Avalanche Beacons Market Overview and Shopping Matrix


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

[updated August 2013]

An amazing array of avalanche beacons are available for ski touring — nothing less than shopping confusion. To cut the bull just shop the ones we recommend (marked with a ‘WS’ in the chart). Note that every beacon on the market still requires practice to be used to full potential. In our opinion, range, size and ease of use are the three most important beacon features. Durability and water resistance are also factors, but most beacons don’t appear to address those much more than what’s required by the European CE standard. If you’re new to beacon shopping you might be confused by all the “multiple burial marking masking” functions. Our advice is to simply ignore the multiple burial stuff while you’re shopping. After you have your beacon, do some practice sessions and learn how to use the multiple functions — and ski one-at-a-time through backcountry avalanche hazard zones so you never have to use it.

WildSnow
Avalanche Beacon Reviews & Shopping Chart
  Street Notes      
ARVA Evo3 $329 IL discontinued 
ARVA A.D.vanced $379 MR   discontinued
ARVA Evo3+ $279 MR, WS! Web Manual Shop 
ARVA Axis $359 MR Web Manual Shop 
ARVA Link $449 MR Web Manual Shop 
Arva Neo $350 MR, WS! Web Manual Shop
ARVA 3 Axes $399 MR discontinued 
 
BCA Tracker DTS $290 IL, DA Web Manual Shop
BCA Tracker 2 $335 IL, WS! Web Manual Shop
 
Barryvox Pulse $490 MR Web Manual Shop
Barryvox Opto 3000 $300 IL     discontinued
Barryvox Element $350 MR, WS! Web Manual Shop
 
Ortovox 3+ $349 MR, WS! Web Manual Shop
Ortovox Patroller/X1   discontinued
Ortovox S1/S1+ $449 MR Web Manual Shop
Ortovox F1 Focus $199 SA, NR Web   Shop
O Patroller Digi / D3 $249 IL Web Manual Shop
Ortovox Zoom $250 IL Web Manual Fall 2012
 
Pieps DSP $450 MR Web Manual Shop
Pieps DSP Advanced $550 MR Manual discontinued
Pieps DSP Tour $350 MR, WS! Web Manual  Shop
Pieps Freeride $200 SA, NR Web Manual Shop
Pieps Vector $600 MR Web    
 

NR = Not Recommended for the typical backcountry recreationalist.
SA = Single Antenna.
DA = Dual Antenna.
IL = Simplified indicator light functions for multiple burials.
MR = Masking Marking etc. for multiple burials.

WS! = WildSnow.com recommended all-rounder beacon, e.g., what your one choice would be within each brand when asked by the non-skiing partner of a new backcountry or an old one looking to upgrade, with enough money to buy a modern design at retail, but without knowing anything more about the skier.

All beacons have three antennas unless otherwise noted.

 

Beacon Test Notes

Tips on Checking Older Beacons

Shop for avalanche beacons.

Comments

43 Responses to “Avalanche Beacons Market Overview and Shopping Matrix”

  1. Craig August 25th, 2011 10:24 am

    Is it just me or is there a construction stud-sensor masquerading in that first pic?

  2. Halsted Morris August 25th, 2011 11:00 am

    Yes, it is…

    Don’t worry Craig, Jonathan is going for a very inside TGR joke….

  3. Lou August 25th, 2011 11:14 am

    Unless Stanley is now selling an avy beacon, Craig, you could be correct (grin).

  4. Jonathan Shefftz August 25th, 2011 11:48 am

    And be on the lookout for tent poles in any pictures I might take of avy probes!

  5. Cascade Alpinist August 25th, 2011 4:00 pm

    Jonathan,
    ARVA has just set up new US distribution and the products will be available in US shops early fall for the winter season. All three transceiver models will be in stock for immediate delivery along with ABS compatible packs, shovels and probes. ARVA has set up a distribution arm in the US from their headquarters in France. So we will be seeing more of their gear out there.

  6. Jonathan Shefftz August 25th, 2011 4:23 pm

    I’d heard a rumor last season to that effect — thanks for the confirmation on ARVA availability (especially since I was wondering whether to bother even mentioning their beacons given their typical unavailability in North America).
    Do you have the details on how to contact the new distributor? Or feel free to have them contact me.

