The Float 32 has a new color option now. Read on below to find out more.
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Hands-on Gear Review
Backcountry Access Float 32 Review
Cons: One size that doesn't fit many shorter people
Bottom line: One of our favorite overall pack designs coupled with BCA's basic but extremely functional and reliable airbag pack; all at a respectable weight and a good price.
The latest version of the BCA Float 32 is an improvement on an already awesome pack design and wins our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy award. Why, you ask? Because we feel that overall, this contender the best all-around airbag pack for the price. An upgrade to the older model, it's now complete with a "U" shaped snow safety pocket, dual zippered waistbelt pockets, improved ice axe carrying options, adjustability in torso length, and the option to wear the trigger on either shoulder strap. This is one of the lighter packs in our review coupled with one of our favorite overall backcountry pack designs. Best of all, it has a low price for of $550 - without the price of the canister (add $175 for the canister).
New Colors for 2017
The Float 32 has a new color option now. Read on below to find out more.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Avalanche Airbag Pack Review
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Updated Colors for 2017
The Float 32 is now available in Blue/Lime (which we reviewed) as well as Black/Red. We are waiting for confirmation from BCA that these are the only updates to this airbag pack this season. See both the Blue/Lime and Black/Red versions shown below.
This pack uses a single 150L airbag that deploys from the top and inflates above your head through a breakaway zippered pocket. This size and shape is the most common and is very similar to the airbags used in the Mammut RAS series.
While the Backcountry Access Float airbags don't offer anything extra special, like two bags for redundancy or a head/neck wrap shape like the Mammut Protection 3.0, they are still incredibly effective at keeping the wearer on the surface. In a recent study by the University of British Columbia, there are exceptionally few cases of the bag itself failing due to a puncture or fan malfunction.
The system is removable and therefore interchangeable; at this point in time, you have to contact BCA directly for the option of buying a Float pack without the airbag in it. While you can't buy a separate Float system, you can currently buy the Float 8 for $180 without the airbag. This means if you already own one float, you can save some money for your side-country/heli-ski pack.
The pull trigger is now modular on the newest Float 32 and can be worn on either the right or left shoulder strap. You can customize it so that if you're touring, you can grab the pull trigger with your dominate hand, or if you are a snowmobiler, you probably want to wear the trigger on your right side so you can keep your right hand on the throttle. BCA uses a very simple mechanical system that is very reliable but needs to be checked regularly to make sure the inner threads don't vibrate loose. You should inspect all airbag packs between backcountry outings and at least be checking the trigger on the Float series of packs which only takes about one minute.
A separate note for earlier versions of the older Float series of packs is that all triggers were recalled including BCA avalanche airbag models Float 8, 22, 30, 32 and Throttle. Owners of these packs can contact BCA for a free replacement trigger assembly by sending an e-mail to email@example.com or visiting from BCA Website.
Traveling with a Backcountry Access Float 32 has a big advantage over packs using ABS technology. For domestic flights within the United States, TSA and the FAA allow you to fly with an empty compressed air canister as long as it's in your checked baggage. At this point, it is okay to fly internationally with a full canister (which we have done several times). However, make sure to check in, which will allow you to have up to date information, as we have seen and heard of folks getting hassled for how large the battery and fan packs are. It's a good tip is to keep the box that your canister came in. When you fly, put it back in this box. This clearly defines what your canister is and helps make sure TSA doesn't take it away from you. We recommend going one extra step and putting a note on it saying it's empty and for an avalanche airbag pack.
Both Backcountry Access Float packs use compressed air canisters for their airbag system. Compressed air, while slightly lower in performance compared with compressed nitrogen, is much less of a hassle and is easier and less expensive to refill. BCA's cartridges use a pretty standard fitting and can be refilled at most scuba shops, paintball shops, and some outdoor gear stores for around $5-$20. If you own a scuba tank or something that uses compressed air, you can purchase an adapter from BCA and refill your own canisters. Lastly, you can actually use certain hand pumps to refill your canister, which is a cool option for travel to more remote regions; you can find more information here.
The Float 32 is one of our favorite packs for its overall usability and backcountry utility. One of our favorite features is the huge dedicated snow safety gear pocket. We treated this like a "wet pocket" and it easily swallowed our shovel, probe, saw, and skins. We liked not having to put our snow covered shovel or damp skins into the main compartment with our puffy coat or extra gloves. The Backcountry Access Float 22 has a similar layout, but it doesn't have as nice a snow safety gear pocket and we struggled to fit slightly larger than average length probes and shovels into it.
The biggest thing that sets the Float 32 apart from most other packs we tested is volume. The Float 32 has 32 liters of useable volume, where all the other packs we reviewed have about five to 10 liters of their claimed volume taken up by the airbag system. For example, we thought the Float 32 felt a little smaller than the Black Diamond Saga 40 JetForce, though not by much. It did however feel much larger than the 2-4 liter difference found in the Mammut Ride Removable or the Black Diamond Halo 28 Jet Force. Other top scorers in this category include the Arc'teryx Voltair 30 and Backcountry Access Float 42; these contenders, along the the Float 32 all took home perfect 10 out of 10s during our testing.
