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Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce Airbag Pack

Paul Forward reviews the Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce airbag backpack, Blister Gear Review.

Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce Pack

Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce Avalanche Airbag Backpack

Volume (M/L size) 28 L; 1,700 cu in

Manufacturer’s Stated Weight (size M/L): 7 lb 8 oz

Blister’s Measured Weight: 7 lbs 9.6 oz

Materials :

  • 840 denier ballistic Nylon
  • 210 denier ripstop Nylon
  • 315 denier Cordura

Features:

  • Fan-powered JetForce Technology airbag system
  • ReACTIV suspension with SwingArm shoulder straps
  • Zippered backpanel access
  • Dedicated avy-tools pocket
  • Single ice-axe attachment
  • Tuck-away diagonal ski carry (allows airbag to deploy while skis are attached)
  • HiLo helmet holder
  • Hipbelt stash pocket
  • Internal accessory pockets

Days tested: 13

Locations Tested:  Craigieburn, Broken River, Temple Basin, and Mt Cheeseman club fields of New Zealand

Update: 7.7.15 — Recall Information

On July 7, 2015 Black Diamond issued a recall notice for all Pieps, BD, and POC packs that use the Jetforce system. The recall has to do with the software controlling the inflation apparatus, which has prevented some packs — .7% of packs sold globally — from deploying properly.

No one has been injured due to this issue, and it is easily remedied by sending the pack back to Black Diamond for the software update. Please visit www.jetforcerecall.com for details on how to do this. During our time using the Jetforce pack we did not experience any problems with deployment.

Intro

More and more people have begun using avalanche airbag packs over the past few years, and the number of models coming out is growing.

The main idea behind avalanche airbags is to decrease the density of the rider relative to the snow around him in an avalanche, because less dense objects end up closer to the surface of a sliding, aerated snowpack.

When deployed, an airbag effectively adds a lot of volume while adding very little mass, decreasing the density of the rider and helping her end up on top.

I first owned and used an airbag pack about ten years ago, and have had quite a bit of experience with them since. Given the large, open terrain I typically ski in Alaska, using an airbag makes sense for me, so throughout the winter, I ski with one much more often than not.

Paul Forward reviews the Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce airbag backpack, Blister Gear Review.

Paul Forward with the Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce, Craigieburn Valley Ski Area.

(As the use of airbags has become more common, so has the discussion concerning their effectiveness. I’d suggest reading this article by Bruce Tremper if you’re curious about the survival statistics of those caught in avalanches while wearing airbag packs.)

While the popularity of airbag packs has increased, the technology behind them hasn’t evolved much, and the downsides to using an airbag have remained. In short, airbag packs are heavy; traveling on a plane with a full air canister is forbidden; refilling their air canisters is a hassle; and many airbag packs don’t function all that well as backcountry ski packs.

Black Diamond has attempted to address these issues with their new line of JetForce airbag packs: the Saga 40, the Halo 28, and the Pilot 11. Instead of a compressed air canister like every other system currently on the market, the JetForce packs each use a high-output battery powered fan to inflate their airbags.

I spent almost 3 weeks skiing with the 28-Liter Halo 28 JetForce airbag pack in New Zealand, and have some initial impressions on this new, innovative piece of equipment.

The Halo 28’s fan-based airbag system presents a number of significant advantages over a conventional system. I’ll cover those first, then move to an overview of the airbag’s deployment process, then jump in to the functionality of the Halo 28 as a ski pack in general.  

Powering On the JetForce System

The Halo 28’s airbag system is powered on with a red button on the bottom of the trigger / pull handle. After holding down the power button, you’ll hear the JetForce fan make a loud, short whir to let you know the system is on and ready. While the pack is turned on, there is a green LED light near the base of the handle that pulses every few seconds. This light is very bright and isn’t difficult to see in very sunny conditions.

Paul Forward reviews the Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce airbag backpack, Blister Gear Review.

Activation handle on the Halo 28 JetForce

Like other airbag packs, pulling down on the Halo 28’s activation handle, situated on the pack’s shoulder strap, deploys its airbag.

Airbag Deployment Stages

Upon activation, the Halo 28’s fan turns on and the airbag fills completely in 3.5 seconds, which feels at least as fast as the inflation rate of other canister-based systems.

Following activation, the fan continues to run at 100% power for an additional 5.5 seconds to ensure that it is fully inflated.

