Our Osprey Soelden Pro Avy 32 Pack Review explores an avalanche airbag equipped ski pack from the rucksack and luggage specialists. Please read on to find out more about this fully featured option.
Avalanche Airbags Introduction
Before delving into this Osprey Soelden Pro Avy 32 Pack Review, it is worth explaining a little more about avalanche airbag equipped packs. Avalanche airbags have become far more popular in recent years. Although they are possibly the single most expensive item of equipment a skier or boarder might use, the evidence is growing that they can be life savers in some circumstances.
All airbags work by inflating a large balloon like air bag that inflates behind the skier when they pull a trigger handle. This airbag then aims to keep the skier or boarder as the top of the avalanche debris using the principle of ‘inverse segregation’ (also sometimes known as inverse grading). This principle states that if you shake a selection of shapes, the larger ones will rise to the top – even if they are heavier.
Airbags need an inflation system. Currently, this is provided by either a compressed gas system or a high powered battery operated fan. The user pulls an activation handle on one of the pack’s shoulder straps and the inflation system is triggered. Compressed gas systems have been on the market for a couple of decades. The fan systems are much newer to market.
Both have pros and cons. There is more industry knowledge accrued about the canister systems and they don’t rely on batteries being charged. They are also generally lighter and more compact. Canisters can’t be transported on aircraft unless empty and so this needs to be considered for travellers. They will also need to be refilled after each activation.
Battery operated systems obviously rely on batteries. They are also heavier than canister systems. They are safe for air transport and can be recharged without the need for a visit to a ski shop. Being able to recharge them also means users can test inflate them and then recharge the batteries themselves. The Alpride E2 system tested also allows the unit to recharge from AA batteries meaning they can be charged away from other power sources.
Some airbags systems have bags that extend around the sides and front of the users head to provide additional protection. Others have what is often called a wing shape. These will likely offer less protection to the head and neck, but are easier to move in. So, with this type potentially a skier could deploy their airbag and still ski out of the avalanche path.
Do they help in an avalanche?
Airbags have become far more popular in recent years, but they are still likely to be the single most expensive item you take on your back country adventures. Are they worth the investment? They have their detractors. Some might say that wearing an airbag increases risk tolerance and encourages wearers to enter terrain they might otherwise have steered clear of. On the other hand, this might at one time have been an argument against the use of transceivers. Nowadays, transceivers are considered to be a back country essential. Like all things, the user must decide what is right for them.
Another way to determine their worth is to consider whether they make any difference to avalanche survival rates? There is lots of info out there and, as far as my reading goes, some conflicting info too. Picking just one source that I would hope to be reliable, here is some data from the Utah Avalanche Center.
They say that, according to a recent peer reviewed statistical study, a deployed avalanche airbag will reduce mortality by 50% (22% vs 11% in the study). However, because 20% of victims in the dataset weren’t able to deploy their airbags, including these non-deployments reduces mortality by 41%. The article this data comes from actually contains far more detail and a lot of extra information. Please do take the time to have a read of it here. Please also check out the study this information was based on which you can find here.
The choice is yours
This review isn’t about trying to influence your decision about whether an avalanche airbag is a good option for you. Even so, I hope the background info above is useful. Now, on to the Osprey Soelden Pro Avy 32 Pack Review.
Osprey Soelden Pro Avy 32 Introduction
Osprey need little introduction as specialist pack and travel luggage manufacturers. Ever since company founder Mike Pfotenhauer started making custom packs in 1974, Osprey has grown into the industry giant that it is today. They are also leaders in sustainability.
Nowadays, their range includes packs, travel luggage and accessories for hillwalkers, climbers and mountaineers, runners, cyclists and for general travel. The Soelden Pro 32 is an avalanche airbag equipped pack firmly aimed at snow sports enthusiasts. This season we have been testing one in Norway and the French Alps and so here is our detailed Osprey Soelden Pro Avy 32 Pack Review.
The Soelden Pro 32 has a lot of features and so please bear with me. Probably the best option is to consider the general snow sports pack features and then separately discuss the airbag features.
The first thing to comment on is the shape of the pack. For a 32 litre capacity it is both compact and streamlined. This should help with stability when skiing or boarding with the pack fully loaded. It also helps with carrying convenience such as when using chair lifts with the pack.
The pack is also relatively uncluttered. There are the side compression straps and the harness, but otherwise all the other load carrying options are tucked away. This again minimises the chance of the pack snagging on an object or while using a lift.
