Black Diamond has been in the airbag game since 2013, with their in-house designed line of Jetforce packs. They are now updating and expanding their offerings for the avalanche prone snowsports: skiing; snowboarding, snowmobiling. In addition to the Jetforce Tour, and the Jetforce UL, they are releasing an updated version of their Jetforce electric fan airbags, now dubbed Jetforce Pro. For an overview of their entire line, check out this post. Today, we’ll look in detail at the Jetforce Pro.
For this review I’ll refer to the original Jetforce as Jetforce V1, and the new system as the Jetforce Pro.
The Jetforce Pro will be sold as a base unit combined with the 10 liter volume booster, for MSRP $1399.95. The based unit can then zipped to various “boosters.” The base unit comprises the airbag system, shoulder straps, and the “back” of the backpack. The booster packs are the front of the backpack (facing behind you). This isn’t a new idea for airbag packs, but Black Diamond has implemented it in a nice, clean way. Although this adds a bit of weight, it’s a great way to add value to the system, especially with it being as expensive as it is.
The booster packs come in four models:
— 10 liter pack (which we tested), which doesn’t add much volume to the base system. When you buy the base unit it comes with the 10 liter booster.
— Two 25 liter options, one for skiers and one for snowboarders.
— 35 liter option.
Jetforce V1 packs were never the lightest airbags out there, focusing instead on reliability, ease of use, and safety. The new Pro system stays in line with these original goals. Following is a brief overview of the changes with the new pack, compared to the original Jetforce.
First, the Pro system is lighter. BD didn’t really remove any features or functionality from their airbag guts, but managed to cut out some mass. The electronics have been lightened, and the (overly complex) threaded-rod system for opening the airbag compartment has been replaced with an industry-standard “burst zipper,” thus removing a bit of weight. Since the pack is offered with the various zip-on booster packs, the weights are a bit confusing. Here’s an overview:
Base pack weight: 2636 grams (5.8 lbs)
Base pack with 10 liter booster weight: 2870 grams (6.3 lbs) (this is the lightest functional Jetforce Pro pack)
Base pack with 25L booster weight: 3118 grams (6.9 lbs)
That’s a fairly significant weight reduction compared to Jetforce V1 packs. For example, the Halo 28 pack weighs 3401 grams (7.5 lbs).
Next, BD added Bluetooth functionality to the electronics, which enables you to update the firmware without taking things apart. Other elements of the system are unchanged. The airbag itself is still 200 liters, bigger than many other packs on the market, which are generally 150 liters, the lower limit for CE “certification.” It’s debatable how much the size of the airbag matters (especially for average size people) but in terms of the “brazil nut effect” that airbags rely on to work themselves to the top of an avalanche, bigger could be better. Not because the bag “floats” you like a boat, but because it needs to increase your overall size-volume enough for the nut effect to occur. Whether this difference in volume has any real-world effect is something we’ve not seen any significant proof of. It’s like helmet MIPS, they say it is better in real life, so it is? In the end, the issue of the larger bag might become moot, as we’ve heard a lot of rumor about thinner-lighter fabrics that will appear in airbag backpacks within the next few years.
Another safety feature that is retained in the new Jetforce system is that the fan keeps blowing after the airbag is triggered, so the airbag could stay inflated even if it had a small tear or rip. In our view that’s a more significant and quantifiable feature than the increased balloon volume (as we know of accidents that involved shredded airbag balloons).
We got our hands on the Jetforce pro with the 10 liter booster pack. It was tested on some short tours, as well as skiing sidecountry at the ski resort. The 10 liter size is small for most people’s touring. It is more suited to heli skiing or sidecountry. Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to test out the bigger booster packs. However, since the airbag components, shoulder straps, back panel, etc. are the same throughout the different packs, testing the pack with 10 liter booster was valid.
The Jetforce Pro ski touring airbag rucksack is clearly a refined version of the original Jetforce. I’m mainly excited by the weight reduction, but other changes are nice as well. The airbag is well integrated into the pack, and although it’s bulky, it is not awkwardly placed, so it takes up as little volume as possible. A standout feature of the airbag is the fact that it can be turned on and off from the trigger handle; useful if you forget to turn the airbag on before starting up the skintrack, and useful for situations that require a quick, mandatory disable.
For the last few years, Black Diamond has been coming out with beautifully designed packs, and this one is no different. The 10L pack is simple, but the ski carry and helmet carry features are nicely implemented.
I especially like what they’ve done with the crotch strap. Crotch straps are a mandatory component of airbag packs, but they are undeniably a pain in the…crotch. They are often fiddly, and if you aren’t wearing the strap (on a skintrack through safe terrain, for example), it’s a hassle to stuff away so it doesn’t dangle like a forgotten mooring line. Black Diamond has included a nice little snap-hook clip to the end of the strap, which makes it super easy to attach to the waist belt. They’ve also made it quick and easy to stow or deploy the strap, a welcome feature. One downside; I’ve noticed that if you do forget to wear the strap, and don’t stow it, the clip is prone to getting caught on things, much more than a simple webbing strap.
The base pack is offered in one size, and the torso length seems a bit long compared to some other packs. It fit fine on my 5’10” frame, but If you are on the smaller side, you might want to try on the pack before buying.
I’m a big fan of refinement, and I love what Black Diamond has done to refine their Jetforce fan packs. That being said, they are not for everyone. The main turn-off is the weight and price, which are still significant. If you’re willing to make that tradeoff, however, I don’t think there’s any other airbag on the market that has the same combination of safety and usability that the Jetforce Pro offers.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.