  7. Mark August 25th, 2011 8:06 pm

    I worked on a ski patrol when the first tracker came out. I had gotten used to an Ortovox F2 dual frequency unit and considered it a very solid European tool. I looked at that Tracker and thought, no way am I using a beacon that looks that much like Coleco hand held basketball game. Now I still use a Tracker 1 after a handful of years and consider it the obvious choice for the price-conscious weekend warrior.

  8. Pablo August 26th, 2011 1:49 am

    I’ve didn’t prove yet, But I think the GPS feature in the Pieps Vector is a very good feature. It can not only be used as a common GPS to track down to home, but also gives you two principal advantages:

    First, yo can say (by radio, telephone or such) your exact location to the rescue patrols. So you can optimice the speed of the rescue.

    And second (even more important). It allows you to not pass two times over the same point when you are searching. It allows you to optimice the time on the first phases by eliminating the overlaping of searching field. So you can cover more field in less time and without repeating or overlaping areas you have already pass.

  9. Gustav August 26th, 2011 1:56 am

    I think it’s very strange that no manufacturer has proposed a supplementary standard for “extra communication” yet. A simple thing like transmitting a Beacon ID on another frequency would allow solid silencing of the beacons you’ve already found. Add to that the possibility of an info text, and you could have a beacon on your dog without risking your life, since one of the burials show up as “Dog” and the other as “John Doe” (assuming you travel with other hitech-beacon-carrying people). And you could name yourself “Avalung John Doe” to let your rescuers search for other non-Avalunged burials first.

    I’m not saying that all of the above is a good idea under all conditions, but all of it is fairly low tech. It’s nothing advanced at all. Your cell phone has been doing much trickier stuff for 20+ years at about the same size, plus you can play Snake and Angry Birds on it.

  10. Pablo August 26th, 2011 3:42 am

    Yeah Gustav, good Ideas here.
    I’m pretty sure that Ortovox produces a transmitter especially designes for Dogs and that Pieps has also somethig similar. This transmitter transmit in a different frecuancy so you can diference the signals.

    I go more away with your Idea. When a mobile phone with AVY cappabilities?? Is so dificult to do it??? I think if a so big company as Apple or Nokia invest in Avy tech, they could take the most advanced features of all AVY beacons and implement they in a very tiny and user friendly iBeacon.

  11. Lou August 26th, 2011 6:38 am

    Engineers have told me that much of the resistance to bundling multiple devices comes from the concept that safety devices should be stand-alone, so they’re more likely to be stowed away and cared for carefully rather than beat around, taken out of backpacks and dropped or lost, etc (issues of signal interference rise as well if a device has multiple radio transceivers). Also, no one can deny the economic incentive of a company such as BCA being able to be a small version of Apple by coming up with something new and at the time unique, then basing a company on it. But then, Apple lurks, and I’d imagine the iPhone could easily be made to include a personal location transceiver system that would work for an avalanche burial — or locating your child in a playground.

    Things is, as folks realize that the key with avalanche survival is not to get buried in the first place (and devices are refined to prevent burial), I think you’ll see a relaxing of all the uptight stuff that goes on with avy transceivers, and they will get bundled into other devices to simplify our kit. I’d imagine we’ll indeed see a combo fully functioned GPS/transceiver sooner than later. Like the Garmin Rhino bundles a GPS and FRS radio.

    Avalanche beacons have enjoyed this sort of rosy mythology for years, the instinctual assumption that they’re a real life saver in many situations. Yeah, they save lives and it would be absurd to state otherwise, BUT, the whole process of burial, find with beacon, and shovel the person out really doesn’t work all that well. So when other things (like airbag backpacks) start to work better and better, and get 100% penetration into the backcountry skiing population, watch beacons become more of a commodity item with much less emphasis on how fancy they are, and more emphasis on size, simplicity, and cost. That’s when you’ll see them bundled with flashlights and GPS units, and it will seem totally logical to do so.

    Lou’s crystal ball has spoken (grin).

