Avalanche Pack Buyer’s Guide

The Scout motto “Be Prepared” means that you are always in a state of readiness and have thought out any accident or situation that might occur. If you’re planning a backcountry snowmobile trip, being prepared means wearing a pack that contains food, water and a few tools to help dig your sled out of trouble or rescue an avalanche victim.

When fitting a pack to your body, make sure its bottom won’t rest on the cushion while you’re seated and the top won’t clunk against your helmet.

Inflatable airbag packs are becoming more popular, and are worth considering because they are designed to prevent burial, increasing a slide victim’s chance of survival.

Backpacks, probes, shovels and saws are available from a variety of sources that specialize in equipping snowmobilers for mountain adventures. Here are seven companies that offer backpacks and accessories. Some of the kits listed here include the pack, probe and shovel, but items are also available separately.

ABS Vario Base Unit $980

The Vario Base Unit encompasses all safety-relevant components of the ABS avalanche airbag: two TwinBags, activation handle and nitrogen gas cartridge. Every Vario Base Unit offers space for a shovel, probe and an emergency kit. ABS has accessory zip-ons available that add 5 or 15 liters of extra storage space to Vario Base packs while still allowing quick access to the shovel.
604/626-0229 — abs-airbag.com

Backcountry Access Float Throttle $675

The BCA Float Throttle airbag system is designed for mountain snowmobiling. Like other airbag packs, if caught in a slide, the rider pulls a handle that sets off a cylinder of compressed air that fills the airbag and helps keep the slide victim on top of the debris. The Float Throttle kit includes a compressed-air cylinder and airbag, and it will hold ride supplies and rescue tools. BCA also offers the Dozer shovel and Stealth 270 probe. The Dozer can be used in both traditional and “hoe” mode.

Fly Racing Back Country Kit $179.95

Fly Racing, an exclusive brand of parts distributor Western Power Sports (WPS), makes it easy to get ready for mountain snowmobiling with its Back Country Kit. It includes a backpack with hydration system, tool compartment with separate pockets to organize tools and parts, padded shoulder straps and back panel for support. Cinchable cargo straps minimize bouncing. Kit comes with a Snobunje probe and WPS shovel with saw.

Backcountry Survival Combo $240

HMK’s Backcountry Survival Combo includes a probe (8 feet, 10 inches), metal shovel with saw, hydration pack, whistle and the Backcountry backpack. The pack has 1200 cubic inches of storage space to haul food, layers and supplies. Padding in key areas helps provide comfort and an external holster holds avalanche tools. HMK also has two new packs available for 2013.
541/386-3262 — hmkusa.com

Klim Nac Pak $95.99

Enjoy maximum storage capacity in a lightweight, tough pack with many features. Includes a tool pack that buckles on the exterior and storage space for accessory shovel and probe, available separately from Klim, allowing access without taking up cargo capacity inside the pack.
Large, reflective panels increase visibility and a soft goggle bag provides a safe place to store an extra pair of specs.
208/552-7433 — klim.com

Snowpulse Highmark 22 $1,099

Head-On-Top technology on the Highmark 22 avalanche pack works like a life jacket to help keep the wearer’s head above the snow in case of an avalanche. It features 22 liters of storage, external probe and shovel storage and aluminum buckles. The Lifebag is mostly stored in the shoulder straps of the bag, allowing more capacity for supplies. Retail price includes airbag cylinder.
250/344-5060 — snowpulse.com

True Adventure Gear Lightning Pack from $219

True Adventure Gear allows mountain snowmobilers to build their own backcountry package with five rugged backpacks and six shovels to choose from.
The Lightning Pack ’12, shown here, has 1300 cubic inches of storage space, padded back and waist belt, and secure shovel and probe storage. TA Gear sells only high-end Voile probes and shovels. Package options are detailed on TA Gear’s website.
208/562-1391 — tagear.us


More Backcountry Tips:

Never carry your beacon in a backpack because it could get torn off your body during the slide, which will lead rescuers to your buried pack — not you. An avalanche beacon should be strapped to your torso like it’s intended, and don’t turn it off until the ride has ended.

Avalanche snow is often as hard as concrete, so recovery equipment needs to be rugged. Shovel handles should engage securely into the scoop and the mechanism needs to be durable so it won’t break while digging. Probes should be durable and at least 8.5 feet long. 

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