Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Avalanche Airbags

By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor
Tuesday May 9, 2023
avalanche airbag - ian nicholson hard at work on the airbag pack review around thompson...
Ian Nicholson hard at work on the airbag pack review around Thompson Pass, near Valdez, Alaska.
Credit: Ryan O'Connell

Where We Test

We've tested across the world in a variety of steep, technical, and mellow locations. Our globetrotting experts have crushed the glaciated slopes of Alaska and traveled as far as the Swiss and French Alps. We take the time to meticulously assess each airbag system. Not only do we test in the field, but we also perform objective tests in the lab to gain an understanding of which products are the best, and which simply don't cut it.

We test these airbags on half-day tours as well as multi-day hut trips. We got tons of user feedback from friends, trusted guides, and avalanche educators. We read hundreds of studies on airbag packs in general and their statistics, as well as details on specific models. These studies came from both manufacturers and third parties at universities and safety organizations.

Testing Metrics

Backcountry Utility

We look at storage and use while in the field. Here, we evaluate pockets, carry systems for skis and snowboards, and ease of use to access important items. To test this, we simply look at the components and test them out in the field. We hand them out to friends and guides to determine functional utility.

Airbag System

We assess the type of airbag system and comment on the pros and cons of each system. While this metric reflects our favorite options for our needs, a different type of airbag system may be your favorite. We evaluate the shape and volume of the bag, the deployment system, the type of gas used, its modular components, and whether it's electrically powered or not.


This metric is fairly straightforward; we measure and weigh each pack, commenting on sizing and ease of carrying.


Here, we look at additional features that are nifty and neat, like a pocket for goggle carry, helmet strap-on options, and more. To test this, we simply look for different features that we prefer and comment on their utility in both a single and multi-day excursion on technical and mellow terrain.

avalanche airbag - we tested these packs head-to-head by taking them out in groups and...
We tested these packs head-to-head by taking them out in groups and switching throughout the day to gather multiple opinions.
Credit: Joshua Cole

Downhill Performance

This is the most fun to test! How does each actually work while heading downhill? Here, we look at how the pack moves and feels upon descent. For this metric, we ski downhill with these packs in the backcountry, following steep couloirs, powdery open bowls, and over icy roads.


avalanche airbag - the pro x is functionally well-designed from a backcountry utility...
The Pro X is functionally well-designed from a backcountry utility standpoint and is the best-fitting for ladies and other smaller torsoed users.
Credit: Dallas Glass
Comfort while carrying a pack for days is paramount. We took each back on multi-day hut trips and single-day adventures to assess overall comfort. We also discuss which packs best fit smaller-framed users. We note essential features, such as high quality, padded shoulder straps, and carrying options for skis and split boards.

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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

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