Ortovox D3 Avalanche Beacon Review

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Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Overview

[Update: Starting in Fall 2010 the D3 was replaced by the Patroller Digital, which is essentially the D3 but with the simpler all-strap harness of the previous Patroller/X1 (and venerable F1).]

Ortovox D3 is essentially its sibling Patroller/X1 but with no analog mode, and the addition of an indicator light if you have a multiple burial situation. The advantage of having an analog mode is it helps pick up signal from a greater distance when you begin a search. While greater range for initial signal acquisition sounds important and may well be for body recovery after large avalanches, opinions vary as to how much it matters for saving lives, especially compared to how well (quickly) you execute your overall search and extricate the victim. Thus, D3 is a viable choice, as are other beacons with relatively shorter ranges (such as BCA Tracker.)

(Another difference between D3 and Patroller is the D3 has a nicely executed pouch-tether harness system, while the Patroller only has a webbing harness.)

Ortovox D3

Ortovox D3 avalanche beacon.

Interface and Controls
Switch to Transmit is as failsafe as you can get. Simply insert and then turn a plug from the one of the harness straps into the beacon housing. In other words, when you put the harness on you turn the beacon on.
 

How to tell at a glance the beacon is transmitting? Easy: if the harness strap system is completely secured and you see a red indicator light, you are transmitting.

Switch to Search mode by simultaneously releasing a switch and turning a knob (realistically a two-handed maneuver). Revert to Transmit by releasing (or even just quickly flicking) that same switch.

The search interface is simple: A two-digit LED numerical display along with three LED directional indicators, with an additonal indicator light for multiple burial.

How It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Pinpointing
Initial signal acquisition is via a combination of digitized acoustics, one of three directional indicators, and distance readout.

The directional indicators disappear at 2.0 meters (as shown on the distance readout, not necessarily as measured by the actual distance to the victim, as is the case with all beacons), at which point the third antenna becomes active to eliminate spikes and nulls from the concentrated flux lines. The distance readout goes down to a minimum of 0.2 meters (with the same caveat as before).

How It Works: Multiple Burials
Other than the indicator light, with no special features for multiple burials, you have to use your Three Circle or similar skills or strategies to find a second beacon if the first beacon cannot be turned off immediately.

How Well It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Pinpointing
Initial signal acquisition range is on the short side for the D3, yet still typical for all-digital multiple-antenna beacons when used in digital mode.

With only three directional indicators, if the readout is bouncing around between, say, left and straight ahead, the user needs to be sensible enough not to become frustrated between going left and then going straight, but rather split the difference to go slightly to the left.

The D3′s third antenna eliminates momentary glitches within a 2.0-meter distance readout, but can suffer from such glitches just barely outside this range, which can actually be less than an actual two-meter distance depending on orientation. (Much further out, glitches from signal spikes and nulls do not occur with any beacon.) The pinpointing “box size” is large, but I feel that this is unlikely to make much or even any of a difference in pinpointing for an actual burial.

How Well It Works: Multiple Burials
With no special features beyond the multiple-burial indicator light (i.e., to confirm that you are indeed facing a multiple-burial search), how well the D3 works in a multiple-burial search depends entirely on your skills.

Overall: To What Kind of Person Does This Beacon Appeal?
The D3 appeals to a user who wants a relatively simple and straightforward directional beacon, and doesn’t want to bother with any special multiple-burial features (besides the indicator light) or other complications. As such, it is the most direct competitor to the Tracker DTS (aside from the hard-to-find ARVA Evolution+).

Overall: What Thoughts Go Through My Mind If a Partner Has This Beacon?
“My partner needs to sensibly interpret the directional indicators jumping between straight ahead and off to one side.”

“My partner had better be well-practiced and skilled for a multiple-burial scenario.”

Manual [for newer Patroller Digital]

Shop for Patroller Digital avalanche beacon.

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Intro and Index

(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

10 Responses to “Ortovox D3 Avalanche Beacon Review”

  1. Tony Z June 23rd, 2009 1:05 pm

    Great review, thanks for the info, I need a new Beacon this fall.

  2. Jonathan Shefftz June 24th, 2009 10:07 am

    BTW, in case anyone is wondering about the odd timing of this review in late June, it has nothing to do with the beacon model. I wrote up all the reviews at the same time in the fall, then I just totally forgot about including this one in the publication schedule. So please don’t let the oversight of the publication delay reflect on the beacon’s merits in anyway.

  3. Lou June 24th, 2009 10:15 am

    Yeah, sorry about that. But actually, I don’t see any problem with spacing out the reviews. Next thing to do is we need to keep updating, and adding new products as they come up.

  4. Nick June 26th, 2009 8:23 am

    Great review! I think you may have talked me into it! Nice Blog, a great resource for sure:)

  5. Dave Bell December 21st, 2009 11:43 pm

    Hi Jonathon,

    Great review of the d3 I have purchased one for my ski partner who is also my wife.

    One question, the d3 seems to be having trouble finding my Ortovox F1, Symptoms include the multiple burial indicator coming on when I only have the F1 activated….and also, the distances and direction jump around as though I have other beacons transmitting. My ortovox f1 is the blue/yellow purchased new in 1998 or so. Any thoughts??

  6. Jonathan Shefftz December 22nd, 2009 8:27 am

    An F1 beacon will often cause a “ghost” second beacon to appear on any sort of model that has a multiple burial indicator, both because the F1′s continuous carrier background signal:
    http://tinyurl.com/y9orhuu
    … can be misinterpeted as a second beacon, and because the F1′s relatively long “On” period can have a bit of a hiccup at the end that can also be misinterpeted as a second beacon.
    As for the other problems, my first suspicision is that such an old F1 has drifted out of spec.
    You can test that with a Pieps DSP, version 3.1 or later:
    http://tinyurl.com/ycxaqz7
    … an Ortovox S1 of any generation, or the Barryvox Pulse with the latest 3.0 firmware.
    (And if that old F1 has drifted out of spec, the only solution is to discard it.)
    Pieps also has a little standalone checker device, which I’m in the process of blogging, although I’m not sure if it also tests frequency drift.

  7. Dave Bell December 22nd, 2009 9:24 am

    Thanks Jonathan. After reading a fair bit on this and adding your thoughts to it, I agree that the F1 has likely drifted a bit of spec. The service date (I didn’t send it in) was in 2005. In your opinion, will an Ortovox service call be adequate, assuming that it is reparable; or is this a time when it should be replaced and taken out of service? Also, I may be able to use a Pieps DSP to check the freq. today.

    Funny, but it is difficult to admit that the F1 could have any flaw at all, it has always been such a good piece of gear.

    Dave

  8. Jonathan Shefftz December 22nd, 2009 9:43 am

    A drifted F1 can’t be repaired. (Well, okay, technically it could be repaired, but economically such a repair isn’t worthwhile.)
    So if the DSP you can borrow says that the F1 has drifted out of spec, into the garbage it goes. (I know that sounds like a waste, but I’ve had to do that to about a dozen or so old beacons.)

  9. Jonathan Shefftz February 21st, 2010 8:46 am

    Just an update that for the 2010-11 season, the D3 will be discontinued, but really it will live on in a slightly modified form as the Digital Patroller, which will essentially be the D3 but with the all-strap harness systems of the Patroller and F1 (instead of the D3’s tethered pouch system).

  10. Jonathan November 12th, 2011 1:12 pm

    Minor update for Fall 2011: the Patroller Digital retail price has been dropped to $249, making it the least-expensive three-antenna beacon on the market.

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