Carrying Skis or a Snowboard
The new Float 32 unlike the older version of this pack, can carry skis A-frame style. This is great for long, low elevation approaches but BCA, like most airbag manufacturers doesn't recommend doing it in avalanche terrain. The Float 32 does have an easy-to-use diagonal carry system that was our favorite of all the airbag packs on our review. BCA's system was quick and easy to set up and the skis sloshed around less than nearly all the other packs we tested. For carrying a traditional snowboard the Float 32's compression straps can be flipped around and clipped across the back to carry a board vertically. This basic system was surprisingly practical and our single plank riders appreciated its functionality. Another option for boarders offered by BCA is that for $35, you can buy a snowboard carrier that carries the snowboard horizontally behind your back.
The permanently attached helmet holder is simply awesome. It's stowable and easily deployable. Not only does it hang onto your helmet nicely and keep out most of the snow falling out of the sky, it can also be offset to one side when carrying your skis diagonally on the back.
The Float 32 now features two medium sized zippered hip belt pockets instead of the single large zippered pocket found on the older version. We loved this pocket for ski straps, a scraper, snacks, an Inclinometer, or some GU. There were also a lot of other small fantastic features that made the Float 32 more backcountry friendly, like a fleece-lined goggle pocket, and the really well thought out (and tram friendly) twin ice axe holders. For extra long axes there is an internal ice axe sleeve which helps the axe to avoid the airbag (if deployed).
The Float 32 is comfortable and carries great while skiing and skinning, earning an 8 out of 10. The only downside is that it only comes in one size, which limits the number of people it might fit. The shoulder straps are well articulated but they definitely fit slightly more broad shouldered folks compared with other airbag packs we tested.
The new Float 32 features an adjustable waist belt that can slide up and down 2.5" to accommodate a wider range of users heights. It still tends to fit folks a little on the taller side but now has a slightly larger range. We think the new Float 32 fits most people between the heights of 5'5"- 6'6", with the sweet spot being around 5'8"- 6'4" tall. We still think if you're shorter than 5'6", you should check out the Backcountry Access Float 22, the Mammut Ride Short Removable Airbag or a pack with a similar fitting length and narrow shoulder straps. Other top contenders that are exceptionally comfortable include the Arc'teryx Voltair 30, Black Diamond Halo 28, Black Diamond Saga 40, and Mammut Light Removable.
Performance on the down is how well each pack handled and moved with us while skiing and snowboarding on the descent. The Float 32 provides a good blend of support and freedom of movement. It hugged our back well and moved with us as well or better than most packs with a similar volume.
While it's performance was not as exceptional as the Mammut Removable, the Float 32 was comparable to that of out Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Voltair 30 or the Mammut Pro Protection 3.0.
At 7 lbs 1 oz (total weight for everything), the Float 32 pack is on the lighter side among packs we tested with includes more than 30L of useable space. While it wasn't as light as the Mammut Light Protection (6 lbs), or Mammut Ride Removable (6 lbs 6 oz), it was lighter than our Top Pick the Black Diamond Halo 28 (7 lbs 8 oz), our Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Voltair 30 (7 lbs 9 oz), and other bigger packs in our review like the Mammut Pro Protection 3.0 (7 lbs 3 oz) or the Black Diamond Saga 40 (7 lbs 11 oz).
Overall Cost Breakdown
The cost of airbag packs can be confusing. How do you know if the cartride is included? 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 32, the pack itself is $550 and the canister is sold separately for $175. Occasionally you see the two packaged together for $725 offering no discount.
We gave the Backcountry Access Float 32 our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy award because it offers a solid airbag system and a fantastically designed pack that was one of our overall favorites for backcountry utility. For $725 including the canister, the only more inexpensive pack was the similarly designed Backcountry Access Float 22 for $675 including the canister. It is $150 less than the next least expensive non-BCA Airbag pack, the Mammut Ride Removable and the Mammut Ride Short at $775 ($600 for the pack, $175 for the cartridge). The Float 32 is significantly less expensive than any of the packs using battery powered fans or ABS technology, which were all well over $1000; in the case of both the Black Diamond Saga 40 Jetforce and Black Diamond Pilot 11 Jetforce, the Float is nearly half the price.
The Float 32 is best used by skiers and snowboarders looking for a solid backcountry touring pack. It features a solid diagonal and vertical ski carry system and has our overall favorite pack design - with all of our favorite features for backcountry skiing. It is a little big and bulky for side-country skiing. However, if you like the design of the Float 32 but don't like its volume, consider its smaller cousin, the Backcountry Access Float 22, which is better for side-country, heli, and cat skiing.
— Ian Nicholson
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