WildSnow Beacon Reviews — Introduction 2008

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SEE LATEST WILDSNOW BEACON REVIEWS INTRODUCTION FOR FULL CHART AND MORE

(Please note, as of 2010 we are keeping these reviews current by doing constant updates. Unlike the old days, because of firmware updates/changes a given unit of the same model can change dramatically over the course of its model life. Thus, a constantly updated website is the ONLY way these tools can be properly reviewed. We’ll try to make that happen.)

Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

Editor’s note from Lou: For years I’ve wanted to include detailed avalanche beacon reviews here at WildSnow. But with only one of me doing most of the writing, I didn’t have time. Jonathan Shefftz volunteered for beacon duty. He’s an avalanche course instructor, frequent contributor on a number of skiing websites, and has a good eye for detail. His reviews look great. We’ll publish them in a series, and make sure they get linked well so you can find them later. First, his introduction:
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“So what is the best avalanche beacon?” All of us have probably either asked or been asked this question. Traditional answer: “the one you own and practice with on a regular basis.”

I disagree. No, I’m not saying you shouldn’t practice, but rather that almost all users will be better off with a directional multiple-antenna beacon.

Yes, once upon a time all we had were analog-only single-antenna models such as the F1, VS 2000, Optifinder, etcettera. And I’ll believe that certain grizzled vets out there (Lou?) are capable with their old beacons. But as one internet poster commented, “I don’t trust anyone with an older-style beacon unless he has a gray beard.” Same here.

Therefore, my complete answer to, “what is the best avalanche beacon?” is a directional (i.e., multiple-antenna) beacon, with a design you feel comfortable with, and which you can afford — and which you practice with regularly! Therefore, this series focuses on each beacon’s design and likely appeal.

In our Wildsnow.com I’ll abstain from any ratings or rankings other than the occasional recommendation, but will assess how well a beacon works given its design parameters. I’ll also refer to some of my range test results. But because of how much this testing can vary, range is an inappropriate thing for a review to focus on.

Likewise I’ll not make a big deal out of weight (sorry Lou), as all beacons heft within three-and-half ounces from lightest to heaviest. I’ll also not comment on user manuals, as how your mind responds to information is an individual trait. (Instead, before you buy a beacon, I recommend that you download the user manual from the company’s website, then decide for yourself if it works for your style of thinking and learning.)

Battery life is quite similar among these models. (Pieps DSP has been reported as draining batteries more quickly than other models, but that’s a battery meter issue we’ll cover in the DSP review.) Thus, we’ll spend little time on how long batteries last.

Another issue is radio frequency interference (“RFI”). With so many different electronic devices carried by backcountry recreationalists these days, complete testing of every possible device is infeasible so I’ll cover this briefly here. I have found that a *transmitting* cell phone (CDMA band) or FRS/GMRS radio can cause interference to varying degrees in some (but not all) beacons. But no beacons suffer RFI from an on-yet-not-transmitting phone or two-way radio.

Far more importantly, playing an iPod will cause RFI to vary degrees in *all* avalanche beacons at close range. My general conclusions with RFI are: Be very careful if deciding to call for help while simultaneously searching with an avalanche beacon; and if you are touring with any brand of avalanche beacon, never listen to an iPod. (I am very serious about this: the potential for an iPod to be inadvertently left on and then cause interference in a beacon search is dangerous.)

Disclaimers: I have no background whatsoever in electrical engineering, so please don’t ask me about the why/how behind the inner workings of all these beacons! And although I appreciate the price discounts extended to me as an AIARE-qualified course instructor and NSP avalanche course instructor, I am neither sponsored nor employed by any beacon company.

That’s it for now, look for individual reviews to be published over the coming weeks.

(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or promoting the NE Rando Race Series, he works as a financial economics consultant.)

Comments

43 Responses to “WildSnow Beacon Reviews — Introduction 2008”

  1. Tony November 12th, 2008 11:02 am

    Jonathan,
    Read your previous DSP/Pulse/S1 review on another website, sent you a PM on TGR, and then saw this on Lou’s site. I will repeat the gist of my PM:

    You did not mention anything about deep burials in your previous review. Do three antaenae beacons help with deep burials? Do you discuss this in the reviews to come on Lou’s site? Can you refer me to any other sources of info on this?

