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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Expensive, pain to travel with
Manufacturer: The North Face
This pack wins our Top Pick award for best Side-country, Heli and Cat ski and snowboard pack. The Patrol 24 won our award by combining a great, functional, well designed, not-to-heavy pack with rad backcountry functionality. The Black Diamond Pilot 11 JetForce was a strong contender for this category and is far easier to travel with, and rides amazingly well, but its very small design makes its functionality more limited than the Patrol 24.
The Patrol 24's design is well thought out, easy to use and one of the highest scoring in our review. It features a durable and effective tuck-away ski/snowboard carrying system, dual-zippered waist belt pockets and an awesome over-sized safety gear pocket that we could also squeeze our skins into. The Patrol 24 was one of the trimmer riding packs we tested, but this did cut down on the overall volume. Because the Patrol 24 is one the smaller volume airbag packs on the market, we think it would be best used for side-country laps, shorter tours, heli and cat skiing or for people who pack light for day touring applications. At nearly $1180 it is one of the most expensive packs out there and was only topped by the BD Pilot 11 ($1250), Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce ($1250) and the North Face ABS Powder Guide Vest ($1380).
RELATED: Our complete review of avalanche airbag
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The North Face Patrol 24 ABS pack uses technology licensed from ABS, our favorite. The North Face/ABS system is the only one we tested to use two airbags instead of the more common single bag. That makes keeping the user on the surface more likely. Even though these airbags are burly and are made of the same material that's used in your car's airbags, it's still nice to have two airbags give you redundancy. The twin bag system also gives you 170L of volume, the second most of any airbag available behind only Black Diamond's Jet Force system.
This is one of the few bummers of the North Face Patrol 24 ABS. Unlike a lot of other ABS packs, the pull trigger is not modular and can only be worn on the left shoulder strap.
The North Face Patrol 24 ABS uses compressed nitrogen, which is significantly more costly and more difficult to refill than compressed air cartridges. In many major cities and outdoor and back-country hubs you can perform a nitrogen canister swap where for $40-70 you exchange your used cartridge and trigger in for new ones. They can't simply be refilled because the trigger mechanism causes a piece of metal to be fired and puncture the cartridge. Thus the trigger no longer has its explosive mechanism. This is and travel considerations are where we almost didnt give the Patrol 24 ABS our award, because for traveling heli and cat skiers, it can be a pain to re-fill.
This is where the ABS technology suffers the biggest downfall. The TSA doesn't allow you to bring nitrogen filled canisters, either empty or full, onto a commercial aircraft, even in your checked luggage. If there isn't a location at your destination to perform a cartridge and trigger swap your only option is to pay a hazards material fee of $25-70 to ship your canister ahead to your destination. When you pay this fee you can ship the canister full.
Comfort and Fit
One of the trimmer riding packs, the Patrol 24 snugged right against your back and was one of the better packs to ride and ski with. The North Face Patrol 24 is available in two sizes, a S/M and a M/L The size Small will fit many narrower shoulder folks and even many smaller women. The larger size will fit most people up to 6'4", depending on torso length. The Patrol 24 features nicely articulated shoulder straps that fit medium to wider torsos. The Patrol 24 has one of the better flexing frames, offering freedom of movement, but it is still able to carry a small backcountry load. This frame wouldn't handle a big load. But with only 24L it's hard to overfill it. The Patrol moved with us through bumps and jump-turned wonderfully down steep gulleys.
Back-country Pack Utility
We liked the Patrol 24's overall pack design. One of our favorite features was its deep and easy-to-use safety gear pocket. We treated this like a "wet pocket" and it easily swallowed our shovel, probe, saw and skins. This was nice because we didn't have to put our snowy shovel or damp skins into the main compartment with our puffy coat or our extra gloves. Only the Back Country Access Float 32 had as nice a safety gear pocket. We liked the Patrol 24's snow safety gear pocket far more than those on the Mammut Light Removable Airbag or the Mammut Ride RAS and thought it was about the same as our Editors' Choice the Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce.
The "Tuck-away" carrying system worked great for both skis or a snowboard. The metal buckle which closes the waist belt is bomber and easy to use even with big gloves on. Like all the other airbag packs we tested, the Patrol 24 features a leg strap to help keep the pack from being pulled off the top of you. The small pockets on the waist belt were easy to operate and were the perfect size for a GU, inclinometer, ski straps or the activation handle when it's not in use. The over-sized fleeced-lined goggle pocket was also nice for goggles or sunglasses or smaller items like a map or chapstick.
The only downside is that the airbag system doesn't have a separate compartment and definitely eats into the volume of the main compartment. We think the Patrol is great for heli and cat skiing and side-country adventures, along with shorter day tours or for folks who pack light. For a bigger pack we would recommend for more day touring use would be the Halo 28, BCA Float 27 Tech, Mammut Pro Protection 35, and the Backcountry Access Float 32.
Ski and Snowboard Carrying Options
The North Face Patrol 24 ABS had one of the best diagonal ski carry systems we tested, being only slightly behind the Backcountry Access Float 22 and Float 32 and scored similarly for our testers to the Black Diamond JetForce line. Unlike those packs, which come with no snowboard carrying system or charge $35 more for it as an accessory, the Patrol 24 ABS comes with a solid and easy-to-use vertical snowboard carry. The only back we thought carried a snowboard ever so slightly better was the Mammut Ride RAS 30L.
At 6 lbs 9 oz the The North Face Patrol 24 is on the lighter side of airbag packs in our review, with the Mammut Light Protection at 5 lbs 10 oz nearly a pound lighter. The North Face Patrol 24's primary competitor was the Black Diamond Pilot 11 JetForce, which despite being much smaller volume-wise weighs in at 7lbs 3oz. The Patrol 24 was only one ounce heavier than the much larger volume Backcountry Access Float 32. The Mammut Ride RAS 35 wasn't too far behind both of them at 7 lbs. The BD Saga 40 was around a pound heavier at 7 lbs 11 oz.
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 North Face Patrol 24 the cost breakdown is relatively simple because the airbag pack is sold as one package and the $1180 includes the canister.
The North Face Patrol 24 ABS is a great all-around airbag pack and will serve almost any type of back-country and side-country user well. It is big enough for most day touring, and is light enough and rides well enough to make for an awesome heli or cat skiing pack. That same fantastic pack-riding ability plus low volume make it a stellar side country pack. In the end the Patrol's versatility is what allowed it to edge out the Black Diamond Pilot 11 Jet Force for our Top pick for best side-country, Heli and Cat skiing pack.
Other Versions and Accessories
The North Face ABS Powder Guide Vest is a vest version of the avalanche airbag systems that are commonly found integrated into packs.
An ABS Activation Unit may be purchased separately for $180.
— Ian Nicholson
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: December 1, 2012
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