Arc'teryx Voltair Avalanche Airbag Review
An in-depth review of the Arc'teryx Voltair Avalanche Airbag
If there is one thing that haunts every backcountry skier and snowboarder, it is the fear of getting caught in an avalanche. While all avalanche rescue gear has improved over the past ten years, it’s the introduction of avalanche airbags which has completely revolutionised backcountry safety.
Arc’teryx have just changed the game again with this - the latest in airbag technology. The Voltair Avalanche Airbag backpack. Like all airbags, the Voltair is designed to help keep a skier or snowboarder on the surface of the snow if they are caught in an avalanche, reducing the burial depth and therefore increasing the rider’s chance of survival.
“Studies suggest that if you’re wearing an airbag there’s a remarkable reduction in the avalanche mortality rate - from 22 per cent to just 11 per cent."
How does it work? Well, shake a bowl of mixed nuts and you’ll find that the larger ones rise to the top. This principle, known as granular convection but often referred to as “the brazil nut effect", can also be found (albeit on a far more terrifying level) in avalanches. As the snow tumbles and churns, larger objects will tend to rise to the top. An airbag makes you, as the skier or snowboarder, a bigger object, helping you rise to the surface and making you easier to find and dig out.
The science is simple, but incredibly effective. A recent study by the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research of 245 avalanche accidents in North America and Europe discovered that since 1991, 89 per cent of victims caught in avalanches who were wearing airbags survived. This is a remarkable reduction in the avalanche mortality rate - from 22 per cent to just 11 per cent. While nothing is totally guaranteed, it’s clear that avalanche airbags are a very effective emergency device.
What makes Arc’teryx’s Voltair different to other airbags on the market? Well, unlike traditional systems, which relied on compressed air cylinders that were costly to replace after deployment, the Voltair blows air from the surroundings into the bag using a powerful motor. This means it can deploy multiple times without needing to replace anything (it’s powered by a lithium ion battery) and it inflates continuously, so it won’t deflate even if you rip it on rocks or trees as you tumble.
Arc’Teryx’s Voltair system delivers more initial pressure than any other battery powered avalanche airbag system on the market, so it inflates more quickly, and the trigger handle is easily accessible and can be quickly unlocked in an emergency.
As well as being arguably the best system out there for safety, Arc’Teryx’s system has the added advantage that if your mate’s wearing one you can pull their lever, push them over, and ski away without feeling guilty about wasting one of his precious compressed air capsules. Which is always amusing.
"...if your mate’s wearing one you can pull their lever, push them over, and ski away without feeling guilty..."
The Voltair comes in two sizes - 20L and the 30L one we have here. Both have a decent amount of backpack space and include pockets to stash other essential backcountry safety equipment, including shovels and probes, as well as loops for climbing and mountaineering tools such as ice axes.
It’s not cheap, but with the Arc’teryx Voltair on your back, you can explore the backcountry with confidence and know you are properly prepared for even the very worst of circumstances.
Arc'teryx Voltair Avalanche Airbag Stats:
- Price: £1280
- Weight: 3465g
Shot on location in Chamonix
- Thanks to our accommodation partner Adventure Base