    I think Couloir did a beacon techinique article on deep burials a few years before it shut down, but I can’t find it now. Anyone know of any online sources of old Couloir articles? You could access back issues of Couloir from the old Couloir website, but I can’t find them on the merged Backcountry website.

    I am asking because our SAR team has a budget to upgrade our fleet of Trackers, and I am doing preliminary research on what to buy.

  2. Jonathan Shefftz November 12th, 2008 11:38 am

    Here’s a very detailed exposition on the subject:
    http://www.beaconreviews.com/transceivers/Spikes.htm
    (Also lots of other good material there, though my approach to beacon reviews is to provide the information and let the prospective purchaser decide, rather that give numerical ratings.)
    My (far more brief) take is:
    - If a beacon has less than three antennas, you are almost certain to experience at least some amount of incorrect readings during the pinpointing phase. Hence, a third antenna is a benefit for any depth of burial.
    - Contrary to the findings there, in my tests, the D3 and X1 eliminated nulls and spikes when they were within 2.0 meters (as indicated on their distance indicator, which of course is not necessarily the actual distance for any beacon), but were subject to nulls/spikes just outside of that distance (and much further out such nulls/spikes to do not occur for any beacon). I did this by identifying the places at which a two-antenna registered incorrect readings (with the transmitting beacon on the surface, and the searching beacon at about waist level), and then saw how the D3 and X1 performed over that same range.
    - I have not tested the Patroller (i.e., basically renamed X1) and the latest D3, so I still have to verify whether the point has changed at which the third antenna is activated. (This will be clarified in the upcoming review series.)

  3. Matt Kinney November 12th, 2008 12:48 pm

    Once again John your reviews on beacons on are outstanding and not based on blind allegiance due to sponsorship and/or “bro” deals…Thanks for your “volunteer” effort and dedication to the topic.
    Cheers .. Matt

    “mechanized ascension ” ..that’s funny!

  4. nitsuj November 12th, 2008 2:06 pm

    Looking forward to this. Seems like most of the data out there is hearsay or reeks of being funded by one co. or the other.

  5. Greg November 12th, 2008 5:06 pm

    I’m looking forward to reading the reviews. As an electrical engineer I’m curious what it is about iPods which create such interference? 457kHz is well outside the audio band of the iPod, and as far as I know the non-touch iPods have no RF transmitter.

  6. Lou November 12th, 2008 7:35 pm

    I’m pretty curious about the iPod issue myself, having a modicum of knowledge about radio stuff.. perhaps it’s a harmonic or something, from some RFI that comes from the iPod even though it doesn’t have a transmitter? Would be easy to check with a frequency checker. I know some hams with those, all I need is an iPod and could easily check for RFI.

  7. Paul S. November 12th, 2008 10:29 pm

    Any electronic device that is not designed to specifically avoid it will put out radiation at lots of frequencies. Any battery-powered audio devices such as the iPod designed in the last 10 years will use a switching power amplifier (technically called a “Class-D amplifier”) which may use a switching frequency anywhere from 30kHz up to several hundred kHz, and this frequency may change over time. The problem is that a harmonic of the switching frequency could fall on top of the signal from the beacon. The only way to make sure this is not the case is for the device designer to spend a significant amount of money and testing to avoid this frequency. This is why devices that are designed to be used in sensitive environments cost a lot more money; not due to the manufacturing, but due to the extra design and testing.

    Hope this clarifies the risk associated with using other electronic devices in proximity to an avalanche beacon.

    Thanks,
    Paul

  8. cory November 13th, 2008 10:45 am

    Couple of Q’s-
    -What about the otorvox M2? I’ve had one for 5 years and love it! It works well for me, but I just wanted your thoughts.
    -How often should a beacon be sent back to the company for a test/recallibration? What are the different companies policies on this?

  9. Jonathan Shefftz November 13th, 2008 3:27 pm

    Re iPod, thanks for everyone’s feedback. Of all the devices I tested, it was the only one to interfere with all brands of beacons, and enough to totally mess up a search for a user who didn’t realize that it was still on. (Fortunately I never have to worry about that since all my partners listen instead to my detailed expositions on the merits of Dynafits and Gu . . . or are they really listening to me?)

