the price tag might be its most important feature.

Ortovox Free Rider 24 ABS
$1,194 | 6.1 lbs
Air source: Compressed nitrogen
Ortovox made a place for everything in the Free Rider pack, with three decent-sized compartments (plus a fourth one for the airbag), and topped it off with an ergonomic fit that helps with comfort and weight distribution. An extra robust neoprene hip belt envelops the skier, making it feel like you’re one with the pack—whether heading uphill or making tight, technical turns on the descent.

BCA Float 32
$725 | 7.1 lbs
Air source: Compressed air
At 32 liters, the Float is the largest volume airbag pack we tested, but thanks to a slim design, it feels compact. A dedicated front pocket holds a shovel and probe, freeing up the larger main compartment for extra equipment and other goodies. Compressed-air canisters are refillable at 200 authorized locations worldwide, making air travel easier since canisters must be emptied before flying.

The North Face Modulator ABS
$1,180 | 4.25 lbs
Air source: Compressed nitrogen
Commitment not your thing? There’s a pack for that. The Modulator brings you the essential workings of an airbag and the versatility of integrating with any pack. Attach to smaller day packs for short tours, or higher volume packs for longer excursions. Two small compartments hold airbags (and a canister) and are secured to either side of your pack by a series of straps, while a trigger attaches separately to either shoulder strap.