Where you beeping?
All of us beep in the backcountry. Even ice climbers these days have begun carrying avalanche transceivers, so whether or not we’re beeping is no longer the question. Rather, we’ve moved on to where to beep — pocket or harness? The question may not elicit as passionate responses as skin track angles or shoveling techniques, but it has become a topic of debate in some circles … so here we are.
Most of us, for our first couple seasons with a transceiver, just unbox the thing, read the directions, chuck ‘er in the harness and away we go. This is probably the smartest approach, as most manufacturers recommend this.
Many harnesses, like the ones included with the Mammut Barryvox and the Pieps Micro, build in safety features that often go overlooked. For example, we routinely see guests and students wearing their beacons with the digital display screen facing out, or away from the body. This exposes the screen to impacts, which could mean taking a ride or a tumble, then needing one’s transceiver only to discover it’s much less helpful.
The Mammut/Pieps harnesses will not accept the beacon with its screen facing out, so even if the user is unaware of the potential for breakage, the manufacturer’s harness avoids it and builds in safer usage. Many harnesses prevent an accidental switching to search while stashed as well.
These days, with so many high-quality beacons on the market, it’s difficult to know the “ins and outs” of every model. Teaching companion rescue courses, this becomes quickly apparent, as six students could show up with six different beacons. Point being — the safest option is to simply use our beacons the way the manufacturer recommends and call it good.
Who Follows the Rules, Anyway?
But … you anarchistic savages rarely follow the rules anyway!
I’m as guilty as any of you, so I’ve put my high horse out to pasture on this one. The reality is, there are legitimate reasons not to use the chest harness that came with your transceiver.
Add to this, skiers and riders eventually see somebody pocketing a beacon, or purchase ski pants with a “beacon pocket” and then they’re left to decide for themselves. It’s not rocket science, but there are pros and cons to each approach.
“Whether to wear (your transceiver) in your pocket is a personal decision after a fair bit of forethought and doesn’t mean a recreational user should emulate that decision,” says Colin Zacharias.
Zacharias is a full mountain guide (IFMGA/ACMG) with more than 40 winters under his belt working in nearly every capacity as a snow-safety professional. He’s been a lead guide at Canadian Mountain Heli, a technical director for the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) and the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), a ski examiner for the ACMG and the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), in addition to skiing just about everywhere on the planet that has snow.
He adds, “Depending on the beacon, the leash attachment, the pants, and which side you also wear your radios on, it could be an error in judgement.”
Word to the wise: When it comes to all-things-ski, listening to Colin is a pretty good strategy. That said, lots of us are using pockets, so it’s a conversation worth having.
The case for the pocket carry
Why complicate things, you ask, by stashing your beacon in a pocket?
I first used a beacon pocket after I started guiding. Not because I’d seen anybody else do it, but because the first couple times I’d Kiwi-coiled a rope around my body and had an airbag pack on, the bulk of the trigger, rope coils, and transceiver combined to give me an uncomfortable “guide boob” on my left side. Rocking the transceiver in my beacon pocket solved this.
For some, pocketing the beacon is simply more comfortable.
For anybody skiing in a warm environment — springtime in Colorado, for example — they’ve probably experienced one of those bluebird days where skinning comfortably means stripping down to a base layer … and if we’re stripped to our base layer, that means our harness is exposed. In the event of an avalanche or even violent fall, the likelihood of one’s beacon coming off is pretty high. Pocketing the thing solves this.
“My biggest reasons for preferring the pocket are accessibility and distance from a chest mounted radio,” says Doug Workman, a professional ski guide based in the Tetons and a Mammut consultant.
Recall that transceivers need to be 20cm from any other electronic device when sending and at least 50cm away when searching. Guides and patrollers often have a radio strapped to their chest, which makes carrying the transceiver in a harness problematic.
Mammut’s Dave Furman is also a pocketer: “Maybe someone would flame me for it, but I find this much more convenient, comfortable, and provided you don’t keep any other objects in the pocket, it seems perfectly reasonable to me.”
Some worry about losing one’s pants in an avalanche. To that, Workman says, “I know Manuel Genswein has researched Swiss accidents and was not able to find any cases of pants being removed in avalanches. I know at least one case locally where pants were pulled down to the knees, which to me emphasizes the need for a solid belt.”