    Re M2 (and very similar predecessor M1), definitely a highly innovative design, and certainly appeals to those with well-practiced analog search skills who still want the benefits of very long range and analog acoustics, but also want the benefits of visual indicators via digital processing for signal strength/distance, alignment with flux line, and whether the volume/sensitivity should be increased or decreased.

    However, with only one antenna, it is not a directional beacon. Now, granted, it is the next best thing, since it will tell you whether you’re going in the correct direction (as well as about how far away you are), but if you’re not going in the correct direction, it won’t tell you whether to go left or right. This was the Tracker’s big breakthrough, and it still remains a critical advantage of any multiple-antenna beacon.

    I am concerned that many people will buy an M2 (often used) then are lulled into lack of practice because it’s a “digital” beacon. (Yes, even a directional beacon should require regular practice, but let’s face it, you can get away more easily with being out of practice.) For example, my otherwise responsible local biking and skiing partner, a backcountry newbie, took the same avy course I was teaching last year. During the beacon practice session, I was rather distressed to discover that he was pretty much incompetent. (You’d think he’d take have taken advantage of knowing me to get in some practice!)

    Re maintenance, separate post coming up soon on that…

  10. Jonathan Shefftz November 13th, 2008 4:01 pm

    Okay, maintenance info. First, a DSP can test the frequency drift for any beacon, and an S1 can test frequency, transmission period, and total cycle time, so helpful to have those beacons around for testing other beacons.
    Also, warranty is five years, except for Pieps Freeride’s two years.
    I’ll include some add’l info below that might be of interest to prospective buyers of used beacons.

    Barryvox Opto 3000
    - The later (and much beloved) versions were in a red housing, and marketed/labeled by Mammut. But an earlier version was in a blue housing, and marketed/labeled by Red – these had much slower processing.

    Barryvox Pulse
    - Runs self-test upon start-up.
    - Recommended functional test at service center every five years. How to tell your three years are up? Yes, of course, in keeping with the Pulse’s theme, the date is accessible from the menu.
    - Can also combine test with firmware upgrade.

    BCA Tracker
    - I don’t see anything in the user manual re period testing.
    - I have heard quite a few reports of failure in older models, i.e., oval housing, microwave-style membrane buttons, all-strap harness. When no longer under warranty, BCA offers a new beacon for around $180.
    - Even older versions had auto-revert the default upon start-up, and had an overly stretchy all-strap harness.

    Ortovox
    - Free inspection service within five years of manufacture. See seal in battery compartment with quarter (roman numerals) and two-digit year.
    - After that, service recommended every two years (at a fee).
    - Old F1 beacons seem especially prone to frequency drift, or maybe I’ve just had the opportunity to test lots of old F1, some so drifted they were impossible to find.
    - Old M1 and M2 beacons start to lose LCD sections from their stacked flux line alignment display. I’ve also seen one M2 had its on/off switch get stuck.
    - Old X1 beacons lacked a third antenna, and the very first generation had very slow processing. I’ve also seen an X1 fail entirely (although it had been subject to lots of abuse).
    - S1 inspection can also be combined with firmware upgrade.

    Pieps DSP
    - Runs a self-test upon start-up so sophisticated that it searches for its own signal (which means you need to keep it away from other beacons, or else it senses multiple signals and will return an error message, although it will still function fine).
    - Pieps has come out with firmware upgrades once a year recently, some significantly, some fairly minor. With each firmware upgrade ($20 at Liberty Mountain, plus postage to them, although other services centers can do this too), a test is performed, complete with detailed printout of results.

  11. Unhappy Camper November 13th, 2008 6:21 pm

    Lou,

    I think your comment about not trusting someone with an analog beacon without a gray beard was a bit unfair. I do feel practice with a beacon, digi or otherwise, can mean the difference between life or death. I won’t argue that practice with a digital beacon is probably the best of both worlds, but that isn’t exactly how you put it.

    Jonathan’s comment, “For example, my otherwise responsible local biking and skiing partner, a backcountry newbie, took the same avy course I was teaching last year. During the beacon practice session, I was rather distressed to discover that he was pretty much incompetent. (You’d think he’d take have taken advantage of knowing me to get in some practice!)” sums up my point nicely.

