Overall: As the lightest available full-size metal-bladed shovel for backcountry companion avalanche rescue, the ARVA Plume definitely rates Five Stars. Might not be a good choice though for snowpit work in “firm” conditions given possible durability concerns. And the relatively long single-section shaft might not fit inside many packs.
Background on product familiarity: I bought the Plume toward the end of the 2013 season, so I haven’t used it much, but regardless, I think it should be reserved for emergency rescue use only.
First, the first impressions out of the box: Despite the impressively light weight, the blade is full size for companion rescue, and the shaft is pretty much the optimum length (even though the two nearest-weight competitors skimp significantly on their shaft lengths). The full-size plastic “T” handle is fine for gloved hands (and might work okay too for mittens).
The shaft end is nicely plugged and inserts reliably into the shaft. But I noticed some looseness in the connection on my 2012-13 model. This prompted me to check some of my other shovels, whose varying looseness I kind of noticed for the first time. Still though, something about the combination of the carbon fiber shaft and the loose fit concerned me more than on my other shovels. But after wrapping some tape around the base of the shaft, the fit is now just right: secure yet still very easy to assemble.
Second impressions, in use: The single-section shaft and full-size blade are perfect for shoveling. But the long shaft might not fit in many small packs. And the “neck” on the blade might also lead to packing complications. Many of my fellow NSP and AIARE avalanche instructors prohibit carrying shovels on the outside of a pack. For me, any setup that is secure yet readily accessible is fine, whether inside or outside. Usually a shovel shaft is easy to lash securely to the outside of a pack, but not a blade. So given the target demographic for an ultralight shovel like this, confirm first that you can carry it securely yet accessibly in your pack.
Third impressions, for long-term durability: The blade material seems relatively thin, and the neck weld is relatively short. For backcountry companion rescue with good technique (i.e., chop then lift, not pry!), I think the Plume should be fine. But for snowpit work that entails forcefully bashing your way through numerous nearly impenetrable crust layers – an unfortunate specialty of our “Arctic Maritime” avalanche climate – then I would be concerned about long-term durability from such cumulative abuse. If you are fortunate enough to tour exclusively in relatively soft snow, then you can probably rely on the Plume for all your shovel work. But otherwise, I would take the Plume only for when my sole intended purpose for a shovel is emergency rescue.
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