The Highmark 22 by SnowPulse is an excellent airbag pack. It is perfectly sized and well thought-out airbag pack for ski mountaineers, even though it was designed for snowmobilers. The attention to detail is evident in airbag system as well as the various pockets and straps of the pack itself.
Packs and their various configurations become personal quickly – after all, you’ll be wearing it and relying on it to carry and organize the essentials for adventure. This is why the SnowPulse 22 liter HighMark pack is such delight to use.
The HighMark22 features two main compartments accessed by clamshell style, large, bomb-proof zippers around the perimeter. The outer pocket is perfect for avy tools with a sleeve on either side that works well for stashing other essentials like skins, and is even voluminous enough for stuffing a puffy.
Bad news, though. It is not quite long enough to fit a long avy probe. On first try it fits, but it takes extra care to zip past it and over time, it will want to poke a hole in the fabric, or worse, the zipper.
The main compartment is thicker, with the same nested sleeves on the inner and outer walls for organization and not much extra weight. This area will hold a jacket, a vacuum thermos, liter of water, food and other assorted stuff for a day.
Skis can be carried diagonally with a wire loop in the lower L corner paired with a removable, adjustable strap to hold ’em in the upper R corner.
Is there anything not to like about the High Mark? Some might say there are too many nested sleeves and pockets within each compartment, adding unnecessary weight. Perhaps, but they do add a level of organization that helps offset the weight penalty.
The Airbag System
SnowPulse’s airbag wraps around the back and sides of your head, adding a measure of impact protection to your noggin. Because the airbag itself expands not just behind your head but also from the shoulder straps, it feels more solid than many airbags that are only contained within the top of the pack. This airbag will also slowly deflate on its own, theoretically creating a pocket of air should you get caught and end up below the surface anyway.
The canister is sealed with a special burst disk that is punctured with a sharp cone that is released by pulling on the T-handle in the left shoulder strap.
A unique feature with the SnowPulse system is the ability to test the trigger and feel the release tension of the puncturing pin without releasing any compressed air. With other mechanical systems a valve is used, so the only way to feel any trigger tension is with it connected to a cartridge. Ideally one should fire off the airbag at least once per season to test it, however, if you blew the budget on the pack, just testing the mechanical feel of the trigger is a less expensive way to ‘test’ the system without having to pay for a refill or spare cartridge.
Annual testing of airbag packs becomes one of the hidden, ongoing costs of owning an airbag pack. Unless you have all the hardware for filling a cylinder, you will need to replace it, or refill it at a dive shop, paintball arcade, or an airbag pack retailer.
Repacking the SnowPulse takes a bit of technique, mostly because you need to hold down the release valve while trying to squeeze out the air with your other arm and hand. This makes it difficult to get every last drop of air squeezed out so the airbag packs down to minimum size. Next season (Fall 2013) the valve will be off to the side where it is easier to access.
The cartridge sits neatly along the L side of the main compartment, with the Venturi valve at the top, and since the airbag is shaped, less than half of its material is behind your neck. The rest is stuffed inside the left and right shoulder straps. Besides leaving more room in the pack for your daily junk, the airbag material in the shoulder straps gives them a more padded feel that is easy on your shoulders, and they have a stiffer shape, making it easy to tuck your shoulders under them.
The belt buckle is the standard, unbreakable metal latch. A single leg loop insures the pack won’t ride up on you when deployed—provided you use it. Few people do.
As with other airbag packs, the HighMark only feels heavy when you lift it. Once it’s on your back, the extra four pounds of hardware is easy to bear.
Of course the price may make you wince, but that’s a lot easier pain to deal with than what getting buried will feel like.