Having taught dozens of avalanche courses and practiced with students and friends, I also think running a rescue with a pocket beacon is more efficient. In the event we are coordinating a team search, everyone will take out their beacon, but my experience has been at least several team members will leave their beacon on search, but store the beacon while probing and digging. This is much faster, easier, and secure with a pocket, rather than fumbling with the chest harness.
Why not pocket?
Before we decide to pocket our beacons, though, we need to make sure we’re making a smart, responsible choice.
Colorado guidebook author and die-hard backcountry skier, Fritz Sperry, has been considering drawbacks with the pocket.
“I worry about the increased distance to a skier’s airway, especially if the pants get stripped in an avalanche,” he says. “It worries me, too, that someone might lose their beacon in a fall or avalanche if they use a ‘regular’ pocket. The beacon might also be more prone to an impact there. My pockets collect dirt, too, so exposure to more debris could be an issue.”
I know I’ve certainly had students in courses show up with beacons stashed in a non-dedicated or “regular” pockets. This is an absolute no-no, as Fritz rightly worries that some pockets simply aren’t secure enough. More on what constitutes a secure beacon pocket below.
The distance from the airway thing hasn’t been systematically studied, as far as I know. If a skier’s pants ended up torn down in an avalanche, I could see how this might be an issue, although the situation appears unlikely.
Add to Fritz’s worries the potential for accidental electronic interference (a stashed smartphone in an adjacent pocket, for example) and it highlights the need for a conscious, intelligent method and choice for using a beacon pocket.
Beacon pocket best practices
So, if for some reason you do want to use a beacon pocket, how to do it safely?
Many manufacturers like OR, Arc’teryx, Mammut, and Rab to name a few, build pants with dedicated beacon pockets. This means:
— The pocket is sewn into the pant, not “welded” on the outside.
— It has a zippered, not hook-and-loop (“Velcro’d”), closure.
— There’s a dedicated point, to which one can clip their beacon’s wrist loop or tether.
— The best models use an internal pocket to further secure the transceiver, preventing it from bouncing around and reducing the chances it could sneak out of the pocket in an accident or if the user forgets to zip the pocket.
On top of a dedicated, quality beacon pocket, a safe method requires some discipline from the user. The beacon pocket should be for the beacon and only the beacon. This prevents opening/closing the pocket during the day to retrieve lip balm, a Buff, or those delicious mints when you encounter a desirable skier on the skin track.
As soon as my beacon goes in the pocket, too, my phone has to live above the waist, ideally in a chest pocket on my base layer. Not all my base layers have a pocket, though, so this can be tricky. We simply can’t risk having a smartphone within 20cm in a burial — if it glitches your transceiver in a burial, you are colossally hosed!
Take a minute, too, to study your beacon’s harness. What is it doing for you? The Pieps Micro, for example, has a small light sensor on it that prompts the beacon to switch to search when it comes out of the harness and senses light. The Barryvox case prevents the transceiver from switching to send when in the harness, while also forcing the wearer to keep the screen towards the body.
Backcountry Access’s harnesses, in contrast, are less engineered and require less thought. They’re lighter, less expensive and demand the user remember to stash the transceiver “face in.”
Whatever the case, make sure you are not overlooking a safety feature of the harness. Are you more likely to accidentally switch your beacon back to send during a rescue if you’re not using the harness? I’ve watched this occur repeatedly during courses and most practitioners waste several minutes trying to figure out why they can’t get close to the buried “victim” — nine times out of 10 it’s because their fellow searcher is actually transmitting 2 meters away while trying to probe or dig. It’s chaos!
In short, identify what your harness is and isn’t doing for you, and account for that if you’re using a pocket.
Again, the safest thing to do is use the beacon in the way the manufacturer recommends. Consult your manual, do what they say.
You and I often have reasons to use our gear slightly differently than our manufacturers recommend. We do it climbing, skiing, and plenty of other places in life. Ask yourself, though, am I missing something by eschewing the instructions? For beacons that generally means, electronic interference, protecting the beacon’s screen, battery compartment, and function switch.
If you choose to depart from the manufacturer’s instructions, have a legitimate reason for doing so and do not invite other problems into your life.