  12. Lou November 13th, 2008 6:44 pm

    Unhappy Camper, that’s Jonathan’s take and your disagreement is duly noted. I’m actually the greybeard, and am comfortable using an analog beacon, though I use a Tracker as does the rest of my family, as I believe these are far superior to analog, especially in a panic situation. Jonathan, what say you?

  13. Jonathan Shefftz November 13th, 2008 6:47 pm

    The gray beard comment is mine (or rather, my approving repetition of someone else’s comment), so I’ll take any heat for it.
    More elaborately, when I see someone with an F1 or M2 (or more rarely, Pieps Optifinder/Opti4 or SOS), my reaction is that the person is:
    - an old-timer who is very skilled with a single-antenna beacon (personally I’ve never come across one of these, although I’m sure they exist);
    - more likely, an old-timer who *thinks* he is very skilled with a single-antenna beacon, but really is much worse than a kid handed a Tracker (or D3) and given only several seconds of instruction; or,
    - even more likely, a newbie who bought one on the cheap and is unlikely to ever put in the far more extensive practice that is necessary just to become competent at even a single-burial search (e.g., my local partner, or the dozens of posters at TGR who have bought an F1 from a big used batch from a construction company this year or a mechanized bc ops last year).
    Another problem for newbies with single-antenna beacons is that their partners with multiple-antenna designs are going to ready almost immediately to progress to practice with multiples and deep-burial pinpointing, along with strategic shoveling and other elements of the rescue process. (Meanwhile, I’m going to pressure my partner to replace his M2 with something else…)

  14. Lou November 13th, 2008 7:04 pm

    Jonathan speaks the truth, and I thank him for not pulling punches. I’ll still ski with people who have the basic beacons, but I do get concerned about how well they’ll really do in a search. We used to spend hours if not days practicing with those things and it was just really tough for most people to stay on top of, considering most people are not dug out fast enough anyway…

  15. Randonnee November 13th, 2008 8:22 pm

    This is good stuff, thanks Jonathan and Lou. I have an M1 and M2 which I apparently need to check closely for performance. Using the M1 or M2, in my view, is so very easy. Yes, my beard is gray and in timed practice decades ago now I turned in 2:30 recovery times in practice with a Skadi (with earpiece and rolled wire in a compartment) recovering another Skadi pack buried 2 ft or more on an avalanche path. Yes, practice, practice, one may become very proficient with dedicated practice. And then there was the ornery Patroller trick of hiding the transceiver pack in a tree, frustrating the first time but after that one recalled the possibility…Someday I will hold the new technology in my hand and be amazed, I am sure. Looking forward to studying the data, Jonathan.

  16. Lou November 13th, 2008 8:57 pm

    As Rob said, you want to prove your grey beard chops? Use a Skadi and show us what you can do.

    http://www.wildsnow.com/articles/skadi/skadi_1.html

  17. Randonnee November 13th, 2008 9:56 pm

    Cool, Lou, that is the Skadi “hot dog.” I used the more “transceiver-shaped” yellow Skadi for several years before we stepped up to Ortovox. It was a real test of calm in the timed exercise to tuck one’s removed gloves under an arm and quickly unroll the delicate earpiece and wire without breaking it. In regard to the 2:30 practice recovery time, that was not so unusual, one Patroller achieved in a 1:98 time- again, on an avalanche path, 2 ft or deeper. We practiced so much that often we could kick out of skis after skiing down within a few feet of the buried transceiver pack to begin a grid search. This was after skiing from above a 40 degree starting zone while wearing the wired earpiece. I once wrote a Job Description that required a Patroller to demonstrate three recoveries under five minutes on one of the usual avalanche paths with a 2 ft. or more burial, and all met the standard with dedicated practice. But then, we had no probes to fiddle with : )} – one had to learn how to dig and understand the shortest distance through the snow (strongest signal) instead of digging the plumb line and missing. I am not sure about standards but from what I have seen online longer times, say 15 minutes to recover a transceiver is common (?).

    And perhaps you have heard that the older I get, the faster I was! : )}

  18. Unhappy Camper November 14th, 2008 1:02 am

    I may not have a gray beard, but I sure as heck didn’t buy my beacon used and I’ve owned it and practiced with it for 8 years. There is no argument that a Tracker would be a better option. I just think there is enough judging of people out there (see TGR) as it is. Maybe that was a way to get folks to click on your “shop” links above, but I would hate to think that.

