Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $900
Pros: Wrap-around-head airbag design, lightest pack in our review.
Cons: Not as durable, poor gear pocket, small lid pocket.
Best Uses: All-day, hut-to-hut or muti-day back-country skiing and snowboarding.
The Lifebag Lite 35 is a light pack with one of the best designed airbag systems on the market. At first glance, the Snowpulse seems similar to the BCA Float 32 or the Mammut Ride RAS 35, featuring a 150L bag that inflates behind your head. But what Lifebag does is quite different. It uses an airbag that wraps around your head and neck and down the front of your torso. This not only helps keep you on the surface of an avalanche, but also protects your head from trauma — which kills a little more the 25 percent of avalanche victims worldwide. The Lite 35 is also by far the lightest airbag pack we tested, over a pound lighter than the next closest pack.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Snowpulse airbag system is one of the more interestingly designed airbag systems on the market, not only because it keeps you on the surface like other airbags pacs but Snowpulse takes it a few steps further. Snowpulse does this with their U-shaped, wrap-around-head-shaped air bag that potentially reduces the risk of trauma and will create a bigger air pocket if you are buried. There are arguments that there isn't a lot of research that supports this actually working, but you can see how it could possibly help you in certain situations. How much it could help you is yet to be seen but it can't hurt.
Snowpulse 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. Snowpulse cartridges use a pretty standard fitting and can be refilled at most scuba shops, paint ball shops and some outdoor gear stores for around $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.
The Snowpulse allows you to set up your activation handle on either the left or the right shoulder strap. The trigger mechanism on the Snowpulse Lifebag isn't the best but is still highly reliable.
There is a big advantage of using compressed air over compressed nitrogen when it comes to air travel. 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 came in; then when you fly put the canister back in this box, clearly defining what your canister is and helping to make sure TSA doesn't take your canister away. I always go an extra step and put a note on mine, saying it's empty and it's for an avalanche airbag pack.
Comfort and Fit
The Lite 35 was slightly above average as far as comfort goes. It is available in two sizes that fit a similar range of people as does The North Face Patrol 24. The Snowpulse is a lighter pack, and doesn't use as nice foam in the shoulders, nor were the shoulder straps as well articulated. The Lite 35 is one of the bigger volume airbag packs we tested. The frame sheet was adequate for a pack of its size and transferred the load efficiency. That said, we wish the waist belt was a little stiffer for carrying heavy loads. As a whole, the Lite 35 wasn't as comfortable when fully weighted compared to the Vario 40 or the Float 32. There is a little pocket for the leg strap; this is great for keeping the strap out of the way when not in use but it's hard to quickly put it back in while wearing the pack. We thought this feature was cool at first, but in real world testing it became more of a pain.
To achieve weight savings, the Snowpulse appears designed as a more minimalist pack using lighter weight materials. The Lite 35 is certainly less durable than any of the other airbag packs we tested and is best used by people looking for a no-frills pack and who aren't super hard on their gear. The top lid pocket is very small and we couldn't fit a lot in there. There is also a small pocket on the underside of the lid which is even smaller. When both these pockets are loaded up (which isn't hard to do) they are a challenge to search. The Lite 35 had by far our least favorite snow safety gear pocket. It was small and for whatever reason only had a single slot/tube for either your shovel handle or your probe, but not both. We really didn't like that you had to unzip the side access zipper to get to your snow safety gear. This doesn't seem like a super big deal, but it's hard to keep everything inside your back from falling out. Also, this snow safety gear pocket didn't work well as a "wet" pocket to keep your damp skins or snowy shovel away from your warm puffy coat.
All the zipper pulls and draw strings are black and in lower light or even when wearing dark sunglasses they can be a pain to find. As far as useable pack volume goes, the Guide Lite 35 is certainly bigger than the North face Patrol 24 or the Mammut Ride RAS 35 and nearly as big as the BCA Float 32 and the Vario 40. Due to the lightweight theme there are no waist belt pockets on this pack. There are two side pockets that offer some storage options but they don't seem very secure. The Lite 35 does have ski carry and a snowboard carry straps but they are complicated and take time to set up compared with other packs we tested.
At 5 lbs 3 oz The Snowpulse Lite 35 is by far the lightest pack we tested, being over a pound lighter than the next lightest airbag pack, the BCA Float 32, and two pounds lighter than the similar volume ABS Vario 40. The Lite 35 is best for folks who want the lightest airbag pack they can get and are not that hard on their gear. The Lite 35 achieves some of its weight savings from reduced features but also from using lighter weight materials that we thought substantially decreased durability.
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 Snowpulse Lifebag Lite 35 they charge $900 for the pack and $185 for the cartridge.
— Ian Nicholson
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Most recent review: December 1, 2012
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