Every skier and snowboarder dreams of those days where they can lose themselves in the fresh powder and invigorating air. But no outdoor person dreams of literally getting lost in heavy snow and avalanches while hiking. How quickly a dream can turn into a horrible nightmare! For that reason alone, this article will be touching on the hows and whys of avalanche beacons and give examples of the best avalanche beacons for sale right now.
Things to Consider When Buying An Avalanche Beacon
In the same way you compare shoes, coats, flashlights, and even gloves, you need to figure out which avalanche beacon is best for your individual needs. Though there are plenty of devices out there, they are not created equal. Here are factors to keep in mind when shopping:
Digital vs. Analog Receivers
There are two kinds of transceivers you can choose from: digital and analog. The difference is key. Digital beacons will contain a tiny computer that is comprised of several antennae to calculate distances and the direction of potentially buried victims. These are also great because the low resolution visual screens many digital beacons have also aid in the searching and marking of multiple buried victims.
Analog transceivers are simpler. They will continuously beep once the rescue group is within the transmission distance. The disadvantage of analog is that high wind velocity, shouting, and other noise can drown out the beeping, and multiple buried transceivers may even cause dissonance.
You will find that many avalanche beacons are digital now, due to the lack of interference.
The range of the avalanche beacon will determine how far the signal can search. High-performing beacons usually have a range of 160 feet (50 meters) or more.
Search Strips: Wide vs. Narrow
These help you search the danger area. Wide strips allow for a quick sweep of the area, but this can result in you missing a signal completely. On the other hand, narrow strips are much more accurate in picking up signals, but they make the search much more time consuming.
When purchasing an avalanche beacon, try to find one that allows you to switch between wide and narrow strips so you can tailor the beacon to your situation.
Ease of Operation
An often overlooked component of an avalanche beacon is how easy they are to use. You are going to want to purchase gloves that are touch screen compatible or at least let you push small buttons. Otherwise, this can become a time consuming issue in a matter of life or death.
Design & Size
Many people don’t consider the comfort of the beacon they are wearing, nor the weight when purchasing. You don’t want a beacon that doesn’t fit correctly or holds it somewhere inconvenient. Think about where this avalanche beacon might wind up in a crisis and how difficult it might be to access at that time. Further, the beacon shouldn’t be too bulky or heavy nor too light and breakable. Durability is a must. It should be able to support your weight, too.
Best Avalanche Beacon Reviews
1. Backcountry Access Tracker DTS Avalanche Beacon
There are many pluses to the Backcountry Access (BCA) Tracker DTS that make it top competitor in the market. The first would be the bright red LEDs that are easy to read and comprehend, eliminating drawn out searches. The interface is also efficient, and the built-in rapid processor keeps the incoming transmissions fresh, so you can use the real-time digital display to find people faster.
The battery life is also quite impressive: you have 1 hour in search more even after 200 hours in transmit mode, which translates into 250 hours for transmission only or 50 hours in search only.
Though the max range is only 45 meters and the search strip width is 40 meters, the Backcountry Access Tracker DTS Avalanche Beacon is a durable and reliable piece of equipment that is excellent for beginners and those who don’t want a lot of extra weight (as it weighs only 9.2 oz/260 grams total).
2. Black Diamond PIEPS DSP Pro Avalanche Beacon
This is one of the most robust beacons on the market right now. The Black Diamond DSP Pro has a plethora of high end features that will ensure your investment is going to last the test of time. First, it has a high contrast display that is optimized for great readability whatever the lighting.
The device also has three antenna to ensure accuracy. If the beacon ceases to move for any length of time, the DSP Pro will automatically switch to a signal (send mode) from search mode, too. Another function, scan, gives you the ability to see all buried beacons.
This avalanche beacon also has an inclinometer, a wonderful tool for spotting potential avalanches before they begin, which has a 400-hour lifetime. You won’t ever be unprepared with this avalanche beacon, that’s for sure.
3. Black Diamond PIEPS DSP Sport Avalanche Beacon
Though not as loaded with features as the Pro version mentioned earlier, the DSP Sport still gives you plenty of bang for your buck. The avalanche beacon has three antennas to fine tune your transceiver, and it also as a self-checking reference antenna.
Plus, it features circular ranging technology, allowing the beacon to search in a more complete path. It will even automatically adjust to optimize searching during multiple-burial circumstances and let you mark the locations of potential victims.
You can keep the device up-to-date with a USB link cable and software upgrades, ensuring that your investment is paid back in full. There is also the 200+ hour run time when emitting a signal and 160+ feet range to consider. The harness-style carrying pouch is the final touch to a wonderful device by adding to both security and ease of access.
Here is a video comparing the DSP Pro and Sport models;
4. Backcountry Access Tracker3 Avalanche Beacon
This is often compared to the Black Diamond PIEPS DPS Sport model, as this particular beacon runs on three antennas and three batteries, giving it maximum efficiency in both signal reception and location. BCA also guarantees at least one hour of battery life in search mode after you’ve used 200 hours in transmit mode, which is quite a powerful addition.
The unit also shows distance and direction when receiving signals and has an incredibly easy to use interface that presents only the most dire of information. This makes it quite useful in harrowing emergency conditions by cutting down on stress.
Lastly, the Backcountry Access Tracker3 has a multiple-burial indicator that lights up when it detects more than one signal in a search zone. If you want to get better at singling out various signals, you can even hone your skills with the “practice mode.” Beginners will find this useful.
5. Ortovox Zoom+ Avalanche Beacon
Not every avalanche transceiver is designed with complete beginners in mind. The Ortovox Zoom+ is. This is a great tool that includes learning methods and techniques for adding people in located a buried victim. Being that it is quite basic, the beacon only has 2 buttons: the on/off switch, and the send/receive switch.
Changing from send to receive or vice versa is displayed on the screen as pattern. For example, a zig-zag is meant to remind you to move that way when scanning. There are also lights and audio cues to help with scanning.
The display is large, easy to read, and features LED indicators for directions. Should the searcher suddenly become buried, the Zoom+ has an automatic mode that switches it to “send” if no movement is detected with 2 minutes. The size and weight also makes it very comfortable to wear.
In conclusion, if you find yourself skiing, snowboard, or hiking through the alpine regions, an avalanche beacon is a crucial component in your gear. You should never go without one, especially when the weather is unpredictable. An avalanche beacon can not only save your life by transmitting your location, it can help you find others in a danger zone as well.