In terms of load carrying options, the Soelden Pro has one main compartment and an additional front section designed for carrying avalanche equipment (shovel and probe). The avalanche safety compartment has sleeves for shovel handle and probe. It is accessed via a long J shaped zip. The main compartment is accessed via a burly U zip. Behind all this sits the pocket containing the airbag, but more about this later.
Inside the main storage compartment there is a smaller zipped pocket. Finally, on the left side of the hip belt there is a small zipped pocket and the opposite side of the waistbelt there is a gear loop.
In terms of external carrying options, there is a helmet holder under a concealed flap on the front of the pack. Down the sides there are side compression straps and ski carry straps at the bottom of each side panel. Further tuck away straps allow for front panel ski or snowboard carry options and there are attachments for ice axes.
The pack comes in a ruby red colour called Red Mountain. This contrasts with a black back panel, harness and black detailing. The fabric used is 100 denier NanoFly Robin nylon fabric with ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) grid. This offers light fabric with high abrasion resistance. The fabric is Bluesign approved recycled.
There is a snow shedding rigid padded back panel with contoured shoulder straps and a sternum strap with integrated emergency whistle. A substantial padded waist belt aids stability and load carrying.
Inside the main compartment is a GPS/radio internal carry and there are corresponding mic harness attachment points on the shoulder strap. The Soelden Pro is equipped for A-frame or diagonal ski carry and vertical front panel snowboard carry. Osprey have added sled attachment points. Ice axes can be attached via a secure carry sleeve. The pack is hydration system compatible although one isn’t supplied with the pack. Finally, there is a stow away helmet carry that can be used on the front or top of the pack.
The Soelden is available in one size that Osprey say will fit users with a back length of between 17 and 22 inches. This probably best equates to those of 5’7” to 6’3” in height, although as always it is best to try a pack on to check it works with your body dimensions. I am 5’8” with fairly broad shoulders and it feels perfect. The Soelden is the male fit version and Osprey also offer a 30 litre capacity female fit version called the Sopris. The retail price for the pack is £1300.
That’s the main pack features covered. But. of course in this case there is also the avalanche airbag system to consider as well. The Osprey Soelden Pro 32 includes an Alpride E2 avalanche airbag unit. The E2 follows the E1 version and offers a compressor that is 40% smaller than the E1 version. The airbag is also about 140 grams lighter and has a 12 litre larger capacity. The compressor has an LCD display and automatic pressure relief valve. Alpride produce a useful idea detailing the E2 system. Please do have a watch below.
Firstly, for this Osprey Soelden Pro Avy 32 Pack review I first wanted to comment on the styling of this pack. I think the Osprey design team have absolutely nailed it. The combination of the Mountain Red and black colour scheme and the subtle branding looks great. Some airbag packs seem to scream ‘airbag’ with large logos and lots of bright colouring. If, like me, you prefer something a bit more subtle, do check this pack out.
The appearance is also helped by the uncluttered appearance. Inevitably a pack of this type will have various side compression straps. Otherwise, all the other ski carry and helmet carry systems tuck away neatly and give a neat and unfussy appearance. The shape is also great. For a 32 litre pack Osprey have managed to keep the pack shape quite low profile and so offering a stable and comfortable carry even when fully loaded. It is the neatest avalanche pack I’ve come across.
Avalanche Equipment Storage
The avalanche equipment pocket is easily accessed via a chunky J shaped zip. Cleverly, this zip is also colour coded with red on one side and black on the other. This makes ensuring you are undoing the right zip in time critical situations easy. Osprey have also added glove friendly pull tabs and the zipper is a 2-way system for access from either direction. One slight disadvantage to this quick access is that you need to undo the left hand side compression strap to access the zipper. However, Osprey have again distinguished this by making it a red buckle. Practice with your drills should ensure you can access this pocket very quickly.
Inside the pocket there are sleeves for your shovel handle and probe. Osprey have lined this compartment with light coloured material so the inside contents are easily visible. I also really like that it is large. You’ll easily fit large shovels in here. It also means that if you wanted to segregate wet from dry items you could use this pocket for that. It will easily, for example, fit a pair of folded skins inside. The only thing to mention there is you don’t want anything you load in this pocket to compromise quick and efficient shovel and probe access.
The main compartment is accessed via a chunky 2-way zip. This allows you to open the pack up like a clamshell. It is really easy to gain quick and full access to all the contents. However, on wild weather days you will probably just want to open up the top section and this is easy too. The airbag compressor sits in a protective pouch at the pocket of this compartment, but more details on this later.
