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Backcountry Access Float 22 Review

A killer airbag for the price that's one of our favorite pack designs
Backcountry Access Float 22
Photo: Backcountry Access
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $535 List | $531.03 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, least expensive airbag pack, excellent backcountry friendly features, versatile, moves fantastically with the user on the down.
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
Manufacturer:   BCA
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 27, 2018
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78
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 6
  • Airbag System - 20% 8
  • Backcountry Utility - 22% 8
  • Comfort - 12% 8
  • Downhill Performance - 13% 9
  • Features - 15% 6
  • Weight - 18% 8

Our Verdict

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. The BCA packs don't have as fancy, unique, or as modular of an airbag system, but they remain extremely functional, dependable, and are among the least expensive.

New Version of the Float 22

BCA updated the Float 22 with new colors and features. Take a look at the specifics below!

November 2018

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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Lightweight, least expensive airbag pack, excellent backcountry friendly features, versatile, moves fantastically with the user on the downEasy to manage, huge snow safety tools pocket, lightweight, easy to travel with, multiple deployments if you carry extra AA batteries, trigger can be worn in either shoulderBest airbag system currently out there, one of the best fitting airback packs, killer pack design, functional, extremely water resistant, lots of small and rad features, easy to travel withInexpensive, well-designed pack, lightweightLightest airbag pack in its volume range, moves well on the down, sweet ski and snowboard carry system, bomber suspension
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 sideWide shoulder straps, frame lengths slightly more gear toward taller/bigger folks, diagonal ski carry is a little more challenging to drop skis into than other models, not much in the way of organizational optionsOne of the heavier airbag packs, expensiveOne size that doesn't fit many shorter peopleNot many features, no dedicated snow safety gear pocket
Bottom Line A great design and great value; it can double for occasional day tours, making it tough to beatA solid all-around pack design creates one of the most user-friendly and touring-focused packs on the marketOne of our favorite packs in the fleet, it excels no matter the taskOne of our favorite overall pack designs coupled with BCA's basic functionalityIf you don't love how much weight they add to your touring kit, this pack is probably for you
Rating Categories Backcountry Access Float 22 JetForce Tour 26L Arc'teryx Voltair 30 Backcountry Access Float 32 Mammut Light Removable 3.0
Airbag System (20%)
8
10
9
7
9
Backcountry Utility (22%)
8
8
10
10
6
Comfort (12%)
8
8
9
8
8
Downhill Performance (13%)
9
9
9
8
9
Features (15%)
6
8
10
9
7
Weight (18%)
8
9
4
7
9
Specs Backcountry Access... JetForce Tour 26L Arc'teryx Voltair 30 Backcountry Access... Mammut Light...
Volume (liters) 22L useable space 26L 30L useable space 32L useable space 30L
Weight with Cartridge (pounds) 6.3 lbs 5.7 lbs 7.6 lbs 7.06 lbs 5.63 lbs
Airbag unit or packs can be purchased separately/independently No No No No Yes
Cartridge type Compressed Air Electric fan Electric fan Compressed Air Compressed Air
Approximate cost to Refill $5-20 Not Applicable Not Applicable $5-20 $5-20
Volume of Bag(s) 1x 150L 150L 1x 150L 1x 150L 150L
Frame sizes One size SM/ML One size One size One size
Can you fly with it? Yes, domestically in the US when cartridge is empty; internationally when full Yes, no cartridge Yes, no cartridge Yes, empty domestically in the US, Full internationally. Yes, domestically in the US when cartridge is empty; internationally when full
Helmet carrier? Yes Yes No Yes No
Carry Snowboard With extra attachment No Yes With extra attachment Yes
Carry skis A-frame or Diagonal Diagonal Diagonal Diagonal/vertical carry on back Diagonal Diagonal

Our Analysis and Test Results

Updated Version of the Float 22


The Float 22 is now available in an updated version, featuring the new Float 2.0 cylinder, a few functional changes, as well as some new colorways. Check out the side by side of the new version (left) and the original version below, and keep reading for a summary of the updates!

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Key updates to the Float 22:
  • 2.0 Cylinder — The Float 1.0 cylinder has been replaced by the Float 2.0, which is significantly smaller and lighter than the version we tested, allowing it to be stored inside the airbag compartment instead of the main gear compartment. Also note that packs meant for the 1.o cartridge are not compatible with the 2.0, and 2.0 packs will not work with 1.0 cartridges.
  • Snowboard Carry — The Float 22 now features straps on the front of the pack that allow for snowboards to be carried vertically.
  • Colors — The lime color we tested is no longer available, and has been replaced by a blue and tan version (pictured above) or black.

The following review refers to the 1.0 version of the Float 22.

Hands-On Review


The Backcountry Access Float 22 wins our Top Pick for the best...
The Backcountry Access Float 22 wins our Top Pick for the best overall airbag pack for side-country, heli, and cat skiing. The airbag system, while basic, is effective and reliable and is half the price of several other models. Here Susie Glass enjoys her BCA Float 22 while descending Moonlight Bowl near Stevens Pass, WA.
Photo: Dallas Glass

Airbag System


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).

