How to choose an anti avalanche Airbag; the age of super capacitors.

Anti avalanche airbag backpacks are a fundamental element in snow safety. We will explain how they work, how to choose one, and the new technological advances that have been made employing super capacitors.

Mochilas Airbag backpacks, essential if we are reached by an avalanche. Scott Alpride system, super

The fundamental importance of safety in the snow

Snow safety in outdoor activities such as ski touring, snow shoeing, mountaineering, etc are practiced mainly on snow and knowledge of it’s character and behavior is essential.

Due to this, before discussing equipment firstly we have to talk about safety. It is essential to receive adequate training to be able to enter the mountains in winter safely. 90% of avalanche accidents are caused by the skier or mountaineer, and could be avoided with the aid of training and knowledge.

However, as it is impossible to completely eliminate risk, we must be prepared to solve possible incidents correctly. To that end, apart from applying available knowledge and the necessary safety measures, we need to carry the right equipment to avoid possible accidents, and to be able to resolve them if something does happen.

The equipment that we need is:

  • Probe
  • Shovel
  • Airbag backpack
  • Avalanche transceiver

In this article we are going to discuss Airbag backpacks, an article that is becoming more and more common.

Important note about safety

An aribag backpack is a the last piece of safety equipment. We must take all the necessary steps and possess the necessary knowledge to know how to use it. As we have already mentioned, there is always a risk which is why we carry safety equipment.

We should level lead to believe that an airbag backpack is something that allows us to take unnecessary risks which we would not take if we didn’t have it. This would be a grave mistake.

What is a anti avalanche Airbag backpack?

They are a revolution from the last few years: If we are reached by an avalanche, we set off the airbag which inflates and helps us to float above the avalanche, so that we are not buried.

They work using the inverse segregation principal. This is a phenomenon where a uniform mass with particles in movement, the smaller ones sink and the larger ones float to the surface. The inflated airbag increases the volume of the user and greatly amplifies the inverse segregation effect. In this way the anti avalanche airbag avoids that the user becomes completely buried in an avalanche.

The shape of the airbag, apart from protecting the back and head, optimizes float-ability being rounded in shape and the bright colours allow for quick localization.

Scott Alpride E1 functions with super capacitors

They don’t do miracles, and they don’t always manage to take us to the surface when an avalanche hits, but their utility has been more than proven. Many people have been saved, either leaving them on the surface or close to it, being localized thanks to the gas chamber.

Despite being on the market for several years, the system that uses compressed gas cartridges for each use, with the related high costs of each cartridge, led to the system not being generally accepted. This problem as we will see, has been resolved.

Drawbacks of traditional Airbag backpacks with compressed gas cylinders

Until 2018 the main system of Airbag backpacks was with compressed gas cartridges, a system which presents several drawbacks:

  • They can only be used once
  • Difficult to transport (they are not allowed on aircraft)
  • Each use requires the purchase of a new cartridge (expensive)
These drawbacks, along with their elevated price, meant that their use did not extend. Furthermore their use was deficient with studies indicating that almost 25% of the time the backpack should have been activated it was not.

Replacement cartridges for compressed gas systems


In a stressful situation, when we are about to be reached by an avalanche, or already caught up in one, it can be difficult to activate the system if we have not practiced. Practice runs cannot be be done with compressed gas packs as each cartridge costs around 40€.

Furthermore, it was discovered that as they can only be used once, and the high price, there was a tendency to delay setting it off in case it was possible to escape skiing ahead of the avalance.

However, as we said, a few seasons ago these issues were solved with the invention of new electrical systems for these packs, of which super capacitors stand out.

The big breakthrough in Airbag: super capacitors

Several electrical systems appeared, some with lithium ion batteries which have several problems with low temperatures, transport and cargo, etc, and others more interesting which were super capacitors.

It is true that both systems can be recharged and used as many times as desired, the multiple advantages of super capacitors mean that in Barrabes, we have put our full backing into them.

What are the advantage that backpacks with super capacitors have?

  • They can be charged with a standard mobile charger, or with a USB port.
  • Compared to lithium ion bateries which have a life cycle of thousands of uses; these can be used infinitely (500.000 charge cycles)
  • They can also be charged with alkaline or lithium AA batteries, which can be incorporated into the system (in the photo below you can see the lid of the compartment for the batteries), meaning we can use it several times in the same day even if we run out of battery.
  • In comparison with lithium ion batteries, this system stores the electrical energy without a chemical reaction and so is not affected by temperature (they work between -30ºC and 50ºC) and charging time is also highly reduced (20 minutes with USB from an external battery and 40 minutes with two AA batteries)
  • Inflation of the 150 litres capacity takes 3-4 seconds, just as fast as gas systems.
  • Passive electrical component: there are no restrictions when traveling by plane, compared to compressed gas cartridges or some lithium ion batteries.
  • Lighter. The whole system weights 1280 grams, almost 800 grams less than traditional systems.
  • The trigger and deflator is a mechanical system, without electrical components, eliminating the possibility of error.
All of these advantages eliminate the issues with gas cartridges in Airbag backpacks:

  • We can practice as many times as we need to internalize the action.
  • Once we have purchased the pack, there are no additional costs. We will not doubt whether to use the it in any circumstance.
  • In the case of setting off the system, the system will continue to function until we get to a safe area. In the majority of conditions, one charge will be enough for more than one inflation, and we always have the backup of using batteries.
  • The first system with super capacitors on the market is the Alpride E1, used in this moment in these models Scott Patrol E1 Kit AP.

    After discovering the Alpride E1 system with super capacitors, with its numerous advantages, we cannot find reasons to use another system, either with lithium ion batteries or with gas cartridges.

    Naturally, Airbag backpacks are also excellent ski packs, with ice axe holders, ski racks, compartment for the shovel and probe, snowboard rack, etc.

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