Wildsnow Gear Review: BCA Float 32™ Avalanche Airbag Pack

Diagonal ski carry comes in handy on a recent traverse of Highlands Ridge Near Aspen, Colorado.


By WildSnow.com Guest Blogger, Michael Arnold, AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide

WildSnow has reviewed various generations of the BCA Float avalanche airbag packs, and Michael Arnold has been using the redesigned BCA Float 32™. Here’s his take:

At first look, I noticed the new shape — more rounded and less boxy. I loaded 40lbs into the pack and walked around the house, tweaking it for my fit. Then I wore the pack in the field. During the first few days of downhill skiing, I adjusted the hip belt, load limiters and sternum strap to minimize the shifting of the pack while skiing.

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BCA Float 32 on top of Five Fingers, Highlands Ridge, Aspen, Colorado – January 2016.

Float 32™ Fit:
The waist belt allows the torso length of the pack to be adjusted. The medium to large setting works for my 19 inch spine. I set it at medium for days when I use a climbing harness; large for days when I don’t need the pack to sit as high on my hips.

wildsnow-float32-review-_0540-940x705Height adjustments on waist belt.

I’ve adjusted the pack for numerous clients and found it fits a variety of people well, with the exception of petite females and small frame males.  When shopping for a pack, it’s a good idea to bring your gear to a shop, load the pack, and make sure it fits comfortably.

Float 32™ Pockets and Packing:
The large volume of the main compartment makes it easy to pack a full day guide’s kit (sled, first aid, repair, avalanche essentials, food and water) and still have room to haul some extra items.

wildsnow-float32-review-32_0537-940x657Pack it vertically, and use it horizontally like a briefcase.

In the mountains when I’m working as a guide, I like to have compartments for my gear. The different colored zippers on the Float help me keep things organized.

In the red zipper pocket, I put my shovel and probe and there’s plenty of room. An ice axe is best stowed inside the pack on any avalanche airbag. When lashed to the outside of the pack, there’s the danger of puncturing a deployed airbag which is not good for your chances of survival, and no one likes getting axed in the tram either.

I pack all my kit top down via the clam shell main compartment. Then my other essentials (first aid, repair food and water) are easily accessed with the third zipper via the suitcase style pack. This is purely stylistic, but I have seen great efficiency with this system.

There is a small 2 liter pocket inside for stuff like wallet and phone.  I have noticed the external zippers hold out the elements better than the old style zips. And I like the 2 pockets on the hip belt.

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Remember with any airbag you want to AVOID “A-Framing” your skis when traveling in avalanche terrain.

  • This pack allows you to carry either skis or snowboard.
  • I noticed more durability in the breakable zipper of the airbag system when carrying skis are on your back.

The Float packs have some of the better helmet carrying options.

  • When you carry skis diagonally, you can rotate the helmet basket and have the helmet on top of the pack. Without ski carry, a helmet fits on the backside of the pack.
  • This has a sleek mesh “basket” that you can stow away when utilizing the helmet.
  • The helmet carry basket is a permanently fixed component on the pack and can be stowed away when wearing the helmet.

Float 32™ Avalanche Airbag System 

  • The airbag provides trauma protection to the head without decreasing your peripheral vision.
  • You can switch the trigger to either side of the pack.
  • After the airbag is deployed, I found the re-packing easy. There is a diagram on the packs showing the proper way to fold the airbag once it is deployed.

Float 32™ and travel

BCA has 200+ refill centers worldwide. The question is, where’s you next trip? When traveling, you have to carry an empty canister with the top removed. Another option is to purchase/own a full canister and ship to destination, but again, that can be tricky.

Here’s how to refill the Float 32 by hand(video).

Note: whatever kind of refill is planned, bring a refill “kit” with O-rings etc. In real life, WildSnow bloggers have had several trips when they’ve gone to the trouble of getting the cylinder filled at destination only to have it not hold air due to problems with O-rings and such.


bca-post-ifmga-guide-mike-arnold-250x250WildSnow guest blogger Mike Arnold is an IFMGA mountain guide who is co-founder of Vetta Mountain Guides. When he’s not sleeping in his Sprinter van or some hut above Chamonix, he lives in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado.

Mike Arnold’s personal stats:

  • Height — 6ft
  • Waist — 30-32in
  • Spine — 19in
  • Weight — 170lbs

Read his full Wildsnow review here.