Ortovox Zoom Avalanche Beacon – Review

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | June 26, 2013      
Zoom in hand is better than two left in the trunk, or something like that.  Shown during self check.

Zoom in hand is better than two left in the truck, or something like that. Shown during self check. I never figured out what the 8.8 meant. It appears after the serial number shows and before the final battery check.

My avalanche beacon priorities: I want something that fits in my pocket nicely, is as light as possible, survives abuse, and homes in easily on one victim. After that, they can throw in the extras such as multiple burial systems or a camera.

Ortovox Zoom (+) at 6.4 oz (182 gr with battery), and fits nicely in the hand and pocket (118 x 80 x 24 mm). Texture is somewhat slippery; easy in the pant pocket but feels like a bar of soap in your hand. Luckily an easily installed lanyard offers security from loss. Optimistic blue and yellow color scheme scream “shelf appeal.” Power is oh-so-simple: one AA battery. Specifications claim the unit is “waterproof,” but nothing more than that. So let’s assume Zoom is “splash proof” and can survive the humidity of being carried under a jacket. We’ll give it a pass on that, but I’d like to see a depth/time rating for water ingress.

Transmission time on that one AA battery is a claimed 250 hours (10 days). We assume that’s at temperatures in the normal zone, but does indicate you could pop a lithium AA cell in a Zoom and leave it to mark a food cache while you’re on a multi-day climb without worrying about returning to a dead signal and possible starvation.

Zoom has the Ortovox “Smart Antenna,” which is said to sense your body position if you’re buried and subsequently switch to an antenna with the most range. Sounds good to me and doesn’t appear to compromise anything else.

Back of Zoom is an appetizing yellow green, just as appetizing as my logger hands anyway. Switch is, yes, as instinctive as scratching your left foot.

Back of Zoom is an appetizing yellow green, just as appetizing as my summer cabin logger hands anyway. On/off switch is, yes, as instinctive as scratching your left foot.

You switch Zoom on and off with a basic intuitive recessed dial switch on the back of the unit. Self check is obvious, and a nice flashing LCD shows you are transmitting (always do a partner check anyway). You switch to rescue mode by moving two slider switches away from each other, which causes a button to pop up. Hit the button, and you’re back to transmit mode. Again, so easy it’s nearly as instinctive as scratching your, um, leg?

Ah, multiple burials: A symbol for multiple signals flashes in the LCD, but you’ll want to go for the closest burial. You then do your pinpoint search for the closest victim, dig her up, switch OFF her beacon, and continue via any of several methods that require practice but work fine if done correctly. Only downside to this is if you’re in a larger rescue group, you can’t “hide” the found beacon while the dig is happening. Hence, you need to be more practiced at dealing with multiples.

Rant: Just about any modern beacon can find multiple burials — some require more expertise than others. But the possibility of multiple victims being dug up alive is another matter entirely. Hence, we always offer our caveat: Ski in small groups, and expose one person at a time to hazard. Really there is no other component of avalanche safety that’s so effective at saving lives, yet so difficult to practice in reality (judging from my own experience, as well as recent accidents in both North America and Europe.)

Yes Virginia, I did test the Zoom. Range was entirely adequate (claimed is 40 meters, and that’s about what I experienced even when searching for another brand). Pinpoint grid search behaved as expected. I was able to hone in on a “victim” buried 24 inches in perfectly reasonable time. During rough search an occasional brief pause was required to let the LCD arrow lock on to the signal, but overall the process was smooth. Remember that with a deeper burial your “cone of inaccuracy” widens no matter how expensive the beacon. That’s what probes are for.

Overall? Despite its somewhat diminutive form factor and reasonable MSRP, Zoom is a “real” avalanche transceiver I’d be comfortable with my partner carrying provided he’d practiced within the last few years (just joking, how about a practicum to start each season, then another a few months later?)

Shop for Ortovox Zoom avalanche beacon.


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14 Responses to “Ortovox Zoom Avalanche Beacon – Review”

  1. Greg June 26th, 2013 9:28 am

    Isn’t the 8.8 just a kind of self-check to make sure that all the sections of the LCD display are working? So you don’t end up reading 0.9 when it should be 8.9, or something like that?

  2. Dave Field June 26th, 2013 12:43 pm

    Too bad it doesn’t go to 11!
    Looks like a nice and presumably durable basic unit.

