Apr 04 2012

Review: BCA’s Float 36 Airbag Pack

BCA's Float 36. $785

When a product gets dropped or dramatically changed, that’s a clear sign something needed fixing. In the case of BCA’s Float series of airbag packs, the elimination of the Float 36 is a sure case of Darwinian natural selection. The replacement, a Float 32 which won’t be available until Fall 2012, looks like it has the genetic heritage of a solid, functional, well designed climbing pack.

The core of the Float series packs remains essentially unchanged, which is good because that’s the main reason you would be interested in one. Nor does it need much refinement. It just works, using a cylinder of compressed air in combination with a Venturi valve to fill a 170 liter bag. As it fills, it blows out a burst zipper behind your neck at the top of the pack. It uses a mechanical trigger to open a valve letting the dried air out. It is simple to operate, and simple to maintain. You still need to follow some pretty strict procedures when refilling and connecting, but nothing a bit of diligence can’t handle. In other words, read the directions and don’t throw them away. Or go to BCA’s website and download ‘em.

Backside gives access to the airbag hardware or the main pack.

Where the pack comes up short is in the pack itself. Mind you, it has a lot of solid, well done features like the buckle pocket, the waist belt & leg loop, vertical carry loops for your skis or a snowboard, a helmet sling, goggle pocket, and the best feature, zippered access from the inside back panel to the cavernous bottom of the pack and a separate compartment for the airbag hardware. Those features are all super nice and well done.

The problem is the main compartment packs weird. The zippered outside panel is bigger at the top than the bottom and with anything in the top goggle pockets it causes it to flop around when you open it. It makes you feel like you’re cleaning up a junkyard. And there’s no way to cinch the compartment tight in case you’re going light and don’t need all 36 liters. Then there’s the two interleaved pockets up top, one for the shovel, the other zippered tight at the top to make it a problem to put anything in, but voluminous at the bottom. What is that about? I’ll admit I’m partial to a clamshell style pack so I don’t want to be too negative, but based on competing designs, and the look of the new Float 32, I’m not alone. ;)

Lots of room inside, especially at the bottom.

Now about the weight, here’s what those of us who have been using them agree on. You definitely notice the weight when you lift the pack to wear it. Once it’s on your back though, it doesn’t seem that heavy. Yes, it is heavier but really only about 4 pounds more and on a day trip or overnighter the penalty isn’t that hard to bear.

If you’re in the market for an airbag pack, one big enough for an overnight trip, my complaints carry little weight compared to the life saving value of the Float 36. Check ‘em out if you can find ‘em. I’ve heard retailers say they can’t sell skis to save their life this season, nor can they keep airbag packs in stock.

Backcountry Access
Float 36
MSRP: $ 785
Volume: ~36 liters
Weight: 7½ lbs. (3.4 kg)
BCA Tutorial Vid

© 2012

  • teletilyouresmelly

    My friends who have the Float 30 say it’s too small, that it isn’t actually 30 litres- if the new 32 is actually 32 litres (or even a true 30 litres), then it will be a great size (and I imagine it must be replacing both the 30 and the 36?).

    And I find this observation particularly true (I have an ABS pack): “You definitely notice the weight when you lift the pack to wear it. Once it’s on your back though, it doesn’t seem that heavy.”

  • https://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    From my conversations with the BCA folks the new Float 32 will be a more “accurate” 32 liters in volume. Good to hear confirmation on the weight issue.

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