Review: Black Diamond JetForce Tour 26L Avalanche Airbag

The JetForce Tour was built with the same impeccable quality and reliability you can expect from a Black Diamond product. I’ve gone on 10 tours in the Wasatch with this pack and have put it through the ringer (except for an avalanche). Enough days and hours to be able to review the pack in the following categories: Technology, Functionality, Size, Weight/Comfort, and Price.  Note, this is my first avi pack, but I did plenty of research before getting this pack and feel like I can make an accurate comparison.

Reviewing an avalanche airbag pack can be, in my opinion, difficult and sometimes pointless. We look to buy an avalanche pack in hopes that I will save our lives in the event you’re caught in a slide. Yet, how many reviews claim the pack is awesome, or 5-stars, without truly testing it for its primary function? Saving your life. So if we assume this pack, like all other avi-packs, will function properly when needed, I will go ahead with my review of the bag.


Technology

The Tour 26L comes with the Swiss built Alpride E1 airbag system, a fully electronic avalanche airbag. Unlike the traditional gas canister inflating airbags, this pack relies on a supercapacitor (very fast discharging battery) to power a fan that inflates the bag. But unlike a battery, super capacitors are unaffected by temperatures. This system performs the same at temperatures from -22F to 104F. Another way this pack differs from the traditional one, this pack is capable of inflating more than once during a tour. 2x AA batteries can recharge the supercapacitor in 40minutes after the bag is deployed once. This can be a life-savor on a long tour or multi-day trip where gas refills are near impossible. 

Not only could this save your life in the rare event you get caught in multiple slides, or prevent you from having to decide whether or not to deploy your pack in a small slide which still could be fatal. 

The bag is recharged in 20min via micro-usb, so you can pull your ripcord and test your bag as much as you would like, free of charge and without needing refills. Now you can practice, with or without, your gear on.


Functionality

The Tour 26 is a minimalist’s version of an Avalanche Airbag Pack. There is just enough to keep you safe in the mountains, while being able to bringing the essentials along. 

From the fan perspective, it is very simple to arm, deploy, and disarm. To turn on the fan, simply enter the main compartment, unzip the case that covers the fan, pull the dial outward and turn it 90degrees clockwise. The fan will beep twice, signaling it is armed. To deploy the airbag, ensure the rip cord is unzipped from the shoulder strap, and pull with a moderate amount of force. This will inflate the bag fully within a couple seconds. To deflate the airbag, you must enter the main compartment again, unzip the fan cover again to find a valve. Press on the air bag while you have the valve turned to the open position until all the air is removed from the airbag, allowing it to be folded back up and packed into the airbag compartment. To disarm, turn off, the fan, repeat the step to turn it on and this time it will only beep once. To double check if the bag is on or off, a green/orange/red light can be visible from the outside of the pack by the fan’s intake screen. The colored lights indicate the fan’s battery level.

The airbag is contained by a perforated zipper at the top of the bag. At first, tricky to figure out, but after a few re-packs, you get the hang of it. The zipper that closes the compartment has a small opening at the top that does not completely close. A small bit of velcro covers the open zipper. This allows the bag to open as the airbag inflates, ensuring nothing prevents it from expanding. 

Another critical feature is the waist strap clasp. Rather than a buckle that could break, this comes with an interlocking clasps. Additionally, this pack has an integrated leg loop that attaches, between your legs, to your hip strap to prevent the back from being pulled over your head in the event of an avalanche. 

On the hip belt, there is also a small pocket for snacks or tools on the right side, as well as an ice tool/gear loop on your left hip.

Packing things in, and out, of this bag is relatively straight forward. I have had issues with an overloaded pack and attempting to use the ski carrying loops result in the airbag compartment zipper opening up.  Which is definitely annoying, but not the end of the world. Does not compromise the airbag’s effectiveness if needed.


Size

26L is a relatively small pack. Perfect for a day tour? Well I guess that all depends on what you like to carry on your tour. In the main compartment of my pack; I usually have my shell, skins, mirrorless camera, and a 1L water bottle. In the avalanche equipment dedicated pocket; I have my shovel, probe, snow saw, snow study kit, and a multi-tool. And lastly, in the zipper pocket inside the dedicated avi pocket I usually include spare batteries, snacks, and keys. Some days, if I’m not meticulous about how I fold up my gear or pack it away, the pack seems overly stuffed and cumbersome. If I had the option to go up a size, I would probably go up to a 32L. But like someone once said, “A bigger pack just means it’ll get filled with more crap.” And I guess that’s true. The 26L requires me to be precise with my gear. Bringing only what will keep me safe and what I need. I have yet to be underprepared on a day tour. Safe to say, unless I wanted to be the smelliest, hungriest, and coldest guy on a hut trip, there’s no way this could be my only bag on a multi-day trip.

