BCA Tracker 3 Avalanche Beacon – Review

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | June 17, 2014      
Tracker 3 works well, nice size. The '98' is battery level indicator shown when booting up.

Tracker 3 works well, nice size. The ’98’ is battery level indicator shown when booting up.

If only my avalanche beacon could wield a power shovel. But it can’t. Realty is the now venerable concept of the electronic avalanche transceiver has proved its worth, but most certainly is not the talisman of life we all hoped it would be when the first ones came out in the 1960s. In those days, we dangled our beacons from our necks like mystic charms handed out by a tribal shaman — with probably the same efficacy. Problem is, possible trauma and the time it takes to dig a buried person out of the snow conspire to grim reality: many buried avalanche victims, though quickly located using a transceiver, die anyway.

This disapointing reality has been obfuscated for a few years by a features race among the transceiver designers. Mostly, this resulted in a surge of bells and whistles related to handling multiple burials — apparently with little regard to the fact that digging up one person quickly enough to rescue him from asphyxiation is a desperate challenge, let alone saving several.

Fortunately, Backcountry Access (BCA) has stayed sane about the multiple burial whiz-bang feature race. Over the years they’ve built in a few features that helped find multiple transmitting beacons, but kept their focus on durability and ease of use. Along with a modicum of practice with the multi-burial stuff, the BCA approach seemed to me to be all that’s necessary. I was always confused, however, as to why the most user-friendly beacon had the most complex and bulky case. Well, BCA has downsized (and even added some whiz-bang while they were at it.)

If you’re reading this and are new to avalanche safety, know that one of the prime rules is to expose only one person at a time to hazard. This rule is routinely violated due to carelessness as well as reasonable intent. Example: Moving a group through a route quickly could be the safety priority due to rapidly changing conditions. Thus, some modicum of multiple burial features should be included in the options for any beacon. But as always, we feel such features as battery life, range, and size are more important than multiple burial gizmos.

Comparo, Tracker 3 on top, over Tracker 2.

Comparo, Tracker 3 on top, over Tracker 2.

The first thing I noticed about Tracker 3 is indeed the size (the PR calls it ‘progressive industrial design!’ We can relate, as we now have a credentialed ID in the family.) Compared to previous model 2 the unit is diminutive (though similar to several other brand models). It also has a much different form factor. The 3’s boxy package is boring and perhaps has less techie shelf appeal compared to Tracker 2, but the 3 feels better in the hand and slips easily into the pocket. It’s a cleaner, more elegant object, obviously a testament to the less-is-more design philosophy.

Side-by-side, size difference is obvious.

Side-by-side, size difference is obvious.

While I’m sure the guts of Tracker 3 are as high-tech as you can get (BCA invented the digital beacon, after all), I smiled when I saw they went back to an old tried-and-true design that places a rotating multi-function switch on one corner of the box. In the old days of the early Pieps avalanche beacon units, to change batteries you’d pull a similar switch up and off like a cork. It doubled as a lid on the battery case. I’ll admit I tried pulling the same way on the Tracker 3 switch; luckily I didn’t pull too hard as the 3 AAA batteries are actually located behind a splash-proof (but not watertight) door on the back.

Top switch provides most functions in one intuitive location.

Top switch provides most functions in one intuitive location.

Use of Tracker 3 requires nothing unusual in thought or practice. Functions are indicated via obvious acronyms created by front-panel lights. “SE” for searching, “Ar” for auto-revert (optional, happens in a minute with no movement of unit), “Lb” for low battery…and so on.

Battery case, 3 AAA cells as with Tracker 2.

Battery case, 3 AAA cells as with Tracker 2.

Audio features of Tracker 3 sound odd at first, like you’re at a gaming tradeshow or video arcade. I’d almost go so far as to say the sound effects are sophomoric. But they work. The idea is you get easily memorized tones that make operating the beacon smooth and intuitive. You’ll laugh at first, then you’ll hear the light. (If the sounds are annoying, which they could be, you can mute using the “Options” button on the front of the case.)

(I’ll admit the first thing I wondered about the sounds is if they’re customizable using the computer upgrade feature? Me, I’d get it to play the chorus of ‘Happy’ when it boots up. Yeah, groan all you want.)

