Highmark Pro 3.0 Avalanche Airbag – Gear Review
Patrick Garbutt | On 19, Apr 2018
There aren’t many avalanche airbags designed specifically for the needs of sledders. Highmark is the only brand that caters exclusively to sledders, and the Highmark Pro 3.0 avalanche airbag is their latest and greatest—the flagship of the fleet. We’ve been testing the new Highmark Pro 3.0 for a little over a year now, and it’s time to share our thoughts on the avalanche airbag. Here we go!
Highmark Pro 3.0 Avalanche Airbag Review
Protection Airbag System (P.A.S.)
The Pro has always been the Cadillac of airbags. It offers the best features of the Highmark lineup; at the top of that list has always been the Protection Airbag System (P.A.S.).
In a nutshell, the P.A.S. is an airbag that, when inflated, wraps around the head, neck and shoulders to provide additional protection in the event of an avalanche. This is important, and here’s why. Studies have shown that a significant number of avalanche deaths are the result of trauma—27% according to the findings of the National Research Council of Canada. No other airbag system offers this same protection.
Highmark Pro 3.0 – Lighter and Smaller
When the Highmark Pro 3.0 was released for Winter 2018, it had a completely new design. The 3.0 model utilizes the latest Snowpulse 3.0 airbag system. The airbag itself is made from a lighter, thinner, more durable material which is significantly less bulky than the 2.0 system. Also, the venturi mechanism is streamlined and integrated, saving additional weight. The entire system including airbag weighs less than 1kg! Impressive.
The image above shows where a portion of the P.A.S. airbag material is placed in each shoulder strap, while the bulk of it is stored at the top of the pack, behind the shoulders. You might assume the extra material stuffed in the shoulder straps would make them stiff and bulky. Well, this used to be somewhat true of the previous generation Pro 2.0 airbag, which used a thicker airbag material. However, the Highmark Pro 3.0 shoulder straps are low-profile, flexible and form-fitting. It’s very comfortable to wear and the straps are not intrusive whatsoever.
Designed with the Needs of Sledders in Mind
External Shovel Carry
Beyond the P.A.S. system, the Highmark Pro 3.0 offers some other premium features. Like all Highmark packs, the Pro features an external shovel carry—the mark of a brand dedicated to the needs of sledders.
Sure, some sledders pack an extra shovel on the tunnel of their sled; but most don’t. There’s no way I want to take the time to pull my shovel out of some interior pocket every time I need it. Nor do I want my pack full of snow when it’s time to pack that shovel away. I won’t buy an airbag that doesn’t offer an external shovel carry. Period.
Right Side Deployment Handle
Speaking of the needs of sledders, the Pro features a deployment handle on the right shoulder of the pack. This feature is easily overlooked but it’s pretty crucial. In the event of an avalanche, the pack can be deployed by the left hand, while the right hand can still operate the throttle.
The Highmark Pro 3.0 is designed to be used in conjunction with a radio—a crucial backcountry safety item. Within the pack is an elasticized, radio-shaped sleeve. A cord can be run through a slit at the top of the pack and a mic neatly secured to the left shoulder strap.
The Highmark Pro 3.0 features a mid-sized external pocket located just behind the shovel carry. I find this pocket useful for important smaller items that I don’t want loose inside the main compartment. I usually store my inReach personal locator, Mountain Lab X1000 flashlight, multi-tool, some duct tape and a few granola bars in there.
The main compartment is a thrifty 22L. Limited storage space keeps the bag compact and close to the body. As a result, there is very little side-to-side swing weight with this airbag. However, there is a downside here, for me at least personally. I regularly carry quite a bit of sensitive camera equipment that I don’t trust carrying somewhere on my sled. It needs to ride in my pack, and I can only fit so much in this one. Fortunately, this is not an issue for most sledders, who are happy to move the weight of non-emergency essential gear to storage on their sleds. Personally, I’d love to see this pack in a 30-plus liter variation.
Inside the main compartment flap is a sleeve for your probe, and two zippered-mesh compartments. Now for some reason when placed inside the dedicated sleeve, my probe protrudes slightly and makes it cumbersome to close the zipper on the bag. However, I easily resolved this issue by placing my probe inside the storage sleeve inside the back of the pack instead, tucking it behind the airbag at the top. Easy peasy, out of the way—but still easily accessible in case of emergency.
The Highmark Pro 3.0 is supremely adjustable, and should fit all riders nicely. As mentioned earlier, the shoulder straps are pliable and form-fitting. They have a flat interior surface that is comfortable and somehow dampens shifting from side-to-side.
The waist strap uses a quick and easy pass-through style buckle that works with the leg loop. The hip area of the strap is slightly wider for better hold and comfort, and each side features a belt pocket.
One glorious feature in particular is the adjustable sternum strap. A sternum strap plays a key role in keeping a pack in place when actively riding, and it must be placed at the proper height to work effectively. The Highmark Pro 3.0 sternum strap can be adjusted over a wide range to work for riders of any height.
Highmark Pro 3.0 Airbag Review Conclusion
The Highmark Pro 3.0 is very nearly the perfect avalanche airbag in my opinion after a year of use.
The only thing holding it back from achieving the highest score is the limited volume. You might struggle to fit everything you need in this bag if you’re a photographer, a guide or a rider who is required to carry extra equipment. However, for the vast majority of sledders out there, the volume should be plenty adequate in conjunction with some additional storage space on their sled.
The rest is all good.
The Highmark Pro 3.0 provides what is arguably the best protection available in the event of a deployment. That’s good piece of mind. If you’re going to spend the money for an airbag and be willing to carry the extra weight of one, you might as well know that it offers the best protection you can get.
Having said that, the Pro 3.0 is very light, offering the latest in lightweight, packable and reliable airbag technology. The fit is excellent on my 6’3″ frame, which can otherwise sometimes be hard to fit comfortably and securely with a pack. The adjustability of the Pro provides a good fit for riders of all shapes and sizes. It’s comfy to wear, and the design minimizes movement up-and-down and from side-to-side during active riding.
The Highmark Pro 3.0 has got the features that sledders need, and it looks good to boot!