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Backcountry Access Float 22 Review
Cons: Only comes in one frame size, Over-all volume is (barely) big enough for most, but not all day trips, snow safety gear pocket on the small side
Bottom line: A killer airbag for the price that's one of our favorite pack designs; it can double for occasional day tours, making it tough to beat.
Cost + Extra?: 500+175 for cartridge
Weight with Cartridge: 6.5 lbs.
The new Backcountry Access Float 22 is our OutdoorGearLab Top pick winner, as it's the best airbag pack for downhill oriented backcountry adventures like side-country, heli, or cat skiing and snowboarding. The Float 22 is also a fantastic pack for sledders (folks who ride snowmobiles) because it is roomy enough for all your safety gear and a couple extra layers, without feeling cumbersome. The Float 22 is an essentially a smaller version of our Best Buy the Backcountry Access Float 32. Both Floats have the same basic pack design and layout, which overall is one of our review team's favorites among all the airbags we tested. There are a few improvements from the older Float 22 to the current one, most notable is this pack's larger, more functional and user-friendly snow safety gear pocket and improved ice axe carrying system.
The Float 22 excels at mechanized (heli, side-country, etc.) skiing and snowboarding but still functions well for day touring - as long as not too much technical gear is needed (AKA: rope, harness etc), whereas the Float 32 is primarily an all day touring, ski mountaineering, and light hut-to-hut pack. The Float 22 is one of the lighter airbag packs on the market and is one of the best-priced airbags in our review. At $500 for the pack and $175 for the canister ($675 total) it's $50 less than the Float 32, $200 less than the next closest priced airbag pack, and half the price of our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice, the Arc'teryx Voltair 30 or the Black Diamond Halo 28. The BCA packs don't have as fancy, unique, or as modular of an airbag systems, but they remain extremely functional, dependable, and are among the least expensive.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Avalanche Airbag Pack Review
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Updated Colors for 2017
The Float 22 is now available in lime (which we reviewed) as well as black. We are waiting for confirmation from BCA that these are the only updates to this airbag pack this season. See both the lime and black versions shown below.
This pack, like its bigger cousin the Float 32, uses compressed air to inflate a single 150L bag. The BCA airbag deploys from the top of the pack above your head to increase the odds that you will be on top of the debris when the avalanche comes to a stop. The location of the airbag also increases the odds of the wearer coming to a stop in a heads up position, decreasing the rescue time required to get to your airway.
The airbag itself used in BCA systems is one of the more basic, offering what is becoming the standard shape. It doesn't offer anything special or unique, but it is reliable and performs its most important task of keeping the wearer on the surface. The BCA system, like Mammut and Snowpulse systems, use compressed air. On the Float packs, the airbag system is removable and therefore interchangeable, but at this point, there is only one model of Float pack that is sold without the airbag system (and that's the Float 8).
Backcountry Access uses compressed air canisters in all three of their Float packs. Compressed air has slightly lower performance compared with compressed nitrogen (and it's only a minimal difference) but it is significantly easier and less expensive to refill. BCA's cartridges use a pretty standard fitting that can be refilled at most scuba, paintball, and some outdoor gear stores for around $5-$20. If you have any tools or setup that uses compressed air, BCA sells an adapter you can purchase to refill your cartridges. It is possible to refill BCA canisters by hand if you are traveling to super remote regions by using a Benjamin high-pressure Pump which is capable of refilling the cylinder to the prerequisite 2700 PSI.
The new Float 22, unlike the older version, allows the trigger to be worn inside either shoulder strap. The Float 22 also features four horizontal webbing loops inside the shoulder strap compartment to allow the wearer to customize the height of the trigger, further making it easier to grab. The BCA trigger mechanism is a basic, but reliable system with its only nuance being that you need to spend thirty seconds to one minute double checking the internally threaded connection (where the trigger attaches to the canister) to make sure it hasn't come unthreaded - which it can over long periods of time. We don't think this is a big deal, as you should be doing something similar with all airbag packs.
When flying domestically in the United States, you can fly with an empty compressed air canister as long as it's in your checked baggage. Internationally, it is currently okay to fly with a full cartridge and we have done this a half dozen times on flights to Europe to verify that it actually works. Regardless, a good tip is to keep the box that your canister came in so when you fly, simply put it back in its original box to define what your canister is to help make sure TSA doesn't take it. We recommend going one extra step when flying domestically and put a note on it, saying it's empty and that it's for an avalanche airbag pack.
Our testers love the overall layout of this airbag and BCA upgraded our testers' biggest gripe with the old version when designing the new Float 22. It now features a longer and larger snow safety gear pocket that accommodates most average sized probes, saws, and shovels.