  12. Glenn August 26th, 2011 7:34 am

    We need cheap radar devices as well.

    http://www.modroo.com/files/GPR2004.pdf

  13. Paul August 26th, 2011 11:35 am

    Any newsworthy updates on upcoming airbag packs for this season? Will there be a newer Float 30 for example, designed for us more than for the sledrunners?
    Any other brands coming out with packs for this winter?
    Thanks.

  14. Lou August 26th, 2011 11:48 am

    In September we’re going to ramp up the airbag coverage. Nick, our airbag expert, got married and he’s been scarce fro some reason.

    Perhaps BCA will chime in here.

    As mentioned in one of our OR show updates, Mystery Ranch lightened and simplified their Black Jack airbag backpack. I think we’ll see a trend in that direction with other packs as well. Most are too heavy and frequently several pounds heavier than they really need to be.

    Remember to look back through our airbag coverage, most is still current.

    http://www.wildsnow.com/category/airbag-backpacks-skiing/

  15. Jonathan Shefftz August 26th, 2011 11:58 am

    I can’t remember if this was reported here already, but Mammut, which had previously partnered with Snow Pulse, now outright owns Snow Pulse.
    Back to beacons: if the beacon spec were designed from scratch today, it would look way different, and signal separation would be nearly 100% reliable. Still though, impressive what has been accomplished still using the old spec that was never intended for all this digital processing. (And even more impressive that it’s coming from relatively small companies, as opposed to major players in the consumer electronics industry.)

  16. Paul August 26th, 2011 12:11 pm

    Thanks Lou!
    The airbag packs review that Nick did was great.
    Want to pull the trigger on one in November so am looking for one that is stripped down for weight, as you mentioned. I would be willing to pay the extra $$ for dyneema.

  17. Steve August 26th, 2011 1:01 pm

    Paul,

    BCA will have the Float 36 available this season which is geared to people who tour. Suggested retail is $785. Look for updates on the BCA web site soon.

    We’re also introducing a pack called the Float 18 which is designed for folks who ski out of bounds or take the occasional cat or heli trip. It holds a shovel and probe perfectly and doesn’t need to be removed when riding lifts or sitting in a cat.

    Just an FYI: if you do end up heli skiing with any of our packs, most heli companies in North America have found it suitable to simply place the Float trigger handle inside it’s zippered pouch and out of the way, rather than disconnecting the entire system.

    Thanks,
    Steve
    (BCA)

  18. Paul August 26th, 2011 1:12 pm

    Thanks Steve. Look forward to seeing the Float 36. Let me know if you need any testers. :)
    Was planning on doing Toll next weekend.
    Paul

  19. Chris Auld August 27th, 2011 2:59 am

    I have always found the naming on the Pieps Freeride to be so wonderfully ironic. It must surely be one of the best examples of Freerider economics whereby the ‘cost’ of using such a poor piece of technology is borne not by the owner but by their friends and colleagues should they ever be reqred to undertake a search.

    You’ll sure as he’ll not be coming on a trip with me if you’ve got one.

  20. Steve August 27th, 2011 4:26 am

    “You’ll sure as h*** not be coming on a trip with me if you’ve got one”.

    So you decide to go skiing with your mate who owns a top of the range beacon, and leave the skier with the Freeride beacon at the trail head. Then you get buried in a slide, it’s a shame really, that guy with the cheap beacon could have helped with the digging!

    (Lou changed the wording a tiny bit so as not to trigger any pesky filters out there.)

  21. Lou August 27th, 2011 5:18 am

    Personally, I’d judge the safety of my companion by the size of his shoulders, the size of his shovel, and the size of his first aid kit…

  22. AndyC September 3rd, 2011 8:03 pm

    Just got 2 patrollers to replace our F1 Focus, just because the F1s are getting old (and we lost a couple of old F1s during a multiple beacon search when our spare were used as victims and, once buried, died).
    I tested the 2 today; nice! I placed two beacons 30 m apart. No problem detecting multiple burials, even without the indicator light. Compared the to the F1 Focus. The Focus lacks precision close in, the patroller is great! The Focus has the ability to reduce gain and thereby discriminate amongst multiple burials, but still lacks precision close in. The patroller might cause some indecision equidistant from two beacons, but if the user recognizes that there are two or more beacons and takes thoughtful steps it is no problem. The S1 may (or may not) be more idiot proof, but I found the patroller to be very quick, even from 40+m out, and very easy to home in on the beacon when close. Of course, I am one of those old gary-bearde dudes who has spent decades with analogs (and with locating wild animals via telemetry); you younger know-nothings with only on-line cyberspace experience, YMMV!