  3. Oscar June 26th, 2013 12:54 pm

    Greg is correct about the 8.8; or rather, that’s what it usually is.

  4. Ryan June 26th, 2013 3:05 pm

    Just to clarify on the water resistance pertaining to any avalanche beacon on the market. All beacons have to be certified and pass the EN Standard. For beacons this falls under ETSI EN 300 718-1 with the newest version being v1.2.1 the Immersion test (7.4) is one of many requirements. This test requires a device to be immersed in water for 1 hour in a horizontal position at a depth of 15cm. The water and equipment at room temp and the device must be transmitting while immersed. The overall requirement is that the equipment needs to be capable of transmitting durring and after immersion. The requirement is checked by interacting with another sample of the same equipment to form a transmitter – receiver pair.

    So dont pull and fiddle with the silicone inside your battery terminals. its there for a reason!! To the tinkerers out there, Never open your device!

    I have spent some time with the Zoom+. Although it is a reliable entry level beacon it still falls short in many aspects. Lou touched on the multiple burial portion. but another worry for me was the poor coupling position range. Right around 25m in my testing. I was also unable to determine any difference in receiving range between an antenna switching beacon (ie. Ortovox S1+, Zoom+, or 3+) or any other device on the market.

    Just my opinion.

  5. Pablo June 26th, 2013 4:28 pm

    One more thing about the Zoom+ and all other Ortovox transceivers:
    From winter 13-14 Ortovox transceivers will include a RECCO reflector on the inside.
    A little safety addition.

  6. Lou Dawson June 26th, 2013 5:10 pm

    Thanks Ryan!

  7. Eero June 26th, 2013 8:28 pm

    How does this compare to the Tracker DTS 2? I’ve used that one and liked it, but was looking at this as a comparison.

  8. Ryan June 27th, 2013 9:46 am

    Eero- As presented the Tracker 2 is a higher functioning beacon. In all reality these bacons are equal to the average non professional user. The one item that sets the tracker 2 apart is the capability to narrow its search view to aid in the situation of multiple burials. This “special mode” hones in on a 75° area in front an behind the transceiver allowing the user to narrow down on the multiple burials. It also flashes if the burials are close in range. In no way is this comparable to beacons that mark or mask a victim. I would guess to say that the majority of tracker 2 owners are unaware of how to use this function properly. It requires knowing the skills of the 3 circle method, or the micro search strip method. These are the same skills you would use if you were in a multiple burial scenario with the zoom+. While the tracker claims to have faster speeds, in all reality every beacon on the market is limited to a 1.3 second puls and pause length. So NO beacon can be faster than a reading every 1.3 seconds. The zoom+ will adjust its sending signal if buried vertically, This has not been proven yet to influence the search in any substancial way, but it may give you a warm feeling inside to know you have it. As stated above the zoom+ in 2013 will offer RECCO within the device. In Europe this could be helpful when involved in a burial, but in the US it is viewed more as a body recovery device. This is due to patrollers (the only people who use RECCO and capable of pulling out a living victim, SAR groups have this technology but if you are waiting on SAR for a rescue you should reevaluate your place in the backcountry) reaching the scene before the RECCO device arrives. Every patroller is equipped with a beacon, most mountains have 1-2 RECCO units. So its fair to make an assumption that a beacon search will be carried out first. The one case where RECCO stands out is user error when the device is not turned on.
    Back on topic, these 2 beacons have the same range in good and poor coupling positions, they both tell you when you are dealing multiple burials, and they are both affordable. So when it comes down to it they are pretty much the same unit with each having its own advantages. Size and user interface which are personal preferences would be the determining factor.

    When looking at all of the beacons on the market for fall 2013 you can get a very high functioning device for around the same price point as much lower functioning devices. All of the devices in the mid price range are super easy to use with just a little bit of practice and they offer you much more when s$*t does hit the fan. Shop around. there are some very good beacons out there and new beacons coming out every year.

  9. Lou Dawson June 27th, 2013 10:59 am

    Thanks Ryan, I pretty much agree. I do find that the Tracker homes in a bit closer during the rough (LCD pointer) search, but not enough to make any significant difference in rescue time. How much the user has practiced with whatever beacon is of course the operative factor, as always.

    I think some of this comparo might come down to simple handling characteristics. Some folks will like the easily gripped shape of the Tracker, while others might like the slippery and slightly smaller feel of the Ortovox. I like the hand-hold feel of the Tracker better, but the Ortovox fits much nicer in my hip pocket.

