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Hands-on Gear Review
Arc'teryx Voltair 30 Review
Cons: One of the heavier airbag packs, expensive
Bottom line: If we could only own one airbag pack for everything from day tours to hut-to-hut skiing, this would be it.
The Arc'teryx Voltair 30 is our new OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice for the best all-around airbag pack. While there are several solid options on the market, if we could have only one airbag pack, this would be it. The Voltair 30 features one of the best all-around pack designs for functionality and ease of use, is mega-weather resistant, and is extremely comfortable, complete with fantastic padding and shoulder strap/waist belt articulation. The Voltair also sports our new favorite airbag system, which stands a chance to provide trauma resistance. It also has an easy to use leg strap, multiple pulls (for practicing and not hesitating rather than getting caught multiple times in one day), and low hassle traveling, as refilling a canister once at our destination is no longer needed.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Avalanche Airbag Pack Review
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Voltair is our new favorite airbag system. It is similar in design to Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce and Black Diamond Pilot 11 Jetforce system in that it features a battery powered fan instead of the more common compressed gas system. We feel that Arc'teryx has improved upon BD's JetForce system in several ways.
Arc'teryx's Voltair's system features a 22.2 Volt lithium-ion battery (sold separately) that is capable of inflating the bag as many as 20 times in 14F. We fired our model (not fully charged) 18 times at room temperature; even when almost completely charged (at -22F), the Voltair still fired four times. While you certainly do not need to be able to pull the trigger 18 times, this potential stored energy means that if you forget or are slow to charge, or you leave it out in your car in the cold, it will still likely fire while touring the next day. Even beyond the number of pulls, the hope is that the wearer will not think twice about pulling the trigger, even if they haven't charged the battery as often as they should. This also hopefully means the user won't hesitate to pull the trigger in the event of what they think might be a small avalanche.
A recent study involving skier triggered avalanches found that more than 20% of people caught in avalanches (while wearing an airbag pack) did not deploy their airbag for various reasons. Many people didn't think the avalanche was going to be significant or they didn't have the trigger out; many of these incidents resulted in fatalities.
The Voltair system inflates a single 150 liter bag articulated to protect someone's head area from trauma. While this shape hardly guarantees even subtle protection from trauma, it has the potential to. In several cases, there have been folks who have bounced off of trees where the airbag has taken most of the force (including the author).
What is fantastic is Arc'teryx truly stands behind this product with their typical lifetime warranty. So much so that every 50 pulls, the company will pay for shipping to have it sent to them for a full diagnostics. The pack will even indicate when it's time to send it in and will keep working until you're able to send in it (though we recommend sending it in when the time comes).
The leg strap design on the Voltair is by far the best and most convenient to use out of any airbag pack on the market. Many users don't use the leg strap (which you need to maximize the pack's effectiveness) often because they find it troublesome or inconvenient. The Voltair has a mini carabiner built into the waist belt and is mega easy to clip and unclip with one hand and inspires even the laziest person to use the leg strap.
Unlike the Black Diamond models, which feature an electronic trigger, the Voltair features a completely mechanical trigger. While we have heard of ZERO problems with the JetForce triggers, this is a slight advantage to the Voltair, as our review team views a mechanical trigger to be slightly more reliable than an electronic one. The trigger easily identifies if the pack is armed and ready to go or not. When turned into the armed position, a green circle faces out, and when not armed, a red "X" faces out. Both symbols are easily visible to both the user and their partners to help make sure the wearer is never touring with it in the "unarmed" position.
The Voltair is TSA approved for domestic air travel; it's even okay to carry this bag on so long as the battery is disconnected. This is incredibly nice for skiers and boarders who travel to their backcountry destination or to locations where re-filling a compressed air canister is more challenging.
This pack only comes in one size (regular) and fits slightly smaller folks far better than the Backcountry Access Float 32. We thought it fit most people from 5'4" to 6'2 well; for folks on the taller end of this spectrum, we'd expect the BCA Float packs to fit better. For short users (shorter than 5'3"), the Mammut Ride Short is the best option.
This pack offers some of the best articulation and supportive foam of any airbag we tested. In our side-by-side tests, this was the most comfortable pack we tested, earning a 9 out of 10. It was noticeably more comfortable the Black Diamond Halo 28, Black Diamond Saga 40, Mammut Light Removable 3.0, and the Backcountry Access Float 32, though all four packs were trailing closely behind in our tests. If you plan to carry heavier loads, the Voltair will serve you well.