Other high scorers in our fleet for the backcountry utility metric include the Arc'teryx Voltair 30, Backcountry Access Float 32, and Backcountry Access Float 42; each of these contenders scored a perfect 10 out of 10.
Carring skis A-frame style is a challenge. However it's the easiest pack to carry skis diagonally. Set up is fast and "ski flop n' roll" is limited. The option snowboard-carrying accessory will run you $35. However, it carries the board horizontally: ok if snomobiling but not ideal if snowboard mountaineering.
This contender also features a mesh, permanently attached helmet carrier that can function in the middle of the pack, or can be offset to one side to keep your helmet out of the way while carrying skis diagonally.
The Float 22 features a single, large zippered hip belt pocket that is great for ski straps, a couple (yes a couple) Snickers bars, an Inclinometer, or a traditional point and shoot camera. We loved being able to keep a camera in the pocket for quick shots. The Float 22 also features an internal mesh pocket for smaller, easily lost items.
The Float 22 runs slightly shorter than the Float 32. The Float 22 is comfortable and carries well while skiing and skinning. The only downside is it only comes in one size, limiting the number of people it might fit. The shoulder straps are well articulated but they fit more broad shouldered folks better.
We liked the foam they used in the shoulder straps of the Float 22. This pack will work best for folks who are around 5'8"- 6'4" and is not the best option for shorter folks. Look at the smaller sized Mammut Ride Short if you have narrow shoulders and/or you're on the shorter side of the spectrum.
This scoring metric measures how well each pack moved with us and handled while skiing and snowboarding on the descent. The Float 22 scored well above average in this category and among the very best packs in our review overall, earning a 9 out of 10.
It performed similarly to the Black Diamond Pilot 11 JetForce, but better than most larger volume packs. It won our top pick award for the best airbag pack for side-country and heli-skiing because it performed equally well to the BD Pilot 11 JetForce on the descent, but the Float 22's slightly larger volume was nice for side-country days that might involve some skinning ( it was just big enough to tour with - barely). Other top performers in this category include the Mammut Light Removable 3.0, the Arc'teryx Voltair 30, and the Black Diamond Halo 28.
This is one of the lighter airbag packs on the market weighing in at 6 pounds 8 ounces; that's just over a pound heavier than the Mammut Light Removable 3.0 which was the lightest pack in our review. However, do note that the Float 22 is a pound to half a pound lighter than most other airbag packs we tested. In fact, it's over a pound lighter than our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice, the Arc'teryx Voltair 30, and our Top Pick, the Black Diamond Halo 28.
Overall Cost Breakdown
The cost of airbag packs can be confusing, as some prices might include the cost of the canister, 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 Backcountry Access Float 22, the pack itself is $500, and the compressed air cartridge is $175, bringing the grand total to $675.
This is one of the best-priced avalanche airbag packs on the market. At $675, it's $50 less than the Backcountry Access Float 32 and $150 less than the next closest priced packs, the Mammut Ride Removable and Mammut Ride Short, which are both $775 ($600 for the pack and $175 for the canister). This pack is almost half the price (including the canister) of the Black Diamond Halo 28 ($1150) and almost less than half of the Arc'teryx Voltair 30 ($1300).
The Float 22 is a little bit of a "do it all" size. We think the Float 22 is big enough for someone to go backcountry touring all day as long - as they pack light. It's the perfect size for heli, cat, or side-country skiing, but wasn't big enough most of the time for more technical objectives when a rope, harness, and other gear was required (or when temperatures are low). If you like the design of the Float 22 but wish it was a little bigger, check out the Backcountry Access Float 32; it's 10 liters bigger, has an adjustable torso length and better ice axe holders, and can carry skis A-frame style for lower elevation approaches.
The exception for when the Black Diamond Pilot 11 JetForce is better is when folks go heli or cat skiing in remote areas. Most heli and cat operations are set up to deal with refilling compressed air canisters that both BCA and Mammut use. However, not all heli and cat skiing operations are capable of this and for the ones that aren't, the Pilot 11 is better because you can have access to a plug.
The BCA Float 22 is our new OutdoorGearLab Top Pick for the best airbag pack for side-country or other descent-oriented backcountry uses. It won this award because it moves with its wearer exceptionally well, and is a rad, well-designed pack, that fits most folks well - all at an awesome price. It's big enough for most single day touring as long as you don't need a lot of extra stuff. It's still small enough that it won't be obnoxious while riding chairs between side-country runs. It's on the lighter side of airbag packs and its compressed air canister is easy and inexpensive to refill. We'd get the Black Diamond Pilot 11 if the price isn't an issue, you knew you never wanted to tour with it, and the ease of refilling was one of the more important factors for you.
— Ian Nicholson
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