    The point is not to get into a position in the first place to have to use your beacon (although God knows what could happen out there and I understand that). If there is going to be any “judging”, I think you could find a lot worse things to judge people in the BC on other than what beacon they have. Understanding snow-pack, triggers, route finding, group dynamics, or jokers who don’t even own or wear gear would be a better use of time.

    I guess I could’ve just said, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. Besides that, I think your website and this article are very helpful. Thanks.

  19. Lou November 14th, 2008 4:47 am

    Unhappy, I’m certain there are folks such as yourself who do get their more basic beacons wired, and we most certainly appreciate that.

    And off course we appreciate folks using the shop links, just as TGR probably appreciates their paid display advertising. None of this stuff comes free and it takes a ton of time to keep going and produce content for. Nonetheless, we are not so cynical as to create content just to get folks to click our links.

    As for judging, we do have opinions here and will continue to express them. If this is perceived as too judgmental, then that’s probably a danger we have to face and overcome through the opportunity to dialog such as using these comments, so thanks for participating. Lou

  20. Jonathan Shefftz November 14th, 2008 7:28 am

    I just realized that I neglected to include in the introduction my favorite line on this subject: “Much of beacon design boils down to how much of your thinking do you want your beacon to do for you.” (This also applies to navigation, whether in the field or in the car, i.e., only map and compass, or combined with GPS.)

    Since that line comes from Marcus Peterson at Ortovox, and since Ortovox still makes beacons that span the entire spectrum, I’ll use their models to illustrate:
    F1 = All the beacon provides is an analog acoustical tone and a few lights, so you have to do all the thinking.
    M2 = You still need to figure out which direction to go (since the beacon has only one antenna), but with digital processing for distance/strength, flux line adjustment, and volume/sensitivity adjustment, the beacon is now doing more thinking for you.
    Patroller/X1 = The beacon essentially does more digital processing when you need it the most (i.e., further into the secondary search phase), the goal being to thereby maximize the range (by using only one antenna for the initial signal acquisition). So the amount of thinking you need to do varies depending on the point in the search. (If this sounds potentially confusing with all these automated switchover points, it is, but once you’re familiar with the behavior, it’s a highly appealing beacon for those coming from an analog background.)
    D3 = Like the Tracker, for a single-victim burial, the beacon does the thinking for you. The D3 will alert you to the present of a multiple-victim burial, but otherwise you’re on your own.
    S1 = Just do what it tells you to do!

    Now let’s go back in time to Randonnee and his Skadi. That beacon required him to do all the thinking, since all it did was allow him to listen in on the transmission. Was he as effective as he claims? Sure, I definitely believe that. But I also believe that he and his colleagues practiced far more often than anyone does today. I also suspect that he practiced more often each season than collectively all the TGR message board F1 purchasers will . . . ever. Given that a multiple-antenna beacon owner is ready almost immediately to proceed to multiple-victim searches, deep-burial pinpointing, and other aspects of the rescue process, a newbie owner of a used F1 is going to have trouble just finding people willing to spend lots of time on basic single-burial practice.

    Bottomline, if you already own a single-antenna beacon and consider you’re skilled in its usage, check out a multiple-antenna beacon just to see if you prefer it more. But if you’re just as effective with your single-antenna beacon as your partners are with their multiple-antenna beacons, and if you just feel more comfortable overall with your current beacon, then no need to switch.

    But if you’re looking to get into backcountry skiing, avoid the temptation to save a relatively small amount of money in buying a single-antenna beacon that you’ll probably never master. The models with multiple-burial features are indeed very expensive, but more basic multiple-antenna beacons are often on sale. (You can even given Lou a few cents by clicking through here to REI between Nov 21 and Dec 1 to buy a Tracker for only $230.)