Inside the top of the main compartment there is also a smaller zipped organiser pocket. This is easily accessed by unzipping the top of the zipper a short distance. Again, the inside of the main compartment is lined with light coloured fabrics which really helps with finding items. Many back country skiers use radios and Osprey have added a radio holder on the bottom left of the main compartment. This works really well with radios with a remote handset such as the BCA Link 2.0 as it is easy to feed the cable up into one of the shoulder straps.
The volume of the Soelden Pro seems a generous 32 litres. It offers plenty of storage for a days essentials, but may also have enough capacity for hut based overnights. This generous volume is helped by the pack shape. It also helped by how little space the Alpride E2 compressor takes up. The organiser pocket is plenty large enough for all the smaller essentials.
On the outside of the pack there is a hidden helmet carry system. I have tested this with lower profile touring helmets like the Smith Summit and larger resort style lids like the Smith Vantage. It works well either way and is quick and simple to deploy. You can also carry a helmet with goggles attached and they will be safe from scratches if loaded well. The helmet carry can also be used with the helmet loaded on the front or the top. If loaded on top the avalanche airbag can still be deployed.
Ski & Board Carry
The Soelden Pro Avy 32 can be used for A-frame or diagonal ski carry and vertical or horizontal snowboard carry. I am a skier and so have only tried this with skis, but in either configuration it works extremely well. It is also quick and efficient. I also really appreciate the beefy reinforcements at the lower carry points. This can be quite a wear point when skis are loaded. Osprey have clearly thought very carefully about the system. Please note that A-frame carry will affect the deployment of the airbag and so should only be used when conditions make this a safe option. Osprey have also produced handy videos to help users and the one below explains the options.
The harness system is great. Osprey have used a snow shedding stiffened back panel and combined this with sculpted and padded shoulder straps. It is extremely comfortable even when the pack is fully loaded. The addition of a well padded waist belt and sternum strap (with emergency whistle incorporated) completes a very well thought out and efficient system. On each shoulder strap there is a zipped sleeve. On the left hand side this houses the airbag trigger (more about this later) and the right could be used with anything from a hydration bladder tube to the handset for a radio. It could even be used to house small on the go items like a snack bar or lip salve. The airbag trigger can be switched between sides.
The only aspects that I have found take some getting used to are the buckles. Osprey have used metal ones on the shoulder straps and waistbelt. These are low profile and very strong. This is important to withstand the forces in an avalanche event, but they can be a little fiddly to operate with gloves on. Just to also note there is an essential tuck away red strap that must also be deployed under the groin in avalanche terrain. This stops the pack getting pulled up and over the head. It is quick and simple to use and you won’t even notice it in use. The video below explains how to fit and wear the pack.
The pack sits comfortably and with excellent stability. Any fully loaded rucksack takes a bit of getting used too when on skis, but for a pack with this carrying capacity, this is a really comfortable carry. This is also helped by the low profile shape of the Soelden. The pack is low enough to allow a full range of movement both with your arms and your head. This even follows when you are wearing a helmet.
Final Storage Options
A final couple of storage options are a zipped pocket on the left side of the hip belt and a racking loop on the ride hand side of the belt. These are extremely useful. The zipped pocket will hold all those small essential on the go items such as snacks, lip salve or even a phone. I find this pocket very useful. The gear loop is great for attaching crevasse rescue items or climbing hardware and it really helps that osprey have stiffened and reinforced it with plastic sleeving.
There is also the facility to attach a sled via reinforced clip in loops at the bottom on either side of shoulder straps. There is an efficient ice axe attachment system too. This will work with single or double axes.
Avalanche Airbag System
Alpride is a Swiss manufacturer founded in 2009 by engineer Marc-Antoine Schaer. He wanted to create lightweight and robust avalanche airbags. His starting point was the cartridge type lifejackets which is a tried and tested technology with proven reliability and performance.
The heart of the Alpride system is a super capacitor which can produce a lot of power delivered in very quick time. They can also deliver that power, unlike lithium-ion or lithium-poly batteries, are also lighter and aren’t affected by temperature. They will also hold their charge well and Alpride give a timespan of 3 months for this. Super capacitors are ideal for this type of application.
The unit is housed in a dedicated zipped protective case in the lower right side of the main compartment. At the side of the pack there is a small mesh panel that leads through to the Alpride unit. The unit needs the ability to quickly draw in air and so this panel is important. I wondered whether this could become clogged with snow. In reality, this hasn’t been a problem at all.
Inside a separate compartment positioned behind the top of the shoulder straps and back panel sits the airbag. This needs to be folded in a particular way. Once you have practiced it a few times it is easy enough, but it is obviously very important that this is done correctly. Once that is all ready, the super capacitor needs to be readied.
