The bigger you go, the bigger the risks, and the bigger the risks, the more important the protection. The ABS Power 15 Avalanche Airbag Backpack isn't exactly huge—just 6 pounds and 915 cubic inches—but it offers tons of avalanche protection in a small package that's perfect for serious big-mountain riding where a giant pack would throw you off your game.
Like all ABS packs, the Powder 15 actually consists of two parts: the ABS Powder base unit and the zip-on Powder 15 cover. The Powder base unit (back panel, shoulder, straps, and ABS Twinbag airbags) is designed to be especially narrow, light and compact, for freeriders who are taking shorter trips or heading into the backcountry to ski big lines. If you feel the snow cut loose under your feet, activate the trigger handle, which can be attached to either shoulder strap, and two 85L airbags inflate within three seconds to help you stay on the surface of the slide. Once the airbags have been deployed, the trigger handle and pressurized canister must be replaced, but the airbags can simply be folded up, stashed, and reused.
In keeping with the Powder's freeride orientation, the waist belt is made of light, elastic neoprene, prioritizing an ergonomic fit over the ability to carry giant loads, and the height-adjustable chest strap and integrated leg strap work to keep the bag securely on your back, even in the turmoil of a slide. The back panel's padded and water-repellent, and the shoulder straps are also ergonomically designed, so you don't feel like you're lugging around an oompa loompa and hucking your meat at the same time, which would be seriously distracting.
The Powder 15 zip-on cover may be pint-sized, but cutting size doesn't mean ditching all the features by the side of the road. There are ski, snowboard, and snowshoe carry systems, a stowable helmet net, and internal mounts to hold your shovel and probe in place when you're sending. All the zippers are waterproof to keep your gear dry, and you can stay well-watered thanks to the Powder 15's hydration compatibility. You can even replace the Powder 15 cover with the Powder 5 cover (sold separately) for more space.
This backpack saved my life on February 19th, 2012 when I was in a massive 2700' avalanche in the backcountry off Stevens Pass. There were three others caught in the avalanche who did not survive. I was the only one wearing this backpack and was the only survivor. My ABS pack saved my life and I hope they will continue to help save lives in the future. For me, the ABS brand pack is the standard for avalanche airbags and here is why I think so.
To begin, the dual airbag system ensures that if one inflation fails or one bag is damaged by trees, etc. you will still have at least one airbag fully inflated. Additionally, ABS is using new technology with their bag materials which creates a much lighter and much stronger bag. The airbag material is the same material used on zodiac boats which means that it is nearly impossible to shred if punctured. The trigger mechanism is a nearly fail safe pneumatic system that only takes approximately 18 pounds of force over 2 cm's to trigger inflation. Non-pnuematic systems can take up to 45 pounds of pressure over 6 inches in length trigger inflation. From my experience, once you're caught in an avalanche things happens so fast that the easier a trigger is to pull the better.
I also love the fact that the ABS is constructed of a base system that has the airbag safety system in it, and the actual backpack is zipped on allowing for different size packs to be attached. This, I believe, makes buying this pack a worthy investment because you are able to have different sized packs for different types of days. 90% of the time I use the Powder 15L, which fits my shovel, probe, some food, water, an extra pair of gloves, a thin layer, a few other small things, and my skins (at that point it's starting to get pretty tight). If I need more gear than this I would use the Vario 25L (or 40L). Please note that the Powder Line and the Vario Line are not interchangeable. I prefer the Powder Line because it fits more snuggly that the Vario.
These ABS backpacks are very durable (and I'm talking about the base system). My backpack went through some heavy forces in the avalanche so ABS did an integrity check on my pack. The pack was found to be completely intact and in perfect working condition, so I am still using the same base system.
The pack includes straps and an exterior helmet holder, so you can dangle stuff off if need be. The ski carry system is just okay (using the straps that are included), but it works and the pack is so awesome it is not the biggest deal to me. The waist buckle is strong and easy to use, I don't have to take my mittens off to lock and unlock the steel buckle.
ABS uses a nitrogen cartridge which makes it lighter and smaller than other brands. While some may scoff at the additional weight of an avy bag, the ABS pack does not feel heavy, it fits very snug on the body and I have never felt that my pack has extra weight to it when it's on my back.
Any kind of avalanche safety backpack is not the end all be all device that usurps the necessary knowledge to be in the backcountry, your sound judgement, and the other mandatory backcountry tools such as a transceiver, shovel, and probe. Rather, these backpacks are a last ditch effort if you find yourself in an unfortunate situation of being caught in an avalanche. Accidents can happen and these packs can help save your life. It saved mine.