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Dec 16 2014

Review: BCA Float 32 Airbag Pack

 

Float 32 - big enough for a day trip, or hut-to-hut.

Float 32 – big enough for a day trip, or hut-to-hut.

Okay, so you’re ready to plunk down for an airbag pack, but you need to do it for less than a thousand bucks. In that case one of the models you should be considering seriously is BCA’s Float 32.

It uses compressed air, so that means you can practice blowing up the airbag for half or less the cost of a cartridge of compressed nitrogen. Your cost will be dependent on finding a local ski, scuba, or paintball shop to do the refilling. It also means that if you travel overseas you will have a hard time finding a place that will refill your cartridge, but stateside you just need to search on the web a bit for a nearby shop if you’re traveling.

Two connections required - air and trigger wire.

Two connections required – air and trigger wire.

The actual plumbing for connecting the cartridge to the airbag requires two connections, a larger diameter hose that routes the compressed air through a venturi valve to inflate the airbag, and a smaller diameter hose that connects a wire cable to the trigger handle hidden inside the left shoulder strap. It is also possible to switch this to the right side for southpaws. I wouldn’t call the process easy, but it isn’t impossible either; it just takes a bit of time with some attention to detail. It is also possible to route a hydration hose down either shoulder strap too, preferrably the side without the airbag trigger. ;)

When deployed, the BCA airbag is a 150 liter balloon that expands behind your head and extends down the side of the pack to about your shoulder blades.

For day to day use, what matters more is the basic layout of the pack. After all, theoretically you’re smart enough to not actually need to use the airbag, you’re just wearing it in case powder fever clouds your judgement.

The airbag adds 150 liters of volume to keep you on or near the top.

The airbag adds 150 liters of volume to keep you on or near the top.

As a pack it suffers from the same problem all airbag packs suffer from; it’s top heavy due to the airbag located near the top of the pack. Perhaps more annoying is not the weight of the airbag at the top, but having a bulky pouch of material at the top of your pack where you hope to put the items you expect to need sooner than later. The airbag limits the space for those items or the ability to pull things up from deep inside.

To overcome that limitation the Float 32 is built with a long, clamshell style zipper with dual-sliders that runs nearly the full length of the pack. Thus, with a bit of thought you can quickly access any item deep in the main compartment without opening the entire pack up. Or, should your memory fail you, it is easy enough to open the whole thing up to have quick access to everything at once.

Zig-zag webbing straps on the side for skis or other tools.

Zig-zag webbing straps on the side for skis or other tools.

For small items, like goggles, there is a zippered stash pocket at the top of the pack, and on the front panel a thin compartment that is accessed with a side zipper that opens up to provide quick access to organizational sleeves for a probe, shovel handle, shovel blade, skins, and enough space for perhaps a layer of clothing and a few other small items.

Skis can be strapped A-frame style along the sides thanks to zig-zag webbing straps, or you can sling skis diagonally with a sling loop in the lower left side to a strap in the upper right corner. Elastic tabs at the bottom provide loops for ice tools. A helmet net stuffs under a flap at the top of the pack and clips to loops on the front for when you’re climbing and need your head to breathe.

The belt is lightly padded with a metal buckle and stash pocket on either side for stashing a point and shoot or other items you need without taking the pack off. Perhaps most important, it carries well, thanks to molded pads on the back and a long length to help distribute weight away from the airbag hardware.

The most attractive aspect of the BCA Float 32, beside the red or blue color choice, is the price. You may be worth more than that, but if your wallet is thin, you’re at least worth investing $750 to live another day if the cold smoke beneath your feet clouds the judgement behind your eyes.

Backcountry Access
Float 32 w/cartridge
MSRP: $725 (550+175)
Weight: 6 lbs., 13 oz. (3.09 kg)
Volume: 32 liters

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