Increasingly common in the backcountry, these potentially life-saving devices continue to get lighter and more user-friendly.
Mammut PAS Protection Light
BEST FOR: Longer Tours
At 30 liters, the Protection Light ($1,099) is the perfect size for all-day missions. It's also the most intelligently designed pack here, with a slew of handy features, including a padded goggle pouch, a slot for a hydration bladder, and snow-free back-panel access. Also smart: you can carry skis A-frame or diagonally, there's a snow-safety cheat sheet printed on the pack's liner, and you can adjust the waist harness to fit your body shape.
Mountain Hardwear Powzilla
BEST FOR: Versatility
Like the Mystery Ranch (below) and the Jones pack on page 102, you can use the 30-liter Powzilla ($190) with or without an air-bag system. Without, it's a lightweight (2.9 pounds) and crafty pack that can carry a snowboard vertically or skis diagonally to either side. Replace the back panel with the zip-in ABS Vario Base Unit ($980) and you've got a fully functioning avy pack.
Mystery Ranch Blackjack
BEST FOR: Hut Excursions
At 43 liters, the Blackjack ($1,025) is big enough for multi-day backcountry trips. Essentials like shovel, probe, and skins can be stored in the zippered outer panel, so you can keep snow off the things—sleeping bag, puffy—you need to keep dry. At nearly eight pounds it's hefty, and there are lots of straps to manage, but it's extremely well made (bordering on overbuilt). The Wary compressed-air-driven air-bag system is removable, saving you 3.4 pounds if you don't need it.
Backcountry Access Float 22
BEST FOR: Day-Trippers
If your shtick is short tours or sidecountry turns, the Access Float 22 ($1,025) is an excellent choice. An external pocket provides quick access to your shovel and probe, and the main compartment is just big enough to hold a few essentials. The diagonal ski-carry system is simple and easy to use, and the whole thing weighs a respectable 5.8 pounds.
Next Up: Best Women's Snowshoes and Boots of 2014