Though they don't replace smart decision making in order to avoid a slide all together, avalanche airbags are becoming much more prevalent in the backcountry. With Mammut's purchase of Snowpulse last year, ABS now appears to be the favorite licensing partner for many of the big name brands, creating plenty of backcountry pack options to chose from for that added safety edge.
Avalanche airbags are quickly becoming recognized as a way to increase your chances of survival if caught in an avalanche. Upon activation, the ABS System utilizes compressed nitrogen to inflate two integrated, high-volume airbags that keep you on the surface of the slide by equalizing your volume and density relative to the surrounding snow.
With a 97% success rate in real-world use, the ABS Avalanche Airbag System has been proven to significantly increase your odds of avalanche survival in the backcountry. Many top outdoor brands have recognized the growing trend, creating special backpack collections with either integrated ABS units or compatible with the aftermarket ABS base units.
The new Dakine Altitude series backcountry packs are designed to be compatible with the aftermarket ABS Vario Base Unit, giving you the choice to use the pack alone or switch to the avalanche safety system. The Altitude's back panel quickly zips off in preparation for attaching the ABS unit. The Dakine Altitude pack comes in a 25L ($190) and 40L ($230) version, both compatible with the same ABS Vario Base Unit.
The North Face has two products with integrated ABS units scheduled for 2012, the Powder Guide ABS Vest ($1199) for the light and fast crew, as well as the Patrol 24 ABS backpack ($999).
French company Arva will soon introduce their X-Over 18 ($129) and X-Over 28 ($155) ABS compatible backpacks into the North American market. Similar to the Dakine Altitude series, the X-Over packs easily zip together with an ABS Vario Base Unit.
In January, Ortovox signed a license agreement with ABS and plan to release their own line of avalanche airbag backpacks in 2013.
Non-ABS options include the Mammut Pro R.A.S. and the Light R.A.S, both equipped with an integrated Snowpulse system. BCA designs their own line of Float avalanche airbag packs ($685-$785), while the Mystery Ranch Blackjack ($975) takes advantage of the Avi Vest system from Wari.