OWNER REVIEW - BCA Companion Shovel - Richard Lyon
- One more before Christmas. HTML version is in Tests/OR folder at
Merry Christmas to all, Richard
BACKCOUNTRY ACCESS COMPANION SHOVEL
OWNER REVIEW by Richard Lyon
December 24, 2008
PERSONAL DETAILS AND BACKPACKING BACKGROUND
Male, 62 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.91 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg)
Email address: rlyon AT gibsondunn DOT com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA
I've been backpacking for 45 years on and off, and regularly in the
Rockies since 1986. I do a weeklong trip every summer, and often
take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at
altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500 - 4000 m). I prefer base camp
backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my
share of forced marches too. Though always looking for ways to
reduce weight, I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and I usually choose a
bit of extra weight over foregoing camp conveniences I've come to
Especially pertinent to this review - I'm an avid skier who does most
of my backcountry winter traveling on skis, either as touring or in
search of powder stashes for some downhill telemark turns.
PRODUCT DESCRIPTION AND DETAILS
The Companion is the intermediate among shovels offered by
Backcountry Access (commonly known as BCA), somewhat larger than its
Tour model (which I have separately reviewed). Like most backcountry
snow shovels the handle and blade are separate pieces for more
efficient pack storage. BCA calls the Companion "Our original
integrated shovel & probe system," and it was a system when I
purchased mine included was an avalanche probe that fit neatly
inside the handle, in the same manner as the Tour. Now the probe is
optional, and so my review is limited to the shovel.
Manufacturer: Backcountry Access, Inc.,
Year of manufacture: 2007
Year of purchase: 2007
MSRP: Not specified. BCA's website does not include means for
purchasing any shovel directly from the manufacturer, though it does
give links to online retailers in the United States and Canada, and a
search tool for finding dealers in other countries.
Materials: 6061-series aluminum.
Color: The blade is red with yellow graphics.
Options: I have a fixed-length handle; the Companion is also
available with an extendable handle. As noted, BCA sells an
avalanche probe that will stow inside the handle.
Features: "Education Graphics, Super flat back for clean snowpit
columns, Optimal proportions for shovel shear and compression tests,
Super-strong oval shaft with D-grip." That's what the Companion's
page on BCA's website says, but the last item is no longer true. The
2008 model has a T-grip, as pictured on the website and confirmed by
BCA Customer Service.
Length 30 in/71 cm* 30 in/71 cm
Handle length Not specified 18.0 in/46 cm
Weight 22 oz/624 g 22.0 oz/624 g (without probe)
Shovel blade dimensions Not specified 14.1 x 12.8 in/35.8 x 32.5 cm
*The metric dimensions in the "Listed" column come from the website,
in the "Measured" column from my conversions.
Warranty: Not specified, although one can register BCA products for
warranty using the company's website.
I carry a shovel on every winter backpacking trip or day hike when I
may encounter snow, and often when skiing inbounds at a resort. That
meant about fifteen days last winter, in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming,
Montana, and British Columbia, from blizzard to bright blue skies and
from -5 to 70 F (-22 to 21 C), and from feathery Rocky Mountain
powder to spring slush to heavy breakable crust. A shovel is first
of all a safety piece but also a useful camp tool in the snow. I
used the Companion to search for the transceiver in avalanche drills;
to dig an avalanche pit or a depression just outside the door of my
tent for putting on and taking off my boots; to flatten snow for a
tent site; and (blade only) as a stand for my stove or seat for me.
I store the two pieces of the Companion separately in my pack, even
though I can (just barely) fit the assembled shovel into the main
compartment of my 7400 cubic inch/120 liter expedition pack. When
wearing that pack, the blade is the last thing added to the main pack
bag, so it's at the top and easily accessible; the handle I lash into
a side pocket with a compression strap run through the D-handle. My
day packs all have a kangaroo pocket on the front, which is where I
stow the blade. The handle goes into a side pocket or, on one pack,
into a fabric tube (custom- ordered just for this purpose) inside the
kango. When it comes time to dig I can easily assemble the two
pieces by depressing the two buttons on the handle and then sliding
the handle into the throat of the blade until the buttons snap into
corresponding holes on the throat.
As can be seen in the photograph the blade has four holes so that it
can be used in an emergency as a deadman anchor. The Education
Graphics are printed on the face of the blade. I think this is a
great idea, making use of space normally consisting just of
advertising, a decorative graphic, or color coating. The graphics
illustrate numbered steps for search protocols for individual and
group searches, pinpoint search, probing, and digging for a body.
They are something of a security blanket for an occasional
backcountry skier like me, as I don't have to worry about forgetting
proper technique in the panic of an emergency. After one winter the
pictures are as readable as when I bought the Companion, unaffected
by snow or rubbing against items in my pack.