The fan then runs at 50% power for 50 seconds more in a maintenance stage. During this stage, I am told that the airbag will remain fully inflated even with a seven inch long tear in it.

Over the next two minutes, the fan will power on in short, quick bursts every 30 seconds to make sure that the airbag has maintained its maximum volume throughout the avalanche accident, and to provide increased visibility during a rescue.

Deflation

After the three minute deployment cycle described above, the Halo 28’s airbag automatically deflates, which has three potential benefits:

First, if the victim is fully buried in an avalanche, the deflation of the bag will create a large air pocket around the head and neck.

Second, the deflation of the pack may also aid in the extraction of the victim from heavily packed snow.

Finally, after either a practice deployment or a real rescue scenario, the auto-deflate function makes the bag much easier to repack. You’ll still need to open a release valve located on the pack’s fan unit to completely evacuate the bag for repacking, but the whole process is still much, much easier than other systems I’ve used.

So that’s the airbag deployment and deflation process. Time to cover some of the practical advantages of the Halo 28 compared to other, canister-based airbag packs.

25 Comments

  1. Maciej October 1, 2014 Reply

    Did you/can you pull the fan/battery/airbag out? I’d like to know what the hardware weighs (and, by extension, how much weight there is to save in the pack itself, as well as the battery). At the current weight, I’d be reluctant to put one on for big touring days.

    Otherwise, great review! This design does seem like the future of the airbag pack. It just needs to get lighter (and cheaper??) if it’s going to be widely adopted by those of us who skin for turns.

    • Author
      Paul Forward October 1, 2014 Reply

      Great question. I wanted to take it apart as you described but, as far as I could tell, it was all hardwired together without the ability to remove the fan and batteries. I’ll try to find out and will update here if it turns out the components are removable.

  2. Ru October 1, 2014 Reply

    “Personally I wouldn’t mind having a smaller battery in the pack, even if it meant I could only get two airbag deployments out of a charge instead of four.”

    I wonder if the battery is deliberately overspecced, to deal with issues of use at very low temperatures. I vaguely recall preview information about them saying that you’d only get a couple of deployments out of a full charge when it when it was properly cold… halving that battery size might not be so easy.

  3. Ian October 1, 2014 Reply

    I was expecting to see rocker profile pics on page 3… What gives?

  4. Andy October 1, 2014 Reply

    PLEASE Mystery Ranch, make a small lift-skiing-oriented pack that the Blackjack airbag components can be moved to. The Blackjack is the best ski pack I’ve ever owned, but is too big to ride lifts with and there’s no way I’m dropping a grand on another airbag pack.

  5. Brian October 1, 2014 Reply

    When you talked about capacity, you neglected to mention space for skins. Do they not fit with the load you described? Pack capacity sounds tiny!

    Wish I could marry the fan/battery system to a RAS system. Love the Mammut packs. Top notch carrying capacity, weight distribution and features. You guys should review one. Love having a Rocker 18 for sidecountry and the Pro 35 for proper tours.

    Also have a Osprey Kode 30 and Mountain Hardware Chuter 15 for when avalanche conditions are obviously no big deal. Killer packs for sure, though the Kode is a bit on the over-strapped side. Really love the Chuter 15. Its storage options and access is unprecedented with how its laid out. Super convenient. Love how you can attach voile straps just about everywhere on it.

    • Author
      Paul Forward October 2, 2014 Reply

      Hi Brian, We have reviewed the Pro RAS 35 by Mammut http://blistergearreview.com/gear-reviews/mammut-pro-ras-35l-backpack and I have quite a bit of experience with it personally. For me, the Pro RAS is not that much better for weight carrying than the BD packs and has a very small tool pocket that is not really useable for most shovels I’ve used. It also does not have a great ski carry in my experience. Otherwise, I found it to be a good pack. The Halo 28 will hold all of your day touring gear including skins. It just didn’t feel quite as big as I expected. Again, a lot of this may be related to me reluctance to stuff it much because I didn’t want to pop open the flap. Thanks for your input!

  6. Jeremy October 2, 2014 Reply

    Although I have not had any issues flying with my ABS Vario within Europe and Canada with a full cartridge under the IATA regulations, I was looking forward to the release of the Jetforce, as it should be the first of the new generation battery packs (assuming Arcteryx ever bring their pack to market). I already had plans to sell my ABS on eBay and buy one.

