2011-2012 BCA Float 18 Airbag

FIRST LOOK: BCA Float 18 Airbag pack 

Size: 18L

Weight: 6.5 lbs.

The airbag concept is really starting to gather steam in the backcountry world, and why wouldn’t you want one?  They protect your upper body and head from being bashed into deadfall and rocks; minimize burial depth; and simply raise your chances of surviving an avalanche. So I’ll ask again: Why wouldn’t you want one?

To date, the objections have always been two-fold: weight and price.

By offering the Float 18 Airbag pack, BCA is leading the charge to overcome these obstacles, and they are the current industry leader in both low weight and low price.

Make no bones about it, however, the pack is heavier than the equivalent non-airbag pack (compare the Float 18’s 6.5 lbs. to about 2.5 lbs. for a non-airbag backpack), but there is a lot going on in there.

And the price is certainly not cheap ($685 retail). But good safety equipment is rarely inexpensive, and the Float 18 is less expensive than the competition ($750-$950).

I have to admit that I was quite nervous about the size of the pack, as 18L isn’t that much space. So within ten minutes of getting home, I started stuffing it with gear to see what it can hold. I found that the pack will certainly carry enough equipement for day trips.

I’ll break down what you can fit into the Float 18 for TOUR mode (ie skins on the skis, goggles in the pack) and also when in in SKI mode (skins in the pack, jacket on, etc).

TOUR MODE:

+thin, compressible, extra layer
+water bottle
+shovel blade in main compartment
+Probe and shovel handle in their respective slots
+goggles and beanie
+gloves
+sandwich / snack
+small first aid kit
+small pocket knife

SKI MODE:

+water bottle
+shovel blade in main compartment
+Probe and shovel handle in their slots
+skins
+small first aid kit
+small pocket knife

If the weather changed, or there was a long, shallow down hill, I would either stick my extra layer around my waist, or put it in my pack, and clip my water to the outside of the backpack. Or if the water was all gone, I would put the layer inside the bottle. But regardless, the pack has ample space for the necessities (as you can see in the picture), and  I can certainly fit additional items in there without issue.

If you typically carry an extra pair of gloves, or extra goggles, or several layers, this might not be your pack; but if you just use what you brought and plan well before you leave the trailhead, this pack will serve you well.

I’ll post updates once I can get a number of hard days on the pack, but my initial impressions are that it certainly seems built to last.

Every stitch is bar-tacked where required; the outside material is heavy denier cordura; the harness is both highly adjustable and comfortable, and the pack carries well even when loaded to the brim, with skis attached.

The ski carry is diagonal, which I prefer, and the ski carry loops will accomodate—though barely—a pair of DPS Lotus 138’s (138mm waist). If you need bigger skis than that, you can easily set up the ski-carry with 2 voile straps. I am not in love with the Fastex buckle used on the upper ski carry loop—it just seems a little light—but I am not really concerned that it will last.

I do wish that the main compartment on the front came all the way up to the top of the pack, rather than being stepped down. That extra 2-3L would be convenient, and make it easier to stuff a light layer (or keep an extra pair of gloves) in the pack at all times. I would also not go too overboard stuffing the main compartment, since the zipper is not backed up by a strap. This might just be nitpicky gear geek stuff, but a single backup strap around the entire pack would be appreciated.

I am glad that BCA went with the industry standard Scuba fitting, so that you can literally get your compressed air canister filled almost anywhere in the world. I plan to buy 1-2 extra canisters to ease the burden while travelling, but this system is one of the easiest to get refilled when away from home.

As for the airbag itself and how well it deploys, there are dozens and dozens of videos of folks popping off the BCA packs at tradeshows and events, all with success, zero misfires. I have personally witnessed perhaps 200 BCA airbag deployments at SIA, OR, and ISPO tradeshows, since the DPS booth is usually a stall or two away, and I have never once seen a misfire, never once seen someone not pull hard enough, nor have I once heard the operator say that the pull was too difficult to deploy.

That said, you certainly do need to give the cable a smart, firm pull.

To repack a BCA airbag system after it has been deployed, you need to stuff the bag back in there, not roll it up or fold it in a special way. This certainly helps to get everything in there, compared to some other systems, but it seems that most airbag manufacturers are going to the stuff method these days anyhow.

If you have ever had to stuff a sleeping back into a small stuff-sack, then this will not be rocket-surgery. Is it easy? Not really….Is it difficult?  No. It takes maybe five minutes to repack the bag, but it certainly fits without issue.

All in all, this pack appears to be a winner. It fits everything most folks would need for a single day backcountry trip, and it is perfect for lift accessed side country, hike-to out of bounds terrain, snowmobile skiing, cat / heli skiing, or skiing from a pass, where you pop by the car often.

In short, the BCA Float 18 is perfect for 99% of the backcountry market.  It’s light, it’s priced right, and it could prevent a life-altering injury, or even save your life.

3 comments on “2011-2012 BCA Float 18 Airbag”

  1. Good stuff, thanks. Would love your comparative take on Mammut’s new 22L airbag – the first integrated product since Mammut bought SnowPulse, widely viewed as the leader in simple compressed air driven airbags. Apparently the new Mammut/SnowPulse product allows for the airbag component to be detached from the pack so it can be used with or without the airbag capability. A little more money than the BCA product but not a lot. Thanks again,

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