What do harnesses and avalanche airbag systems have in common?

Harnesses and avalanche airbag systems are both personal protective equipment (PPE) and are therefore subject to the PPE Regulation in the EU. PPE of categories two and three shall be subject to independent type-examination. The most important basis for the type examination is the standard, in which the rules of technology are laid down. The most important requirements of the standard EN 16716 for avalanche airbag systems are presented in the film article and below.

EN 16716

Mountaineering Equipment

Avalanche Airbag Systems

This summary of EN 16716 does NOT contain all of the information from the standard. It is a simplified version intended to provide an overview of the test methods and product requirements. The official version of the standard must be consulted if full information is required. Details of the source document can be found at the end of this summary.

Avalanche airbag system: personal protective equipment that reduces the risk of being buried by an avalanche by rapidly expanding in volume.

Carrying system: part of the avalanche airbag system that attaches the activation system, inflation system, and airbag to the user.

Rated number of deployments: the maximum number of times the avalanche airbag system can be deployed according to the manufacturer.



Status indicator on electrical airbag systems
The device must be equipped with an integrated indicator system that tells the user whether the system is switched on and whether the device’s energy supply is outside the range for normal functionality. If the battery for activation and inflation is low, this must be visible on the indicator system and the airbag system must still function for another 6 hours.

Airbag activation and inflation
The avalanche airbag system is designed to be attached to a person and deployed in line with the manufacturer’s specifications.

  • A mechanical activation system must have an activation force of between 50 N and 150 N.
  • The fully inflated airbag must have a minimum volume of 150 l.
  • The airbag must be fully inflated within 5 s of its activation and remain in this state for at least 3 min.

Working time span and temperature range
The avalanche airbag system must fulfill the requirements with regard to activation and inflation without external support (e.g., power supply, pressure support) after at least 24 hours at -30°C.

The avalanche airbag system must fulfill the requirements with regard to deployment and inflation and must not show any signs of damage within the manufacturer-specified temperature range or between -30°C and +50°C (whichever the greater extremes).

Electrically operated avalanche airbag systems must indicate when the battery is low. On reaching this state, it must still be possible to deploy the avalanche airbag systems for at least 6 hours.

Number of deployments
The avalanche airbag system must withstand twice the rated number of deployments specified by the manufacturer. The rated number of deployments must be at least 20.

Pressure testing
All components of the airbag system that are pressurized when fully inflated must withstand the operating pressure plus 0.1 bar for at least 30 minutes without showing any signs of damage.

Impact testing
The fully inflated avalanche airbag system must be placed on a hard, level, smooth surface with the airbag in contact with it.

An impact test must be performed by vertically dropping a 10 kg cylindrical steel weight with a diameter of 120 mm and an edge radius of 1 mm onto the middle of the fully inflated airbag from a height of 2 m. The airbag must withstand the test without any damage and fulfill the minimum volume requirement of 150 l.

Testing the carrying system
The avalanche airbag system must be attached to a test dummy pursuant to EN 12277 (including leg loops) in line with the manufacturer’s specifications. The shoulder strap must be loosened in the opposite direction to the load. A force of 3 kN must be applied to the test dummy for 1 min while the fully inflated airbag is held as shown in Figure 2.

The test setup differs depending on the airbag type:

Testing the pull-off strength
The avalanche airbag system’s carrying system must not be able to slip off over the user’s head. If a leg loop or vest is used, this must withstand a load of 800 N for at least 1 min. The leg loop or vest must not tear and the buckles must not shift by more than 20 mm.

Any other systems used to prevent the carrying system from slipping off over the user’s head must be tested in the same manner.

The products must be labeled with the following mandatory information:

  • Manufacturer or authorized EU representative

  • The number of this European standard

  • Type designation

  • Year of manufacture

  • Safety recommendations for use (e.g., folding instructions, zipper usage)

  • Reference to the user manual


Source: EN 16716:2017. Mountaineering equipment. Avalanche airbag systems. Safety requirements and test methods.  The standard is currently being revised and some contents and values are being updated.