The system is very simple to use. The Alpride system is charged via a USB-C cable (included) and the LCD display shows when the system is fully charged. Two AA alkaline or lithium batteries can also be added which will recharge the unit once deployed. Although you be very unlucky (or perhaps have made several risky decisions) if you needed to deploy the system twice, the unit is capable of this. This isn’t possible with a canister system (unless you carry a spare canister). The LCD will also indicate if power is available via the AA batteries and if they are being used to charge the unit.
Powering The System
Once charged, the unit is turned on by a spring loaded switch. A double whirring from the unit will confirm the unit is ready for use. There are also LED lights that indicate this. The Alpride unit is then linked to the trigger. This sits in a zipped storage sleeve on the shoulder strap. It arrives on the left hand shoulder, but a clever feature of the pack is that you can switch it to the other side if you wish. You will most likely reach across with your hand from the other side of the pack. Therefore, I prefer this on my left shoulder as my right is my dominant hand. You can choose though. You can also adjust the height of the trigger on the shoulder strap.
Deploying & Refolding The Airbag
Once all this is set, you are ready for action. If the worst happens, you can simply reach across and pull the trigger. The airbag releases by bursting the zipper that closes the compartment it is contained in. To allow this, this compartment features a ‘quick burst’ zipper. This is a clever design but there is the risk the zip could pull open without intent. To avoid this, a velcro tab sits over the zipper to secure it. This tab will pull open when the airbag is inflated.
Once deployed, it is easy to refold the airbag although there is a specific sequence to do this. The Osprey video below details how to do it. You soon get used to it with a bit of practice.
When you do pull the trigger the airbag bursts out of the compartment in a controlled inflation taking about 3-4 seconds. The airbag will then stay inflated for 3 minutes before slowly deflating. This is a designed feature as the deflating bag then allows a potential airspace to be created around the victim.
Transporting An Airbag
A big advantage of battery powered airbags is the ease of air transportation. Canister style systems must be carried empty and so users need to find a way to access a full canister on arrival at their destination. They should be allowed on aircraft according to the general rules of the IATA (International Air Transport Association). However, the IATA regulations are only a framework and so every airline is free to pass stricter regulations. Therefore, permission of the airline is required.
Supercapacitors, on the other hand, are passive electronic elements. They are not subject to any restrictions for transport, shipping or storage. There is an interesting resource for travelling with airbags on the Snowheads forum here.
Designed In Reliability
While completing this Osprey Soelden Pro Avy 32 Pack Review I have tried activating the system a number of times but I obviously haven’t tested it in a real avalanche (and hope I never have too). What I can say is in the test activations the operation and reliability have been faultless. Everything also has a reassuring quality and durability about it. Alpride pride themselves on this. All their units are designed and manufactured in Switzerland. Their products are also certified by TüV süd according to European standard EN 16716: 2017. Full details on the Alpride E2 are available on their website here.
This combines perfectly with the quality and reliability of Osprey products. The attention to design and manufacture detail is evident in every aspect of the pack. Load bearing stitching where it needs to be. Metal hardware where required. I can only imagine the forces on the pack in the violence of an avalanche, but it is clear Osprey have carefully considered this too.
I love everything about this pack and my Osprey Soeldon Pro Avy 32 Pack review should hopefully make this clear. From the careful and considered design of the pack to the addition of an industry leading avalanche airbag system. It seems that no stone has been left unturned and I really admire the work Osprey have done to bring this to market.
If your winter adventures take you into avalanche terrain and you want to consider an airbag system, look no further. Using an item like this certainly shouldn’t take the place of the right knowledge to operate in this terrain and to make risk judgements. But, the evidence shows it could also offer you that chance should the worst happen.
A product of this type is clearly always going to be very expensive. After all, it is the single most expensive item we have ever reviewed and it’s the most costly single item of ski gear I’ve used. But, that cost will seem worth every penny if your life relied on it. Full details on the Osprey Soelden Pro Avy 32 Pack are available on the Osprey website here. Please also check out the handy video detailing the Osprey Soelden and Sopris product range below.
We have been privileged to work with Osprey for many years and have reviewed a broad range of products. Alongside this Osprey Soelden Pro Avy 32 Pack Review, please also check out some of other Osprey reviews. There is an Osprey Transporter 120 Duffel Review here. There is also a review of the Osprey Zealot 45 here, the Osprey Mutant Nimsdai 90 here and the Osprey Duro 6 Vest here. All our reviews are available via the reviews tab on our home page.