Rob Coppolillo is the author of The Ski Guide Manual, an IFMGA mountain guide, AIARE recreational course instructor, and splits his transceiver time between pockets and harnesses.
Rob Coppolillo is a mountain guide and writer, based on Vashon Island, in Puget Sound. He’s the author of The Ski Guide Manual.
I’m a pocketer. Simply because I tend to get very hot even mid winter and will be in base layer at temps well below freezing. Yes, there are several downsides but a harness just doesn’t work for me. I keep the leash looped through the waist belt and hope that if anyone needs to dig me out, they won’t take too much time to dig from the beacon to my head.
I’m with you in terms of temperatures — I almost always run warm. I’m the sweaty guy in hot yoga in the back, the guy the instructor comes over to and whispers, “Sir, uh, are you OK?” That guy.
Heads up with that leash coming out of your pocket — I’ve wondered if it’s going to get manked up in snow during a tumble or avalanche and then pull open the zipper?
That’s a good point Rob. I have always clipped mine to a belt loop.
I will go and make little hole inside the top of the pocket, to run the lanyard up to the belt loop on the inside.
Or, like Johannes mentioned in his BD pants, sew in a little webbing to create a solid anchor.
I’m very curious to see how many people are pocket vs harness-users? Could there be a poll?
I use a radio in the bc and carrying that + cell phone + transceiver is a bit of a puzzle. Things in my pants pockets bug me, so my phone/camera goes in my backpack and so does my radio, which isn’t the best place either. Anyone have better solutions?
Indeed, certain clothing/pack/tech combos require shuffling gear around — especially in spring, if I’m wearing a short-sleeved shirt, I don’t have a pocket on my chest for a phone … then it goes in the top of the pack. Annoying if I’m checking a topo or photos, but there you have it.
I recently encountered, for the first time, a non-hearsay claim that someone’s pants had been removed by an avalanche. One of the members of the AIARE Board of Directors states this in their bio: “[He] has earned his fear of avalanches. He’s been picked up, tumbled around and buried up to his neck by an avalanche in Tibet. He’s been knocked over and had his pants pulled off by an avalanche in Colorado…. ”
I’d love to hear the entire story sometime. I’d wager that if an avalanche removes your pants, it will tend to bury them elsewhere. If the beacon is in your pants, at least you’ll be able to find them again :). (I say this as a beacon pants-pocketer.)
Kyle’s (the Board member whose bio you read) is always worth a good story! I haven’t heard that one, though …
Doug Workman makes the point in the article, seems like these pants stories argue for better belts!
I carried my beacon in my pocket for a while. But then, I realized I would open the side zips on my pants while skinning on warm days. These pants had “secure” pockets from the outside, but the inner lining was weaker. I worried that an avalanche with the side zips open could rip the beacon out through the “inside” of the pocket. So back into the harness it went. Just wanted to share that extra criteria of pocket “interior strength” to the list of things to check.
Woh, good point — I had never considered this. In a long, violent ride, I could see this being an issue. Solutions? Geez, seems like 1) avoiding getting avalanched and 2) wearing the thing in the harness are the best answers!
Definitely worth considering, especially because I fall into the same boat here. However, I think that the amount of a force that an avalanche can exert on an interior pocket even with unzipped vents is going to be significantly less than an exterior pocket. Even with massive vents a la Flylow.
In a slightly different vein, my shell pants have webbing attaching the beacon attachment point to the waistbelt (all sewn in, no risk of catching anything) (Black Diamond/Pieps…they do some things right), which I strongly believe should be industry standard in order for something to be called a beacon pocket. The idea here being that if you have the waist of the pants firmly anchored around your waist, there is a decently strong anchor point for the beacon (heck, even if you’re going low-rider, the chances of your pants going down over your ankles are still pretty slim). Alas, my softshell pants (Strafe) do not have this feature, though I still go beacon in pants.
Beacon in pants every time. Only thing worse than a beacon further from your airway is forgetting your beacon.
Is that a beacon in your pants, or are you just excited… Oh never mind.
Great article. I’m on team harness, as it works best with the rest of my system. Don’t use a radio, pants pocket feels more secure for the phone than a base layer chest pocket (and not all of my base layers have them), and I wear a vest as a “cover/storage layer” on even the warmest days . I also like having my beacon centered on the larger “strike target” of my chest rather than down on the side of an appendage. Like anything though, as long as you understand the safety concerns, whatever works for you is best.
