The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Avalanche Airbags

By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor
Tuesday July 28, 2020

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.

We tested these packs head-to-head by taking them out individually in groups  switching throughout the day to help best write this review. Here  Chris Marshall gathers valuable feedback for our tests wearing a Mammut Pro Protection 3.0 airbag  with the Matier Glacier in the background.
We tested these packs head-to-head by taking them out individually in groups, switching throughout the day to help best write this review. Here, Chris Marshall gathers valuable feedback for our tests wearing a Mammut Pro Protection 3.0 airbag, with the Matier Glacier in the background.

Testing Metrics


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.

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 get at 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.

Features


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.

Comfort


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 note essential features, such as high quality, padded shoulder straps, and carrying options for skis and split boards.

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 simply went downhill. Following steep couloirs, powdery open bowls, and over icy roads.

Weight


We simply measure and weight each pack, commenting on sizing and ease of carry.

Ian Nicholson hard at work on the airbag pack review around Thompson Pass  near Valdez  Alaska.
Ian Nicholson hard at work on the airbag pack review around Thompson Pass, near Valdez, Alaska.