    The pre-production JetForce packs demo’d last season appeared to have great potential. However, I was disappointed to find that the pack design had not changed. BD seem to have fallen into the same trap as ABS did, they designed a great airbag system, then forgot to design the backpack.

    With ABS , Mammut, Ortovox, Scott etc, all offering transferable airbag systems, this should have been one of the primary design features for BD. Unless you only partake of one aspect of skiing/boarding, none of the 3 BD or 2 Pieps, will be sufficient for all activities. The 11ltr would be a dedicated Heli/Cat/Sidecountry pack, the 28ltr is barely a day pack, and the 40ltr a touring pack. The lack of compression straps prevent the larger packs from being easily used when lower capacity is required.

    My current ideal would be the JetForce airbag, fitted as a removable system in the Ortovox or Mammut packs.

  7. Matthew Richardson October 2, 2014 Reply

    Not concerning the airbag, but I see those Technica Cochise 130s do you plan to make a review of them?

    • Author
      Paul Forward October 2, 2014 Reply

      Yes, we will be reviewing the new Cochise Pro 130.

  8. Bonny Masson October 7, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for the review. Bit surprised no-one else has commented (the following taken from Beacon Reviews but is really how airbags work ): In contrast to your likely first impressions, airbag packs work not through enhanced buoyancy but instead through the principle of inverse segregation: whether in a box of cereal, a can of mixed nuts, or a moving mass of avalanche debris with entrained objects, bigger objects are more likely to stay higher in the mix. A deployed airbag pack simply makes you bigger, which helps keep you on the surface.

    • Author
      Paul Forward October 7, 2014 Reply

      Hi Bonnie,

      Great comment. Thanks for the input. I’m not a physicist but this is how I understand it: Reverse segregation is the term that describes larger objects ending up on the surface but my understanding is that the objects need to have an equal or lower density than snow to ultimately end up on top, thus the importance of the volume to mass ratio. This also explains why it requires a higher volume airbag to stay on top of light, low density snow as has been observed. I will copy in an explanation from the ABS site that I find helpful:

      “Think of an avalanche as a mass in motion. It consists of vast quantities of tiny snow crystals, which start rotating as they slide downhill. As a result of this rotation, all objects with a volume greater than the individual snow crystal are automatically pushed up towards the surface. This is called the “segregation process”. Close to the surface, however, the force of rotation declines and with it the lift. Here it is important for the skier’s volume to be at least equal (for the same mass) to the volume of the snow in the avalanche. The snow in a loose snow avalanche in the middle of winter has a volume that is 2.5 times greater per pound than the volume of a human being. In hard figures, 2.2 lb of loose snow has a volume of about 0.66 gallons. 2.2 lb of human being has a volume of 0.27 gallons. So if a person weighs a total of 220 lb, he or she would have a volume of 27 gallons. 220 lb of avalanche snow in the middle of winter, however, has a volume of 66 gallons. To ensure that a person will float on top of the avalanche snow, an extra volume of at least 39 gallons is required.

      The ABS avalanche airbag is designed for these extreme conditions. It has a volume of about 170 liters (45 gallons), more than enough to make up the difference for a skier weighing 220 lb. This prevents the skier being buried/reduces the burial depth, multiplying the chances of survival. Put simply: the lift generated by the rotation of the snow crystals brings the avalanche victim up to the surface. The airbag provides the missing volume and prevents the victim sinking back down into the snow.”

  9. Brian December 15, 2014 Reply

    Trigger pulled.
    I’ve been waiting for the jetforce packs to become available for a year or so now, and now I have one to hug and feed and call George.

    With precious little snow on the ground in the Alps, I haven’t worn it in anger yet, but all the pluses in Paul’s review seem solid. That you can deploy it several times in a day is a huge plus. With this flexibility you won’t hesitate to deploy it early, when you need to, before things get out of hand. The pack also seems very well made, and while it isn’t the most comfortable pack I’ve ever worn, it is pretty damn good.

