Rucksacks with an airbag system are designed to increase the chances of survival if you are caught in an avalanche. They contain an airbag that is inflated with a pressurized gas canister. If you are about to be caught in an avalanche, you pull the handle, and in a few seconds the airbag inflates. Once inflated, the airbag helps you floating on top of the snow, reducing the chances of being buried.
Statistically, avalanche airbags are the most effective product for surviving an avalanche (more than transceivers), and I like the idea that you can do something to protect yourself, other than relying on your ski partners and on their ability to use transceivers and shovels. I trust my partners, but if they get taken out as well or have a malfunctioning beacon, they won’t be able to do much. With an airbag, you feel like you have a bit more control over your own destiny.
Of the few models available on the market, the Snowpulse if my favorite. It’s the one with the best design. When deployed, an airbag with a volume of 150 liters inflates around your head and upper torso, providing an excellent impact protection. It’s nice to have some extra protection around such a delicate area. The Snowpulse airbag is designed so that even if you are buried, the airbag helps creating an air pocket around your head.
The frame is quite rigid. Although it doesn’t really flex with you when you move, the pack sits nicely on the shoulders and feels very comfortable. It doesn’t affect the riding/skiing at all. The red part on the left hand strap is the part you wish you’ll never need: the handle to deploy the airbag.
Getting mulched in an avalanche is surprisingly violent, and as such the waist-belt on the Snowpulse is more like a climbing harness with a secure metal buckle and heavily reinforced construction. It comes with crotch loops which might not be too annoying if you never take your pack off, but for general ski touring, I found the crotch straps to be a pain and never use them. You can remove it and store it in the belt strap. There’s a small compartment specifically designed for it.
With retail price of 700 Euro/600 GBP the Snowpulse is certainly an expensive piece of gear. But if you think it could save your life, I am sure you will agree with me – it’s a sound investment.