Beacon in the pocket guy here and I turn it on when I put my pants on
With the beacon in a harness that harness can get in the way
seen a guy takes off the beacon in a harness for a call of nature
which gets left sitting on a rock at the top of a 5000′ run
buddy was pretty exposed til they found it the next day
At the risk of TMI, why would you need to take your beacon chest harness off for a bathroom break?
No idea and these were really smart guys but the point would be if a beacon is in a harness that can be taken off for whatevr reason it can also be left off
If the beacon was put on over the bib suspenders.
Curious, is there any discussion about keeping beacons in a safe but easily reachable pocket in an airbag packpack, still clipped to a lanyard for searching? My mammut pack has a map-style pocket (for goggles) up top that seems perfect.
Pros (in no order): safer from damager during the slide, no kidney-shot problem, benefits of cooler skinning etc, and like most people who practice I can get my shovel and probe out in a couple seconds (beacon should be similar *if* its in an easily reachable pocket), airbag really shouldn’t come off
Cons: slower to retrieve, I guess if you switch backpacks you may forget it (same for pants), maybe there isn’t a suitable pocket or secure waist-leg-loop harness, maybe airbags do come off at higher rates than harnesses/pants?
Off the top of my head, I’d say offloading the transceiver to the pack is a no-no … I know of at least one confirmed fatality in which the airbag came off the user (American Dave on the Marbrees, RIP). I watched another skier take a long, long fall in a couloir and his pack disintegrated as he tomahawked — lost everything inside of it, though the pack stayed on his body. Searching might be an issue, too — once you drop the pack and retrieve the transceiver, does it stay clipped to the pack? Do you reclip it to yourself? And then what? Dunno, I’m sticking with it on my person somewhere!
Great thoughts thanks. Pack integrity seems like a possible pitfall (to be weighed against the other pro’s con’s etc). Maybe a dedicated, reinforced beacon-safe pocket helps here. Just thinking out loud.
Especially in steep terrain I don’t take my pack off – slide it to one side and pull out whatever. Less risk of dropping pack in question, faster, no leg-loop fiddling, and I’m that much closer to the trigger in case of a second slide. But I think most people set their bag on the ground – good point.
@Twohatmike, with a beacon in a pack, I would worry about my partner taking off their pack to retrieve the beacon then, in the heat of the moment, forgetting to shoulder their pack before starting their search. They may home in on my buried location only to find that their probe/shovel/pack are 50 yards away.
On BC tours I wear bibs with a zippered chest pocket and keep my beacon there as a harness tends to interfere with layering/delayering (I’m an extremely heavy sweater so I fiddle with layers a fair bit). Also, I find unlatching the buckle on my harness more difficult than tugging a zipper pull with gloves on – and I don’t want to have to probe/dig my buddy out with numb fingers because I dropped a glove after opening my harness.
I didn’t realize folks came to a consensus regarding proximity of other electronics to a beacon. I often leave my phone in the car but recently started keeping it in the chest pocket of my shell. It’ll either be in my pack or hip pocket from now on.
I’m a snowboarder so if my pants have come fully off so have my legs. Don’t bother looking for me.
What color are your pants and/or legs? Distinguishing tattoos? I’ll know to chuck ’em in the compost bin if I come across ’em.
Ha, joking aside, here’s the 20/50 paper, if you can’t sleep tonight! https://www.alpine-rescue.org/ikar-cisa/documents/2019/ikar20190101006180.pdf
Yeah interesting. I am talking about airbag packs only (for the harness), and I personally just slide the pack to my right side to grab shovel-probe, water, etc. No leg loop fiddling and less chance of dropping something to the bottom of the vallee blanche. But I understand thats not everyone / most people.
I love my bibs but they’re the *reason* I sweat so much hah. I’m looking for something with a softshell upper.
FWIW in a recent search we had three different beacons getting false positives in digital mode. Consensus is that it was phone interference. I’m an electrical engineer and have done some bench testing of my tracker 3 and barryvox S – I was able to get blips on both beacons with phone-esque radio frequency interference.
