Great compromise between light-weight and multiple features
Separate avy tools (shovel and probe) compartment
Convenient helmet carry system
Trigger can be re-located to either shoulder strap
Quick deployment with fairly good trauma protection
Cheapest pack in our test right
Lightweight zipper-pulls stick when closing compartments.
Overall, we believe the BCA Float is the best avy pack on the market for Winter ‘12/'13. It has the essential features of the best packs—light enough without sacrificing durability or critical features, good stability while skiing under load—with a very simple canister recharge system: you can refill the canister at a paintball store for $1. It’s functional, reasonably light, and simple—and costs less than the three other packs in our test.
Safety System This is a good bag shape and valve system. The trigger is a good size, as compared with other packs’ triggers. If the trigger is too small you won’t be able to find when you need it. And, if it is too large, then you risk accidentally triggering it.
Pack Quality The pack comes with good zippers, durable pack cloth, and solid stitching. BCA has years of experience making backpacks for use in avalanche terrain and the quality of the Float 35 shows it. The quality of this pack is the best in this category.
Pack Features The BCA comes with a diagonal ski carrier, snowboard carrier, hip pocket, goggle pocket and a easy to use airbag leg strap. A hydration tube can be run down inside the shoulder strap. I’ve seen lighter airbag packs with less features (or less user-friendly features). But from years of building backcountry ski/snowboard-specific backpacks, BCA “gets it,” and has delivered the features I think are critical for an enjoyable day in the backcountry.
Pack Fit This was the best fitting pack in the test. There was plenty of structural support to carry a heavy load, and the hip belt is nicely padded. Even though it’s a roomy pack, it felt surprisingly small while skiing, which translates into better down mountain performance. The pack feels like it’s one with you.
Airbag System Durability There is a nicely padded air canister sleeve along with well laid-out hose routing will allow this pack to take some abuse in the mountains.
Value The BCA pack is the least expensive of the packs in our test, and it doesn’t cut corners: this is the best value of the 2012-13 avy packs.