  21. cory November 14th, 2008 11:11 am

    Ok…so I’m gonna just throw myself out there…
    The only time I used a tracker, I felt like a complete moron. I fumbled and bumbled and struggled to get it to search and then when I got it to search, it flipped back to transmit on me (I think it was one of the first generation models). This experience, combined with the fact that digital transceivers don’t transmit as far as analog ones led me to get the M2.
    In head to head practice sessions, I’ve felt as competent as people using digital beacons. (Time wise and in different search scenarios.)
    Am I just being stupid? Should I give full digis another chance?
    Also, my sense of self-preservation says I’d rather have buried Cory send out a big signal, than searching Cory be able to find people fast. Is this overly Selfish?
    I don’t have a grey beard…but I am bald, does that count?
    Finally, Unhappy…you might need to grow a thicker skin before venturing into the backcountry. The grey-beard comment was there to prove a point in a humorous manner (not to hurt your feelings). If you really start to spend some time on this site you will realize that transceivers are often viewed as nothing more than body recovery and any use above and beyond that is simply luck. (Similar to your point of view…a point which I also share.) Lou and I often disagree (I happen to think he is a complete goober when it comes to the issue of snowmobiles) but I would never preach to him on b/c safety.
    So it goes.

  22. Jonathan Shefftz November 14th, 2008 11:28 am

    A few responses as follows:

    - All beacons have essentially the same *transmit* range. What differs significantly is their *receive* range.

    - In other words, from a personal selfish “find me” viewpoint, all beacons are essentially the same. (The only differences are that a DSP or Freeride can be turned off by a searcher with an iProbe, and a searcher with a Pulse can identify fellow Pulse units if the victims are generating minute vibrations associated with a still-alive victim.)

    - The Tracker’s default mode of operation for automatic revert to transmit has long since been changed to have the default be no auto revert. Upon start-up (and required with each and every time start-up), the user can change this default to instead be auto revert (after five minutes of searching, with warning tones).

    - More broadly, if you do well with your current beacon, then keep on doing what you’re doing. Checking out the other models on the market won’t hurt, but if you just don’t find them intuitively appealing, and your searching skills compare well with your partners who have multiple-antenna beacons, then stick with what works for you. (But if you do have an older unit, have someone with a DSP or S1 check its frequency.)

  23. Randonnee November 14th, 2008 6:20 pm

    My neighbor was saved after a transceiver was used by another Patroller to recover him. I recall years after the rescued guy’s mother sent cookies to the rescuer! Also, another touring partner told me that he dug out his partner in Austria successfully using a transceiver.

    That said, I view a transceiver as primarily a body recovery device, not “protection.” However, if I am a responsible person, I will have the competent ability to perform a transceiver rescue.

    And I actually purchased a probe this year. I am considering buying one of the easier transceivers for my wife or partners that I take along and subsidize their gear.

    Jonathan, you are correct, fulltime paid Patrollers have a lot of time to practice with transceivers. I have been away from that for a long time, but now I marvel at how good the young Pro Patrollers must be these days with the new gear!

    Great, thanks all for the discussion and for the article, Jonathan.

  24. Lou November 14th, 2008 6:48 pm

    All you guys, thanks, this is great! And Cory, if you rode my sled it would change your life (grin).

  25. Happy Camper November 14th, 2008 8:40 pm

    Lou,
    I agree, this is a great conversation.

    Cory, I think you misunderstood me if you think I would preach to Lou about BC safety. That wasn’t my point at all. If you reread my comments, all I was saying is that I think certain judgements should be left out of a “quality” discussion about BC safety. However in hindsight, I think my comments did propogate this topic in an overall positve way and brought out some interesting circumstances and opinions.

    Lou, I’m the last person that will give you #*@! for making a buck or two from your site, unless that becomes the motivating factor. As I said before, ” I would hate to think that” it could go the way of some other sites.

    Keep it real. Be safe. Ski hard.

  26. Lou November 15th, 2008 9:10 am

    Camper, yeah, a sell-out site would have pop-up ads flying all over the place, big gear ads in the middle of the text, stuff like that. While I need to sell advertising, I’m definitely not going to sell out. As for safety, I’ll take a lecture any time, as my record is probably pretty good based on number of days out, but on the other hand I’ve messed up plenty of times and reminders are thus well received.

  27. Randonnee November 15th, 2008 11:13 am

    Yes, Jonathan, electronic interference occurs with transceiver use. One rule of ski touring the Wenatchee Mountains with the RRC* is that transceivers are switched on only after arriving at avalanche terrain. You see, the local AM radio station broadcasts Rush Limbaugh in the morning as I climb for the first run, and the transceiver signal is heard over the AM radio program in my ear. Therefore, at least the first hour and a half of the climb toward the avy terrain allows for clear AM radio listening. : )} : )} : )}

    * Republican Randonnee Club

  28. Lou November 15th, 2008 11:20 am

    Hey, leave the politics out of it (grin)!