    Oh, it’s worth mentioning that the single AA battery power of the Ortovox is a bit less fiddly than the 3 AAA battery power of the Tracker. This especially something to consider if you tend to mostly use devices that use AAA, or AA — so you can possibly carry devices that are all powered one way or the other, and thus be able to swap batteries between devices if one goes dead.

    Neither are a good choice if you tend to be in situations where it’s common for groups to be exposed to danger. In that case you should be using something that does marking and masking, and you should be doing LOTS of practice with those functions — and realizing that most of a group burial situation will be “recovery” not “rescue.”

  10. Bar Barrique June 28th, 2013 9:11 pm

    Lou; good point about battery compatibility. I was touring this year with a friend who has an early production version of the tracker 2 (seems to drain batteries rather quickly in spite of upgrades), and, he discovered at the trail head that his batteries were dead (you should check them at home while loading your pack). I said; well I can give you the batteries out of my head lamp, he then realized that he could swap the batteries out of his head lamp as well (AAA).
    A single AA battery is nice, AA batteries are less expensive, but, so far our head lamps seem to use AAA.

  11. Edge June 29th, 2013 8:00 am

    Great review, Lou. Love the realistic perspective! So many beacon reviews are fixated on special-case functions that have little value in reality, but only serve to clutter the interface for the average user. This one is a breath of fresh air.

    In any multiple burial with more than two transmitting signals (remember, this includes “renegade” signals commonly coming from bystanders and unaware rescuers on the surface), the chances are low of a marking function working reliably. For this reason, you need to learn how to search using the micro-search strip or 3-circle methods–whether or not your beacon has marking. Due to its fast processing, robust signal strength locking, and the fact that it only looks at one signal at a time (instead of running cumbersome marking algorithms), the Tracker2 is faster and more reliable than other beacons when used in this fashion. It has a storied history of breaking records in AMGA guiding exams.

    In case you couldn’t tell, I work for BCA (Backcountry Access), manufacturer of the Tracker. Ryan, you’re very knowledgeable, what’s your occupation?

    Bruce Edgerly
    Vice President/Co-founder
    Backcountry Access, Inc.

  12. Lou Dawson June 29th, 2013 9:49 am

    Thanks Edge !

  13. Thomas Mason July 10th, 2013 5:00 pm

    Hello Wildsnow.
    I have been a long time lurker of your site and appreciate the platform.
    My name is Thomas Mason and I work for Deuter USA, distributors of Ortovox in the US.
    Thank you Ryan for your insight. I would like to share a couple details re: Ortovox’s Smart Antenna ( the ability to switch transmitting antennas )

    Ryan stated – Right around 25m in my testing. I was also unable to determine any difference in receiving range between an antenna switching beacon (ie. Ortovox S1+, Zoom+, or 3+) or any other device on the market.
    The zoom+ will adjust its sending signal if buried vertically, This has not been proven yet to influence the search in any substancial way, but it may give you a warm feeling inside to know you have it.

    The beauty of Smart Antenna is searchers ( regardless of the brand of beacon they are using ) may capture the transmitting signal outside of 25m. If a transmitting antenna is in a vertical orientation ( a beacon without Smart Antenna ) the searchers will be conducting the signal search portion of the rescue unitl roughly 25m ( often closer ) when the signal is received. Modern beacons are fast, but they are only fast once they have obtained the signal. Again, Smart Antenna provides the oppurtunity for the victim’s signal to be obtained earlier in the signal search phase ( i.e.beyond 25m )

    I agree with Mr. Edgerly, either the 3-circle or micro-search strip search method must be in the searchers’ tool box.
    However we at Ortovox, and the other elite European beacon manufactures, disagree with the statement that a marking function has ” little value in reality, but only serve(s) to clutter the interface for the average user. ”
    The ” average user ” does benefit from a marking function. The multiple burial scenario with “renegade” signals from bystanders or rescuers joining the scene not yet switched to receive, is a challenge for anyone’s euipment and rescue protocols. Through reliable flagging the ” average user ” would be able to quickly deal with a multiple burial within their party.
    Lastly, much like learning a foreign language, the “cumbersome marking algorithms ” are only cumbersome until understood.
    Berg Heil,

  14. Lou Dawson July 10th, 2013 10:30 pm

    Danke, Thomas

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