Previous extensive Jetforce look.
We recently had a Black Diamond Jetforce loaner here. We’re skiing nearly every day so it was easy to hump the revolutionary electric airbag backpack on a few backcountry missions. I wish I could say this rucksack jet propelled me up the hill as much as it protected me from suffocation in an avalanche, but the latter is much more true than the former. While we still feel this technology is nothing less than disruptive, it’s a pity Jetforce Halo weighs about 7 1/4 lbs (3.3 kilogram) when gas cartridge airbag packs are getting into the sub two kilo range for mass. When loaded up with more than my most minimal kit, I found Jetforce was too heavy for my normal day skiing. Yeah, I’m a spoiled wimp. Yeah, I’m biased.
I’m not sure how much weight could be trimmed from the Halo. It includes the Black Diamond “ErgoActiv suspension system” consisting of a steel cable running behind your back, ostensibly to make the pack ride better. With normal day-trip loads I’ve not found this system to have any benefit, so it could be eliminated. Likewise, some of the straps and fabric appear to be overkill. On the other hand, this is indeed an expensive safety device so it needs a certain amount of beef — if for no other reason than it must hold up for numerous backcountry days. Perhaps the most effective weight savings could be a smaller battery and an airbag made of thinner lighter “Dyneema” type fabric. That’s just a guess.
Beyond the weight issue, lots to like here. We got four inflations out of the battery. That’s a few less than I expected when first learning about the Jetforce system, yet totally adequate. We did our real-life inflations by pulling a couple in colder temps as well as leaving the system switched on a few times until it timed out — which no doubt sucked up some battery power. In my view, main thing is that the bag will most certainly deploy twice during any given session between charges, in nearly any temperature excepting ridiculous arctic chill that normal people would not even consider skiing in (even then, you could throw a hand warmer in with the battery and probably have no worries).
An issue with all airbag backpacks is how much haulage volume do they really have for backcountry skiing and riding? Halo 28 is indeed said by Black Diamond to be a 28 liter capacity rucksack. Using my scientific method of measurement (packing all my stuff) I’d say the Halo does deliver the promised volume. That said, it could use a few extra lash tabs on the exterior in the event you’d need to carry a rope or haul extra gear during situations such as bringing overnight kit to a hut.
I tested the Jetforce for user friendliness by skiing it for three days without reading the user manual. I’d had my familiarization tour some months ago, so I cheated. But still, I remembered little to nothing about how to turn the unit on and off or how to pack the balloon. Everything was nicely obvious; only confusion was what exactly some of the flashing lights on the handle meant. Not a big deal, as the “code of the lights” would be easily learned and retained by an owner who used the pack regularly (the pack also has a vibration unit in the electronics, so it buzzes against your back during certain phases of activation or de-activation). I have to wonder, how about a speaker in the trigger handle that would enunciate verbally for the sight impaired? Could happen, after all, it’s electronic.
My favorite thing about Jetforce Halo? The airbag is so easy to pack as to make other systems seem like a joke. I mean, do I really need to be spending time packing my airbag like a parachute rigger? Life is too short. I want to ski, not be a parachute packer. Likewise, even with the weight penalty the no-fiddle electrical energy system of this thing makes compressed gas airbags seem neanderthal. Not that neanderthals had compressed gas cylinders, but you get the idea. Charge the battery. Pull the trigger. Repeat. Breathe sigh of relief as you step on the airplane with no issues, and never ever go searching around for gas refill options. The future is bright.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.