How to choose your airbag

How to choose your airbag

You are preparing your next off-piste ski or snowboard trip and are already familiar with the avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel, but you would like to complete your gear with an airbag backpack? We help you find the one that you’ll take everywhere!

Going off-piste skiing or snowboarding is the joy of making your own tracks, but this can only be done by doing everything possible to avoid tragic accidents. You always set off with your avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel, but you want to add an airbag backpack to this safety triptych for even greater safety?
Follow the guide!

preparing your airbag

1 - How does an airbag backpack work?

In concrete terms, an airbag backpack is a cross-country, splitboard or freeride backpack with a pocket containing an airbag. When you activate the bag's inflation system, a 150 litre balloon deploys in less than 5 seconds to help you float above the snowpack.
The French National Association for the Study of Snow and Avalanches (ANENA) has studied the effectiveness of airbags for the survival of off-piste skiers in order to verify the interest of the bag for freeriders in an objective way. It concludes that "Airbags are an important piece of safety equipment, but their impact on mortality is lower than previously reported and survival is not guaranteed. For people seriously involved in avalanches of size 2 or larger, the use of an airbag, if it worked, reduced the risk of death by half (from 22% to 11%)" (see the full study on the ANENA website
So being equipped with all the necessary search equipment (avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel) and an airbag is essential to maximise your chances in the event of an avalanche. However, this can in no way replace the study of the snow cover and the weather conditions to avoid finding oneself in a critical situation. Your main security is to know how to give up.

How to choose your airbag

2 - What is the purpose of an airbag during your ski trips?

The balloon in your rucksack, when inflated, will help you stay above ground more than if you had no airbag. Staying on the surface of an avalanche is the best way to get out of it. But why does it work? On the snow cover, we already know that by increasing the surface of a body, it sinks less into the snow (the rule of granulometry). By increasing your total volume with the bag's airbag, you will maximise your chances of staying on or near the surface. 
In addition, the volume created around the back or neck, depending on the shape of the cushion, also protects you from the impact and pressure of the snowpack.
Having an airbag doesn't mean you don't need an avalanche transceiver (ATD), which is essential (along with a probe and shovel), in case the airbag isn't enough.  
The airbag must also be triggered manually at the right moment: we recommend that you test a trigger at least once.

3 - What are the different airbag triggering technologies?

For the airbags to deploy, they must be quickly filled with air. To achieve this, manufacturers have developed different airbag technologies, all of which allow for rapid deployment of the airbags.

3 triggering systems are currently available on the market:
- Pyrotechnics
- Mechanical
- Electrical

In addition to these deployment systems, there are various airbag technologies that vary in size and placement.
Usually they are developed in partnership between a patent owner and a backpack brand.
The main players in the market are:

  • The ABS system

    This pyrotechnic ABS system activates a needle that pierces the gas cartridge when you activate the release handle and inflates the two 85-litre cushions on the sides of the bag. Having two balloons is an advantage if one of them has a hole.  
    The cartridges for ABS systems are made of carbon or aluminium.

  • The SnowPulse system

    Using a mechanical release, the SnowPulse system deploys a 150 litre U-shaped cushion that supports and opens at the skier's head. The system can be removed from the bag if you use it for anything other than backcountry skiing.

  • The Alpride cartridge system (2.0)

    Two small gas cartridges are triggered by percussion to inflate a U-shaped balloon that protects the skier's head and back. It is one of the lightest and most compact cartridge systems on the market.
    It is for the expertise and technology of the systems that we decided to develop our airbag with Alpride by including the 2.0 system: the Wedze airbag 30 bag.

  • The Alpride fan system (e1)

    Consisting of an electronic triggering system that activates a fan to inflate the cushion, this system, equipped with "supercapacitors" that do not discharge when cold (or hot), is the lightest electric airbag on the market.

  • Jetforce technology

    The cushion is inflated by a fan. Once the cover is folded, the airbag can be re-triggered (as long as the system has battery power).

  • The ARVA Reactor system

    It can be transferred to another bag from the ARVA Reactor range. An internal separation in the drum allows the creation of 2 independent compartments, making it the most reliable system possible.

To choose your bag you will need to determine which airbag technology is best suited to your needs: If you do a lot of committed off-piste skiing, you may prefer a reusable system, if it's occasional protection you'll opt for the cartridges as their use will be rather rare. But if you plan to go on long trips, you will surely be sensitive to the total weight of the bag and the system.

Just remember, the best thing is to never have to trigger your airbag.

inside an airbag

4 - What is the weight of an airbag?

The weight of the bag when empty (but with the system and the cushion) and the capacity of the bag will vary depending on the equipment chosen. Airbags generally weigh between 1 kg for the lightest (10 litres) and 3.5 kg for the heaviest.
Our Wedze airbag bag in partnership with Alpride now weighs 2.2 kg, making it one of the lightest 30 litre airbags on the market.

Off-piste skiing airbag

5 - What size airbag should I choose for day trips?

The primary function of a backpack is to carry equipment (at least an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel and something to eat and drink). It is therefore important to have an airbag volume adapted to your practice.

If you're going off-piste for the day, you'll want an airbag backpack with a capacity of 18 to 25 litres.
If you are going on a long trip or downhill skiing, you will need more food and water or additional equipment: ice axes, ropes, etc. A bag of about 30 litres will therefore be more suitable for you.

Small bags: less than 15 or 18 litres are to be reserved for minimalists or freeride and freetouring pros who go light.
The accessorization of the bag will be chosen according to your practice: ask yourself for example if you will need to hang your snowboard or your skis on the bag for the ascent? 

You must absolutely think about leaving with your safety equipment: avalanche tranceiver, probe and shovel. And of course you will need water and food if necessary.

6 - How to prepare an airbag backpack?

Have you chosen your bag? Well done! But before you leave, remember to do some routine checks.

Take the time a few days before the outing to practice activating the airbag, after removing the gas cartridges of course. The idea is to measure the force required to engage the mechanism. The system will need to be reset to the correct position before leaving.
Then, before you leave you will want to check several things:

- The cartridges are well in place
- The release system is well engaged
- The height and side of the release handle placement (if you are left or right handed you may have a preference)
- The straps are well adjusted
- The chest strap is well adjusted
- The belly strap is the right size
- The underbody strap is well adjusted (the strap that goes between the legs, which is essential for the bag to stay in place at the right time)

If you have opted for an electronic system, make sure that it is charged the day before departure so that you have time to do the necessary work if necessary.
You can then load your equipment, including your mountain safety gear: avalanche tranceiver, probe and shovel. 

You now have a good idea of what you need to consider when choosing the right airbag for your practice and your needs. 
Even though the airbag is there to maximise your chances of survival in the event of an avalanche, don't take more risks just because it's there. 
And always leave with your avalanche search gear!

How to choose your airbag


Wedze communication team

Passionate about winter sports

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