I did a few informal range and search tests with Tracker 3. No issues jumped out. Range seemed average. The front panel readout shows estimated distance. When you get close an obvious change in beep tone tells you it’s time for fine pinpointing.

You invoke the more technical features of Tracker 3 by pressing the small black “Mode” button on the front of the case. If you’re in search mode, this button is used for signal suppression (masking), meaning it simply allows you to turn off reception for the strongest signal. For example, in the event of a multiple burial, once you find your first victim you can turn her signal off thus lessening confusion while continuing your search.

Speaking of which, Tracker 3 does have what I feel is indeed totally adequate functionality for multiple burials. If the unit senses multiple signals, once you get one strong signal it automatically masks out the others. Potential confusion with this: let’s say you have people to shovel out the first victim and want to keep searching for the others? Just use the manual masking function to block the stronger signal, and the others will appear. As with any modern beacon, best to practice with these sorts of functions as they have potential to confuse. I did test this stuff, but have to admit it did not hold my interest.

As for other functions of the “Mode” button, aside from masking its most common uses are probably software upgrades and changing the auto-revert-to-transmit setting. But it also invokes a mode called “Big Picture” that cycles through distance and direction readings for all the beacons the unit is sensing. Depressing even thinking about it. But I guess it could be useful, say if an avalanche fell on an avalanche safety class with 20 people in it.

Overall, I found Tracker 3 is clean and simple in design and easy to operate. The all-black with yellow accent band looks hip, but I’d rather the unit was rescue orange. That’s my only real gripe, as the neutral black gets lost all too easily in the gear duffle. For you beacon freaks the T3 might lack a few whiz-bang features (GPS?) but I can safely say it will get the job done, and carry nicely in your hip pocket if that’s your preference. Recommended.

Tracker 2 is 8.4 oz, 240 g
Tracker 3 is 7.0 oz, 198 g

Shop for Tracker 3


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57 Responses to “BCA Tracker 3 Avalanche Beacon – Review”

  1. Kristian June 17th, 2014 12:57 pm

    One huge benefit of using BCA’s beacons is that they use LED – Light Emitting Diode displays.

    The bright red digits display no matter how low the temperatures in my experience.

    But I have had LCD – Liquid Crystal Displays (Silver with black characters) literally freeze up and go blank when exposed to cold temperatures rendering them useless.

    (Also, I wish that all outdoor equipment manufacturers would standardize on the “AA” battery size to simplify our backcountry kit.)

  2. Fry June 17th, 2014 10:14 pm

    I’d lobby for AAA batteries so that they are a shared standard with my headlamp! Props to BCA for simplifying my battery diversity. Props, likewise, on the continued use of LED’s for the reason above.

  3. Wookie June 18th, 2014 4:06 am

    Any word on why it took 3 years (or so) to finally get this thing to production? I wanted one badly – but pulled the trigger on another model after waiting two years.

  4. Franz June 18th, 2014 7:14 am

    Multiple burial search tech is very valuable, no matter how bca tries to spin it. They simply can’t offer that function, so they talk it down. It is standard bca PR, which wild snow appears to be part of.

  5. Lou Dawson June 18th, 2014 10:56 am

    Actually, the anti multiple rant I wrote in this review is historical in nature, I tried to allude to the fact that T3 does have multiple burial (MB) features, but they are understated and perhaps don’t appear as high-tech as some of the other brands. As for how important MB features are I’d like to see statistics on number of saved lives that would otherwise been lost. Also, I’ll make an educated guess and say the majority of beacon users do not know how to smoothly and quickly use the multiple burial features in their beacons. That observation is based on skiing with quite a few people from different walks of life. Lou

  6. Kristian June 18th, 2014 11:41 am

    Franz, I suspect that in Europe, there would typically be many people close by to assist with a multiple burial.

    But typically in areas like North America, we are in remote isolated wilderness and you can only depend on the people that you are with. So if multiple people are buried, that probably means that there is only one or two persons left at most to do the searching and digging.

    That is why it is imperative for us to expose only one single skier at a time to avalanche danger whenever possible. Everybody else waits and watches from a safer place.

  7. Max June 18th, 2014 1:30 pm

    I was waiting for the T3 for a while now simply because of its form factor. BC sking is already a massive attrition warfare and any way to make large things smaller and lighter without compromising on anything else is great.

