Arva Neo Avalanche Beacon – Review


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | August 22, 2013      

The Arva Neo avalanche rescue beacon boasts a fairly compact form, excellent search range and reasonable price.

Arva Neo is said to be user friendly with excellent range. We'd say that's a fair take.

Arva Neo is said to be user friendly with excellent range. We'd say that's a fair take.

The claim is that not only Neo easy to use, but also a “performance” beacon that can yield “60 meters search bandwidth.” That’s a full 196.85 impressive feet. During range testing (with another name-brand beacon as signal source) next to our house, under power lines while weaving around a 3/4 ton pickup and a subcompact I still got 175 feet of useful range! That is exceptional — for comparison I tested a few other beacons we have laying around here and found some had half that range.

Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

While you can search effectively with less range (unless you’re wandering the debris zone of a monster slide), doing so can slow down significantly due to the need to bracket or zig-zag to make sure you don’t miss a buried victim.

Reminder: another reason that beacon practice still rules is that in a possibly deadly accident, with minutes critical, you need to visually estimate your search field. You then determine what kind of zig-zagging or otherwise you’ll need to do. This is an example of how primitive avalanche beacons still are, as they depend on human spacial awareness that could be nearly non-existent in a tunnel vision affected responder during a companion rescue. Thus, more range is a good thing.

My beacon range torture test is done on my city sidewalk, that’s how I find out how well a unit does with RFI (radio frequency interference, the white noise emitted by just about anything electrical, including your brain.) I’m delighted to say my cabeza didn’t emit any false signals, but I did immediately see several ghost burials on the Neo LCD.

To be fair, despite the ghosts it was soon obvious what was what. Nonetheless, users who frequent sidecountry with power lines and such should always test their beacon in various locations to be sure confusion won’t be the rule during a search.

To get a better read on the RFI issue, I compared the sensitivity of Neo to another popular name-brand beacon and found that the Neo did slightly better, in that it didn’t pick up a false signal as easily. Considering the sensitivity of the Neo (again, I got about 170 feet search range in a worst-case situation), that’s some good electronics.

So, is this unit user friendly as claimed? Best test for that is to pull the thing out of the cardboard and use it without study and without much practice. My take in just such a scene:

Noise: Audio feedback in addition to visual is a welcome part of any beacon. But without a volume control the sometimes ear-drilling screeches of the Neo may be too much, especially during practice. More, if the unit rocks an error code you-will-pay-attention. Interestingly, I could easily trigger the error howl when I set another beacon on top of the Neo, but sandwiching it under my operating Galaxy Note smartphone had no effect (though I’m certain doing this would somewhat attenuate the transmitting signal.)

Multiple victims:
While multiple burial features still fascinate many backcountry journalists and PR scions, they’re my least favorite subject (ski one at a time!). But reality intrudes on my fantasy of perfection.

Quite a few multiple-victim accidents happen every season — and my own behavior is never perfect so yes, it could happen to me. I’d call the Neo mark/mask function “intuitive.” But you still need to practice once you’re in the terrifying realm of having several buried victims at the same time.

(Note, much of the multiple burial hype is pure fantasy, as the chances of digging people alive out of avalanches are quite low anyway and once you’ve got several to deal with the odds drop like a 300 pound cliff hucker. As in, who will you dig up first? More, with a modicum of practice you can find multiple burials with just about any beacon, mark/mask function or not.)

Neo magnetic on-off switch is a plug you insert and rotate.

Neo magnetic on-off switch is a plug you insert and rotate.

Controls:
Neo is switched on by inserting a red plug attached to an elastic lanyard. These sorts of “detached” switches always seem fiddly to me. I guess the idea is to force you to use the lanyard or else risk losing the switch. Whatever — you’ll learn to live with it.

Changing from send to search mode is obvious, just push the big grey slider switch (visible in images on right side of unit, color bluish grey due to photo processing). Only glitch with this is that getting enough friction to push the switch could be difficult with wet or slippery gloves. It won’t get switched accidentally.

Number of  signals (e.g buried victims) is indicated by the obvious icons on the Arva Neo screen.