  23. Halsted Morris September 11th, 2011 9:23 pm

    “I’ve didn’t prove yet, But I think the GPS feature in the Pieps Vector is a very good feature. It can not only be used as a common GPS to track down to home, but also gives you two principal advantages:
    First, yo can say (by radio, telephone or such) your exact location to the rescue patrols. So you can optimice the speed of the rescue.
    And second (even more important). It allows you to not pass two times over the same point when you are searching. It allows you to optimice the time on the first phases by eliminating the overlaping of searching field. So you can cover more field in less time and without repeating or overlaping areas you have already pass.”
    Pablo
    “I think it’s very strange that no manufacturer has proposed a supplementary standard for “extra communication” yet. A simple thing like transmitting a Beacon ID on another frequency would allow solid silencing of the beacons you’ve already found. Add to that the possibility of an info text, and you could have a beacon on your dog without risking your life, since one of the burials show up as “Dog” and the other as “John Doe” (assuming you travel with other hitech-beacon-carrying people). And you could name yourself “Avalung John Doe” to let your rescuers search for other non-Avalunged burials first.
    I’m not saying that all of the above is a good idea under all conditions, but all of it is fairly low tech. It’s nothing advanced at all. Your cell phone has been doing much trickier stuff for 20+ years at about the same size, plus you can play Snake and Angry Birds on
    Gustav
    LouAugust 26th, 2011 6:38 am
    Engineers have told me that much of the resistance to bundling multiple devices comes from the concept that safety devices should be stand-alone, so they’re more likely to be stowed away and cared for carefully rather than beat around, taken out of backpacks and dropped or lost, etc (issues of signal interference rise as well if a device has multiple radio transceivers). Also, no one can deny the economic incentive of a company such as BCA being able to be a small version of Apple by coming up with something new and at the time unique, then basing a company on it. But then, Apple lurks, and I’d imagine the iPhone could easily be made to include a personal location transceiver system that would work for an avalanche burial — or locating your child in a playground.
    Things is, as folks realize that the key with avalanche survival is not to get buried in the first place (and devices are refined to prevent burial), I think you’ll see a relaxing of all the uptight stuff that goes on with avy transceivers, and they will get bundled into other devices to simplify our kit. I’d imagine we’ll indeed see a combo fully functioned GPS/transceiver sooner than later. Like the Garmin Rhino bundles a GPS and FRS radio.
    Avalanche beacons have enjoyed this sort of rosy mythology for years, the instinctual assumption that they’re a real life saver in many situations. Yeah, they save lives and it would be absurd to state otherwise, BUT, the whole process of burial, find with beacon, and shovel the person out really doesn’t work all that well. So when other things (like airbag backpacks) start to work better and better, and get 100% penetration into the backcountry skiing population, watch beacons become more of a commodity item with much less emphasis on how fancy they are, and more emphasis on size, simplicity, and cost. That’s when you’ll see them bundled with flashlights and GPS units, and it will seem totally logical to do so.
    Lou’s crystal ball has spoken (grin).
    Lou”
    Sorry to be coming in late on this. I’ve been dealing with family issues.
    Now, weren’t you the guys that complained about “bells and whistles?”
    GPS incorporated in transivers? One transiver “talking to another?”
    How about just getting folks to practice with their transiever??? How about instead of a GPS and “talking function,” one that says “You have not practiced single or multiple searches in X amount of days?”

  24. Christian September 12th, 2011 12:25 am

    Don’t think I would ever use a beacon feature in the iPhone if it existed – it is hard to find any device that has worse cold-weather-performance, and add some moisture to that….
    For me robustness, glove compatible UI and long battery life is high on the list of important features in a beacon. It should work in sunlight (and dark), with polarized glasses and be simple to use even when my mind is occupied with the possible death of my closest friends. The last thing I want is a touch screen where I have to remove my gloves and glasses and avoid strong light.