The space that the fan system and airbag take up is relatively minimal, and expected among all avalanche airbag packs. But just note, this is not a regular backpack, so don’t expect to have 100% freedom inside the backpack to put things anywhere you want.


Weight/Comfort

This pack weighs 5lbs 11oz. For comparison, the popular, BCA Float 32 weighs 6lbs 7oz including the full system with cylinder

This is the lightest electrical system on the market, and the exact same pack weight as the most popular, entry avi-pack on the market. Wearing it, does not feel heavy at all compared to any normal backpack. The fan system is located at the bottom of the bag, which keeps the center of gravity lower so that you don’t feel top-heavy while skiing with it on your back.


Price

At $1,999.95 the price of this bag is pretty steep. Among the fan-powered airbags, it has pretty common price +/- $50. Most compressed air-deployed bags run between $400-$800, with the BCA Float 32 coming in at $549.95.

But wait! The air canister is not included in those prices! So after you go and drop $600 on your new avalanche airbag pack, you have to go out a $179 Float 2.0 Cylinder. So the price is now nearly $200 more. And even factoring in the $20 it costs to refill you cylinder after a deployment, it’d take 23 refills for the price of the BCA Float 32 to equal the Tour 26. Still, drastically cheaper than the BD Jetforce Tour 26 out of the box though.

The way I see it, an Avalanche Airbag is the most expensive thing you hope you’ll never need. But when you need it, you want to make sure it’s guaranteed to work, right? And with that, you’ll need to practice. Most people who have air canister airbags will practice maybe once, or at most, twice before heading out into the backcountry. And rarely are they fully geared up when they practice. So who’s to say they’ll be comfortable, and confident enough to safely deploy their airbag when needed. 

The peace of mind that an electronic airbag provides because it’s free to practice over and over again, is priceless. Since getting my bag, I regularly deploy it before and after tours. Practice, practice, practice. 


Summary

Pros: 
Technology is unparalleled
Reliability as long as it’s charged
Ease of use and re-use 
Multiple deployments on a tour
Weight is not heavy at all

Cons:
Size is smaller than you’d like
You have to open the pack every time to power on/off the fan
Price is expensive

I’m enjoying this pack more and more, every time I get out into the backcountry. If you’re in the market for a new avi-pack, or just your first one and you can afford it, go for the Jetforce. 

**Note** 

I purchased this bag at a drastically reduced price. Unfortunately, if I hadn’t, I probably would have went with a BCA bag due to the price. And that would have been a mistake. This bag is worth every penny. Especially if it saves my life.

Comments

  1. Justin says:

    Hey, nice review. Just wanted to point out I’m pretty sure your listed weight for the BCA Float 32 is wrong. BCA themselves lists it (with the canister) at 3043 grams, 6.7 pounds, significantly heavier than you listed

    1. Zach says:

      Thank you very much for catching that error Justin. I’ve since updated the weight spec for the BCA Float bag. Thank you again!

  2. Hamish says:

    Hi, Thanks for the review… Just wondering if you had any feedback about the size S/M vrs M/L as I (probably like a lot of people) will order online and don’t always trust the manufacturers size charts. If you had any thoughts/feedback on the breakpoint in body height between the sizes it would be great to hear. Cheers

    1. Zach says:

      Hey Hamish, thanks for reaching out. I’ll start by saying I wish I had gone with a S/M. I’m 5’11”, weighing around 170lbs with waist size of 32. I personally thing the backpack sits too large on my back and doesn’t sit properly on my hips when out touring. I have to tighten the waist and shoulder straps down almost to their ends in order to feel secure when touring. Hope this helps, let me know if you want any other info!

  3. Jan Grudnicki says:

    Hello,

    Can you post the dimensions of the pack? Can’t find it in any official documentation.

    Also, is there any way to MacGyver a hydration hose pass through to the sleeve on the shoulder strap? No hydration compatibility is a major drawback for me…

    Thanks

    1. Zach says:

      Jan, for documentation of dimension, I haven’t been able to find anything official. REI has decent amount: shorturl.at/ayK02

      As for the Hydration, yes, you can MacGyver a hose from the main compartment, behind the airbag, into the shoulder strap. It’s the same process to get a radio Mic cord to your shoulder (I’ve done this and it’s easy). A guy in my AVI 1 course put a hydration pack hose through his shoulder and it worked fine.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *