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The majority of avalanche airbag makers seem to package their system in backpacks of varying sizes. If one doesn't wish to get locked-in to a specific backpack, or have multiple backpacks each with its own airbag system, the alternative seems to be an airbag vest.

This may be fine for skiing, or snow-mobiling. But for alpinism, going around with just a vest is rare, in practice one needs to be carrying backpacks of different sizes. Will the airbag vest still deploy if it is worn under a backpack?

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    This site has instructions for a DIY avalanche airbag you can install yourself in any backpack: sites.google.com/site/diyavalancheairbag. I have no personal experience with this; definitely get some opinions from experienced mountaineers before trying it. – csk Jan 16 '20 at 18:36
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The correct answer for sure is "it depends on the exact model" but that is quite useless ;)

As far as I can see all the airbag vests deploy over your whole shoulder area. This is definitely not suited for backpacks.

Sample image of an avalanche airbag vest in use

For some avalanche backpacks it is possible to have one airbag unit and multiple matching packs, e.g. Ortovox. I have not done this myself as I do own any airbag system but that is at least what they claim. This would still be a vendor lock-in but at least the backpacks without the airbag unit are quite cheaper.

A note of caution on using a vest instead of a backpack. An airbag is considered just the last line of defense. It does not guarantee that one stays on top and you should never go into avalanche terrain without the standard avalanche set of beacon, probe and shovel. The vests do not really look like they are suited to carry a probe and shovel. Therefore I would discard them for the idea of "just skiing". They might be OK if you have a snowmobile with saddle-bags however.

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