Number of signals (e.g buried victims) is indicated by the obvious icons on the Arva Neo screen.

Mark/mask is indicated by a button with a flag icon. After a bit of practice it’s pretty obvious how this works: Multiple received beacon signals are indicated by human figures in the LCD, get close to a victim and hit the mask button which takes them out of the search. Trick is knowing how to behave when you’ve got multiple victims. One or two practice sessions will take care of that.

Harness: The small elastic lanyard retaining the switch plug is a nice way to safe the beacon to your wrist. Unit carries okay in pocket, or use the included pouch/harness which has a dense foam back you can face the LCD towards for added protection. Harness is pleasantly basic with one strap around the waist and one over the shoulder. In a thoughtful touch, the straps are colored differently (one red, one black) so you’ll have less tangle.

Battery life, weight, etcetera:
Neo is rated for 10 full 24 hour days transmit, meaning you’ll probably need new batteries after about every 10 days of use assuming you’re out for a normal trip. That way you keep the batteries at 50% or better so you have plenty of power for a search. Weight and size are average: 24 mm thick (plus battery case that protrudes a few more mmm) x 120 mm tall x 75 mm wide, 252 grams with removable switch and small lanyard, batteries installed.

Conclusion:
Highly sensitive beacon with excellent search range. Recommended for use in developed areas such as resorts due to good handling of errant signals as well as mark/masking function that’s intuitive and helps cut ghost signals. Would I hand this beacon to am inexperienced partner, give a five minute lesson, and go skiing? Yes. (But as with any beacon, some extended practice sessions would of course be better.)

Arva Neo will be available this fall. Will probably retail for around $350 — that’s average to good if you do a quick web price survey. Christmas gift?

Comments

18 Responses to “Arva Neo Avalanche Beacon – Review”

  1. TimZ August 22nd, 2013 9:56 am

    Sweet, the first picture worked with my feed reader! Much nicer than the blue hat girl!(sorry to the model)

  2. Ryan August 22nd, 2013 10:11 am

    Nice review Lou, I do think your measurements may be off!

  3. Lou Dawson August 22nd, 2013 10:32 am

    I’ll check the dims… could have made a typo… yep, missed a 0 in there…

  4. Steve August 22nd, 2013 10:32 am

    Great perspective on multiple burials. One way I visualize a real scenario is to go after the signals with the lowest distance readings. 3m = no chance. 2m = possible, 1m = go for it. Of course, this requires pinpointing several signals and physically marking them with a hat/glove/ski pole which may or may not be feasible. The only multiple burial I know of in the last 5 years where there was NOT a death involved two snowmobilers who were buried on top of each other, literally entwined. Two for one special that day!

  5. Lou Dawson August 22nd, 2013 10:34 am

    Tim, yeah, I worked for what seemed like days on the feed reader “featured image” issue. It’s still quirky, but improving. One of those things that depends on multiple factors. Lou

  6. Lou Dawson August 22nd, 2013 10:54 am

    Re multiples, I’m coming over to the opinion that beacon range is the next frontier and that multiple burial features are now a yawner. Recent beacons we’ve experienced, namely Arva Neo and Pieps DPS Pro/Sport really do have excellent range.

    It would be interesting to get a trained economist/statistics person involved in figuring out what beacon features would actually save the most lives.

    And the gorilla in the room: how fast you can shovel.

    Lou

  7. jbo August 22nd, 2013 7:35 pm

    Hi Lou,

    Seems you like to spend your summer time like us. Your range tests are consistent with ours (you can see a screen shot of our data here) which is reassuring. Kudos for going above and beyond with the interference test. Very impressed with the Neo overall.

  8. Mike August 22nd, 2013 10:05 pm

    I feel that multiple burials should not be discounted. Why can’t we have both, better range and multiple burial search? You and your group may follow protocol which prevents multiple burials but what if you are out touring and come across another group who has been buried? There are plenty of scenarios which can lead to you being involved in a search for multiple beacons, some of them being completely out of your control.

  9. Lou Dawson August 23rd, 2013 6:37 am

    Mike, I’d agree that multiple burial factor shouldn’t be discounted. My point is that it shouldn’t be emphasised at the expense of things like range and durability.

