Gear Review- Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet

Until recently I would rarely wear a helmet while skinning uphill. I run hot and would usually carry my ultralight climbing helmet inside my touring backpack until it was time to rip skins and descend. After over a week of touring both up and down with the new Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet that’s changing, and I feel better protected for it! After reading some statements from Bruce Edgerly, co-founder of BCA, I feel like this helmet was designed specifically for me!

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review

From BCA:

“Our goal is to save lives,” says Bruce Edgerly, BCA Vice President and co-founder. “Asphyxiation is only part of the equation in an avalanche: about 30 percent of fatalities are caused by trauma, mainly through head and chest injuries. We think skiing and snowboarding helmets are an essential piece of backcountry safety equipment, but they need to be lighter and better ventilated.”

The BC Air’s minimal weight of 340 grams/11.9 oz (in size S/M), paired with an abundance of ventilation in the form of passive channel venting, provides direct airflow between head and helmet. This venting system moves moisture and heat to avoid clamminess on long days. The balance of lightweight breathability is intended to allow wearers to forego removing the helmet on the ‘skin track’ portion of the day, thus increasing safety in avalanche terrain while maintaining comfort. For sweaty ascents, earpads can be removed when maximum airflow is needed.

The goal, as Edgerly notes, is “to be able to leave your helmet on all the time: whether you’re going up or coming down the mountain. Do you turn your transceiver off on the uphill? Do you put away your airbag trigger? Of course not. And you also shouldn’t be taking off your helmet.”

Integrated headlamp clips allow users to maintain visibility during non-daylight hours to aid in safety during dawn and dusk backcountry missions. Also included: a Boa® fit system allows for a snug fit across a range of head sizes so that the BC Air can offer maximum protection without slippage.

A full ASTM snow sports certification of the BC Air touring helmet provides proper safety in the event of a crash or impact. This further discourages those looking for a lighter option to choose a climbing helmet that’s not correctly rated for skiing and riding-related head impacts.

“We’re always excited to address the ‘bigger picture’ regarding safety,” Edgerly explains about BCA’s new venture into headwear. “By addressing the trauma side of backcountry safety, we’re broadening our scope and increasing our ability to save more lives.”

How I Tested

This past March I wore this helmet on three Spring tours to the Gulf of Slides, two tours on the west side of Mount Washington, and one quick mission out and back on Hillman’s Highway. One the westside tours saw temperatures in the mid-fifties with almost no wind and strong solar gain. A week later the same tour was made in more winter like conditions with temps in the mid-20s. During all 6 tours I but the helmet on at the trailhead and left it on for the entirety of the tour. I wanted to see if BCA’s claims of superior ventilation would hold up. I learned some other nice advantages of having a helmet like this that I will get into below.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
The author topping out Hillman’s Highway on 3/30/21 in t-shirt conditions! Photo by @colbydeg

Protection

The best attribute of this helmet is the level of protection it offers. With a full ASTM snow sports certification this helmet can actually protect me from a serious crash. The ultralight mountaineering helmet I usually tour with is not rated for the types of impacts possible when riding avalanche terrain. And that’s not the only extra level of protection I started to think about while touring with this helmet. Now, any time I am in avalanche terrain, I can have this important piece of PPE on regardless of whether I’m in uphill mode or not.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
The author on a colder day of testing over on the west side of Mount Washington

Convenience/Faster Transitions

Another realization I made was how wearing my helmet throughout my tour led to some improvements in efficiency. First, since I wasn’t storing my helmet inside my touring pack like I usually do I opened up storage room in my 32 liter touring backpack. It was definitely easier for me to fit my full guiding kit in my backpack with the helmet on my head, and for quick recreational missions with a partner or two I could see me reaching for a smaller/lighter touring pack than what I would usually carry.

Anyone that rides in the backcountry with me knows I like to work on my efficiency at transitions (going from skinning hill to ready to descend). In my avalanche classes it is clear this is a skill most backcountry travelers could improve upon. In a group of seven riders I often time the gap between the first person clipped in and ready to ride and the last person, and it’s usually between 10-15 minutes! I realized while transitioning at the top of our run already having my helmet on was one less step needed to be finished with my transition.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
Acc

Comfort/Sizing

I have a large head and often struggle finding helmets that fit my dome well. The L/XL size of this lid fits perfect! The Boa system makes it feel custom molded and I found it easily adjustable for when I was wearing it over my bare (and bald) head or over a medium weight wool hat during a colder tour. A soft plush sleeve over the chin strap might be good for some but I removed it as it felt almost to warm and fuzzy on my neck and I don’t mind a bare nylon chin strap. The breathability of the helmet really is the stand out feature in comfort though… air just moves through this helmet freely and even after skinning uphill for 2.5 miles and gaining 2k of vertical in mid-fifty degree low wind temps I felt zero discomfort. Seriously I am very impressed with how breathable this design is! I didn’t even realize that the ear pads are removable if you need even more breathability until I started writing this review so I admit I haven’t tested it with the ear pads removed, but will update this when I have.

Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet Review
Trauma protection for the up and the down- photo by @calbydeg

Certifications

From BCA:

The BC Air helmet that we offer in North America has been tested by an accredited 3rd Party laboratory that validates that it meets the specifications and requirements of ASTM-2040-2018 (Snow Helmets) and CPSC 16 CFR1203 (Bike). There are no certification documents for these standards.

The product sold in Europe is certified to CE EN1077 (Ski Helmets) and CE EN1078 (Bike and Skate).

The BC Air does not have MIPS.

Summary

It really feels like BCA was targeting me when they designed this helmet. For years I’ve justified touring with an ultralight climbing helmet not rated for full ski protection. Even though that climbing helmet had great ventilation I still opted for carrying it in my pack on the uphill portions of my tour regardless if I was in avalanche terrain or not. For just a few ounces more I can now tour with a proper ski helmet and still be comfortable. This is a solid addition to BCA’s long line of safety orientated products meant to reduce risk and injury in the case of an accident. Bulky warm helmets are fine for lift serviced skiing, but backcountry riders need to count ounces and value breathability comfort over the long skin track… the Backcountry Access BC Air Helmet can save you weight while still providing true protection in the event of an accident. 10/10

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Gear Review: Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack

This season I’ve been backcountry skiing with the updated Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack and I’ve put in enough miles in the skin track to now share some opinions on the pack. Bottom line is this is an excellent pack for extended days in the backcountry with innovative organizational features, plenty of room for a full guiding kit, and a comfortable carry system.

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

Organization/Accessibility

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

The best feature of this pack is the level of organization you can achieve. It starts with a well sized snow safety avalanche tool pocket with dedicated sleeves for my Ortovox Alu 240 PFA probe, shovel shaft, and Primo snow saw. It also easily accommodates the shovel blade of my Ortovox Beast Shovel or my Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel (pictured). The outside flap of the avalanche tool pocket has both an internal and external zippered pocket, the latter of which keeps my AIARE field book, snow crystal card, snow thermometer, Rutschblock cord, and Suunto MC-2 compass handy. I use the internal zippered pocket to keep my Adventure Medical First Aid Kit easily accessible. A hip pocket on the waist belt keeps my compact binoculars handy for scouting lines and getting a better look at that crown line. A fleece lined top pocket keeps my Revo goggles accessible and scratch free. I was also impressed with a zippered internal mesh climbing skin pocket sized well for keeping my G3 Minimist Universal climbing skins organized after transitioning for descent. I slide my SAM Splint and SWAT-T Tourniquet into the hydration system ready sleeve inside the back panel.

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

Capacity/Ski-Carry

With 34 liters of standard internal space this already is a roomy bag for a day tour. This newest incarnation of this pack now has a roll-top closure that can give you another 10 liters of storage which helps this pack cross over into a multi-day adventure or a semi-technical tour where you might need to carry a harness, a few screws, a rope, etc. When the skin track ends and the boot ladder begins you can carry via A-Frame or Diagonal (I tend to always opt for A-Frame). The system will also carry a snowboard or snowshoes, and includes an external helmet carry option as well. There’s an easy ice axe attachment for my Black Diamond Raven Ultra Axe when I’m heading into steep terrain. Here’s a look at what I can easily pack in this bag:

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review

Comfort

The pack fits my 5′ 9″ 17 inch torso frame quite well. Snow resistant fabric in the back panel and closed cell foam padding on the shoulder straps and waist belt don’t hold snow which keeps me dryer during a long tour. The sternum strap height can be optimally adjusted. I found the pack carried my full 25 pound kit quite well on both the skin up and the ride down, with my only issue being remembering to re-buckle the “load lifting” straps which must be un-buckled when getting full access through the back panel. My other full back panel access touring pack doesn’t require that step, and if I forgot to re-attach one of the straps I would quickly notice the load shifting around when I started skiing. Not a big issue, just a small step I need to pay attention to.

Summary

This is a fantastic touring pack built by a well known company with a lot of thought put into the design. Despite an impressive amount of organizational capability it doesn’t feel like a pack that has “too many bells & whistles”. It rides and carries well and feels like it will handle hundreds of days in the backcountry with ease. If you are shopping for your first dedicated backcountry touring backpack or looking to upgrade your existing pack this would be a great model to consider!

Dueter Freerider Pro 34+ Backpack Review
The author out on a short tour in Crawford Notch State Park while teaching an AIARE 1 Avalanche Course

Purchase

You can find both men’s and women’s versions of this pack here on Backcountry.com in a few different capacity options. Moosejaw, for the most part, only has stock of the women’s models viewable here. REI does have the 20L and 30L versions found here.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start