Airbag packs are quickly becoming standard equipment for backcountry winter travel by anyone who ventures into avalanche territory, I am not here to tell you about the merits about any packs, thats for another article, this is to discuss the recently available pack that came available from Dakine that attaches to the ABS Vario base pack. Personally, I found that the ABS zip-on packs were quite light duty for true backcountry service, with light materials, Uretek zippers and flimsy ski attachment and gear systems and few storage/pocket options.
Dakine makes 2 sizes of this zip on addition in 25L and 40L. I find that in true winter travel, with adequate gear, clothing, food, water etc, a 30L pack was always stuffed to excess which as you know makes getting anything out of it a frustrating affair where you pretty much have to empty the whole bag.
As an aside, my typical kit includes:
Avy Back Pack
Goggles, Spare lenses, hat, touque, Spare gloves, Mitt shells, Shell jacket, sunglasses, first aid kit, repair kit, GPS and Map, 800 fill Down jacket, Water, Lunch, Emergency Bivy, GPS Locator Beacon, Avy Shovel, Probe, Beacon, Loupe, camera.
In a 25 L pack, this is right full and leaves no room for anything extra, or taking gear to lighten someones pack. The 40 L pack, on the other hand leaves plenty of room and you can actually root around and pull out something without emptying the whole bag.
Installing the Bag:
Since this bag is designed to work with the ABS Vario system, it installs exactly the same as the vario packs, however the material is much heavier Cordura nylon for abrasion resistance and strength, you can feel it in how the material conforms around the zipper compared to the standard Vario 30L bag. The Dakine bag mounted empty on the Vario base unit (size large) weighs in at 4.45 kg, whereas the ABS unit with the 25L pack installed weighs in at 3.45 kg on digital luggage scale. The Dakine bag is definitely heftier and weight weenies will hesitate at the increase in weight, however I feel that the increase in size and functionality are a good tradeoff. There is ample room in the dedicated side pocket for a 1L nalgene bottle, whereas before you had to open the main pack compartment. Skis can be carried on a sturdy, reinforced A-frame system (my personal preference) and there is also a cable actuated angle carry style for the back. I find a frame way more sturdy and keeps the weight of your skis closer to the back panel where it belongs. There is an included external helmet carry system, fleece lined google pocket on top, that easily takes newer, larger google when the pack is full. there is a side accessory pocket for smaller, longer items and a ice tool carry system like any good alpine pack and a typical Dakine shovel handle carry loop on the right side. All in all, the only trade off I see is the weight. Some see the absence of Uretek zippers and shiny, pinner material as a downside, but this is a no non-sense feature filled rugged pack that can serve for many years of hard use. There is also a basic shoulder strap system available from ABS or Dakine if you wish to use the pack with our the Vario any unit.