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2014 Avalanche Airbag Reviews, Comparison & Buying Guide

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

My job is to pick the best gear to present to the TMS customer base, and with the growing popularity of the Avy Airbag category, these packs have been hot topics of conversation around the shop the past couple of weeks, both in the store and through our online customer service channels. So, here is my take on the pros, cons, ups, downs and all-arounds of this dizzying category of backcountry ski gear.

abs-avalanche-twin-airbag

I am going to break this up into a couple sections and parts since its a deep and intricate topic with lots of info. So, this first post will focus on the differences between the ABS and Mammut systems with a brief discussion about the packs and options for each system.

Quick summary:

ABS Avalanche Twin Airbags:

Twin Airbags situated on side of backpack/body – Provides redundancy in case one bag gets punctured. Airbags are long (ranging from about knee-height to above the head). This keeps your entire body above the snow and provides the flotation needed to “ride” out a slide and remain on top. 170 liters of volume is the most offered by all airbags on the market.

Compressed Nitrogen w/Pyrotechnic Trigger Mechanism (Activation Unit): Compressed nitrogen is housed in a smaller canister than compressed air and therefore takes up less room in your pack. It must be filled at ABS headquarters or swapped out with an ABS canister exchange at a certified ABS exchange center (Tahoe Mountain Sports does this!). The Pyro trigger is easiest to pull when under duress as there is no physical puncturing that takes place. The handle can also be switched from side-to-side for use by lefties, righties, or snowmobilers who wish to keep their hands free for throttle-access. The ABS Activation Unit includes the compressed nitrogen canister plus the pyrotechnic handle.

Here’s a brief rundown of how the ABS avalanche airbag system works:


Mammut RAS
(Removeable Airbag System) and PAS (Protection Airbag System)
:

Single Airbags Deployed from Top of Pack: RAS and PAS systems utilize a single airbag that deploys out of the top of your pack. The RAS system is the first generation of the Mammut (formerly SnowPulse) systems and is the least expensive. It is basically a large pillow behind and above your head. The Mammut PAS system was released to the North American market in the Fall of 2013 and comes down through the shoulder straps as well as above the head. Basically, the PAS system is meant to protect against head trauma. My one con with the Mammut airbag system is that you can still get buried up to your airbag (neck area) and if you were solo, you would likely still be stuck in the debris of an avalanche and not able to dig yourself, given that you even survive the slide.

mammut-ras-pas-airbag-system

Compressed Air w/Physical Puncture Trigger: Mammut packs utilize a compressed air canister which is slightly longer and wider than the ABS canister. Compressed air is more readily available in the marketplace as you can get your canister filled at a local filling shop (like Tahoe Mountain Sports!), scuba shops or paintball stores. The only potential problem here is user error when filling. Scuba and paintball shops are usually unfamiliar with the specific type of filling that needs to take place and therefore there could be user error on the filling side. We always recommend coming in and allowing us to fill your canister or just exchange it for a full one that we always have waiting for you in the shop. On the trigger side of things, the Mammut trigger requires a small pin to mechanically puncture the canister. Through testing in the shop, this takes slightly more effort than the ABS version, but not much. (more…)

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