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Hands-on Gear Review
Backcountry Access Float 22 Review
Cons: Only comes in one frame size, Over-all volume is big enough for most, but not all day trips, snow safety gear pocket still a little small on the small side
The new Backcountry Access Float 22 our new OutdoorGearLab Best Buy award winner, is an especially smaller version of our Top Pick the Backcountry Access Float 32. Both Floats have the same basic pack design and layout, one of our favorites among all the airbags we tested. There are a few improvements from the older Float 22 to the current one, most notable is the larger, more functional and user-friendly snow safety gear pocket and improved ice axe carrying system. The Float 22 excels at both mechanized (heli, side-country, etc.) skiing and snowboarding and day touring as long as not too much technical gear is needed (rope harness etc), where the Float 32 is primarily an all day touring, ski mountaineering, 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 and the $675 total is $50 less than the Float 32, $200 less than the next closest priced airbag pack and half the price of our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice, the Black Diamond Halo 28 or 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 better pack designs.
RELATED: Our complete review of avalanche airbag
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
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 the pack above your head to increase the odds that you will be on top of the debris when the avalanche comes to a stop. The location of the airbag also 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 performs 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.
Backcountry Access uses compressed air canisters in both of their Float packs. Compressed air has slightly lower performance compared with compressed nitrogen but it's much easier and less expensive to refill. BCA's cartridges use a pretty standard fitting that can be refilled at most scuba, paintball and some outdoor gear stores for around $5-$20. If you have any tools or setup that uses compressed air, BCA sells an adapter you can purchase to refill your cartridges.
The new Float 22, unlike the older version allows the trigger to be worn inside either shoulder strap. If you are a snowmobiler you want to wear it on your right shoulder strap, otherwise you can set it up so that you can grab the trigger with your dominate hand. The Float 22 also features four horizontal webbing loops inside the shoulder strap compartment to allow the wearer to customize the height of the trigger further making it easier to grab. The BCA trigger mechanism is a basic but very reliable system with its only nuance being that you need to spend thirty seconds to one minute double checking the internal threaded connection where the trigger attaches to the canister to make sure it hasn't come unthreaded (which it can over long periods of time). We don't think this is a big deal because you should be doing something similar with all airbag packs.
When flying domestically in the United States you can fly with an empty compressed air canister as long as it's in your checked baggage. Internationally it is currently okay to fly with a full cartridge. Regardless, a good tip is to keep the box that your canister came in so when you fly, simply put it back in its original box to define what your canister is and help make sure TSA doesn't take it. We recommend going one extra step when flying domestically and put a note on it, saying it's empty and that it's for an avalanche airbag pack.
Our testers love the overall layout of this airbag and BCA upgraded our testers' biggest gripe with the old version when designing the new Float 22. It now features a longer and larger snow safety gear pocket that accommodates most average sized probes, saws, and shovels.
The Float 22 features a single, large zippered hip belt pocket that is great for ski straps, a couple (yes a couple) Snickers bars, a Inclinometer or a traditional point and shoot camera. We loved being able to keep a camera in the pocket for quick shots. The Float 22 also features an internal mesh pocket too for smaller, easily lost items. The Float 22 also features a mesh, permanently attached helmet carrier, that can function in the middle of the pack, or can be offset to one side to keep your helmet out of the way while carrying skis diagonally.
This pack isn't really designed to carry skis A-frame style, but it has a super easy to use diagonal carry system that was among our favorite options 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 works great while riding a snowmobile.
Comfort and Fit
The Float 22 runs slightly 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 fit more broad shouldered folks marginally better. 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
This scoring metric measures how well each pack moved with us and handled while skiing and snowboarding on the descent. The Float 22 scored well above average in this category. It didn't ride similar to the The North Face Patrol ABS 24 and the Black Diamond Pilot 11 JetForce, but better than most larger volume packs.
This is one of the lighter airbag packs on the market. It weighs in at 6 lbs 8 ounces. That's a little heavier than 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, The Black Diamond Halo 28.
Overall Cost Breakdown
The cost of airbag packs can be confusing because some manufacturers include the price of the cartridge and others, 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 it's $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). This pack is half the price (including the canister) of the Black Diamond Halo 28 ($1450).
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 usable space. We think the Float 22 is big enough for someone to go backcountry touring all day and even hut-to-hut overnight if they packed light enough. It's the perfect size for heli, cat or side-country skiing, but wasn't big enough most of the time for more technical objectives when a rope, harness and other gear was required. If you like the design of the Float 22** but wish it was a little bigger, check out the Backcountry Access Float 32 which is 10L bigger, has an adjustable torso length, better ice axe holders and can carry skis A-frame style for lower elevation approaches.
The BCA Float 22 is our new OutdoorGearLab Best Buy award winner because it's a rad, well designed pack, that fits most folks well, for an awesome price. It's big enough for most for single day touring as long as they don't need a lot of extra stuff for a more technical ascent/descent like a rope etc. It's on the lighter side of airbag packs and its compressed air canister is easy and inexpensive to refill.
Other Versions or Accessories
Backcountry Access Float 32
BCA Float 42 Tech
Backcountry Access Tracker 2
— Ian Nicholson
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 10, 2015
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