    For me as non-expert it’s very hard to understand what exactly the issue is with the tracker 3 and multiple burials. It is not clear to me from the article. The tracker 3 does have the function to search and mark multiple victims. So there seems to be a difference to other beacons how this works, from a technology perspective, is that correct? I am currently using the mammut pulse and I do practice runs several times a year with multiple burials. Can somebody explain me what exactly the difference between let’s say the Pulse (or any other beacon that people deem to have a superior multiple burial function) and the tracker 3 is? Sounds like the T3 multiple burial function is inferior, but why? Please use as much tech talk as you need to explain, I will figure it out.

    I agree that there is a big question mark on how often multiple burials occur (and quite frankly they shouldn’t), and another question whether a beacon with multiple burial function raises the odds for the victims. But if the tech is there, I like to have it, even if it’s just 1%. I don’t see the point of not having it if it doesn’t complicate the beacon or any other tradeoff. The multiple burial function on the pulse for example is very easy to use and it doesn’t seem to come with any downside.

    Thanks, Max

  8. Steve June 18th, 2014 8:29 pm

    Anyone can do their own homework on multiple burials at this web site and similar ones for your country of choice: http://www.avalanche.org/

    A cursory glance for the 2013/2014 season reveals 32 avalanches with fatalities in the U.S. this year. Of those, ten involved multiple burials, so roughly 30%.In every single one of these accidents where multiple people were caught there is a death. I would also throw out the hikers at Tuckerman’s and the recent tragedy on Rainier brining it down to 25%.

    The trend of fatalities in multiple burials is something that we have seen world wide for many years. What is even more interesting is that of the REPORTED multiple burial accidents where there have NOT BEEN deaths, those rescues were performed by snowmobilers who had very old beacons. In one example when many people were buried and only one death occurred it was a variety of beacon models. What resulted in this success was group communication and the “hands on” thinking and actions of those that participated in the rescue. However, to the best of my knowledge, there is only one multiple burial rescue recorded where someone did not die. Oops. It was in Canada I just remembered, not the U.S.

    What I can quickly conclude from the stats of this season is that it’s one of the highest years ever for multiple burials in the U.S. and that we absolutely need to continue to focus on travel techniques and terrain choices in the backcountry and hammer on those points to blossoming backcountry skiers and boarders. It’s very likely not a beacon that’s going to save your life.

    I should say that my name is Steve and I work for BCA.

  9. Lou Dawson June 19th, 2014 7:18 am

    Steve, thanks for visiting. I’ve been noticing the multiple victim trend. One has to wonder if this is a tragic unintended consequence of the beacon industry contantly droning on and on about their multiple burial features. On a more positive note, I’ve noticed in many places we ski that folks do practice excellent one-at-a-time skiing techniques, often because they have a wise group size. Range, ease of use, durability, battery life, size, price. That is the design philosophy I advocate.

    Back to the trends. If there is indeed any increase in the number of multiple burial accidents, in my way of thinking that would so easily offset any small increase in safety that MB features give as to be a cruel joke.

  10. Mark Worley June 19th, 2014 9:21 am

    Top switch does invoke the old Pieps switch/ battery slot. As to carrying in a pocket, I have done so continually following buckle breakage in car hatch door. I don’t really mind.

  11. Lou Dawson June 19th, 2014 10:34 am

    Wookie, no real idea on how the timing worked, but bringing a product like this to market is difficult, on top of that the company ownership was changing hands and perhaps there was a decision making process about what products to proceed with.

  12. Lou Dawson June 19th, 2014 10:39 am

    Franz, so, based on a bit of experience doing the sport I agree with PR take that makes me part of it? Sorry, but that’s ridiculous. What should we do, take the opposite point of view of all PR to prove our authenticity? I’m not going to let PR spreech drive my take, either positive or negative. Please know that.

  13. Halsted June 19th, 2014 10:55 am

    “Interesting” review Lou.

    No matter what BCA says about MB, I’d still rather have my partners with a transceiver that work with a marking function. And yes as always for pros and amateurs alike, everyone needs to learn how to operate ALL the functions of their transceiver = you don’t buy a car and not look at the owner’s manual, do you? That concept is only common sense. How often do you talk with your skiing partners about how often they practice with their transceiver?