This pack was the highest scorer in our fleet, excelling across the board; downhill performance was no exception, with this contender taking home a 9 out of 10. Performance on the down is basically how well the pack moved with its user while skiing or snowboarding down. We also take into account the pack's overall comfort on the down. The Voltair didn't "feel" as big as other models in our fleet, especially considering it's nearly a 40 liter non airback pack. Overall, it felt similar to other packs of comparable volume, like the BD Halo 28 or Mammut Pro Protection Airbag 3.0.
While the BD Halo JetForce is a solid pack, the Voltair just barely takes the lead from a purely functional backcountry pack standpoint. Unlike the Halo 28, the avy gear pocket on the Voltair is bigger and fits larger than average shovels, easily stows 300cm probes, and has room for skins. All of our testers loved that even when the pack is completely full, the avy gear pocket isn't affected, and we didn't find it was hard to access items for observations. It was also easy to pack skins away.
The Voltair 30L has 30 liters of usable space, meaning the airbag system's volume isn't eating into the pack's 30 liter volume. Considering this pack was only supposed to only be two liters bigger than the Black Diamond Halo 28, the Voltair feels much bigger than its two liter volume difference might suggest. The Voltair is a semi-clamshell design that functions more like a top loader than other classic clamshell design, like the one found in the Backcountry Access Float 32. The zipper makes a "U" shape and goes all the way to waistbelt level on one side, but only halfway down on the other.
Ski and Snowboard Carry
Like many airbag packs, the Voltair 30 only offers a diagonal/vertical back carry system and no A-frame style options. We found the diagonal/vertical carry to be one of the easier designs to slip our skis into. The only thing that kept it from being the easiest was, unlike the Backcountry Access Float 22, Backcountry Access Float 32, and Backcountry Access Float 42, the Voltair 30 features two threaded buckles instead of a fast-tech clip-style buckle. That said, even with pretty fat skis, we didn't completely undo the top strap; instead, we dropped our skis in from the top and negotiated the breaks through the upper strap.
One of the coolest additional design features of the Voltair 30L was the Advanced Composite Construction (AC²) fabric and construction, which made this pack the most weather resistant pack we tested, by far. Not only is the fabric extremely weather resistant, but the pack is also seam taped and features watertight zippers, keeping the contents dry in even the wettest storms. This pack also has a small zippered internal security pocket, and we already mentioned the super glove-friendly leg safety strap that employs a waist-belt mounted, carabiner-like clip-in for quicker and easier transitions, which was by far one of our testers' favorite features.
This award winner weights 7 lbs and 9.6 oz. This is marginally heavier than the Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce (7 lbs 8 oz), but slightly lighter than the Black Diamond Saga 40 JetForce (7 lbs 10 oz). It's worth noting that the Voltair feels closer in volume to the BD Saga 40 than the BD Halo 28, though it doesn't offer quite as much usable space as the BD Saga 40. The Backcountry Access Float 32 is very similar in overall design and volume and is nearly a half pound lighter at 7 lbs 1 oz. For the ultimate in lightweight travel, the Mammut Light Removable 3.0 weighs in at under 6 lbs.
The Voltair 30 is a highly versatile pack. It's big enough for any day tour, even if your day requires carrying a rope and a few extra items. Our testers found that it rode well enough that we'd easily take it on heli/cat skiing trips - where we didn't necessarily need a small pack. We feel that this award winner is big enough for hut-to-hut style traverses, like the Haute route or the Wapta traverse, where you need some extra gear, but you aren't necessarily carrying a tent or sleeping bag. This bag does it all.
Overall Cost Breakdown
The Voltair is $1700.00 US for everything. You can piece it out by buying the Arc'teryx Lipo 22.2v Battery separate at $320.00, a Voltair Battery Power Supply 100-240V for $60, and the airbag pack itself for $1300.00.
The Voltair is the most expensive airbag pack on the market at the time of this writing. The price is a result of its high-quality functionality, features, made-in-Canada quality, and across the board top-tier features. We love this pack and it is our new favorite. We do really like the Backcountry Access Float 32, our Best Buy award winner, particularly if you are 5'8" - 6'4". While we think the Voltair is the best option when it comes to fit, comfort, and overall pack design, there are other options in our fleet that offer excellent performance for less money and are dependent upon your needs.
Conclusion and the Bottom Line
The Voltair 30 is our new Editors' Choice winner for the best all-around airbag pack. It won this coveted award because it is one of the most comfortable packs on the market. It features one of the most functional backcountry designs, is highly water resistant, and features what our review staff considers the best overall airbag system. Its only disadvantages are that it's slightly heavier than many comparable packs; however, we felt that the 4-6 ounce weight gain was more than a fair exchange for the Voltair's number of superior features and its top-notch design.
— Ian Nicholson
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