Which is why the SnowPulse 24 liter HighMark pack is such delight to use. Though I’m not a climber per se, I like simple packs that aren’t cluttered. That’s part of the problem with airbag packs. Of necessity they’re more complicated than a simple rucksack, and those who try to be too simplistic end up allowing the plumbing to become a burden.
The Highmark22 from SnowPulse does a good job of balancing the need for organization with multiple compartments, without getting overly complex. The key is the strategic placement and use of zippers to create a multi-layered, compartmentalized – which sounds admittedly complex – pack that is simple and intuitive to use. They do it by never having too many options at any level, and nesting pockets and sleeves inside of each basic compartment.
Part of the reason I like it is for how closely it resembles my go to pack, BD’s Covert AvaLung. It features two main clamshell compartments accessed by large, bomb-proof zippers around the perimeter. Like the Covert, the HighMark provides an outer pocket for avy tools with a sleeve on either side that works well for stashing other essentials like skins, and is even voluminous enough for stuffing a puffy. It is not, however, quite long enough to fit a long avy probe. On first try it fits, but it takes extra care to zip past it and over time it will want to poke a hole in the fabric, or worse, the zipper.
Skis can be carried diagonally with the tails sling through a wire loop in the lower L corner paired with a removable, adjustable strap to hold ‘em in the upper R corner.
The main compartment is thicker, with the same style sleeves on the inner and outer walls for organization and not much extra weight. This area will hold a jacket, a vacuum thermos, liter of water, food and other assorted stuff for a day.
The Airbag System
Another unique feature with the SnowPulse system is the ability to test the pull trigger and feel the release tension of the puncturing pin without releasing any compressed air. With other mechanical systems a valve is used, so the only way to feel any trigger tension is with it connected to a cartridge. Ideally one should fire off the airbag at least once per season to test it, however, if you blew the budget on the pack, just testing the mechanical feel of the trigger is a less expensive way to ‘test’ the system without having to pay for a refill or spare cartridge.Annual testing of airbag packs becomes one of the hidden, ongoing costs of owning an airbag pack. Unless you have all the hardware for filling a cylinder, you will need to replace it, or recharge it at a dive shop, paintball arcade, or an airbag pack retailer.
Another benefit to the SnowPulse system is that the pressure on the system is sealed with a copper (not rubber) o-ring and the metal burst disk that is punctured by pulling on the T-handle. Valve systems are more likely to lose pressure over time.
Repacking the SnowPulse takes a bit of technique, mostly because you need to hold down the release valve while trying to squeeze out the air with your other arm and hand. Next season the valve will be off to the side where it is easier to access.
The cartridge sits neatly along the L side of the main compartment, with the Venturi valve at the top, and since the airbag is shaped, a little more than half its material is behind your neck, the rest is stuffed inside the left and right shoulder straps. Besides leaving more room in the pack for your daily junk, the airbag material in the shoulder straps gives them a more padded feel that is easy on your shoulders. That stiffer shape also makes it easier to tuck your shoulders under them.
The belt buckle is the standard, unbreakable metal latch. A single leg loop insures the pack won’t ride up on you when deployed – provided you use it. Few do.
As with other airbag packs, the HighMark only feels heavy (7 lbs., 2 oz. / 3265g) when you lift it. Once it’s on your back, the extra four pounds of hardware is easy to bear.
Is there anything not to like about the High Mark? Some might say there are too many nested sleeves and pockets within each compartment, adding unnecessary weight. Perhaps, but they do add a level of organization that can offset the weight penalty.
Of course the price may make you wince, but that’s a lot easier pain to deal with than what getting buried will feel like.
MSRP: $924 (pack only) + $175/refillable cylinder
Volume: ~ 22 liters
Weight (pack w/cylinder): 7 lbs., 3 oz. (3265 g)
Note: If you’re buying in-store be sure to get the shop to agree to a test run and a free cartridge refill.
Useful Video Tutorials here.
AK Avalanche Incident – SnowPulse saves the day.