Ortovox Patroller (formerly X1) — Avalanche Beacon Review

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | December 18, 2008      
Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Overview

[Update: The Patroller was discontinued as of Fall 2010. Note that the new for 2010-11 Patroller Digital is really just a renamed D3 (with the Patroller harness) rather than a variation on the Patroller.]

Ortovox Patroller (formerly the X1) is a cost-effective unit with unique hybrid design that makes automated switchovers from analog to digital.

The unit thus achieves a very long range for initial signal acquisition, this coupled with directional indicators for the latter half of the secondary search phase.

Patroller has no special features for multiple burials. (For a list of our beacon reviews and external resource links, please see our avalanche beacon reviews intro.)


Ortovox Patroller avalanche transceiver beacon.

Ortovox Patroller avalanche transceiver beacon.

I’m buried, my partner has the Patroller beacon, what am I thinking?
— “My partner will acquire my signal from a long (long) ways away.”
— “My partner had better be well-acquainted with the Patroller’s various switchover points, and able to move quickly in the secondary search with only a distance readout.”
— “My partner needs to sensibly interpret the directional indicators jumping between straight ahead and off to one side.”
— “I think someone in another group got buried as well — my partner had better be well-practiced and skilled for a multiple-burial scenario.”

Interface and Controls:
To switch the beacon to transmit, insert and then turn a plug from the harness into the beacon housing. How to tell at a glance the beacon is transmitting? Easy: if you’re wearing it with the straps secured completely, you’re transmitting.

To switch to Search mode, simultaneously release a switch and turn a knob (realistically a two-handed maneuver). Revert to Transmit by releasing (or even just quickly flicking) that same switch. The search interface is as simple as can be: two-digit LED numerical display and three LED directional indicators.

How It Works:
Initial signal acquisition is by sound (analog) only. Further into the secondary phase, this is combined with a numerical readout for distance (but no directional indicators yet). Even further into the secondary search phase, the sound switches to a digitized tone and the distance readout is combined with one of three directional indicators.

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

With no special features for multiple burials, you have to use your “Three Circle” or similar skills or strategies to find a second beacon if the first beacon cannot be turned off immediately.

How Well It Works:
Initial signal acquisition has impressively long range, the equal of any pure-analog single-antenna beacon. However, full digital distance readout and directional indicators do not come on until a very short range, much shorter than any other directional beacon.

Does the above matter? I used to think so, until I observed avalanche course students with the Patroller’s X1 predecessor at my beacon practice stations. To my surprise, students with the X1 seemed just as fast following the distance-only readout into that part of the secondary search phase as students with directional indicators. Why? My hunch is that at such a distance, the directional indicators make only a relatively slight difference as opposed to the rougher directional changes you get from a digital distance/strength readout.

However, in a worst-case alignment, with the Patroller’s directional indicators not coming on until an actual distance of about seven meters, I strongly suspect this would result in longer search times. In other words, the Patroller becomes a directional beacon a bit too late into the secondary search phase for my preferences.

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

During my testing the third antenna eliminated spikes and nulls within a 2.0-meter distance readout, but I still noticed momentary false readings barely outside this range. Ortovox informed me that starting in Fall 2008, the third antenna comes on long before then and will thus eliminate this. I have not tested the latest iteration of Patroller, but have no reason to doubt Ortovox.

The pinpointing “box size” is large, but I feel that this is unlikely to make much or even any of a difference in pinpointing for an actual burial.

How Well It Works — Multiple Burials:
With no special features, how well the Patroller works in a multiple-burial search depends entirely on the user’s skills.

Overall — To What Kind of Person Does This Beacon Appeal?
The Patroller’s predecessor, the X1, acquired a bad reputation which perhaps explains the change in model designation despite no significant changes in design from the final X1 versions. I feel that this reputation is undeserved (except for the very first year of the X1, which did have very slow digital processing), and instead arose because the Patroller has somewhat of a niche appeal. Plus expectations for its X1 predecessor differed wildly from its actual design.

How so? When the X1 was originally announced as an analog-digital hybrid, expectations were for a variation on the then-popular Barryvox Opto 3000, which allowed manual switchover at any point between traditional analog acoustics with volume control versus full digital distance readout and directional indicators. By contrast, the X1 — and now Patroller — automates this process.

So what is this beacon’s “niche” appeal? If you want a simple user interface, value a long range, and are comfortable with analog-only and then distance-only searching skills for a significant portion of the secondary search phase, yet still want a directional beacon (for a portion of the secondary search phase), then this is a beacon for you — and indeed, probably the only beacon that meets your criteria.

Shop for Ortovox beacons here.

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Intro and Index

(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or promoting the NE Rando Race Series, he works as a financial economics consultant.)


5 Responses to “Ortovox Patroller (formerly X1) — Avalanche Beacon Review”

  1. Jonathan Shefftz December 18th, 2008 8:24 am

    Just an FYI that if anyone has *general* comments/questions/criticisms that are not specifically related to the Ortovox Patroller/X1, pls post them here:

    Also, if I’m slow responding to comments, just check the weather forecast for New England and you’ll know why!

    And if you want a private response, just google my name and you’ll find my email address very easily.

  2. Jonathan Shefftz February 21st, 2010 8:44 am

    Just an update that for the 2010-11 season, the Patroller will be renamed the Digital Patroller, but really the model will be discontinued, since the Digital Patroller will essentially be the D3 but with the all-strap harness systems of the Patroller and F1 (instead of the D3’s tethered pouch system).

  3. David Friedman March 1st, 2010 3:49 pm

    I am getting really into big mountain riding and want to start entering the Backcountry. I have been researching both the BCA Tracker and the Ortovox Patroller. I see similar strenghts and weaknesses in both of these beacons….Does anyone on here know about both of these? If so, could you provide me with the info and reasons of which one you would choose for someone just getting into Backcountry snowboarding? It seems that the BCA Tracker is heavy and bulky. Is that not true of the Ortovox Patroller?
    Any info/insight from anyone would be greatly appreciated!

  4. Jonathan Shefftz March 1st, 2010 7:42 pm

    All beacons currently on the market are very similar (with the lone exception of the Pieps Freeride) in terms of weight and size (despite frequent claims to the contrary). Harness design comfort varies considerably though, all this is more a matter of personal preference, so hard to review.
    As for the Patroller, I don’t view it as directly comparable to the BCA Tracker. Instead, the Ortovox D3 is very similar to the Tracker (and also to the Tracker 2). Of those beacons, my reviews here focus on the major strengths and features among them, so read up on those reviews, then demo friends’ and/or stores’ beacons.

  5. Jonathan L March 2nd, 2010 2:12 am


    The absolute best beacon is…. the one you take with you. Every time. Not the best reviewed, not the cool one your friend has.

    The fastest beacon is the one you’ve practiced with over and over, not the most expensive or latest and greatest your buddy bought that he played with once and now straps on like expensive jewelry.

    Demo, play, borrow, try them on with the clothes you’re really gonna wear.

    Ergonomics, comfort, practice count more than charts in the end. If you’re going to spend 4 minutes fiddling with it cause you don’t know it well or it confuses you in an emergency or it’s bulky and you don’t like the straps and you consider not taking cause it’s probably stable that day… it’s the wrong beacon for you.

    Enjoy, be safe, don’t spend too much time on the damn internet. 🙂

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