    As for so called “wiz-bang” functions, I’m (my transceiver is an Ortovox S1+) dam glad I had the marking functions and the deep burial function on the Sheep Creek recovery last year. My victim was the deepest (14’+) of all the victims; I don’t think I could have been as close as I was in my pinpoint with any of the Tracker transceivers.

  14. Steve June 19th, 2014 11:00 am

    Lou-I think the trend has more to do with a lack of education and a strong desire to “get it done quickly” in the digital age of NOW.

  15. Lou Dawson June 19th, 2014 11:12 am

    Halsted, I understand what you’re saying but I think you’re missing the point. For example, the outcome of Sheep Creek would have been just as tragic no matter what beacon you’d been using. I’m glad to hear yours worked well, and I’ll say it before you do that even in a rescue/recovery speed is good because it reduces risk to the rescuers. On the other hand, the whole point here in this comment thread is the question of how complex or extensive the MB features need to be. T3 has MB features, so does the Tracker 2 for that matter (special mode).

    I think this whole thing comes down to the same stuff that helmet arguments do. Despite the fact that helmets are not proven to have reduced the rate of fatal head injuries, we still like them because they might. Beacon MB features are exactly the same. They might help save someone’s life, but so far I know of no statistical proof that they’ve increased avalanche survival rates to any measurable degree.

    If the MB features don’t complicate use of the beacon and don’t add cost, then I’d agree that having them in there is a “whatever” scenario. But such is not always the case. More, I constantly see both avy safety instructors as well as sales reps focusing on MB features, to the point of where I’m pretty sick of it. Set out the tape measure, show me the range, give me something small and easy to switch on and off. Get some battery life going, make it durable and water resistant…

    Lastly, I’d offer that the beacon chosen/used by a pro rescue person to do recovery of deceased victims is perhaps a different thing that what’s best for much of the general skiing public.


  16. dave June 19th, 2014 1:59 pm

    Chris Davenport points it out pretty clearly in the article, the reason why brain injuries didn’t go down with increased helmet use is because people ski faster, stepper, BC. Now you can argue that people do that because they wear a helmet but I disagree. People do that because their skis and boots allow them to.
    Imagine over the past 10 years only skis and boot technology would have developed to the current stage, but there wasn’t a trend to helmets , you would have a massive increase in brain injuries.

    But you right, I like to see independent research on the usefulness of MB function. until then, I will ski with people hat have beacons with MB function. also, what would probably save more lifes than anything else if BC skiers all get much more skilled on shoveling.

  17. Lou Dawson 2 June 19th, 2014 2:09 pm

    Dave, I’d agree that people are skiing faster, I’ve got a bit more time span to observe first-hand than Dav does (grin), glad to concur. But not everyone skis that way, I ski with quite a few people who don’t value how hard they charge, but instead just value making nice turns and having fun in the mountains. Many of them don’t wear helmets, interestingly enough…

    Beyond all that, regarding both MB beacon features as well as helmets, is how little protection both provide as opposed to the mythology of pop culture.


  18. Kristian June 19th, 2014 2:36 pm

    ” also, what would probably save more lifes than anything else if BC skiers all get much more skilled on shoveling.”

    Your brains are what is most important.

    You must use your brains to never ever getting caught in an avalanche. And much much much more so for multiple persons.

    The extraordinary physical effort to climb, traverse, descend, search, and dig in a chaotic large frozen avalanche debris field keeps the odds low that you will rescue anyone, let alone multiple persons in the precious very few remaining minutes that expire rapidly.

  19. Franz June 19th, 2014 3:10 pm

    Sorry Lou, but you whistle the bca tune, it is well known that you do. And you know that.

  20. Lou Dawson June 19th, 2014 3:56 pm

    Well, please tell BCA that, they probably felt a bit left out when I spent literally days covering the Jetforce. Whistle whistle. Lou

  21. See June 19th, 2014 7:27 pm

    You didn’t hear it from me, but I wonder if Lou ever makes an in line change without creating a new sku. And you might want to investigate his ties to the pastry lobby.

  22. Bar Barrique June 19th, 2014 8:47 pm

    My preference on what type of beacon I would like a touring partner to use goes to the one that is easiest to use. Tracker beacons have been perhaps the most easy to use, and, this model seems to continue that trend.