  29. medimond November 19th, 2008 11:02 pm

    Johnathan finally you state “Bottomline, if you already own a single-antenna beacon and consider you’re skilled in its usage, check out a multiple-antenna beacon just to see if you prefer it more. But if you’re just as effective with your single-antenna beacon as your partners are with their multiple-antenna beacons, and if you just feel more comfortable overall with your current beacon, then no need to switch.”

    The beacon is a tool and like any tool, you need to know how to use it.

    I’ve been in multiple “just for fun” beacon contests and have won them hands down with my F1 focus. I couldn’t think of an easier device to operate, louder = closer and increasing lights = closer. When I took the Level 1 ave class a group of five of us would search out a multiple burial (read 3), in three sorties I found two each time. I found the Tracker confusing and my partner that day couldn’t locate a burial after they were within 2m.

    Don’t the multiple antenna’s help with deeper burials?

  30. Jonathan Shefftz November 22nd, 2008 4:58 pm

    “I’ve been in multiple “just for fun” beacon contests and have won them hands down with my F1 focus. I couldn’t think of an easier device to operate, louder = closer and increasing lights = closer.”
    - I strongly disagree.
    - First, small gradations in volume can be hard to discern.
    - Second, with only three lights, the searcher can be getting significantly closer or further without any change in the lights.
    - Now yes, a skilled searcher, especially with an earphone, and carefully adjusting the volume/sensitivity control, will know whether the signal is getting stronger. But, and this is the third point, if the signal becomes weaker, go right or left? This is the decision that a searcher constantly must solve with a single-antenna beacon, and this precisely the decision that the Tracker solved with its then-revolutionary (and since then heavily copied) design.

    “Don’t the multiple antenna’s help with deeper burials?”
    - As noted above, a second antenna solves the left vs right decision.
    - And as discussed in my second comment (scroll way back up to near the top), a third antenna eliminates nulls and spikes in the pinpoint phase.

  31. Nathan January 2nd, 2009 2:11 pm

    I am in the market for my first beacon, and I really appreciate the efforts that Lou and Jonathan have put into this review. I have a question regarding the difference between analog and digital beacons. I understand that the difference is how the signal is processed and displayed to the user. If both analog and and digital beacons receive signals in the same way, how come digital beacons typically have a smaller range? For example, the all digital D3′s range is 40 m, while the Patroller’s range is 70 m because it starts a search in analog.

  32. Jonathan S. Shefftz January 3rd, 2009 9:15 pm

    “Another issue is radio frequency interference (”RFI”). With so many different electronic devices carried by backcountry recreationalists these days, complete testing of every possible device is infeasible so I’ll cover this briefly here. I have found that a *transmitting* cell phone (CDMA band) or FRS/GMRS radio can cause interference to varying degrees in some (but not all) beacons. But no beacons suffer RFI from an on-yet-not-transmitting phone or two-way radio.”

    - Update: ran some tests with an iPhone today. When held close to a searching beacon, interference (in three different beacon models) was far worse than other previously tested devices. (Finding the target beacon would have been essentially impossible were the iPhone to have been kept immediately adjacent to the searching beacon.)
    – When I asked a member of my patrol who is both an electrical engineer and an NSP avy instructor, he thought it was all the internal processing and maybe also the power convertor, and not the actual cell transmission.

  33. Oli January 17th, 2009 9:14 am

    Hi

    After reading the above, it is my understanding that the Tracker (not tracker 2) has a feature – automatic switch back to transmitting if idle for some time or ?

    My question: does the d3 model not have this feature? i could not see it from reading about it, if not i wonder why? because it seems like i nice feature.

    There is a shortage of these devices here in Iceland now and my option is between the last d3 in a store or a used Tracker?

    I think i will go with the d3, because of the three antenna feature?

    any comments or suggestions?

    Thanks :)

  34. Stephen Hawkins February 2nd, 2009 4:00 am

    I have the new Series 2 Ortovox S1. Apart from a few cosmetics and easier opening the main difference is a vaste improvement in handling interferance. In my test environment of 24 wifi PC’s with 8 mobile phones, it coped amazingly well. No interferance at all unless you placed it within about 8 inches of a radio source. Even my ipod didnt phase it until close approc 8″ again

    The Pieps DF and DTS are totally thrown in that environment, pointing all over the place. The S1 is so much easier to use and much faster than those 2 as well.