  25. Lou September 12th, 2011 9:09 am

    Christian, probably not now, but with iPhone 9, who knows?

  26. Jonathan October 2nd, 2011 12:02 pm

    Revised the summary chart for some Pieps updates:
    - DSP “Advanced” is discontinued.
    - Vector delayed until the beginning of 2012.
    - DSP Tour is now available, and my testing will begin this coming week.

  27. Jonathan November 10th, 2011 2:19 pm

    Some major updates in both the chart and the text for new ARVA models, which will not only finally have some stronger U.S. distribution, but are already in stock at Backcountry.com right now:
    - ARVA Link continues as a very direct Barryvox Pulse competitor.
    - ARVA Axis seems to be just the Link without the secondary frequency for “vitals” transmission yet at a much lower price point, similar to beacons with far fewer features.
    - ARVA Evo3+ replaces all the other discontinued models and essentially plays mix & match with their features, resulting in a three-antenna marking/masking beacon at only $279.
    I should have all three models soon, although testing and write-ups might take awhile because I’m still in the midst of testing the new Pieps DSP Tour and Barryvox Element, plus upgraded firmware versions of Ortovox S1, Ortovox 3+, and Barryvox Pulse.

  28. Jonathan November 12th, 2011 12:53 pm

    A few ARVA corrections (also reflected in the main text of the original post):
    - ARVA Link does *not* (as I misleadingly implied) use the secondary W-Link frequency for vitals transmission, but rather uses it only to assist to some extent in signal separation. (I plan to test this more thoroughly later this month.)
    - ARVA Axis is essentially the “Novice” mode of the Link, without the “Expert” mode option, so essentially the same relationship to the Link as the Barryvox Element is to the Pulse.

  29. Stephen November 21st, 2011 10:36 am

    Jonathan,
    Our mountain rescue team(WA) is looking to update our current teams beacons (we are currently using Barryvox Opto 3000).
    We are currently unsure if we should go with either the Barryvox Pulse vs Element and now have members suggesting the Ortovox 3+.
    We have compared the data sheets but I’m looking for further information to support a decisions.
    Thanks,
    Stephen

  30. Lou November 21st, 2011 11:05 am

    My two cents, those seem overly complex for institutional use, why not just the Tracker?

  31. Jonathan Shefftz November 21st, 2011 11:15 am

    Stephen, beacon selection depends a lot on personal preferences, and this is of course even more complicated if you have a team of diverse individuals with different preferences. In this context, I think a key factor is how much training and practice your particular team is willing to devote to learning the particular details of a particular beacon model.
    If you want to keep it as simple as possible for the team members who aren’t into gadgetry, then the BCA T2 would be a strong choice, as is the new ARVA Evo3+ (although its shorter range might be a concern for a SAR team not knowing the number of burials and/or PLS).
    The Ortovox 3+ and Barryvox Element (as well as DSP Tour and ARVA Axis) step it up a notch in terms of features and complexity, but still stop short of the Pulse.
    If your team is relatively large, then check out the separate institutional brochure I have linked near the start of my Pulse review. You can set up the Pulse options via computer and then lock them in so that individual team members can’t be messing around with them. Kind of interesting solution for a fleet that wants to take advantage of the Pulse’s many options but wants all the beacons to be set up identically.

  32. Stephen November 21st, 2011 1:04 pm

    Lou and Jonathan,
    Thank you very much for your quick reply and advice.

  33. steve Barber November 26th, 2011 4:24 pm

    Hi, I need to get in contact with the new Arva distributor in the USA, Can you help me out? Love your research and info. Steve

  34. Jonathan Shefftz November 26th, 2011 5:09 pm

    Sure, just shoot me an email (you can use “AvyCourse” with mail from Google) and I’ll send you the contact info.