  23. John S June 19th, 2014 9:15 pm

    In a high-stress situation, your brain functions differently than in low stress environments. The reason this is so important is that complex tasks or learning become nearly impossible to perform. A burial situation is extremely stressful We often ski with friends and/or family, and the thought that they’re perishing pushes us into a mode that only allows simple task completion.

    How this applies to beacons is that while we might be able to sort through menus or button sequences while at home, or even practicing, there is a good chance we may not be able to when the crisis is real.

    Yes, I want multiple burial features as I think they’re valuable. However, I want them to be as simple to use as possible. The same applies for every part of the beacon. Now, it’s true that “high volume users” such as professional guides that use their beacon and practice with it all the time, as well as being more familiar with their response during a crisis will be more capable than casual users.

    I am using the old fashioned Tracker, not even a Tracker 2. But, its days with me are over, and I’m shopping for a three antenna beacon. I’m out quite a bit, but still consider myself a casual user, so I want simple. The Tracker 3 will be on my list, but there are now a growing number of excellent three antenna beacons that are easy and simple to use and yet have some valuable features.

    We should still all know how to perform a micro-strip multiple burial search, regardless of the beacon you’re using.

  24. Lou Dawson June 19th, 2014 10:17 pm

    My best known bias is for Austrian kuchenn over French. The French claim I whistle the Austrian national anthem while I have coffee, while the Austrians accuse me of disloyalty due to my wheat free diet while in US. I want to make everyone happy. Any ideas?

  25. dave June 20th, 2014 6:51 am

    @Kristian, I fully agree that turn on the brain would do wonders preventing avalanche burials but I have little faith that this works for everybody. To my experience people are mostly idiots, and unfortunately BC skiers are not much different. We can argue whether they should go BC skiing, but they do it anyways. So at least teach them how to shovel.

  26. Lou Dawson June 20th, 2014 8:14 am

    There is indeed a lot of pop-sci out there that says we humans generally do not make very rational decisions. Not a big deal when we pick the color of our shirt (unless it’s a job interview), but a big deal when it is life-or-death. I agree with this take. Take away is that if we’re not making good decisions all the time, we need backup systems. Examples:

    1. Simple personal rules that block or mitigate bad decisions, such as ‘I’ll never ever ever ski that slope if overall danger is Moderate or above.’
    2. Veto power within a group.
    3. Airbag balloon backpacks.
    4. Beacons and shovels.

  27. Halsted June 20th, 2014 11:31 am

    “Set out the tape measure, show me the range, give me something small and easy to switch on and off. Get some battery life going, make it durable and water resistant…”

    Well, Lou it sounds like you want an old Ortovox F1 transceiver….


  28. Matt Kinney June 20th, 2014 12:48 pm

    That’s a good term..”pop-science” (which is different than climate science.) 🙂 There are stacks of papers about the human-factor regarding avalanches accidents and other clues to hazards one ignores as they go through life.

    Regarding beacon ranges, I haven’t seen a recent report comparing the latest 3- antenna beacons. It would be interesting if you could do a few test and let us know the range of the Tracker 3, not the spec sheet number. Curious as I always test beacon ranges as part of the day.

    At a minimum, traveling in small groups and having the ability to rapidly find and extricate two victims it more important than having the capabilities to find four. Either way it’s not a good situation even with an organized rescue squad near by.

  29. Lou Dawson June 20th, 2014 1:13 pm

    Halsted, perhaps!

    Matt, testing range is a can of worms because no way to do apples-to-apples unless you have every beacon model made at the same place at the same time, test at least two units from each model, and test every model in combination with every other model! So I test pretty casually, just to get a sense, perhaps in similar fashion to what you do. Some beacons obviously stand out from others in terms of how the pick up the signal sooner. Tracker seemed average in terms of range, nothing alarming. I paired it with another Tracker 2 just to keep my bias going strong (grin).

    Pop-sci is a term I like to use for the ever changing “truth” of science, especially when presented more on the hobby side of things, rather than by life-long professionals educated in multiple disciplines. We like to think that science is a constant, and once something is proved by science to be fact it remains that way. Fact is, scientific “facts” change all the time because many of what we think of as facts are actually theories, new evidence comes to light, and the theory has to be changed. Or, perhaps change the fact to fit the theory (grin)?