    Also, it’s important to be realistic and note that yes, you might experience a multiple victim avalanche burial, but chances are the outcome won’t be affected by what beacon you happen to have with you. But rather by how fast you can shovel and how survivors behave as a group when searching and shoveling.

  10. Mike August 23rd, 2013 8:36 am

    At the expense of range and durability, no, but why can’t we have both? I can watch movies and talk to people on the other side of the world from a little box in my pocket that is half the size of a transceiver. Why can’t we ask more from a transceiver? Put thirty antennas in them, adjustable range up to a mile, x-ray vision of the snowpack, snow melting lasers that can unbury a victim in seconds, ect.

    I get what you are saying, multiple burial situations are rare, and rarely do they have a good outcome. Digging and CRM/site management can be far more important than the blinking lights on a little box. However, would I give up a functional multiple burial search on my beacon completely for a longer range? Probably not.

  11. Lou Dawson August 23rd, 2013 8:47 am

    Mike, it’s probably just a matter of cost. Most beacons now have pretty good function for multiples, and anything more sophisticated will be hard for the average shopper to understand, let alone use. I believe that more range will be the PR talking point, going forward, and is not a bad thing for shoppers to focus on, along with price and size. Bear in mind that the more important solution is the avalanche airbag pack, which is making beacons look kind of silly really.

    I’ll still carry and practice with a beacon of course, but you have to admit that the avalanche beacon as safety device kind of looks like “check out the seatbelts in our car!” said the salesman, “after you crash and are lying there dying, they’re designed so the rescue person can get them off you quicker and easier, especially if there are 5 people in the crashed car!”

    Lou

  12. Rob Mullins August 23rd, 2013 8:57 am

    Wisdom! Thanks Lou, for speaking the usually unconsidered obvious- and against the mainstream fads.

    “Bear in mind that the more important solution is the avalanche airbag pack, which is making beacons look kind of silly really.”

    “…you have to admit that the avalanche beacon as safety device kind of looks like “check out the seatbelts in our car!” said the salesman, “after you crash and are lying there dying, they’re designed so the rescue person can get them off you quicker and easier, especially if there are 5 people in the crashed car!”

    Good evaluation of beacon fascination. Now, on to shovel envy…(grin)

  13. Howard Runyon January 21st, 2014 11:22 am

    Lou, I’m about to take my family (wife, kids of 17 & 11, & me) on a short 10th Mtn Trail tour. Wife & I toured years ago, pre-children; this is our first trip since mid-1990s. Our old beacons were a pair of flaky early Arvas. The Neo sounds great but four of them would set us back a lot. The Pieps DSP Sport is a good deal cheaper and you seem to like it. Do you think there’s a good reason to spend the extra bucks for Neos or DSP Pros, given that we’ll use beacons maybe for five days every year or two?

    Thanks.

    Howard
    in the Adirondacks

  14. Lou Dawson January 21st, 2014 11:33 am

    If you’re careful and your risk tolerance is low, I’d go for the budget beacon alternative and just have fun practicing with the family. Perfect solution! Lou

  15. Jim L January 21st, 2014 12:14 pm

    Howard- you might consider just renting them. it might work out that the breakeven point is 5 or more years with how often you use them. Or, buy 2 and rent 2 for the kids?

  16. Howard Runyon April 10th, 2014 10:18 am

    Should we be prepared for trouble in getting avy beacons through TSA inspections for air travel? Haven’t flown with a beacon since pre-9/11.

  17. Andy M. April 10th, 2014 11:27 am

    Are you bringing it in your carry-on or checked? I’ve had no issues (nor heard of any) putting it in checked bags. You’d probably be fine for carry-on too as long as you remove the batteries and have it off (duh).

  18. Lou Dawson April 10th, 2014 11:54 am

    I’ve flown with them hundreds of times, both in checked bags and carry-on. No issues. It’s just a small consumer electronic device. Take the batteries out and leave the battery door off if you want to make it look really good. Yeah, it’s a transceiver, but so is your phone and your computer wireless card. Lou

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