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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Preformance on the down is average, skiing carry system is just okay.
The Mammut Light Protection Airbag was nearly one of our OutdoorGearLab Top Picks for multi-day and hut-to-hut adventures and although it was barely edged out by the Black Diamond Saga 40 JetForce it remains a strong contender in this catagory. Like the name indicates, the Mammut Light Protection Airbag is light. At 6 lbs for everything (airbag/canister/pack) the Light Protection Airbag is one of the lightest airbag packs on the market and far lighter than almost everything in this volume category. The only pack that is lighter is the Mammut Light Removable Airbag at 5 lbs 10 oz, which is also modular, but only features Mammut's RAS system and not their PAS system. Despite these two packs claiming to be 30L, the Light Protection feels noticeable bigger. On top of its weight-to-volume ratio the Mammut Light Protection Airbag also features Mammut's PAS system, which we think is the second best airbag system available, just barely being edged out by the Black Diamond JetForce electric powered fan system, which offers a few but maybe not deal breaking differences. We also love its adjustable length back frame. While it doesn't adjust much, it fits a wider range of users. The downside? Like many lightweight packs, the Mammut Light Protection Airbag has minimal features. While we feel it has all the key features of a good lightweight touring pack, it certainly doesn't have any extras. If $900 is out of the budget, check out our Best Buy winner, the Backcountry Access Float 32 ($550). And don't buy anything until going through our How to Choose an Avalanche Airbag article and comprehensive Avalanche Airbag Review.
RELATED: Our complete review of avalanche airbag
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Mammut Light Protection uses Mammut's PAS (Protection Airbag System) that is one of our favorites among airbag packs and it is only just barely edged out by the Black Diamond JetForce system for our top pick, and we don't think the JetForce is leaps and bounds better. The PAS system works because the airbag is not only built into the backpack but also into the shoulder straps, so when deployed it inflates around your head and neck to further reduce the chance of trauma. Critics say there isn't much real world evidence to support this claim. However, we like it and Mammut says it has done studies to shows their system could not only help protect your head but also help create a bigger air pocket if you are buried. More importantly, PAS makes it more likely that your head will end up above your feet, increasing the odds that your face is close to the surface, buying you time in an avalanche situation. We also really like that the PAS system is interchangeable between packs. You can buy one PAS system and one canister and then it's only $290-$350 for each additional pack…still expensive but better than the alternative.
Mammut uses compressed air canisters in the airbag system. Compressed air, while slightly lower in performance compared with compressed nitrogen, is much easier and cheaper to refill. BCA's cartridges use a standard fitting and can be refilled at most scuba shops, paint ball shops and some outdoor gear stores for $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 canisters.
A small disadvantage for the Mammut Light Protection Airbag is that, unlike the ABS packs, the trigger is not interchangeable between shoulder straps. It is fixed on the left side, making it best for right-handed users. The trigger mechanism on the Mammut Light Protection Airbag itself isn't quite as good as the ABS but is still highly reliable. Trigger mechanisms are not the most important factor when considering an airbag.
A big advantage of the Mammut Light Protection Airbag pack for air travel is the use of compressed air rather than compressed nitrogen. TSA and the FAA allow you to 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 comes in, then put it back in this box to clearly define what your canister is and help make sure the TSA doesn't take your canister away. I go an extra step and put a note on mine, saying it's empty and that it's for an avalanche airbag pack.
Comfort and Fit
A cool feature of the Mammut Light Protection Airbag and other Mammut PAS ready packs is that there are two to three inches of adjustment to the height of the frame. This is important with the PAS system because you need to have the airbag line up with your head for effective protection. This also gives the pack a wider range of people who it will fit. On the flip side one, of the first things you'll notice when you put on the Mammut Light Protection Airbag pack is how wide the shoulder straps are. This does a great job of spreading the weight out and the shoulder straps feel great even after a few days with a 35-pound load. However, narrow shouldered people may have a hard time fitting into them.
Performance on the Down
Performance on the down measures how well the pack moves with us and hugs our bodies while descending while skiing or snowboarding. The Mammut Light Protection Airbag does pretty well on the down, but some of our testers think it felt a little stiff when fully loaded and it didn't quite ride as well as the ABS Vario 40L. We think the performance on the down is comparable to the Ortovox 32 + 7.
The Mammut Light Protection Airbag, like the name indicates, is a lightweight pack and doesn't have as many features as many other packs we tested. However, it does have almost all the key features and is a solid all-around touring and ski mountaineering pack. It doesn't have a separate zippered pocket accessible from the outside for snow safety gear, but other than that it has everything we like in a backcountry touring pack. The Mammut Light Protection Airbag is a traditional top loading pack with a non-removable lid. The avy gear/dry pocket is on the inside. At first we thought this was going to be a pain to skin in and out of, but after using it for a few days we found it wasn't a big deal. We also think that Light Protection Airbag pack feels bigger than it's 30L would have you believe. The top lid is well designed and is easy to access even when the pack is pretty full. For the touring/ski mountaineering minded users, the Mammut Light Protection Airbag is one of the few packs that has two ice tool holders. There is one small pocket on the waist belt that easily fits a few Gu's or a ski strap, but it will only fit smaller than average point-and-shoot cameras. Another nice feature of the Mammut Light Protection Airbag is that when you take the airbag and canister out it is a pretty darn light pack. It even makes for a great summer mountaineering pack, which adds to this packs versatility.
The Mammut Light Protection Airbag can carry skis or a snowboard fairly well, and scored average well during our side-by-side comparison. Something that very few other airbags can do is A-Frame skis on the sides, using its compression straps. This is great for long carries through the woods, but is not recommended in situations where there is even slight possibility that you will have to deploy your airbag – the skis will obstruct the airbag. The straps on the back of the pack can be used to diagonally carry skis. The Mammut Light Protection Airbag pack held tightly in our comparisons. They also worked pretty well for carrying a snowboard; like other Mammut airbag packs were among the best for this purpose. We like the ski carrying system a little more than that of the ABS Vario 30 and 40, but it wasn't as easy or as quick as the Backcountry Access Float 22 or Float 32.
Overall Cost Breakdown
The cost of airbag packs can be confusing because some manufacturers include the cartridge in the price while others do not. Some companies sell options without the airbag system or base unit, so make sure you know what you are buying. With the Mammut Light Protection Airbag you can buy it with the airbag in it for $900 but that doesn't include the canister ($200). They are sold separately for $700 for the PAS system and Mammut Light Protection Airbag Ready for $309, so it's a better deal to buy it prepackaged.
The Mammut Light Protection Airbag is best suited for all-day touring, hut-to-hut trips and even light overnight trips. It might work for heli, cat or side-country skiing and snowboarding, but because its so big and doesn't ride quite as well on the down it isn't super ideal for those applications.
— Ian Nicholson
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 12, 2013
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