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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Avalanche-pack face-off! BCA Float 30 (3 of 3)

NOTE: For a review of the updated Float 32 click here.

This is the last individual vendor presentation, but although it does say 3/3, there will be a next post that will essentially consist of a comparative table of features, advantages – disadvantages, detailed pricing, ordering information etc. There will also be room for any corrections that may be needed.

Now, I did hear back from BCA who gave us very complete and thorough information so here is the 3rd and last product I am introducing for a while; The Float 30 by the well known Backcountry Access (BCA). This is the challenger of the challenger, they are much newer on the market than both others, in fact they are so new; their release date is still in the future: Dec. 15, 2009. And, for you patriots out there, of the three, this is the only American solution...


OVERALL DESIGN
The Float 30 represents a different approach compared to both the ABS System and the Snowpulse although, interestingly enough, they incorporate some concepts from both in their thinking. This one wants the head on top outcome of the Snowpulse design but also the freedom of movement of the ABS System… The way Bruce Edgerly (VP of Marketing & Sales at Backcountry Access, Inc.) puts it is: “the 150-liter airbag deploys out the top of the pack, behind the head and shoulders. This keeps the upper body above the snow surface. The airbag can protect the head and neck from trauma, but does not wrap around the head; this maintains your peripheral vision and full mobility of head, arms, and hips—which means that after you deploy the bag, you maintain your ability to self-arrest, smear, roll, point ‘em(!) or otherwise get the heck off the slab before it picks up speed. You are not giving up when you pull that trigger. Remember Tom Kimbrough’s famous mantra: fight like hell!”
The BCA idea behind this design is to offer the following two advantages:

1) Offer higher “flotation” and thus making your head (and airways) the part that stays the highest once the avalanche stops.
2) Enable enough freedom of movement for you to fight the avalanche as much as possible as long as possible.

Although there has obviously not been any independent testing of the Float 30 yet, there is some independent corroboration for the idea that a high point of flotation can have a positive outcome. When we looked into the research we noted the Avagear which was a prototype of a product that consisted of a bag that wrapped around the head thus keeping a high flotation point much like the Float 30. In the 2001 tests by the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) it was noted as follows:
“The fact that the faces of the dummies with the Avagear rescue vest were always found in the proximity of the surface appears to verify the hypothesis that the Avagear airbag, which is positioned close to the head, does indeed aid the lifting effect on the head and upper body. In fact two of the three Avagear-wearing dummies were found in an upright or seated position in the snow, whereas the dummies with the mono or dual airbag were found either face-up or facedown [sic] in a horizontal position.” (Davos, March 16, 2001, Martin Kern, Frank Tschirky, Jürg Schweizer, P.10)”
What remains to be seen in testing is if ABS’ argument that this upright position is a liability in terms of exposing the body " […] to the enormous dynamic forces within the avalanche […]” is a valid one.

RELEASE SYSTEM
The release is secured by a dedicated steel cable housed in rubber (like a bicycle brake cable). There’s a molded T-handle at the end that can be stashed inside the shoulder strap with a zipper during transport and pulled out while skiing or riding. It is accessed by the right or left hand on the right shoulder strap. This is an integrated system attached to the unit meaning you will never be without launch mechanism…

FILL AND REFILLBCA have chosen to offer a cylinder exchange program. They and their distributors will offer a cylinder exchange program this means you can trade an empty one in for a full one for $20 (plus shipping, if applicable). This may avoid the trip to the SCUBA shop for refilling if you don’t have one located conveniently nearby.

SPECIFICATIONS
Total airbag volume: Volume of 150 L (about 38 gallons)

Weight:The Float 30 L pack: 2967 g (6.5 Lb) without cylinder or 3357 g (7.4 Lb) with cylinder included

GENERAL
This is by definition an unproven system as it is not released yet. However, it comes to us from a company known for its great knowledge and understanding of avalanche safety issues and products. BCA is the company that invented the first digital transceiver, the first integrated shovel and probe, and gave us the first freezeproof hydration system. They developed what I consider to be the smartest avalanche beacon, the DTS Tracker, (I have two of those) which reveal a deep understanding of the users (hopefully inexperienced in avy rescue) and the way these products are used out in the backcountry.

PRICING
The price is $499.00 for the complete system including the 30 L pack. At half the cost of the two others, can you spell C-O-M-P-E-T-I-T-I-V-E ???

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