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  1. #1
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    Thumbs down BCA Bomber Shovel review: fail,then fixed.

    I have a weakness and it appears to be buying shovels that I do not need.

    I recently bought the new BCA B2 Extension shovel http://www.backcountryaccess.com/product/b2-ext/

    It has a flat blade with an angular bend, so it cuts a really clean pit wall. Ok, so that is a trivial feature. But I liked the size vs weight.

    I was teaching an AST class today and it failed me big time.

    1. the end of the shovel shaft is open (where it enters the blade slot). So when you dig, snow is forced into the shovel shaft with every single plunge of the shovel. Who designed that?! It packed in so tight that it jammed the U-shaped spring which the locking lugs are attached to. Every time after digging, I couldn't remove the blade without a lot of fucking around to clear the hard-packed snow from the exposed U-spring. This is a design flaw IMHO. At one stage I almost lost the U-spring and locking lugs in the shaft, which would have meant I could not attach the blade.

    But it got me in the end...

    2. due to reasons unclear, the lugs that lock the two shovel shafts sections together when extended became lost inside the shaft. I pushed them in to collapse the telescopic shaft, then when I tried to extend the shaft to use the shovel, I could not lock it in place. For the remainder of the day I could no longer lock the two shaft sections together, therefore could not use my shovel at all. Luckily this failure happened near the end of the day.

    I do not recommend the BCA bomber series of shovels for anyone who works in the snow with their shovel out, nor for avalanche class student shovels. I teach 10-12 AST classes a year and dig 80-100 days as a volunteer scribe for a local avalanche organisation. I wont be using BCA. Even if they were free.

    Did BCA honestly test these shovels in the hands of people who actually use them numerous times a day?

    I dug two profiles, demonstrated chopping blocks once, buried my backpack three times, and joined in as a digger on one companion rescue. And the BCA shovel was not even up to that minor workload. Today was a little below freezing, snowing moderately. Snow pack is high water content.

    And yes, it cuts a very clean pit wall. It also doesn't have a long neck-socket on the blade meaning it takes up less room in your pack. I really liked that (for the one day I carried it)
    Last edited by neck beard; 02-01-2012 at 07:03 AM.
    Life is not lift served.

  2. #2
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    I'd send this review to BCA if I was you, I get the impression they're the type of company who would care, and try to fix the issues you outlined.
    The whole human race is de evolving; it is due to birth control, smart people use birth control, and stupid people keep pooping out more stupid babies.

  3. #3
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    I'm not in the States, but will try and return the shovel to the local supplier.

    In the meantime other snow workers should perhaps know that this shovel as designed is a PITA, at least in high water content snow.

    I get tired of being a core user of snow gear and essentially paying full retail price for some things that do not do the fundamental tasks that they were designed for. Weekenders who mince around with new gear every season paid for with with full-time city careers can afford that kind of thing. I can not.

    Then the companies in question complain when I don't go to them with my 'feedback', aka, the product testing that they should have done themselves.

    You want private feedback? Then you give it to me free for testing.

    I'm sure someone else will have an opposite opinion to me.
    Life is not lift served.

  4. #4
    Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hohes View Post
    You want private feedback? Then you give it to me free for testing.
    I'm sure someone else will have an opposite opinion to me.
    Maybe, but I agree. IME, well thought through evals by non-company users are a lot more useful to the company than internal evals by makers who are invested in/need to defend their own designs. And if BCA wants to live up to its rep, it'll address this in public, and soon. Random thought, though: Your class may have benefited more from the failure than if everything went perfectly. In the field, shit happens. Folks need to confront the possibility that their shiny new gear may fail in weird non-obvious ways, look at it more critically, and plan what they'd do if/when that happens...

  5. #5
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    I actually managed to hide it pretty well from my class. Perhaps I shouldn't have!

    It is not the end of the world - its just a $50 shovel that will work fine when used to dig someone out. It is low profile, light and potentially very strong. Quite appealing on that basis. Plus it is flat-square, not rounded - I like that, which is why I compulsively bought it even though I have plenty of other shovels.

    It was the multiple use throughout the day that caused the problems.

    I guess I get a bit itchy as I'm not really a corporate guy, nor am I a slick player in the mutually beneficial game of give-and-take behind the scenes. I'm a low-level guy in the mountains who just needs stuff to work.
    Last edited by neck beard; 02-01-2012 at 04:16 PM.
    Life is not lift served.

  6. #6
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    Same shovel. Same conditions. Same failure. The blade would not separate from the shaft without much fussing to clear the snow.

