Powder Jetsetters: Air Travel With an Avalanche Airbag Cylinder Pump

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Are you flying to an exotic place to chase powder this season, but are worried about bringing your Float avalanche airbag air cylinder? Do what BCA, Teton Gravity Research, MSP Films, and other world travelers do and pick up a Benjamin High Pressure Pump. They only cost about $150 and fit easily in your ski bag along with a snowboard or a couple pairs of skis. Or you can keep it in your sled trailer for doing those monthly practice deployments over a cold PBR. These are readily available on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca (not from BCA, since they’re made by someone else).

The Benjamin isn’t too different than the floor pump you probably use for filling up your bike tires. It’s produced by Crosman Corporation specifically for filling paintball cylinders. Since you need to fill your cylinder to 2,500 psi instead of the 40 psi or so you’d put in your mountain bike tires, it takes a little more work. You can expect to spend about 15 minutes—and some significant elbow grease–to do the job.

These can easily be found on Amazon for somewhere in the neighborhood of $140 (used) to $170 (new). If you plan on doing multiple refills without airing out the cylinder between uses, then we suggest also buying a desiccant cartridge recommended by the manufacturer, to prevent moisture from building up inside your cylinder. These cost about $25. If you combine this purchase with the already (relatively) low price of a BCA Float pack, you’re still several hundred dollars below the price of a fan-inflated airbag–and at least a half a pound lighter.

Why would you need such a thing if BCA has such a wide network of avalanche airbag refill and exchange centers? Because this network varies from country to country, and they’re not usually open 24 hours a day. If your schedule is tight and you won’t be near one of our refill centers during business hours, then it’s nice to have the option to fill up in your hotel room. Example: last year four of us went skiing on the Buckskin Glacier in Denali National Park. We arrived in Anchorage after Last Frontier Diving (one of our refill centers) had closed. But we had a Benjamin pump: we filled all four of our Float cylinders in the morning, then hopped on a DeHavilland Beaver out to the glacier (charter flights don’t have the same restrictions as commercial ones). No worries.

Also, if you’re traveling to Japan, keep in mind that they won’t refill cylinders there: they use a different cylinder head there than we do here. Retailers, SCUBA, and paintball shops aren’t allowed to fill anything other than our specialized Japanese-style cylinders. If you don’t feel like packing a Benjamin, you can rent a cylinder in the powder Meccas of Niseko, Hakuba, and Myoko (look up Cylinder Rental Centers in those towns here) . If you’re not going to any of those locations, just contact bca@k2japan.com. They’ll send a rental cylinder to your hotel room along with a return shipping label. Japanese hospitality and efficiency at its finest!

Traveling with a full Float cylinder on commercial airlines is usually not a problem–unless you’re flying through the USA, of course. If your travels don’t involve the USA, just make sure you follow the IATA rules (see link below). If you are traveling through the USA (and therefore must pass through TSA security), you need to make sure your cylinder is empty, with the head removed from the main tank so they can see inside. Make sure you keep the cylinder and head clean and free from debris by keeping them in sealed plastic bags. For all the details, see BCA’s page on Avalanche Airbag Air Travel Regulations.