    I should add that the science behind “Human Factors” is solid, IMHO. I referred to popsci as it relates to some of the books and articles about how most of our decisions are _really_ poorly made, as in lizard brain emotional decisions that are way way off base. I don’t necessarily agree with that, some of it feels like popsci and the self denigration we seem to sometimes enjoy (I am not worthy!). Lou

  30. Lou Dawson June 20th, 2014 1:42 pm

    BTW, I got back to the office where I have scale:

    Tracker 2 is 8.4 oz, 240 g
    Tracker 3 is 7.0 oz, 198 g

    For the sake of comparison, the Arva Evo 3 we have here weighs 8.3 oz, 236 g.

    All loaded with alkaline batteries.

    That’s a pretty significant weight reduction for BCA.

  31. Kristian June 20th, 2014 3:35 pm

    Ok, can’t resist including this tidbit:

    Back in the day before transceivers, I originally carried something called an avalanche cord. (Still have it.)

    It’s bright red with tiny distance markers on it and direction arrows. You tie one end to yourself and throw the ball of line out away from you just before an avalanche strikes. The searchers will then hopefully spot some of the cord on the surface and follow it to you.

    And strangely enough, just did an internet search and there are claims that avalanche cords are making a comeback.

  32. Bryn June 20th, 2014 4:38 pm

    Along similar lines, I always thought that the “Avi-Ball” made some amount of sense. Don’t remember the specifics, but I think it was marketed by K2 back in the day, and involved a spring-loaded (or otherwise pressurized) ball that one deployed if caught in a slide. The ball would theoretically ride atop the debris pile, and rescuers would simply dig down from the ball (there was a cord attached) to the victim. Pretty simple, but seems plausible, no?

  33. Lou Dawson June 20th, 2014 5:44 pm

    Yeah, a few of those were “floating” around back in the back day. One of the funniest was when we’d go visit binding innovator Paul Ramer, he’d deploy it and his tiny dog would go chasing the thing around like a maniac. Is actually an excellent idea, can be super small and light, leads you down to the buried victim quickly, but airbag pack is better because the victim is perhaps not buried!

  34. Rolf June 21st, 2014 2:42 am

    Agree Lou that there are no statistics (yet?) proving the effect of MB features. This will take a long time and is complicated.
    Some thoughts:

    The only MB situations we need to worry about are those at close proximity. BCA is the only company directly addressing this issue with their MB pictogram blinking when a close proximity problem occurs. Many cheap models are incapable of distinguishing between close proximity or not. (Pulse, S1, DSP Pro, W-Link, in other words top models can).

    People indeed practice not enough with their beacons. The only way those people have a change at solving a complex close proximity burial is a marking function. Special Mode unfortunately won’t do (as we see in our classes).

    If range is most important go with best of both worlds: the analogue feature in the Pulse where you even switch of the display: impressive for someone capable of recognizing a vague analogue sound!

    For advanced users the new Big Picture mode in de T3 is very interesting!

  35. bobby June 21st, 2014 8:04 am

    lou, wanna check weights above? something seems amiss….

  36. Lou Dawson June 21st, 2014 8:31 am

    Sure, I’ll do that right now, perhaps I made a typo or something?

  37. Lou Dawson June 21st, 2014 8:44 am

    Good catch, I fixed. Thanks. (Tracker 3 gram weight had a typo)

  38. Lou Dawson June 22nd, 2014 2:07 pm

    I just messed around a bit more with the Tracker 3 MB features before shipping back my test unit. Promise, I’m not being their lackey, just have to say for what they’re worth in real life, the Tracker MB features are pretty intuitive and seem quite effective. In other words, I’m saying that my statements about the importance of MB featured are more backstory than anything else. I’m glad we got this discussion going, but perhaps it’s a non issue now that most beacons have MB features?

    Yeah, probably so. However, if the MB features get in the way of more range and lower price… or lighter/smaller… or make the beacon tougher to use, then that’s my point.


  39. Max June 23rd, 2014 11:35 am

    Lou, is the MB function of the T3 in your view inferior in any way ?

  40. Lou Dawson June 23rd, 2014 12:13 pm

    Max, I wouldn’t ever call it inferior as it tested out for me to handle MB in as good a fashion as I can ever imagine being necessary in real life. Also, to be fair you should note the bias of my reviews, which isn’t too any particular brand (as I was accused of above), but rather to a sort of “real world” style of use and review that’s more on the practical side, rather than 3,000 word technical papers on ghosting and frequency drift. As Hacksaw mentions above, it’s possible that other beacons have a more detailed way of dealing with MB, using an LCD screen with a bunch of icons, etc. But truly, is that stuff really necessary? I doubt it is for 95% of skiers, the other 5% being guides and rescue people.