    Your 2nd problem hasn't happened to me...yet.

  7. #7
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    BCA does post on this forum. They are known for good customer service.
    Quote Originally Posted by blurred
    skiing is hiking all day so that you can ski on shitty gear for 5 minutes.

  8. #8
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    I had the BCA B1 with the same shaft design. Failed in an Avy I class. I didn't even need snow to get in the shaft, the U-spring moved all by itself and the shovel would not lock together at all. Major failure. Some BCA stuff is good but their shovels are terrible and need major redesign:
    1. Get guiding channels bent into the shovel body and handle so you don't have to push in the locking pins and push the handle into the blade, you should be able to push and have little channels in the shovel push the pins in for you.
    2. Seal the end of the handle and change the locking pin design so it's 100% reliable.
    3. Make it so that you can collapse the shovel all the way down yet be able to pull stoutly on the handle and have it ready to use at full extension instantly, without the possibility of having the handle pull out.

  9. #9
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    Dude i just took my avy 1 class, first time I've used the shovel and it happened to me also. I was astounded that shoveling in snow would render the u-spring jammed seeing as a snow shovel is meant to be plunged into snow. I was shocked but didn't bring it up because no one else seemed to have the issue near me.

  10. #10
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    You should be able to fashion a plug for the ferrule (the tube on the blade that holds the shaft) and epoxy it in place. ( Perhaps BCA should offer a plug.) If you do this with a non extension model you won't be able to push the shaft through the ferrule to collapse the shovel without removing the shaft.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by ishotit View Post
    Same shovel. Same conditions. Same failure. The blade would not separate from the shaft without much fussing to clear the snow.

    Your 2nd problem hasn't happened to me...yet.
    Though I do not want to wake up (to 73cm of 24 hour storm snow) and see BCA gang-rushed with complaints, I am still interested to hear that others have had this problem. Sometime I feel that it is always me.

    With experimentation I found that the second issue I listed was due to the snow being packed further into the shaft from the opening near the blade. When you collapse the shaft sections telescopically the locking lugs are naturally depressed. As the shaft is compressed, the upper U-spring hits the packed snow near to the blade and the spring is pushed up the shaft and the lugs are, from then on, unable to locate the holes as intended. Hard to describe by typing words.

    As it stands, I can't take this shovel into the snow with me. If this issue did not exits, it would be my preferred shovel based on my limited observations so far.
    Life is not lift served.

  12. #12
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    The offending open shaft end that exposes the (very important) locking lug spring. The opening unfortunately lines up perfectly with any dense snow you happen to be digging. More gets rammed in there with every plunge of the shovel. You can see the locking lug spring a few mm inside the opening.

    I can't even fix it with duct tape.

    Life is not lift served.

  13. #13
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    This is interesting since I almost got this based on BCA quality and BC.com reviews. Went with Arva instead. Thanks TGR
    I need to go to Utah.
    Utah?
    Yeah, Utah. It's wedged in between Wyoming and Nevada. You've seen pictures of it, right?

    2009/2010 (20/15)
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    Thanks BCSAR

  14. #14
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    Funny too since I had 2009 gen and served me well till I left it in Revelstoke over MLK
    I need to go to Utah.
    Utah?
    Yeah, Utah. It's wedged in between Wyoming and Nevada. You've seen pictures of it, right?

    2009/2010 (20/15)
    2010/2011 (18/15)
    2011/2012 (16/11/2)
    2012/2013 (18/12)
    2013/2014 (13/11/4)

    Thanks BCSAR

  15. #15
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    BCA says their management is now aware of this thread.

  16. #16
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    I have similar issues with the b52 version. Haven't had it been too much of a problem, I live in an exceptionally dry climate however...Couple small design flaws...the previous version of shovels, especially the chugach pro was much better designed. Taking these shovels apart after digging with them all day is usually pretty annoying with snow packed everywhere. I could see it being worse with wet snow for sure. I feel like just making the connection a bit looser over all could help in taking it apart. Everything is pretty tight, which feels good, but doesn't help taking it apart or putting it back together....

    Also seems silly that the shovel can only be connected with the shaft facing one side. BCA logo on the left. Just seems like time that could be wasted in a rescue with someone who doesn't use their shovel very often.
    Drive slow, homie.

  17. #17
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    Feb 2003
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    Wow.

    I can't imagine not plugging the end of the shaft! Every shovel I've ever seen or owned does that (with the exception of the Voile shovels, where the end of the shaft is inside the blade while assembled).

