- Pre-Trip Planning
BCA Arsenal Shovel
By Jordy Shepherd
I walked into the CAC office in early November to do some work, and I walked out with two shiny new Backcountry Access shovels to test drive. Fortunately, the deep early-season conditions have been conducive to lots of shoveling (and sweet powder skiing). The BCA shovels were utilized for snow profiles and digging my snowmobile out of the seemingly bottomless snowpack.
BCA has hit on a good idea with a shovel system that has interchangeable blades, shafts and probe/saw inserts. The two Arsenal shovels I tested collectively cover the complete set of components available in this system:
My general impression is that these are well designed shovels. They seem to be relatively robust (compared with other shovels on the market), and the oval shaft offers increased strength. Weighing in between 800 and 900 grams depending on the component combination, they are not the lightest shovels on the market, but considering they come with a saw or probe in the handle, they are actually quite reasonable weights.
The two push buttons for removing the shaft from the blade and for extending the telescopic shaft have smooth action and worked reliably. The saw will fit in both the fixed and extendable shafts, but the probe only clips into the fixed length handle. The saw and probe snap into the handle easily, but can be a bit difficult to remove with gloves on or if snow/ice is packed into the release. Once the saw/probe is snapped into the handle, they form an extra bump on the backside of the handle that increases grip comfort and leverage.
The saw is a good length at 35 cm, adequate for compression tests. It will cut wood in an emergency, but is too thin to be a reliable logging tool. The thin saw blade can also rattle against the inside of the shaft when it is stored in the handle. This is not a safety concern, just a little annoying when travelling or shoveling with the saw inside the shaft.
The probe that fits in the fixed length shaft is 240 cm long. It has 30 cm sections, with cm markings on it. The markings are already wearing off even with minimal use, and will probably not be readable for much longer. At 240 cm, the probe is adequate for rescue and probing snowpack depth in the Rockies, but many avalanche professionals and guides choose to carry a longer probe in the deeper interior and coastal snow packs. The small push button that engages the probe when it is extended seems positive and easy to use. The probe can be a bit puzzle-like to fit back into the shaft. I would prefer to see the system design adapted in future years to allow the probe to fit inside the more versatile extendable shaft. With the ability to store a probe in the fixed length shaft, and coupled with a transceiver, the Arsenal shovel with probe and Companion blade becomes a complete rescue system.
The Tour blade is lighter and smaller than the Companion blade. I found the Tour blade to be a bit small and, although it is light, I would still recommend using the larger Companion blade. Whether you are digging a profile or shoveling during a rescue, the Companion blade is capable of moving a lot of snow quickly. The Companion blade is quite flat, with a straight edge, making it ideal for creating snow profile walls, and the blade is perfectly sized for conducting compression tests.
The fixed length shaft is a good length for shoveling, but it could be difficult to fit it in smaller backpacks. When the telescopic shaft is collapsed it is slightly shorter that the fixed length one. It also offers more options, and stows away more easily than the fixed length style. The additional weight of the telescopic shaft is more than compensated for by its shorter length when stowed and better shoveling ergonomics. As stated above, the probe only fits inside the fixed length shaft, while the saw will fit in either handle.
I am quite impressed by the BCA shovels. This winter I will be using the following combination for work and recreation:
I recommend checking out the Backcountry Access Arsenal Shovel System if you are in the market for a new shovel. The combination of features, value and quality make these shovels a good option. Happy shoveling!
The Avalanche Journal
This feature review was drawn from The Avalanche Journal, our thrice-yearly avalanche safety magazine. Subscribe now and keep up with the latest in the avalanche community.