New gear highlight: The Arc’teryx Voltaire backcountry avalanche bag
Later last year, Arc’teryx announced it’s foray into backcountry gear. It has recently introduced the avalanche backpack for backcountry skiing and their first pair of backcountry ski boots. These items will be available in the fall of 2016.
There are a fair amount of avalanche backpacks on the market today and most of them use canisters to deploy. This one is different: it’s battery powered fan fills the airbag, eliminating the need for canisters.
The Voltaire Avalanche Safety Backpack
The Voltaire is the avalanche backpack and gear bag. This backpack cost $2 million in research and development costs over 5 years. Most avy bags used compressed gas for bag inflation, but Arc’teryx has designed their own proprietary system that features a fan system. This self contained system allows users to inflate their pack prior to going out in the field, and is good for multiple deployments. This is also good because you can actually test your bag without worrying about emptying the canister.
Most avy rescue bags like the Backcountry Access Float 27 use a gas canister system to inflate the air bags. This system uses a fan, which eliminates the need for these canisters and can be used to deploy the unit multiple times.
The pack comes in two sizes: the 20L which weighs 7.1 pounds and the 30L which weighs 7.6 pounds. The pack carries nicely because of the overbuilt harness. Skis or snowboards are carried vertically on this pack,
There were 23 different fan iterations before designers found the one that works best. The fan will keep spinning and filling the air bag even if an ice chunk gets jammed or a fan blade breaks, the unit will keep filling the bag with air. Power is battery supplied, and comes from a custom 75 volt battery. According to specifications, the battery should inflate the bag about 8 times (tested at frigid temperatures down to -30 degrees) before it needs to be recharged. These tests were performed at extremely low temperatures -30 F, so they should last longer in normal ski temperatures. There is a battery light indicating the charge of the battery.
How to deploy the airbag
So you may wonder how accidental deployments are controlled. The trigger is connected to the engine via bike brake cable, and the handle is easy to grab and pull even with heavy mitts. The plastic handle has two positions, indicating locked when red, and armed when green. To arm, twist the handle 20 degrees and pull. It’s easy to do while skiing. To prevent accidental deployment, you must pull the trigger at least two inches. This feature helps prevent the airbag going off accidentally.
The airbag is 150 L and stuffs into a compartment about the size of a large goggle holder on top of the pack. It inflates in around 5 seconds and wraps slightly around your head without disturbing your peripheral vision. The fan continues to run for about seven seconds and continues to push air into the bag until you turn it off. To deflate the bag, poke the straw through the valve, push out the air and pack in back into the top of the bag.
All of these airbags have a special loop that attaches to your leg to keep the bag on your body in case of an avalanche. This strap can be detached via quick release clip that can be used even with gloves on.
The bag features coated fabric, taped seams and waterproof zippers.
The Voltaire will be available fall/winter 2016, is made in Arc’teryx’s Canadian manufacturing facility.
The only downside we can see to this product is like all Arc’teryx products, it’s expensive. But you get what you pay for with Arc’teryx: all their gear is of excellent quality.
Most avalanche bags cost between $500 and go up to $1400. Black Diamond has also released an avalanche pack without using canisters, using a battery powered fan to fill the bag. The Black Diamond Pilot 11 JetForce backpack is also priced similarly at $1400.
Arc’teryx Voltair 20L
- Weight: 3,235 g / 7.1 lbs
- MSRP: $1,650 (inclusive of bag, battery, and power)
Arc’teryx Voltair 30L
- Weight: 3,465 g / 7.6 lbs
- MSRP: $1,700 (inclusive of bag, battery, and power)
Arct’eryx is also introducing a pair of ski boots that will be available in the fall/winter of 2016.
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