    Did BCA even test this design before putting it into full production? Apparently not. Sheesh.

  18. #18
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    Arva I just got showed up today. Super light, durable looking and bottom of shaft at blade is solid so no snow can enter.
    I need to go to Utah.
    Utah?
    Yeah, Utah. It's wedged in between Wyoming and Nevada. You've seen pictures of it, right?

    2009/2010 (20/15)
    2010/2011 (18/15)
    2011/2012 (16/11/2)
    2012/2013 (18/12)
    2013/2014 (13/11/4)

    Thanks BCSAR

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spats View Post
    Wow.

    I can't imagine not plugging the end of the shaft! Every shovel I've ever seen or owned does that (with the exception of the Voile shovels, where the end of the shaft is inside the blade while assembled).
    My fancy light red Voile shovel has a plugged shaft.

    Others without plugged shafts tend to be protected by the manner in which it slots into the blade receptacle.

    I feel like a gaper for not even noticing when I bought it.

    I do not think BCA deserves any internet rage for this. /obvious statement

    I think it is a silly design flaw that potential internet buyers should be aware of. It is probably only a problem if you use your shovel multiple times in a day. Most people never take theirs out of their pack. This is not a snow workers shovel as designed.
    Life is not lift served.

  20. #20
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    BD does the same thing:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Life is a lot like climbing: there isn't anything much more comforting than a good #2.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by sfotex View Post
    BD does the same thing:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    But not all of them, some are plugged like the Deploy 3.

  22. #22
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    a good breakdown here and it mentions the same problem with this shovel. i have the g3 avi tech which looks like it passes thier grade. i like the extension ,flatter strong blade. nice for shaping and dense snow http://www.bmg.org.uk/index.php/eng/...ovel-Strengths

  23. #23
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    It is not the fact that the shaft is not closed alone that causes the problem.

    It is this in combination with where the open shaft end sits in relation to the blade's cutting surface as it passes through the snow with each downward plunge. I have at least three different shovels with open shaft ends, however the shaft enters a long goose neck on the blade and as you dig, it is not exposed to dense snow and so virtually none is forced directly into the opening.

    I use the BD T3 shovel as a student rental for AST classes and have never had this problem in a lot of student digging. They are tough and have stood up well to student abuse, which is the opposite that that paper suggests (it scored the worst grade!). They are robust small simple digging tools and I like them.

    I'm not a fan of that linked 'research' paper as I've never (ever) seen anyone use their boot to dig snow. It is really inefficient. I do that on my farm with a sharpened steel spade to slowly break sod and cut turf under a hot sun. In avalanche debris and dense snow I cut blocks and never lever the shovel. Having said that, the author (MG) has spent a lifetime more in the snow that I have, so what would I know and would likely verbally tear strips off guys like me, based on what I have heard.
    Last edited by neck beard; 02-03-2012 at 04:36 PM.
    Life is not lift served.

  24. #24
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    Sorry to bump this thread, but this is worth mentioning:

    I was teaching another AST course this weekend and had a customer with a new BCA Arsenal shovel with a skinny (flimsy) probe inside the shovel shaft. Not my preferred system for efficiency at the best of times. However, that was not the problem. After using the probe once he re-packed it back inside the shaft and could not get it out again at all during the next companion rescue exercise. No probe. After the training scenario I tried and also could not get it out. It was stuck in there tight. Later in a break it took him a good length of time using his ski pole tip to get it out.

    I don't want to be rude, but that is not good enough. He is sending it back (just like I returned my BCA Bomber shovel).

    Gear needs to work. It is that simple.
    Life is not lift served.

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
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    Amherst, Mass.
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    I am very concerned about the shovel issue (although admittedly we've had such a poor snow season that I haven't bothered trying it yet -- will report back later this month).
    But for the probe-in-shaft, as with last year's version, as long as you don't forcefully jam it back in there, it always comes out fine. I suppose that makes it a deal breaker for anyone prone to actions like that. But if you notice any significant resistance when starting to stowe away the probe, remove it, rearrange the sections (keeping the gold part in the center as the diagram instructs), then it should be fine. (The probe is indeed rather flexy, but I like the setup for crevasse probing, since that way I can keep the probe on the outside of my pack as the shovel shaft can be lashed far more securely than a probe by itself.)
    For those stuck in the Northeast, check out the NE Rando Race Series and my avalanche course. (For other avalanche course providers anywhere, feel free to use any of my "homework" assignments for your own courses too.)

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