  35. Jonathan November 26th, 2011 7:11 pm

    A question came up in a comment at a model-specific thread regarding NE venues for beacon practice. In no particular order…
    – These two annual events might have beacon practice (although check to be sure): http://mountaineer.com/?page_id=83 & http://ime-usa.com/imcs/ice_fest.html
    – This annual ski patrol event can also be attended by recreationalists and I run several beacon practice stations: http://amn11.nmnsp.org
    – I hear that Smugg’s is getting a beacon practice park this season.
    – The first day of the avy course I run each year: http://avycourse.blogspot.com also does double-duty as a refresher, with lots of beacon practice (and it’s almost free).
    – A post at TimeForTuckerman can turn up interested practice partners, and ditto for posting in the East Coast threads of TelemarkTips & TGR.

  36. BJS December 14th, 2011 9:35 am

    I’m renting BCA Tracker 2′s by the day/week/month – cheaper than buying if you only need it for a trip or 2.

    Contact me at: oerentals@gmail.com

  37. Jonathan Shefftz January 9th, 2012 2:33 pm

    Element review is now published, with Pulse v 3.2 and Pieps DSP Tour (i.e., less-expensive single-button version of the DSP) coming up soon, followed by ARVA models (Evo 3+, Axis, Link).
    Ortovox has mainly behind-the-scenes firmware upgrades to the 3+ and S1+ (with the “+” for the S1 signifying the gain of the transmission shifting ability of its sibling 3+), along with a major price drop on the Patroller Digital, so no new reviews to be published there.
    And what about BCA? In keeping with their keep-it-simple approach, nothing new there. But I did appreciate the T2′s ease-of-use on two recent occasions:
    - First was running tests for initial signal acquisition. This entailed manipulating TransmitSearch switches something like 150 times. And with very numb fingers toward the end. The ergonomics of the T2′s switch were even more appreciated at that point!
    - Second was teaching at my avy course when a student complained that somehow his new T2 wasn’t working properly at the close-proximity dual-burial practice station. So I grabbed his beacon and found the first target within several seconds or so. Hmm, now to find the second target (while keeping the first target on). When was the last time I practiced a multi w/o a mark/mask feature? Well, I’ll just plead the fifth on that, but it all came back to me immediately and off I went. Probably about 10 or 15 seconds longer than with a mark/mask feature. Does it take practice and skill? Yes, but it’s a good skill to practice. And would the time differential increase significantly for a third target? Yes, but a close-proximity three-victim burial is likely to end up rather badly regardless.

  38. skian January 12th, 2012 9:58 pm

    Is there a reason you don’t have 2 sending antenna’s as a designation on the chart? It’s a pretty cool technology.

  39. Jonathan Shefftz January 13th, 2012 6:29 pm

    The ability to shift the transmission among two different antennas is indeed impressive technology. But even if the table were to be expanded to include many beacon features beyond number of searching antennas and multiple-burial features, that transmission shift still wouldn’t be included. As I explained previously in my 3+ review, the feature can enhance initial signal acquisition if and only if the beacon’s long axis is vertically oriented and the beacon’s short axis is pointing toward searcher. Take away either of those conditions, and the feature isn’t helping at all. It’s still a potentially useful feature, and reveals some impressive innovating thinking at Ortovox, but pretty low down on a list of features that I would include in a more comprehensive chart. (Ditto for W-Link from Barryvox & ARVA.)

  40. Chris Simmons December 5th, 2012 12:14 am

    Just an FYI for the 12-13 season – the BCA Tracker DTS now retails for $235 instead of $290.00, creating a more significant price difference between the DTS and the Tracker 2.

  41. Kevan November 15th, 2013 11:28 am

    Well, I failed to remove the batteries from my Pieps this summer, and just discovered it is dead! So I’m back on the market for a new beacon. I like the Pieps, with their range and seemingly faster response time while searching compared to other beacons I’ve tried.

    Have you had a chance to review the new Pieps DSP Pro beacon? They’ve updated the design this year and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

    Thank you!

  42. Nick March 9th, 2014 5:26 am

    Sorry if I missed this somewhere else on the site but have you reviewed the Tracker 3 beacon? and how does it compare to the Tracker 2?

  43. Nick March 11th, 2014 11:50 am

    and while I’m asking, are you planning on reviewing the Pieps DSP Sport and Pro? Thanks again for all the great info on the site.

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