The Backcountry Access Float 22 uses compressed air, which is fairly...
The Backcountry Access Float 22 uses compressed air, which is fairly inexpensive and easy to refill. While not quite as easy to travel with or refill as Black Diamond's JetForce models, we rarely found it to be a hassle, especially compared to ABS models.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Refilling Options

Backcountry Access employs compressed air canisters across all Float packs. Compressed nitrogen beats the performance of compressed air by a small margin, but compressed air is cheaper and easier to refill. Ask local diving, paintball, or outdoor rec gear stores if they will refill your canister. 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...
The new Float 22, unlike the older version, allows the trigger to be worn inside either shoulder strap. The other side of the shoulder strap is hydration tube compatible.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Trigger Mechanism

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.

The Backcountry Access Float 22 is a good all-around airbag pack...
The Backcountry Access Float 22 is a good all-around airbag pack that excels at downhill oriented backcountry adventures like side-country, heli, and cat skiing. It's big enough to use for all-day tours as long as you pack on the lighter side.
Photo: Ryan O'Connell

Travel Considerations

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.

Don't throw away the box when you get your canister. When flying, place the canister in its box so that TSA can easily identify what it is. You can go a further step by including a note, mentioning that the canister is empty and what its intended use is (avalanche airbag).

The Backcountry Access Float 22 offers pretty good backcountry...
The Backcountry Access Float 22 offers pretty good backcountry utility for its volume. It excels for short tours and side-country use, but if you don't need too much stuff it can easily work for all-day tours. Here tester Ian Nicholson pulls everything he needs for a full profile while out on an observation day for the Northwest Avalanche Center on Big Chief Mountain.
Photo: Ryan O'Connell

Backcountry Utility

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.

The new Float 22 now features a longer and much more user-friendly...
The new Float 22 now features a longer and much more user-friendly snow safety gear pocket that accommodates most average-sized probes, saws, and shovels.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.


Carrying Skis/Snowboard
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.
The helmet holster on the Backcountry Access Float 22 is very...
The helmet holster on the Backcountry Access Float 22 is very user-friendly and secure. Unlike the older version of the Float 22, it's permanently attached, making it nearly impossible to lose.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Features


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.

Our testers loved the Backcountry Access Float 22's zippered waist...
Our testers loved the Backcountry Access Float 22's zippered waist belt pocket that was perfect for snacks, a camera, or lip balm.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Comfort


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.

The Backcountry Access Float 22 fits smaller-framed users pretty...
The Backcountry Access Float 22 fits smaller-framed users pretty well compared to most airbag packs available, though its volume is a little on the small side for a regular all-day touring pack. Here, Susie Glass makes it work while enjoying a well-timed corn skiing lap on the Paradise Glacier.
Photo: Dallas Glass

Downhill Performance


This scoring metric assesses 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.

The Backcountry Access Float 22 was one of the very best packs as...
The Backcountry Access Float 22 was one of the very best packs as far as how it felt and moved with its user on the descent or while riding a snowmobile. The only other pack that scored as well as the Float 22 in our Downhill Performance category was the Black Diamond Pilot 11 JetForce. While that pack was great to ride with, the size, weight, and versatility of the Float 22 was what pushed it over-the-top to win this award. Here Susie Glass enjoys the Float 22's downhill performance while descending the north slope of Jim Hill.
Photo: Dallas Glass

Weight


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


For the Backcountry Access Float 22, the pack itself is $535, and the compressed air cartridge is $200, bringing the grand total to $700.

The Float 22 is one of the least expensive airbag packs on the...
The Float 22 is one of the least expensive airbag packs on the market; at $500 for the pack and airbag and another $175 for the canister, your $675 out-the-door price is one of the straight up cheapest ways to get into an airbag pack.
Photo: Ryan O'Connell

Value


This is one of the best-priced avalanche airbag packs on the market. It's less than the Backcountry Access Float 32 and the Mammut Ride Removable. This pack is almost half the price (including the canister) of the Black Diamond Halo 28 and almost less than half of the Arc'teryx Voltair 30.

The Backcountry Access Float 22 has a lot of good applications but...
The Backcountry Access Float 22 has a lot of good applications but is best for side-country or shorter tours, where its downhill performance will be most appreciated and its small volume won't be a determinant. Ian Nicholson prepares to drop into the classic Stevens Pass side-country run "Highland Bowl".
Photo: Ryan O'Connell

Best Application


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.

Despite its small volume and excellent price, the Backcountry Access...
Despite its small volume and excellent price, the Backcountry Access Float 22 doesn't cut many corners when it comes to design. Our review team loved the features on this pack and found it to be one of the best designs overall.
Photo: Ryan O'Connell

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.

BCA Float 22s and Float 32s are everywhere! Ryan O'Connell gets...
BCA Float 22s and Float 32s are everywhere! Ryan O'Connell gets ready to drop into the 50-degree entrance of the Gun Barrels while testing airbag packs in Valdez, AK.
Photo: Eric Dalzell

Bottom Line


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