The Halo 28 is our Top Pick for all-around performance. We think this is a sweet all-around airbag pack and the only thing that kept it from being our Editors' Choice winner was that it was a little more challenging to maximize the volume of the pack.
Black Diamond was the first company on the market to use a battery powered fan to inflate a single 200L airbag, the largest such volume bag currently available. The JetForce series of packs, along with the Arc'teryx Voltair, are still the only two companies manufacturing airbag packs that use a battery powered fan as opposed to all other options currently available (which use some form of compressed gas). It's worth noting that Pieps, who is owned by Black Diamond, currently produces a small number of airbag packs as well.
As for the 200L bag, is bigger better? Studies haven't proven either way, but inverse segregation (the process in which airbag packs function) works by moving the largest particles to the surface, whereas the smaller particles go downwards (think of a bag of chips). Therefore, a larger airbag has no disadvantages that we're aware of and it could only possibly help. Unlike compressed air canisters, there is a limit to how much air you have to work with in order to fill a given size airbag. Black Diamond opted for a larger airbag because of the battery powered fan, as they no longer have a cap on how much air they had to work with; according to BD, they did it "because they could".
Once fired, the fan inflates the bag in around three seconds, which is a very similar time to all compressed gas style bags. It stays inflated for three minutes before deflating, with the idea that deflating the bag will create a bigger airbag pocket for a trapped wearer. Black Diamond claims their rechargeable lithium-ion battery will support 4+ deployments per charge, enabling the user to repack the airbag in the event of a close call or a misfire. This will allow the wearer to use the airbag feature for the rest of the day or to return to the car with the added safety benefit of an airbag pack. In real life, most people don't need multiple pulls; we think the biggest advantage of this feature is that people will be less likely to hesitate pulling the trigger. A recent study by the University of British Columbia found that slightly over 20% of people who die in avalanches while wearing airbags (for one reason or another) don't deploy their airbag.
Because a computerized system is more complex than a compressed air system, with a valve opening the trigger, the JetForce has self-checking diagnostics which briefly fires the fan at 100% in reverse to make sure your airbag pack is ready to go. Once all of this is complete, the pack gives you a green light for visual confirmation. This green light will continue to flash on and off throughout the day to continue to let the wearer know that everything is operating as it should.
The trigger on the Black Diamond JetForce packs. There is an on/off button with red and green indicator lights as well as four blue LEDs to let the user know how many deployments the battery has left.
Once the trigger is pulled, the fan runs at 100% for nine seconds, which is more than enough to inflate the bag, even with the pressure of being caught in an avalanche. After nine seconds, the fan switches between running at 50% and then 100% keeping the bag inflated for the next full minute. According to Black Diamond, this continuous pulse of air will keep the bag inflated, even with a six inch tear. After the first minute (during minutes two and three) the fan will alternate from running to pausing at a rate to keep the airbag inflated. This is to meet the CE specification and to help protect the wearer from a secondary slide. With the JetForce system, you can press a button at any time to stop the process, or you can pull it again to start it from the beginning. At three minutes (again), the bag sucks the air out to help create an air pocket for the user. When you turn the airbag off, the trigger handle has a light that flashes red and gives three beeps to let the user know that it is off.
Refilling Options and Ease of Travel
The Halo 28, like the rest of the JetForce packs, uses a battery and not compressed air. This means refilling or (in the case of the JetForce) recharging can be done at home or at your hotel. This is easier than finding a place to refill your canister or performing a cartridge swap in the case of the nitrogen canisters. There are no restrictions on checking the battery of the JetForce packs, making ease of travel one of the biggest benefits.
The Halo 28 features solid, slightly above average backcountry utility, which was certainly good, but not amazing. It has a large snow safety gear pocket that fits small to medium shovels and probes, but not all big options (it barely fits an average 300 cm probe). We could fit skins into this pocket most of the time, but it was a little bit of a hassle.
The main compartment of this pack is accessed from the back panel, which is nice if we have our skis attached to the pack, but more of a hassle overall compared to more traditional panel loaders or top loaders. We found that getting into and searching for items in the similarly designed Backcountry Access 32 or Arc'teryx Voltair 30's main compartment was a fair amount easier than the Halo's.
The back panel access made it harder to maximize the volume and pack it full.
Carrying Skis or a Snowboard
The diagonal carry system featured on the Halo 28 was a plus. Both straps for the carrying system tuck away cleanly and deploy easily for use. The top strap hides away in the oversized goggle pocket and the lower strap stows in the Velcro closure helmet holster pocket. The diagonal carry is super quick and easy to use with even the biggest boards (we carried 127 mm underfoot skis on this pack with no problem).
The Halo 28 could handle all the skis and splitboards we tried, and when it wasn't in use, the straps tucked away nicely. Overall we thought this design was super easy and quick, but we do wonder about the longevity of the plastic buckles on the upper strap.