    Two things I do wish it had are compression straps and an insulated shoulder strap for a hydration tube. The latter is a luxury, and something I’ll try to rig, but I do wonder how critical the former will be. Paul noted this, and the side deployment of the air bags as the reason for this design, and found it not to be critical. I’m certainly hoping I feel the same. My concern is maybe more acute because my focus is rather aggressive sidecountry, and I like a close fit both for lifts, and descents. I went with the Halo for the extra capacity for the 20% of the timing I’m out for the day, and want to tote more. In fact, while Paul thought the Halo was a bit small for 28l, I had no problem fitting shovel, probe, saw, skins (1860×128), 1.5l bladder, she’ll, extra thin fleece, balaclava, sandwich, bottle of beer, goggles, map and GPS (car keys, knife, iPhone…). Upon opening the pack it did look smallish, but this was just because the airbag is enormous, I think. As this packs down, you can actually get a happy day’s kit in with little problem. Maybe Paul was a bit worried about cramming the pack because of the Velcro fastenings his design had? This is not a problem with the new clip system, which seems very solid, but still allows for efficient deployment.

    For the compression strap issue, I wonder about internal compression straps, which could be engineered to allow free deployment, but take a bit if slack out of the pack when it was not fully loaded. I may play around with this if it becomes an issue.

    Anyway, hope to never NEED it, but am very happy to have this pack this winter!

  10. Jeff January 15, 2015 Reply

    The pack looks perfect for me as a frequent traveller. However, as a snowboarder I need a pack that also has a snowboard carrying system for those backcountry hikes. I look forward to your updated pack.

  11. Andrzej February 3, 2015 Reply

    Hello !

    How to carry a snowboard. I can’t see any additional straps

  12. David February 4, 2015 Reply

    Yeah I had the same thought as Jeff and Andrzej – why no straps across the front back section for snowboard/snowshoe carry? If you look at the Pieps version of the Jetforce (Pieps Tour Rider 24), it has the straps? Not sure why Black Diamond would not include this $5 addition and open up this backpack to the Snowboard community?

  13. Kim February 12, 2015 Reply

    Have you or anybody else had some experiences of the battery performance in really cold conditions. This is my single biggest doubt about this kind of technology…

  14. Martin August 14, 2015 Reply

    Paul: given the jetforce system was selling for the first time in the 14/15 season I would expect improvements now. Lighter battery? Design updates? Did you hear anything from BD? Appreciate your update!

  15. grkristiansen December 17, 2015 Reply

    Is there no setup to have a hydration pack in the backpack(like CamelBak)??
    For me that is and important feature when i go touring.
    Currently using a Dakine Helipack(not with airbag) that have a nice hydration pack(i use a CamelBak 3L) pocket with
    the drinking hose going inside one of the shoulder straps to keep it insulated, and allows me to drink without taking the backpack off.

  16. Erik February 4, 2016 Reply

    FWIW I recently evaluated the Halo 28 and Saga 40 in a side-by-side comparison. Here are my findings I hope this may be useful to some.

    Comparison of Halo 28 and Saga 40

    Trying to decide on a Halo 28 vs. Saga 40? I’m documenting the difference to help you out. I bought both and put them through a comparison of what I thought were important differences. I did not activate the airbag on either bag until I eventually decided on one to keep. I have also not skied with them yet, merely simulated loads and ski carry around the yard.

    Both appear smaller than quoted volume. I have a BD Agent 20L and and a BD Anarchist Avalung 40 that I use as comparison. I did not load either bag to capacity but it appears the airbag and fan/battery take up some of the quoted space. This is important in my decision because if the Halo was indeed a 28 I feel it may have been my choice.

    * Both have hi-lo helmet carry with lo being the only option when carrying skis diagonally

    * Both have belt stow pocket of similar size

    * Both have lower right stow pocket which is on the opposite side of the fan intake/exhaust. A funny little pocket I’m not sure of the use, slightly bigger on halo

    * The halo has ice axe loops where the saga uses the lower compression strap and sleeves for the same purpose. Both come with a Velcro strap to use on top to secure the top of the axe although the saga could also use the upper compression strap

    * Both have a diagonal ski carry bottom left to top right.
    *
    * The halo lower loop can be adjusted but no buckle and I found it a PITA for twin-tip skis (tested on bent chetlers). It was a lot like the cable system employed on older BD Agent bags. The upper loop is stowed in a pocket and can be pulled out and features a buckle but it’s the same one with the cam-lock that gave me trouble on the agent. This top loop is sewn through to the pack frame so you can pull the skis closer to your body. The bottom strap is simply attached to the back of the pack.
    * The saga uses the lower compression strap (through to frame) and an upper strap much like the halo except it is not sewn through to the frame. I’ve read other reviews that say this means the skis can’t be pulled as close but note the upper compression strap (through to frame) can be used also (or alone) and I found it incredibly solid as a ski carry.
    * Note I only tested the ski carry on both packs with about 20-25L inside as I would only be boot packing when in day-trip low volume mode. So I guess the saga would carry skis worse when holding 35L but then the halo would be home in your closet.
    * Overall I found the saga more comfortable and solid carrying a pair of 192 bent chetlers with about 20-25 L inside. Winner – Saga

