Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Inexpensive, big well-designed pack, second lightest airbag pack in our review.
Cons: One size: doesn't fit many shorter or taller people.
Best Uses: Backcountry skiing and snowboarding.
The Backcountry Access (BCA) Float 32 wins Best Buy award because it is super- well-designed, light and $100-$500 less than the competition. It is also one of the bigger volume packs we tested and is great for guides, outdoor professionals or for skiers and snowboarders who want a bigger pack for all-day tours or light overnight adventures. The Float 32 also comes with a ton of other rad features like a fleece-lined goggle pocket, mesh helmet carrier, and twin ice axe holders. The only down side is that the Float 32 only comes in one size and tends to only fit broader shouldered folks between 5'7 and 6'4", depending on torso length.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Float uses compressed oxygen to inflate a single 150L bag. The BCA airbag inflates well above your head to help you float to the surface because of inverse segregation.
The BCA system, like Mammut and Snowpulse systems, use compressed oxygen. The advantage is that most compressed air canisters can be refilled at many scuba or paintball shops or even some fire stations for a cost of around $5-$20. You can also mail the cannister back to BCA to be refilled. Another small but nice feature of the Float 32 is that BCA allows you to set up your activation handle on either the left or the right shoulder strap.
Comfort and Fit
The Float 32 is comfortable and carries great while skiing and skinning. The only down side 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 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.
The BCA Float 32 andthe ABS Vario 40 were our two favorite packs for usability. They narrowly edged out The North Face Patrol 24 and Mammut Ride RAS 30 and were far better than the Snowpulse Lite 35.
One of our favorite features of the Float 32 is the huge dedicated safety gear pocket. We treated this like a "wet pocket"; it easily swallowed our shovel, probe, saw, and skins. We didn't have to put our snowy shovel or damp skins into the main compartment with our puffy coat or our extra gloves. It also features one really large zippered hip-belt pocket that was great for ski straps, a couple (yes a couple) Snickers bars, a inclimiter or some GU at the ready. There were also a lot of other small fantastic features that made the Float 32 even more backcountry friendly, like like a fleece-lined goggle pocket, mesh helmet carrier, twin ice axe holders.
A note on size
Probably the biggest thing that sets the Float 32 apart from most of the other packs we tested is volume. The Float 32 has 32 liters of useable volume where all the other packs we reviewed have about five to 10 liters of their claimed volume taken up by the airbag safety unit. For example, we thought that the Float 32 felt about the same size as the ABS Vario 40 despite the Vario's claim of being eight liters bigger. The Float 32 also feels much bigger than the Mammut Ride RAS 35 or the The North Face Patrol 24.
The Float 32 isn't really set up to carry skis A-frame style, but has an easy to use horizontal carry. This was quick and easy to set up but the skis did flop around more than on other packs we tested such as the North Face Patrol 24.
For $35 you can buy a snowboard carrier that carries the snowboard horizontally behind your back. The metal buckle that closes the waist belt is bomber and easy to use even with big gloves on.
At 6 lbs 8 oz, the Float pack was the second lightest pack in our review with the Snowpulse Lite 35 at 5 lbs 3 oz being over a pound lighter. The Snowpulse is significantly less durable than the Float 32 or any other airbag pack we tested. The North Face Patrol 24 was only one ounce heavier than the Float 32 and the Mammut Ride RAS 35 wasn't too far behind it at 7 lbs. The similarly sized ABS Vario was around a pound heavier, but you can zip different packs onto their base unit in exchange for that weight. For spring tours or lower hazard days the airbag system is removable on the Float 32, making for a three and a half pound pack.
— Ian Nicholson
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Most recent review: April 8, 2013
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