    Most top-line beacons these days appear to be wonderful. Even the less costly units have their place. The product has matured and we definitely don’t need to obsess on it the way we used to. Mainly, as all us ski writers started shouting about years ago, the best beacon is the one you practice with and has fresh batteries.


  41. Max June 23rd, 2014 12:49 pm

    thanks Lou, that is helpful. As I said I am currently using the Pulse and I don’t use any of the fancy functions much. I do practice MB several times a year and find it very easy to use (simply press the mark button). I am thinking about passing the pulse on to my girlfriend as she needs one anyway and buying the T3 for myself, simply to shed a few grams and have a slightly smaller device.

    I used to have a an Ortovox S1, which many guides here in Switzerland believe to be the best beacon in the market. But I don’t find it as intuitive as the pulse and thus sold it. I never had to actually use it under real conditions so I can’t say how I will react under stress but I believe that the more intuitive a beacon is the better for everybody but full time guides, patrollers etc.

  42. Lou Dawson June 23rd, 2014 1:24 pm

    What does your girlfriend think about you giving her the heavier stuff to carry (grin)?

  43. Max June 30th, 2014 9:05 am

    She is fine with that, she likes the pulse

  44. Don September 22nd, 2014 6:57 pm

    What are the differences between SE mode (T2) and SS mode (T3) ?

  45. Kyle October 1st, 2014 10:31 am

    Lou, I liked this article, and found the comments thread to be equally entertaining. I’m still using the Tracker 1 but have decided to upgrade primarily based on the added antenna. As for multiple burial scenarios I stick with the maxim that the best beacon is the one you know how to use. (Bruce Tremper?) I have found the Tracker one to be sufficient for two burials (the largest group size I travel with) even without the special function, which actually just confuses me. What I am really looking for in a beacon is simplicity. Good review from a legendary skier.

  46. Lou Dawson 2 October 1st, 2014 11:22 am

    Kyle, you’ll be happy with the new Tracker. BTW I would agree that everyone should always practice a few multiple burial situations with their chosen beacon, but simulating just two buried people is probably enough. MORE IMPORTANTLY, be super careful who you travel with. Keep groups small. Expose one-at-a-time whenever possible. If you do get a burial, even one, in a large group your biggest challenge is actually going to be getting everyone to turn their transmitting beacons off or to receive, and if any have auto-revert you’re going to have trouble with that as well. Overall nightmare. Lou

  47. Tyler October 13th, 2014 1:22 pm

    I’m a bit late to the party, but wanted to both agree and disagree with Lou here on the MB issue. I think MB functions are important in scenarios where you have multiple searchers. The signal suppression or marking feature is much faster when finding the next victim than the older “special mode” and that does make a difference.

    Mostly, however, what you said is correct. With limited searchers and multiple signals you can only accomplish so much in a relatively short time, we need to be more mindful of proper BC travel techniques, companies/sales staff overhype MB features to sell or distinguish beacons, etc.

    One thing that has always befuddled and bemused me is this notion that BCA beacons are the easiest to use. Granted, I’ve only been using/selling beacons for 5-6 years, but I find Pieps and Baryvox (Mammut) to be as easy to use as any BCA. I understand there is some history behind the BCA bias, but honestly, why do we perpetuate it?

  48. Lou Dawson 2 October 13th, 2014 1:48 pm

    Tyler, I’ll reexamine my take on BCA. I think part of the reason for my opinion is it doesn’t have a screen filled with funky little icons you need a manual to interpret, then 6 months later you’ve forgotten what half of them mean. Can you tell how much I like icons? (grin). ‘best, Lou

  49. Tyler October 16th, 2014 1:18 pm

    Lou, I don’t disagree about confusing visual displays, which is why Ortovox wasn’t on my original list. The newer Pieps DSP models I find to be incredibly intuitive, even the MB feature was easy to pick up. When I did my first MB practice it was much more confusing to use the Special Mode on the Tracker 2 than the marking feature on the DSP. It also took longer to pick up a signal because you have to “walk the circle” in Special Mode.

