Gear Review: Black Diamond Anarchist Avalung Backpack

A potentially lifesaving pack for the backcountry skier.

Backcountry Skier

This pack is like an insurance policy for skiers who prefer steep, off-piste terrain. If you get buried in an avalanche, the Avalung–a breathing device that's integrated into the pack's shoulder strap–will buy you extra time (up to an hour). The mouthpiece allows you to breathe fresh air directly from the snowpack; when you exhale, the system diverts used air away from your intake zone, which prevents ice from forming around your face as well as a suffocating buildup of CO2. "It's simple to use," says our tester. "When approaching suspect terrain, put the mouthpiece in until you're in the clear.

The system does you no good if you get buried without it in, so err on the side of caution." Black Diamond says they have a dozen reports of the Avalung saving lives, but you still need to ski carefully, because trauma accounts for 40 percent of avalanche deaths.With a capacity north of 2,500 cubic inches, the Anarchist is Black Diamond's largest Avalung pack; our tester comfortably hauled 40 pounds on a multiday Colorado 10th Mountain Division hut trip. It's a top loader with a side-access zip and a padded front panel pocket with dividers for avy gear and skins. Retractable loops carry skis or ice axes diagonally (the pack also accommodates an A-frame style carry, but not snowboard or snowshoes); a Velcro pocket in the floating lid holds a pullout mesh helmet sling; and smaller lid pockets organize goggles, keys, and snacks. A built-in strap holds a rope beneath the lid or laces through the extendable spindrift collar to stabilize a tall load. Nice touch: A zippered, insulated tube prevents your hydration hose (not included) and bite valve from icing up. $280; 4 lbs.; 2 unisex sizes; bdel.com