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The 5 Best Ski & Snowboard Avalanche Airbag Backpacks of 2020-2021

When airbag backpacks hit the market, purists scoffed. “That’s silly, they’re too heavy, they won’t actually do much to help you in the event of a slide.” The list of complaints went on and on. That’s how change works in the world of skiing: someone has an idea, a bunch of people make fun of that idea without thinking it through, a few people try it, and if it’s good it catches on, and soon everyone wants to try it. That’s exactly what happened with avalanche airbag backpacks. They went from an exotic rarity to a commonplace and important piece of safety equipment in just a few years. And it’s easy to understand why: they give you an added layer of insurance in the case of any backcountry skier or rider’s worst nightmare: an avalanche.

As airbags have gained popularity, more and more brands have thrown their hats into the ring with their own unique takes and designs. The best ski & snowboard avalanche airbag backpacks balance weight, capacity, and features. This collection represents the best of all of those worlds.


BCA Float 32

Best 2020-2021 ski & snowboard avalanche airbag backpacks
 
 

BCA has been a driving force in airbag development for years. Since the beginning they’ve been committed to creating bags that are good ski backpacks first and foremost, while also having easy to use airbags. That means that even on lower danger, or inbounds ski days, the Float 32 still has the fit and features you need. As its name suggests, the Float 32 is a 32L pack. That’s a pretty good “Goldilocks” size for most skiers, it’s got space for full day backcountry missions, but it’s not so huge that it flops around and gets in the way on shorter laps with less gear.

BCA recently updated their airbag system so that it’s lighter and takes up less room in the bag, the Float 2.0 is 30% smaller and 15% lighter than the previous version, so you’ve got more room for snacks. And BCA makes a whole range of backcountry gear, from probes to packs to radios, so the Float 32 is designed to integrate seamlessly with all of that, with a custom gear pocket to keep you organized, seamless radio integration, easy-to-use ice axe carry and more. If you’re looking for a really versatile pack that’s carefully designed for skiers, by skiers, the BCA Float 32 is the way to go, and with its slimmed-down weight, it's one of the best ski & snowboard avalanche airbags. 

CapacityAirbag System Original Price 
32 LFloat 2.0$584

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Arva Reactor Pro 32L

Best 2020-2021 ski & snowboard avalanche airbag backpacks
 
 

The Reactor Pro from Arva was originally designed for mountain professionals, guides and patrollers who spend every day of their winters working in avalanche terrain. So it’s been carefully designed to have the whole range of features these professions require, while also being built with durability in mind. The Reactor uses Arva’s dual chamber Reactor airbag system. This means that even if debris manages to puncture one side of the airbag, you’ve still got an air pocket working to protect you. And the Reactor system is modular, you can actually take it out of the pack and swap it into another compatible pack if you need something with more or less capacity and still want to have an airbag option.

The Reactor Pro has a very robust feature set, with pockets for every accessory and plenty of gear loops and daisy chains on the outside of the pack. It’s not the smallest or lightest pack out there, but for folks who need a pack that can stand up to season after season of abuse, the Reactor Pro is our top choice.

CapacityAirbag System Original Price 
32 LReactor$699

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Mammut Ride 30 RAS

Best 2020-2021 ski & snowboard avalanche airbag backpacks
 
 

Mammut realized that while airbags are expensive, most skiers own a few different packs of different sizes so that they can choose what capacity and features they need for each day of skiing. And those skiers can’t really afford to buy three or four different airbag packs in different sizes, so they’re left choosing between using an inconveniently sized pack, or going into avalanche terrain without an airbag. That’s why Mammut designed their airbag system to be modular. The base unit can zip onto any sized pack, so you can swap out the bag portion for whatever your day in the mountains calls for.

The Ride 30 comes with that RAS removable airbag system, so that you can swap in whatever other sized packs you want down the road. It’s also got an easy-to-use ski and snowboard carry system, and all the straps and pockets you could ask for. Don’t make compromises with your backcountry gear, grab the RAS system and throw your airbag in any sized pack you could want.

CapacityAirbag System Original Price 
30 LRemovable Airbag System$599

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ABS A Light Base Unit

Best 2020-2021 ski & snowboard avalanche airbag backpacks
 
 

The ABS A-Light Base Unit takes a similarly versatile approach to the Mammut RAS system, but uses a different technique to get there. Instead of offering an airbag that can swap between backpacks, the Base Unit is a 10L backpack with built in airbag that you can then buy modular zip-on extenders for. In its core 10L form it’s perfect for quick backcountry laps out of the resort where you don’t need to carry much more than your avy gear and maybe some snacks. But with the optional extender bags you can expand your capacity up to 35L for longer all-day tours.

This makes the Base Unit perfect for skiers who are just getting into backcountry skiing and know they need an airbag pack, but are still trying to figure out what length tours they’re going to be doing. It’s a great starting place to get you used to skiing with this style of pack, and then when you decide how much more space you need it’s an affordable upgrade to expand it. If modular is your thing, and you aren’t sure how big you’ll eventually want to go, the ABS Base Unit is the perfect place to start.

CapacityAirbag System Original Price 
10 LABS$699

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Ortovox Cross Rider 18L

Best 2020-2021 ski & snowboard avalanche airbag backpacks
 
 

Most Ortovox products can be described in one word: refined. They sweat the details to make sure you’ve got the most functional gear possible. That’s especially evident with the Cross Rider 18L. This pack is designed for folks who are straddling the line between quick out-the-gates laps, and longer backcountry tours. It’s slim and light enough to leave comfortably on your back while riding the chairlift, but has enough space for all the essentials, along with extra food, water, and layers. Underneath its sleek exterior lies Ortovox’s Avabag airbag system which is one of the smallest and lightest airbags on the market. That means it leaves more room useable space for gear, and won’t weigh you down when you’re trying to move fast.

For long, all-day tours, the Cross Rider doesn’t have quite enough capacity to keep you warm and happy through 7 hours of backcountry travel, but for anything shorter it offers a high-performing, easy to use option. With this in mind, the Cross Rider is definitely one of the best small and lightweight avalanche airbags on the market. 

CapacityAirbag System Original Price 
18 LAvabag$590

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