As a digging implement the Companion works as it should. The two
pieces, when assembled, do not slide about or come apart, and I can
lean on the top of the blade without fear of bending the hard-nosed
aluminum. I bought the Companion after losing the blade of my Tour
system and stepped up for the larger size in order to get more bite
for each stroke. That, it turns out, was a wise choice. I haven't
been keeping score but I believe that I've taken less time to dig the
usual vestibule and avalanche pits. The D-grip has helped, too; I
often wear mittens or lobster gloves (three extensions above the
palm, for thumb, index finger, and three outside fingers) and I get a
much firmer grip than when I have to curl fingers around a T-grip. I
haven't noticed any difference in the efficiency of my snow pits from
the "super flat back."
The anodized aluminum blade drives through hard-packed snow, surface
ice, and icy crust ice quite well. I've had an occasional problem
with thick ice, including that which can build around a snow anchor
in a spot that's exposed to sunlight during the day and then freezes
solid at night, but I've always managed. The shovel blade shows a
few scratches and scrapes from use but remains undented, even at the
The bright red and yellow blade is easy to locate in the snow after
I've set the shovel aside for some reason.
Overall the Companion has been a fine all-purpose backcountry shovel,
something I'm glad I have even when it never comes out of my pack.
Probe-compatible. Using the Companion's handle for my probe means no
extra space taken up in my pack, and I always know where my probe is
Stout and durable.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
I much prefer a D-grip and wish BCA had retained it for this shovel.
Not a problem for me, though, until I have to replace my current
Companion with a newer model.
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> EDIT: OWNER REVIEW - BCA Companion Shovel - Richard LyonHi, Richard, nice OR. You know the drill.
--- In BackpackGearTest@yahoogroups.com, "richardglyon" <rlyon@...>
> BCA calls the Companion "Our originalis
> integrated shovel & probe system," and it was a system when I
> purchased mine included was an avalanche probe that fit neatly
> inside the handle, in the same manner as the Tour. Now the probe
> optional, and so my review is limited to the shovel.Comment: Good call.
> Features: "Education Graphics, Super flat back for clean snowpittests,
> columns, Optimal proportions for shovel shear and compression
> Super-strong oval shaft with D-grip." That's what the Companion'sThe
> page on BCA's website says, but the last item is no longer true.
> 2008 model has a T-grip, as pictured on the website and confirmedby
> BCA Customer Service.Comment: Good catch.
> I carry a shovel on every winter backpacking trip or day hike whenI
> may encounter snow, and often when skiing inbounds at a resort.That
> meant about fifteen days last winter, in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming,Comment: I'm envious. You get around.
> Montana, and British Columbia,
> OBSERVATIONSComment/Edit: Not sure if this is what you meant to say. Is this
> As a digging implement the Companion works as it should. The two
> pieces, when assembled, do not slide about or come apart, and I can
> lean on the top of the blade without fear of bending the hard-nosed
stuff hard anodized or are you using a colloquial expression to
indicate it's tough? I'd also suggest (though leave this up to you)
to put in another sentence or so explaining how you've found out that
you can do this without fear, rather than just saying that you "can"
I've had an occasional problem
> with thick ice, including that which can build around a snow anchorfreezes
> in a spot that's exposed to sunlight during the day and then
> solid at night, but I've always managed.Comment: a propos - ever used the shovel blade as a snow anchor?
All right, that's it. Congratulations on another brownie point.
Please look at the above and upload to the folder I've made for you
here: http://tinyurl.com/868xqx at your earliest convenience. Please
also remember to delete the test folder version.
- Andre, Thanks for the edits. I'll upload and delete the OR Tests
folder copy. Answers/responses to your comments below. Regards,
--- In BackpackGearTest@yahoogroups.com, André Corterier
> > EDIT: OWNER REVIEW - BCA Companion Shovel - Richard Lyon
> > > I carry a shovel on every winter backpacking trip or day hike
> I##### Last winter there was exceptional snow in the Rockies and I
> > may encounter snow, and often when skiing inbounds at a resort.
> > meant about fifteen days last winter, in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming,
> > Montana, and British Columbia,
> Comment: I'm envious. You get around.
tried to take full advantage.
> > OBSERVATIONS
> > As a digging implement the Companion works as it should. The two
> > pieces, when assembled, do not slide about or come apart, and I
> > lean on the top of the blade without fear of bending the hard-nosed
> > aluminum.that
> Comment/Edit: Not sure if this is what you meant to say. Is this
> stuff hard anodized or are you using a colloquial expression to
> indicate it's tough? I'd also suggest (though leave this up to you)
> to put in another sentence or so explaining how you've found out
> you can do this without fear, rather than just saying thatyou "can"
> do so.##### Good catch. I rearranged the paragraph so that the usage I
described follows immediately after the sentence you quote, and I
changed "hard-nosed" (indeed an American colloquial expression
>##### Nope. Too big for a tent (and I have some great snow pegs from
> Comment: a propos - ever used the shovel blade as a snow anchor?
Hilleberg) and I've not had to anchor anything heavier.