I’ve moved fully to beacon in pants. Mine have dedicated pocket with anchor, though no inner pouch. I don’t like the flimsy plastic clips (they have come undone) on my beacon or pants anchor so have switched to using a stainless ‘Nite Ize S Biner micro lock’ which I feel better about. Also planning to make a lightly padded inner sleeve in the pocket for better protection. My vhf radio goes in a shoulder strap pocket that is on top of my opposite top of shoulder for max separation (~60cm). I wish ski packs had running style shoulder storage to get phones a tich higher than jacket hand pockets. Been patterning add on pockets to mimic my running vests, though have not yet sewn a test run.
hmmm, reading that interference paper it references any metallic items…so thinking my micro stainless biner a bad idea…?
Yeah, given that issues were encountered with foil wrappers, I would skip the metal biner.
How about a cord loop that you girth hitch to the webbing loop? You’d just need to make sure the leash is long enough for all your use.
I’ve definitely had signal interference with a bacon buried under an aluminum shovel handle. Makes me wonder if it’s a good idea having your bacon strapped to your chest. If you get buried face down, could there be similar interference from the shovel blade in your pack? I pocket my bacon btw, digging through layers to get to my harness takes too much time. Pocket seems faster.
Correction: shovel blade, not handle. And it was just practice! 😉
@hairymountainbeast the recommendation is for 20cm of distance from transmitting transceiver to metal objects. a body width and reasonably packed backpack should provide that distance from the shovel blade. certainly a good consideration for practice and for super thin vest style packs.
Strapping your bacon to to your chest will probably accelerate the dog search.
Harness guy. Stays leashed to the harness, but can also easily have it straight in my line of site while following the arrow. I think I’d need a longer leash to get there from my pants pocket. And my pants are so sliced and sewn up that I don’t trust putting much of anything in em!
Nice job on this post Rob. I’ve been thinking for a long time that we needed to dig into this issue. The entire beacon thing, where carried, switches, all of it, up for improvement in my opinion. Oh, and I’ve been a pocket-eer for about twenty years. Though some pockets are better than others. Lou
Indeed, Lou, as our gear kit has gotten more complex (phones, battery gloves, gps watches, etc.) the beacon’s job gets trickier, too. Batteries are another issue! Some units take lithium-ion, others no way, etc. I’ve taken to downloading the owner manuals for all of ’em, just so I can research specs/features on the fly — I’d say the Arva is the one with which I’m least familiar. You could tell me the thing had four antennae and a Netflix account built in and I’d believe you!
Here’s to a stable spring! RC
That’s an interesting point about airbag pack beacon storage. Painful but solid logic. If we’re expecting the danged balloon to stay on, why not stow the beacon in there? Let’s just call it an “airbag enhanced beacon harness!”
What about a step further – the airbag deployment can put the beacon into a high power transmit mode (just dont tell the FCC). Even turn on some sort of GPS app feature on your phone. Find your buddy that much faster. Just thinking out loud.
good thinking. beacon technology is extremely outdated. technology exists to find smartphones to 20cm accuracy from kilometers away. unfortunately funding doesn’t exist in skiers pockets or in manufacturers headquarters to enable the overhaul. someday!
Wouldn’t you be just as likely to have a stuck zipper on your jacket as your pocket? If it’s not clear, I put it in my pocket. Easy access means never skipping a beacon check. I’m also not convinced that losing my pants is a real risk.
Mmmm, maybe. I guess I’d rely on said-stuck-zipper to also blow apart under my Herculean strength if I *really* had to get that pocket open? Another twist I’d not considered!
with the jacket you can reach up from the bottom. harder with the pocket, ir my sweet one piece.
I use the harness. To avoid zipper fiddling I grab jacket and all layers from the bottom, flip them up like I’m trying to flash someone, then I have access to grab the beacon.
I always wear bibs. I always go with beacon in the pocket. My bibs have a beacon pocket above the waist line on the right side (trew capow). Radio is in my backpack. Cell phone in pants (in airplane mode). I never could get the harness and backpack combo to feel right. I like that my beacon pocket only fits my beacon.
I tell ya, if I didn’t so frickin’ hot, I love the look/organization of some of those bibs. I have the Rab Khroma GTX pant with the zip-off bib thing…and while I loved it, I’m noticeably hotter….non-starter for me!
