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Backcountry Access Float 42 Review
Cons: Hard to pack as tightly to maximize space for extended or gear intensive trips, feels a little bulky while riding
Bottom line: A well-designed larger volume airbag pack that excels for patrollers, guides, or other extended missions - it just doesn't fit the majority of short users.
The BCA Float 42 Tech is the newest model in BCA's line of airbag packs. This model is slightly more feature rich compared to BCA's other float packs the Float 22 and 32. This contender is designed with guides, ski patrollers, or multi-day tours in mind. It will easily work for most hut-to-hut trips or is the perfect sized pack for backcountry professionals, and it has the snow safety gear pocket to prove it. Our testers loved the overall design and features of this pack, with the only small downside, being it was tougher than other airbags we tested to pack tightly for trips where you needed all of the 42L of space. The price is $750 and does not include the canister, which is an additional $175. This contender is still less than others in our review and gives up little in the way of performance.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Avalanche Airbag Pack Review
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Last season, the Float 42 was said to feature a more durable and hydrophobic material, compression straps, extra stitching, and an adjustable waist belt that allows the user to move the belt up or down three inches. Check out the new version here, left, compared to the original we reviewed, right.
Here's a summary of key differences between the new Float 42 and the original we tested:
The rest of this review reflects the original version.
The Float 42 Tech like the rest of the BCA line, features compressed air canisters in all of their Float packs. Compressed air has slightly lower performance compared with compressed nitrogen, but it is much, much easier and less expensive to refill. BCA's cartridges use a pretty standard fitting that can be refilled at most scuba, paint ball and some outdoor gear stores for around $5-$20. If your own a scuba tank, have a glass blowing setup or anything else that uses compressed air, you can buy an adapter from BCA and refill your own cartridges.
You are allowed fly on commercial airlines with an unfilled compressed air canister as long as it's in your checked bags. A good extra measure to take is to keep the box that your canister originally came in and when you travel, pack it in the box to clearly define what your canister is and help make sure TSA doesn't confiscate it.
The BCA Float 42 Tech is a feature rich airbag pack with backcountry travelers and climbers in mind. One of our favorite "packs" in the review, our testers loved its large snow safety gear pocket that it was bigger than the Float 32, Black Diamond Saga 40 or Arc'teryx Voltair 30. It had the ability to stow above average sized shovels, saws, and probes.
The main compartment was easy to access and fairly easy to cram stuff tightly into, but maybe not quite as easy as the BD Saga 40. Like many packs of this volume, items deep inside the pack would occasionally be harder to find; however, due to the Float 42 Tech's clam-shell style opening, it was easier than the Black Diamond Saga 40. Overall we found this pack very functional for its volume and it only just barely missed out on our Top Pick award for the best pack for multi-day trips because the Saga was just plain easier to jam items into but we liked the pockets and snow safety gear area of this pack better than the Saga 40.
Carrying Skis or a Snowboard
The BCA Float 42 Tech is one of the few airbag packs that can carry skis both diagonally or A-frame. The Float 42 Tech's diagonal carry setup is slick and extremely easy to use, working even with the fattest skis or splitboards out there (We have used it with 127cm underfoot skis). The A-frame is an option for lower elevation approaches; it's cool for sure, but remember carrying your skis in an A-frame may interfere with your airbag's deployment. For non-splitboarding snowboarders, an additional snowboard carrying system is available from BCA for $35. In the end we found BCA's diagonal ski carry system to be the extremely functional, secure,and the easiest to use overall.
We really liked all the little extra features on the Float 42: like the oversized fleece lined goggle pocket, dual daisy chains for lashing crampons or other items, large twin zippered waist belt pockets (that are the biggest such pockets in the review) and it is made with a very burly material. One of our favorite additional features was the permanently attached and easily stow-able helmet carrier that very securely held our helmet in place and tucked away nicely. The Float 42 also has places to hang a hydration bladder and the shoulder straps facilitate running a hydration tube through (offering some insulation) as well as the ability to carry two ice axes. In terms of overall performance, the Arc'teryx Voltair 30 once again took home a perfect 10 out of 10, along with the Float 32, and the BCA Float 42, tested here.
The Float Tech 42, like the Float 32 runs a little longer and fits medium to taller framed users better. Its frame does run a little taller than its little cousin the BCA Float 22 and isn't a good option for folks with shorter torsos. It does run around the same fit as the Float 32. As far as comfort, the Float 42 Tech handles loads well and its suspension can mostly much handle whatever you can possibly fit inside it. With that said, it is around the same comfort level when fully loaded as the BCA Float 32 or Mammut Ride Removable 3.0, and our testing indicated that the BD Saga 40 and Mammut Light Removable 3.0 were more comfortable when carrying a heavy load, taking home a 9 out of 10 compared to the Float 42's 8 out of 10.
Performance on the down is how well each pack handled and moved with us while skiing and snowboarding on the descent. The Float 42 Tech does respectably well, especially considering its larger than average volume. Scoring the lowest score for downhill performance (a 6 out of 10), this pack is dependent upon how much space you'll actually need. The BCA Float 32 scored an 8 out of 10, offering a higher level of performance on the down, while the Black Diamond Saga 40 scored an 8 out of 10 and offered a similar size volume and more comfort when heading down the mountain. While no contender scored a perfect 10, the Arc'teryx Voltair 30 and Black Diamond Halo 28 were close behind, bringing home a 9 out of 10 for this metric.
The Float 42 Tech weighs in at 7 pounds 3 ounces, which is somewhat heavier than average among airbag packs (in our fleet) overall. Compared to other airbag packs of similar volume, like the Black Diamond Saga 40 JetForce, the Float 42 Tech is lighter, with the Saga 40 weighing 7 pounds 11 ounces. The Mammut Light Removable 3.0 takes the cake in this category, scoring a 10 out of 10, weighing only five pounds six ounces and costing $580.
The BCA Float 42 Tech is best for big day tours in complex terrain or as an overnight pack for extended adventures, or hut-to-hut trips. It is also an ideal size for backcountry guides, ski patrollers, or other avalanche professionals who will appreciate its extra space, many of its additional features, and large, easily accessible snow safety gear pocket.
Value and Cost Breakdown
The Float 42 Tech costs $750 for the pack and an additional $175 for the canister, bringing your total cost to $925. Compare that to the other 40L+ packs like the Black Diamond Saga 40 Jet Force ($1150), the Float 42 Tech is considerably less than many other packs in its size range. Even the slightly smaller Mammut Pro Protection, which is $780 + $200 for a cartridge helps you realize the Float 42 Tech is an awesome deal.
The Bottom Line
The BCA Float 42 is best for folks looking for a larger volume airbag pack, for overnight tours, hut-to-hut adventures, or because you simply need a little extra space. It is a far better deal than many other packs in its volume range and sacrifices very little in the way of performance. Our testers loved the layout and design of the Float 42 and enjoyed most of its pack features better than the Black Diamond Saga 40 JetForce, with the Saga 40's primary advantages being it's easier to travel with, has optional multiple deployments, and is just easier to pack stuff tightly in when it comes to maxing out its volume. We would note that if you are looking for an airbag pack essentially exclusively for day touring use (unless you are a backcountry guide or avalanche professional), we would recommend getting a slightly smaller pack, only because the Float 42 Tech is big and somewhat sacrifices some on the descent - compared to smaller packs.
— Ian Nicholson
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