If you’re caught in a slide in the backcountry, an ABS pack and trained companions can mean the difference between life and death. Because airbag systems are wedded to individual backpacks, skiers have the option of buying multiple packs (averaging about $1,000 USD each) or forgoing an airbag if they want or need a different-sized backpack in the backcountry — and most ABS-compatible bags are impractical for longer trips or even sidecountry use. The North Face Modulator ensures backcountry users always have access to an airbag by working with any pack.The Modulator uses a nitrogen-driven inflation system that inflates two side airbags. While other ABS systems go inside a backpack, the Modulator is entirely external, securing itself around the pack with adjustable straps. This allows it to work with any backpack with two straps (which is all of them, unless you heliski wearing a messenger bag). Ultra-strength polymer shields the Modulator’s internals against the elements. An ambidextrous trigger can be placed anywhere along the shoulder straps, which means that it will be in the most convenient place if disaster strikes. This gives victims a better chance of deploying their airbag before being buried, particularly lefties and snowmobilers. At four pounds, nine ounces, it’s not too heavy for hut-to-hut trips, and as an added bonus, its external placement gives hikers more room for important gear.
While the best way to survive an avalanche remains not triggering them, the North Face Modulator is a big step forward for avalanche-safety technology. It ensures that backcountry users will have extra protection whether they’re bombing down Loveland pass with a day pack or snowshoeing across a slide path with an 80L monstrosity. The Utah Avalanche Center estimates that deploying an airbag saves about half of the people who deploy them. Not only is the Modulator an excellent ABS system, it’s the most versatile airbag system ever. thenorthface.com
Trigger: ambidextrous pneumatic trigger
Fabric: dimension polymer
Average Weight: 4 pounds 9 ounces
Compatability: any backpack with 2 shoulder straps