Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Lightweight, least expensive airbag pack, versatile.
Cons: Only comes in one frame size, snow safety gear pocket a little small.
Best Uses: Heli, cat, or side-country skiing and snowboarding, day touring, snowmobiling.
The Backcountry Access Float 22 was nearly our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy award winner, nearly taking the title from its bigger cousin, the Backcountry Access Float 32. Both Floats have the same basic pack design and layout, one of our favorites among all the airbag we tested. The main difference: the Float 22 has a much smaller avy gear pocket that will only fit shorter than average probes and shovels. We also struggled to pack skins in this pocket along with our avy gear. Besides that, the Float 22 excels at both mechanized (heli, side-country, etc.) skiing and snowboarding and day touring, where the Float 32 is primarily a touring and light hut-to-hut pack. The Float 22 was one of the lightest airbag packs on the market and is within a few ounces of our lightest packs. Best of all, the Float 22 is the best priced airbag pack in our review. It's $500 for the pack and $175 for the canister; the $675 total is $50 less than the Float 32, $200 less than the next closest priced airbag pack and almost $500 less than our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice, the ABS Vario 30. The BCA packs don't have as fancy or as modular an airbag system, but they are the least expensive and have one of the better pack designs.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
This pack, like its bigger cousin the Float 32, uses compressed air to inflate a single 150L bag. The BCA airbag deploys from the top of pack above your head to both increase the odds that you will be on the top of the debris when the avalanche comes to a stop, but also the location of the airbag increases the odds of the wearer coming to a stop in a heads up position, decreasing the rescue time required to get to your airway. The airbag itself used in BCA systems is one of the more basic, offering what is becoming the standard shape. It doesn't offer anything special or unique, but it is reliable and preforms its most important task of keeping the wearer on the surface. The BCA system, like Mammut and Snowpulse systems, use compressed air. On the Float packs the airbag system is removable and therefore interchangeable, but at this point you have to contact BCA directly for the option of buying a Float pack without the airbag in it.
BCA uses compressed air canisters in both of their Float packs. Compressed air has slightly lower performance compared with compressed nitrogen, but it is much easier and less expensive to refill. BCA's cartridges use a pretty standard fitting that can be refilled at most scuba, paint ball and some outdoor gear stores foraround $5-$20. If your own a scuba tank, have a glass blowing setup or anything else that uses compressed air, you can buy an adapter from BCA and refill your own cartridges.
Unlike a lot of other airbag packs, you can only wear the trigger on the left shoulder strap. If you are a snowmobiler and want to wear it on your right shoulder strap, consider the Backcountry Access Float Throttle. It is almost identical in design to the Float 22 but the trigger is on the opposite side. The trigger mechanism is not an important a factor to consider when buying a airbag pack because while there are some subtle differences, they all work well. However, recently all triggers were recalled on BCA avalanche airbag models Float 18, 22, 30, 32, 36 and Float Throttle. Owners of these packs can contact BCA for a free replacement trigger assembly by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or ordering one from the BCA website.
You can fly with an empty compressed air canister as long as it's in your checked baggage. A good tip is to keep the box that your canister came in; when you fly, put it back in this box to define what your canister is and help make sure TSA doesn't take it. I go one extra step and put a note on mine, saying it's empty and that it's for an avalanche airbag pack
We loved the overall layout of this airbag but it had one major feature that kept it from being our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy and winning 5 stars. The snow safety gear pocket is pretty small. In the photo above it wouldn't even fit a standard 240cm probe. Only shorter than average probes and shovels will fit in the Float 22's snow safety gear pocket. On top of that, we had a hard time fitting skins into this pocket with the snow safety gear in there.
It isn't really set up to carry skis A-frame style, but has an easy to use diagonal carry system that was our favorite among the airbags in our review. BCA's system was quick and easy to set up and the skis slopped around less than on other packs we tested, such as the Mammut Ride RAS, ABS Vario 40 or 30. For $35 you can buy a snowboard carrier that carries the snowboard horizontally behind your back. We thought this was less ideal for snowboard mountaineering but worked great while riding a snowmobile.
Comfort and Fit
The Float 22 runs a little shorter than the Float 32. The Float 22 is comfortable and carries great while skiing and skinning. The only downside is it only comes in one size, limiting the number of people it might fit. Its shoulder straps are well articulated but they definitely fit more broad-shouldered folks that do those on other airbag packs we tested. Look at the smaller size Mammut Ride RAS for narrower fitting shoulders. We liked the foam they used in the shoulder straps. This pack will work best for folks who are around 5'8"-6'4" and won't work for most shorter folks.
Performance on the Down
Performance on the down measures how well each pack handled and moved with us while skiing and snowboarding on the descent. The Float 22 scored a little above average in this category. It didn't ride quite as nicely as our Editors' Choice, the ABS Vario 30, or The North Face Patrol ABS 24 but it wasn't far off. The ABS Vario 30 hugged out backs a little better and the pack moved with us more effectively. The Float 22 felt about as good as the Ortovox Free Rider 24 and the Mammut Ride RAS 30L. It moved with us noticeably better than the Ortovox Tour ABS 32 + 7.
This is one of the lightest airbag packs on the market. It checks in a 6 lbs even. Thats the same weight as the Mammut Light Protection Pack but the Float is a pound to half a pound lighter than most other airbag packs we tested. It's over a pound lighter than our OutdoorGearLab Editors choice the ABS Vario 30.
Overall Cost Breakdown
The cost of airbag packs can be confusing because some manufacturers include the cartridge in the price and some don't. Some companies sell options without the airbag system or base unit so make sure you know what you are buying. With the Backcountry Access Float 22 the pack itself is $500 and the compressed air cartridge is $175.
This is one of the best priced avalanche airbag packs on the market. At $675 its $50 less than the Backcountry Access Float 32 and $150 less than the next closest priced packs, the Mammut Ride RAS 30L and Ride Short RAS 28L, which are both $875 ($700 for the pack and $175 for the canister).
The Float 22 is a bit of a do-it-all size. Unlike a lot of other airbag packs like the Ortovox Free Rider 24, The North Face Patrol 24 ABS or the ABS Vario 25, the Float 22 doesn't include the volume that the airbag system takes up and thus has 22 liters of useable space. We though the Float 22 was big enough for someone to go backcountry touring all day and even hut-to-hut overnight if they packed light enough. But it wasn't big enough and good enough at riding that it also makes a fantastic heli, cat or side-country skiing pack.
Float 22 versus Float 32
Both the Float 22 and the Float 32 are a good size for day touring. The Float 22 isn't quite big enough for most people to make it ideal for longer or more technical tours where you might need a rope, crampons, etc. or touring in really cold temps where you are going to need more and bigger layers. The Float 22 is more ideal for heli, cat, and side-country skiing. Compared with the Float 32 it's smaller and thus rides a little better. Some company's liter ratings included in the name of their packs are way off, but the Float 32 is actually 10L bigger than the Float 22.
This was nearly our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy award winner because it is a well designed pack that's the best price of any airbag in our review. You get all the same features as our award winning Backcountry Access Float 32.
— Ian Nicholson
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Most recent review: December 12, 2014
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