  50. Dio October 23rd, 2014 12:57 pm

    Thanks for the review Lou. My sentiments exactly.

    You creeped me out with this line:

    “once you find your first victim you can turn her signal off thus lessening confusion while continuing your search.”

    It’s the combination of finding a victim and putting her out that freaked me out I guess. 😉

  51. Different Tyler October 28th, 2014 2:47 pm

    Lou, I’ve started reading about two vs three antenna beacons and was curious… It seems like spikes and false minimums become an increasing problem with depth. Are spikes a real concern, or do they come into play only after your partner is buried so deep they are unlikely to be dug out alive? Also, what beacon do you carry?

  52. Lou Dawson 2 October 28th, 2014 6:06 pm

    Tyler, I’ve found all the late model beacons work fine. I carry whatever beacon I’m testing, but trend to BCA and Pieps, though Ortovox is pretty nice as well. Lou

  53. Lou Dawson 2 October 12th, 2015 9:02 am

    Update for this fall of 2015. Tracker 3 software/firmware is user updatable and BCA is indeed working on a new version with a few small improvements.

  54. Tom F November 6th, 2015 9:52 am

    When will the new firmware come out? Will it be installed on new models purchased right about now?

  55. Buckley December 19th, 2016 11:31 am

    Very entertaining thread. Leave it to BC users to needlessly complicate an issue. The T3 has a sufficient MB function. In fact, I’ll take the ease of use of its MB feature over that of the pulse or dsp any day. I’ve owned them all and as a ski patroller at Snowbird and member of WBR I had plenty of occasion to test them all. Over the years it has come down to the fact that I’m faster if my beacon processes quickly and focuses on one victim at a time, closest first. The signal suppression on the T3 is perfectly adequate and if you are still closer to the first victim when it reverts the change in distance and direction will be obvious and you can re-supress the signal. My final word on the T3 is that I will still be forging forward towards my buried touring partner while your pulse keeps telling you to stand still. Simple seems to prove to be more effective. Are there more comprehensive MB features, yes. Are they more effective in a real situation, no. Are they intuitive simple and quick, no. Use whatever beacon you are most comfortable with, but don’t the knock the feature you use the least on a unit that out performs most others in the scenario you are most likely to be in; finding your touring partner.

  56. Kelly C February 5th, 2017 5:27 pm

    Well said Buckley. I’m upgrading from an original 2 antenna tracker and have read all the detailed reviews. This thread was most helpful, and most entertaining! Before reading this, I was nearly swayed to the Pieps DSP for the multiple burial features. But Buckley brought me back to the Tracker with his sentiment about “forging forward towards my buried touring partner while your pulse keeps telling you to stand still”. Alas, sign me up for the Tracker 3!

  57. Andy February 11th, 2017 8:07 pm

    Buckley, your concern about processing speed is addressed by user Mammut Dave in a comment here:

    The interesting bit:
    “First, just so people are aware the “stop” message on a Pulse or Element is not a factor of processor speed, that is the beacon indicating that the signal it was locked onto is now overlapping with another signal. The signals of certain transceiver models, especially older ones (some of which are still being sold), make signal overlap more likely, so depending on the beacons being searched for overlap can be a common thing. No digital beacon can provide accurate distance or direction in this circumstance, so we tell you to wait until the overlapping signals separate, rather than send you off-course. (if you were to set up a search scenario using only modern 3-antenna beacons with a marking function to search FOR, you would find you got very limited overlap problems–most of these beacons have signals designed to limit the duration of overlap to begin with, and also each beacon model has many different signal-patterns specifically to reduce overlap–for instance, Pulse and Element beacons have 1 of 10 different signal patterns to reduce the chance of any two of them buried next to each other having overlap issues). There are various ways that different companies deal with overlap with regard to what you see on the screen of a searching transceiver, and there are pluses and minuses to each…but suffice to say we’ve tried to address this in the new beacons. Users will find that the improved signal separation will significantly improve this, and the auto-guidance feature on the BarryvoxS should all but eliminate this as an issue. I’ve had limited opportunity to really put these through their paces, but based on the 2-dozen or so practice searches I’ve done over the past couple weeks I think it’s is a pretty fair statement to make that users will see a LOT fewer “stop” messages–I have not seen one yet.”

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