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Hands-on Gear Review
ABS Powder 15 Review
Cons: Small volumne, can't fit bigger shovels or probes.
The ABS Powder 15 is a well-riding and more versatile pack than its 15L volume might indicate. It is not only good for heli, cat and side-country skiing but also a completely viable daypack as long as the tours weren't too technical, long or complex. Unlike the ABS Vario series, the Powder line is produced in only two volumes, 15L and 5L, limiting their applications, and only comes in one frame size. The tradeoff is that it is almost 1.5 pounds lighter than our OutdoorGearLab top pick, the Black Diamond Halo 28 or slightly smaller volume Black Diamond Pilot 11. The Powder 15 was one of our top performers for its performance on the down.
RELATED: Our complete review of avalanche airbag
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
The ABS airbag technology was our favorite. It is the only system we tested to use two airbags instead of the more common single bag, not only to give the user a certain level of redundancy in case one doesn't inflate one is punctured, but to also give you 170L of volume, the most of any airbag available. ABS claims that by having the airbags on the sides instead of near the head it helps keep your body in a horizontal position when the avalanche hits you, preventing you from sinking back into the snow. This claim was based on a study from the University of Chicago and their own studies, a claim that is sometimes disputed. When compared to our second favorite airbag system, the Mammut PAS (Protection Airbag system), with the ABS inflated you can still see all around you, offering the possibility of moving off the avalanche.
ABS Powder Series vs the ABS Vario Series
The ABS Powder series is modular but is not interchangeable with the Vario series or any other packs in that line. The Powder line uses a smaller, lighter-gauge zipper to attach the zip-on pack. The Powder line currently only has two zip-on offerings, a 5L and a 15L. The advantage of the Powder line over the Vario is the Powder is over a pound lighter than their more versatile counterparts. The twin airbags, trigger and canister are all the same, so the Powder series still uses our favorite airbag system. Lastly, the Powder base unit is only available in one size compared with the Vario base unit, which is available in two frame sizes.
The trigger handle on the ABS ABS Powder 15 is modular so you can wear it on the right or left shoulder strap. Most people feel more comfortable pulling across their body (right-handed person prefers to pull trigger on the left side). The trigger on the ABS creates a small exposition that travels down the line and forces a piece of copper to puncture a hole in the nitrogen gas canister.
ABS uses compressed nitrogen, which is significantly more costly and more difficult to refill compared with compressed air cartridges. In many major cities and outdoor and back-country hubs you can perform a canister swap, where you pay $40-70 to exchange your used cartridge and trigger for new ones. The old one can't be reused because the trigger's explosive charge renders it useless after activation.
Air travel is where ABS suffers its biggest downfall. TSA doesn't allow you to bring a nitrogen fill canister, regardless whether it's in your checked bags or not, even if empty. Therefore the only option, if there isn't a location at your destination to perform a cartridge and trigger swap, is for you to pay a hazards material fee of $25-70 and ship your canister to your destination. On the bright side, when you pay this fee you can ship the canister full.
Comfort and Fit
The ABS Powder 15 is only available in one size and fits most medium to taller sized users best. It has wider-fitting shoulder straps and doesn't fit narrower shoulder users well. It's a pretty comfortable pack and even though it's not super big, it was comfortable even when brimming with stuff strapped all over the outside.
This measures how well each pack carried while skiing or snowboarding on the down. The ABS Powder 15 is one of the best riding airbag packs we reviewed, partly due to design and partly due to its small size. It rides great; you hardly notice you are even wearing a pack, let alone an airbag pack, making it a great choice for mechanized skiers. It was better than our OutdoorGearLab Top Pick, the North Face Patrol ABS 24, or the Backcountry Access Float 22 and around the same as the The North Face ABS Powder Guide Vest.
Backcountry Pack Utility
The ABS Powder 15 is small but is laid out nicely to make the most of its 15-liter volume. It feels bigger with more useable space than the Ortovox Free Rider 24 and felt nearly as big as The North Face Patrol ABS 24. The Powder 15 doesn't work with longer probes (most probes longer than 260cm don't fit) or bigger shovels. If you put the shovel and probe in the main compartment instead of the snow safety gear pocket you can go a little bigger. Despite its small volume one tester managed to use it on several full-day ski tours in the Chugach range in Alaska, on outings where ropes and harnesses weren't carried but temps were cold. The helmet attachment system is one of the better designs in the review, being edged out only by the Backcountry Access Float 32.
Carrying Skis or Snowboard
The ABS Powder 15 can carry skis diagonally or a snowboard vertically. Its carrying system is average. Utilizing the same two straps for diagonal ski carry helps and two daisy chains help with lashing a snowboard. This system works but not as well as with some other packs such as the Mammut Ride RAS or The North Face Patrol ABS 24.
The ABS Powder 15 is lighter than average for an airbag pack at 6 lbs 4 oz, with only the Mammut Light Protection Airbag (6 lbs), The Backcountry Access Float 22 (6 lbs) and the North Face ABS Powder Guide Vest being lighter (4 lbs 12 oz).
The ABS Powder 15 is a versatile pack that feels bigger than its 15L designation. While too small for most hut-to-hut or overnight trips, it's big enough for average day touring as long as you don't bring too much extra stuff (ropes, harness, crampons, etc.). The ABS Powder 15 also excels in situations where rideability becomes more important and you don't need a very big pack, like heli, cat and side-country skiing and snowboarding.
— Ian Nicholson
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 25, 2015
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