• Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    Increasingly common in the backcountry, these potentially life-saving devices continue to get lighter and more user-friendly.

    Kyle Dickman
  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    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.
  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    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.
  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    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.
  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    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.
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