A Lifesaver Backpack

Black Diamond Covert AvaLung 32

From the get-go, the concept of the AvaLung intrigued me: As you're getting buried in a slide, you bite down on the device's mouthpiece and it delivers your poisonous CO2 harmlessly into the snowpack behind you till someone comes and digs your ass out. But the first AvaLung was integrated into a showy vest that you wore over your ski jacket. I tried one on once in a store and felt like I should have been directing airplanes. My unbounded ego couldn't deal.

The second-generation AvaLung, a sling you wore over your shoulder, was better — except it usually stayed in the car. The sling made unzipping my jacket difficult and I just didn't want to deal with another item.

Then last year Black Diamond nailed it by putting the AvaLung in a pack. In the aptly named Covert AvaLung 32, the tubing runs through the shoulder straps and out through the bottom of the pack. It's always there, but you never think of it till you're about to drop onto an untracked face. The pack is small enough for a quick outing, but thanks to svelte shovel and probe pockets, you can methodically cram in enough essentials for a big day in the mountains, including crampons, lunch, a puffy, spare goggles and gloves, and a small first-aid kit. I did exactly that for six days of touring in the Chugach last spring. Now it will always go with me. I hope I never need that little blue snorkel. But I'm glad it's there.

FALL 2007