    * The tools pocket is bigger on the halo and could fit my G3 320 cm probe while the saga was just past max capacity. It could take it but the closure would not be great. No matter, it fit my 280 cm probe just fine. The halo could potentially also fit skins but when loaded 20-25 L my wall to wall chetlers skins (G3 Alpinist) would not fit. No chance of fitting skins in the saga tool pocket but luckily they easily slide into the top load section. I also don’t like the closure on the saga tool pocket. It’s a vertical zip with Velcro closure across the top. It probably stays closed but I wonder after a ride in an avalanche if I would still have my tools? My old Voile shovel fit fine but tight in the saga. Note that by splitting the shovel handle in two versus telescoping it fits easier. Winner – Halo

    * Both bags are accessed through the panel against your back which is OK I guess but a bit weird. The saga can also top load which IMHO is way better. Specifically when I was trying to shove those giant skins in either bag they just drop into the top of the saga but are a PITA in the halo. Plus top load allows for some stuffing and easier access. Winner – Saga

    * The utility pocket is slightly bigger on saga and is extra space above the main compartment whereas on halo it exists inside pack so it takes up some of your “quoted” 28L. Winner – Saga

    * I took out the charger and the measurements are saga 8.07 lb and halo 7.76 lb meaning the saga is only 0.31 lb or 141 g heavier than the halo. For reference the standard school locker combination lock is 0.14 kg. Seems a small price to pay for the extra space utility but it is heavier.

    * When both bags were packed with about 20-25 L which was pretty much capacity in the halo but just a light loading of the saga I was able to adjust the compression straps so that the pack depth (think ability to sit on a chairlift) was actually thinner on the saga. Surprising for sure. It was still much deeper than my BD Agent and I may still likely take it off for lift access but the saga actually packs smaller (but taller) than the halo.

    * One issue I had with my BD Anarchist 40 was the topload design projected up such that it was not comfortable with my POC Receptor BC helmet. If I tilted my head back it would interfere. I can report that the saga does not interfere in the same way and it is helmet approved.

    * A major beef for both packs is that BD did not provide a “thru the shoulder strap” hydration sleeve. That is a big failing for both of them. Still you could run the hose through the open access towards your back or common with the control cable and cut a hole in the control sleeve on the shoulder. On the saga you could also run it out the top but you would have to have a tearaway connection to you shoulder strap. I’m thinking a insulated cover and just velcro it to the shoulder strap so that it would rip off during deployment of the bag.

    So I decided to keep the saga but YMMV. Personally I’ve used my Anarchist 40 for overnight tours and also day tours although it was a bit big for the latter. So much so that when I ski resort or slack country I found it too big so I bought the Agent 20. That bag seemed small for any “committing” tour but fine for ducking the ropes around Fernie. Several folks seem happy with small bags for touring but personally I feel the need to have enough to spend the night if necessary and the halo just seemed too small for that. And if you need a rope or crampons then forget about it. And since the saga compresses so well it seemed that 141 g was a small price to pay for the versatility of being able to use it for hut trips too. I had considered stuffing it in a bigger pack for approaches but then you’d be unprotected on the in and out and only use it when the hut was home base. Anyway I hope this helps out someone who is trying to decide. Both are great packs and Jetforce is a great system vs compressed gas.

  17. Blister Member
    Antoine October 27, 2016 Reply

    Paul,

    Have you had a chance to review the Arcteryx Voltair 30 with the Halo 28? Interested to see how the two battery- deployed airbags compare.

    • Author
      Paul Forward January 8, 2017 Reply

      Hi Antoine, Unfortunately, we haven’t had a Voltair for testing yet. Hopefully that will change at some point this season.

  18. Russell January 8, 2017 Reply

    Hi Paul,

    How was the battery performance in colder conditions that your NZ trip.

    Did you end up taking it to Alaska, how did that go?

    • Author
      Paul Forward January 8, 2017 Reply

      HI Russell, BD requested the pack back before ski season started in Alaska that year. We haven’t had another Jetforce since then. I have a friend, however, who has used his (40L model) for 2 seasons up here without any issues with the cold. Best, Paul

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