  35. Jonathan Shefftz February 2nd, 2009 10:18 am

    Oli, first off, sorry for the delay in my response.

    The Tracker has a revert-to-transmit feature that is selectable upon each and every start-up. (In other words, if during start-up you select revert-to-transmit, the beacon has no “memory” for that selection during the next start-up.) If selected upon start-up, the reversion process will initiate after five minutes in search (regardless of what has been going on while in search mode). During a 10-second warning period, unless the user presses the search or options button, the beacon will go back into transmit.

    As for the Tracker 2, we’ll know for sure on that this coming fall.

    By contrast, on the D3, you revert to Transmit by releasing (or even just quickly flicking) a small release switch.

    Regarding other features, the D3 has a third antenna (unlike the Tracker), but has only three directional indicators (unlike the Tracker’s five). Overall, they’re direct competitors and the most similar of any two beacons widely available on the market these days, and I think the decision between them comes down to personal preferences.

  36. Mark April 14th, 2009 10:30 am

    this article got me wondering if a heart rate monitor creates any interference with a beacon. both being worn in approximately the same place, but I’m not sure how a HR monitor actually works. Any thoughts?

  37. Jonathan Shefftz April 16th, 2009 4:53 pm

    I have yet to find any electronics device that creates interference in a beacon’s tranmission, with the exception of the DSP, which can be switched from Transmit into Off or Search by a small yet adjacent magnet. (The DSP goes back into Transmit when the magnet is moved away.) So I doubt an HRM will cause any problems with transmission . . . unless we’re talking about a DSP and the HRM contains a magnet?

    For searching, I’ve documented many serious problems with interference. Among the worst offenders are iPods and smart phone / PDA devices, e.g., iPhones. So an HRM, I dunno.

  38. Jackie July 10th, 2009 8:18 am

    Are there any beacons that work properly with an ipod? I am researching beacons at the moment and I know that my son will not snowboard without his ipod. Also I am looking at 2 models – the Backcountry Access Tracker DTS and the Pieps 2 – any suggestions. Need it for his trip to Chile in 2 weeks. Thanks, Jackie

  39. Matt October 17th, 2009 7:35 pm

    Has anyone heard if a GPS left on will effect a beacon?

  40. Jonathan Shefftz October 18th, 2009 9:02 am

    “Has anyone heard if a GPS left on will effect a beacon?”
    – I’ve tried with a Garmin 60Cx, and was not able to cause any interference.

  41. Mackie Images January 6th, 2010 10:52 am

    Do you have any plans to do an updated beacon review, or have they not changed significantly since last year?

  42. Lou January 6th, 2010 11:15 am

    Mackie, updating has been ongoing. I’ll change this post title as it does confuse.

  43. Jonathan January 6th, 2010 11:59 am

    Quick summary of what’s been updated here:

    1. Some add’l interference results, posted in a comment at:
    http://www.wildsnow.com/1609/jonathans-wildsnow-beacon-test-notes/

    2. Ortovox S1 firmware update, posted at the end of the original review (under “JANUARY 2010 UPDATE”) at:
    http://www.wildsnow.com/1608/ortovox-s1-avalanche-beacon-review/

    3. Significantly modified Barryvox Pulse review for new 3.0 firmware at:
    http://www.wildsnow.com/1729/barryvox-pulse-beacon-review/

    4. For the BCA Tracker 2, I’ve had a demo unit since early November, and posted some of my initial impressions in a comment at:
    http://www.wildsnow.com/1605/backcountry-accesss-tracker-avalanche-beacon-review/
    I did not publish a complete review then, since I did not have the final firmware. Once my unit is upgraded to the current retail firmware, a complete review will follow.

    5. Review of Pieps avy-related electronics (iProbe, Checker, 30 Plus) is in the works.

    6. ARVA Link review . . . once it becomes available . . . and if I can get a demo unit? (The biggest drawback of ARVA beacons is their limited availability.)

    7. Sneak preview of new Ortovox 3+ later this month, after a tentatively scheduled demo session.

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