The Backcountry Access Float 32 offers a top-tier pack design and respectable weight for a great price. The Float's 32 liters of volume doesn't include the space that the airbag system takes up. Here, Tino Villanueva tours out of Cement Basin near Crystal Mountain, WA.
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.
The BCA Float 32 doesn't have any special trauma-reducing shape, double bag system, or the ability to continuously inflate for several minutes after a slide, but the Float's basic but extremely functional design does well what it's designed to do: make it more likely that in the event of an avalanche its wearer will end up on top.
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 BCA 32 airbag system uses compressed air that is fairly inexpensive and easy to refill. While not quite as easy to travel with or refill as Black Diamond's battery-powered JetForce models, we almost never found it to be a hassle, especially compared to ABS models.
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.
Backcountry Access Float 32 Back
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting from BCA Website.
The new Float 32 enables the user to wear their trigger in either shoulder strap, compared with the older version which featured a fixed left shoulder strap trigger. The shoulder strap not containing the trigger functions as insulated sleeve for a hydration tube.
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.
Our review team felt the BCA Float 32 struck a good balance of comfort and support. If you are between 5'8" - 6'4" you'll likely find this pack pretty comfortable. Conversely, many shorter folks (5'6" and below) found it too long. Here Ryan O'Connell (6'4") enjoys the comfort of his Float 32 while ascending toward the Bryant Peak Couloir near Snoqualmie Pass, WA.
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.
Showing the large, easy-to-use snow safety gear pocket featured on the BCA Float 32. This is one reason why our testers found the Float 32 to be one of the best backcountry packs in our review. Not only does it allow for quick and easy access to our shovel and probe, but is large enough that it also works as a "wet pocket", fitting skins or wet gloves and keeping the contents of our primary compartment drier.
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 Backcountry Access Float 32 had one of our very favorite pack designs of any airbag pack on the market. For similar volume packs the only other option that featured as good of an actual pack design was the Arc'teryx Voltair 30 and Black Diamond Saga 40. Overall we loved the huge snow safety gear pocket, helmet attachment, fairly easy-to-pack clamshell design, and oversized hip belt pockets, among many other small nice features.
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 easily deployable helmet holder featured on the Backcountry Access Float 32.
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).
Showing the upper section of the Float 32's ice axe holster. Not only does this feature make this pack even more tram and tight-tree friendly, but it's also just plain secure and functional.
This is one of the more comfortable packs we tested. That said, it only comes in one size so if you are bigger or smaller, it might not fit great. Broad shoulder folks will love the shoulder straps but narrower frames will be slightly less comfortable.
The Backcountry Access Float 32 preformed on the down as well as any pack in our review of similar volume. Compared to other similar volume packs like the Ortovox Tour 32+7 ABS, the Float 32 was the least cumbersome to ski with.
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 3.0.
One of the biggest new features of the BCA Float 32 is its length/height adjustable back panel, enabling it to fit a wider range of users. While our testers agree the Float 32 still favors taller users, it fits a much wider range of folks than the previous version.
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.
The Backcountry Access Float 32's downhill performance was just as good as any other pack in our review of similar volume, even if the packs were twice as expensive, as in the case of the Arc'teryx Voltair and Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce. Photo: Enjoying the downhill performance of the BCA Float 32 in the Slot Couloir near Snoqualmie Pass, WA.
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.
The Backcountry Access Float 32 is hardly ultralight, but is on the lighter side of airbag packs in its volume range. At 7lbs 1 ounce, it's lighter than either the Black Diamond Halo 28 or Arc'teryx Voltair 30, but it is still a pound and a half heavier than the Mammut Light Removable Airbag 30L.
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 Backcountry Access Float 32 is a killer all-around touring pack, big enough for most day tours even if the descents get technical (AKA you have to carry a rope), while still remaining nimble enough for side-country use. Heck, we have even used ours on heavily supported hut-to-hut trips in the Ortler region of the Italian Alps. Here, OGL tester Ian Nicholson doubles down while making observations for the Northwest Avalanche Center.
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.
Another day of airbag comparisons and another day that Ryan O'Connell has a big smile on his face.