One of the slicker features of the Halo 28 is its stealthy, tuck-away helmet holster, which worked well with every sized helmet, from XXL ski helmets to lightweight climbing helmets.
Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce's stealthy helmet holster was effective and easy to use, working on a wide range of options, from lighter climbing helmets to bulbous XL ski helmets.
The Halo 28 also features a zippered pocket on the waist belt; our testers appreciated the pocket and found it was big enough for items like a small camera, GPS, snacks, or an inclinometer.
The JetForce Halo 28 is available in two sizes, a small/medium and a medium/large. We felt these two sizes help to fit a wide range of users from 5'4" to 6'4 or maybe a little taller, depending on torso length. As far as how comfortable the Halo 28 was, its suspension was fantastic and handled anything we could fit into the pack for a day of touring.
Performance on the down is how well each pack handled and moved with us while skiing and snowboarding on the descent. The Halo 28 was less bulky feeling and despite its weight, rode with us above average, earning a near-perfect 9 out of 10. It moved with us well enough that we would consider heli, cat, or sidecountry skiing with this pack. The volume is slightly smaller, but it performed slightly better on the descent than the Arc'teryx Voltair 30, with the Black Diamond Pilot 11 scoring the only 10 out of 10 in the review.
The Halo 28 weighs in at 7 lbs 8 oz, which is slightly on the heavier side of most airbag packs on the market but not by heaps. It's around half a pound to a pound heavier than most airbag packs of similar volume and a little over two pounds heavier than the lightest airbag pack we tested, the Mammut Light Removable 3.0.
For comparison, our other OutdoorGearLab Top Picks, the Backcountry Access Float 32, weighs 7 lbs 1 oz and the Mammut Pro Protection tips the scales at 7 lbs 3 oz. You do get some benefits for that, primarily the factors that come along with the JetForce system, but there is a small weight penalty. The Arc'teryx Voltair 30, which features a slightly more powerful battery, is slightly larger in volume, and is nearly waterproof (and a little less than 2 oz heavier at 7 lbs 9.5 oz).
The Halo 28 is an extremely versatile pack that is suitable for most day trips while snowmobiling, day touring or if you go on lightweight ski mountaineering trips. It rides well enough that we would recommend the Halo 28 for heli, cat, or sidecountry riding, but if that's your exclusive goal, it is a little on the big side. If you like the Halo 28L but wish it was a little smaller, check out the Black Diamond Pilot 11, which is Black Diamond's smaller version of the Halo. The Halo would be tight for all but the most supported hut-to-hut trips and taking an overnight out of this bag would be difficult.
The snow safety gear pocket fits most probes and shovels, and if we were careful we could fit skins in it as well, but it proved to be a challenge if the pack was too full or we packed a saw or a big shovel.
At $1200, the Halo 28 is among the most expensive packs in our review, being a chunk of change more than the price of some of the packs offered by BCA like the Backcountry Access Float 22 ($500+$175 for the canister) or the Backcountry Access Float 32 ($550+$175 for the canister). But, you never have to pay $5-$10 to get your canister refilled, though that's a lot of refills needed to make up the cost difference. The truth is, you don't buy the JetForce because it's a better deal price-wise; you buy it because it offers several unique features in its airbag system, like multiple deployments. If you fly often (domestically), it's easier to travel with as a whole and remains a well-designed ski touring pack.
Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce is available in two sizes, fitting a wide range of users. We also felt it was the right level of stiffness. The Halo moved with us fantastically, but also could handle weight when we loaded it up.
The Bottom Line
The Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce uses a fairly unique airbag system that offers many advantages, with only a few downfalls. Along with the Arc'teryx Voltair, it's the most hassle-free airbag system when traveling. Our testers really liked the features and design of the Halo 28 and thought it was a sweet touring pack, though it might be on the small side volume-wise if you're after full-on, gear-intensive objectives. However, when you combine the Halo 28's excellent features and the electric fan driven airbag, along with easy travel and optional multiple deployments, the Halo 28 remains a sweet pack and takes home our Top Pick award.
While the pack was exceptional, our testers found that the back loading panel could use some improvement and the snow safety gear pocket could have been made a little bigger (to allow for easier access and a space to pack wet skins). The Halo's only other real downfall is the price, as this contender is more expensive than most other options on the market (and a little heavier). With all that said, if you travel frequently with your airbag and think 28 liters is a good volume for the adventures you're seeking, we would certainly recommend that you take a look at this contender. If you like the JetForce, but wish it was a little bigger, check out our Editors' Choice, the Arc'teryx Voltair 30; the Voltair was similar, but feels a lot bigger than the 2 liter (official) volume difference might lead you to believe.