On a pro avalanche course I took this year 6 out 8 participants used the pocket. I run hot and think it’s better than a harness over a base layer. I have mine tethered to a solid belt, and also have added a very small Biner sewn onto the interior belt of the pants to hold the zipper shut and eliminate the chance of the pocket opening. It’s also good enough for the ACMG, with every guide I know keeping there beacon in the pocket.
I think most guides are on the pocket program, but certainly within the ACMG they’re coached to really make a conscious, deliberate choice about it. Colin, the gent referenced in the article, is a longtime ACMG examiner/TD/trainer, and he’s wary of encouraging pocket use in less experienced users who might not consider the nuances of it. But you’re right — most of those buttoned-up ACMG ski guides I see are pocketeers!
I’ve converted to a pocket user. Thinking of having my beacon in a harness buried under layers, that I have to unzip to get to the beacon, makes me nervous. Then I’m doing my grid search and every time I turn into the wind my shell and layers are worthless, with their zippers open, and I’m now hypothermic and not focused on the search
Pocket… and I wore a harness for years. All my points are covered already… with the exception of one.. digging through layers to get to the harness. My daughter continued to use a harness for years, and during our practice scenarios she would have to open three zippers, gloves off, fiddle to get it out, and then her torso is open to the elements, and the beacon is potentially flopping around/difficult to holster (that was my experience as well).
I feel more confident in the field with beacon in pocket… that’s all that goes in there, pants on-beacon on (I hang the pants. with the beacon out on its leash, making me turn it on before the pocket stash), one zipper, easy to stow while digging, travelling,
On the note of pockets… makers of women’s pants … knock, knock… hello!! … wtf the total lack of pockets that hold anything… and I think every model of pant should come with a secure interior loop that can be clipped… keys, phone tether, dog leash…
Indeed, watching people battle layers/zippers, all with mittens/heavy gloves — man, seems like it’s a two-minute exercise in fumblage, and then once it’s time to stash the beacon to probe/dig, it’s another battle. Certainly teaching courses, the pocket highlights how much faster it can be to have it “right there.”
My other principal concern is if the harness is per manufacturer’s instructions to be as close to skin as possible is that the rescuer is open to the elements. It is easy in the rush and heat of a rescue to forgo your own comfort (working comfort, not laying out your lunch and having hydration breaks) and safety. Watching people do scenarios, remembering to keep gloves/mitts on while working in the snow is a challenge, let alone reholstering beacon, and closing up your layers.
I also started carrying a silica packet in a small nylon sleeve in my beacon pocket to help offset condensation.
Thanks for all the great topics this winter… travel safe
Something I observed is that the zippers of pants deteriorate faster with usage and age than the pant overall and deteriorating zippers are more prone to be operated by random forces (like an avalanche…). I poke a small hole from the inside into the pockets and fix a sling to the belt, so I have a ultrasecure clip in for the transceiver (that’s another story but I always use a certified riggers belt as my bc pants belt…). Although however strong this loop is I am not sure that the transceiver bungee will keep it attached to me … it’s probably not designed for that!
Concerning transceiver and avalanche backpack I would strongly recommend against doing this as you reduce two independent safety systems into one! I also never clip my inreach to the avalanche backpack (by the way this makes it: where to put transceiver, cell, radio AND emergency beacon :-))
Good point about redundancy, actually I think thats the best reason yet to not put a beacon in an avy bag. I think the logic must go: there is a possible situation where the airbag is so compromised that a beacon inside wouldn’t survive, but a beacon in a harness or pocket *would.* Hmm. I don’t disagree, just thinking about it.
What about those Columbia jackets with the reflective inner lining? Does that have any effect on strength or shape of the sending beacon signal?
Do any other brands (like Mountainhardwear) use that?
Owning one of those jackets would be a definite pants reason .
Oof, another tricky consideration! I’ve not heard a thing about “reflecto” liners affecting anything…I’ll certainly “test” this if I ever teach/tour with somebody with one of those jackets…
Great article!! I am a fairly new back country skier, I still use the harness but I am always looking for a more convenient but safe place to stash. I enjoyed reading the comments and it was nice that everyone treated each other with respect. Thanks!
Ha, this isn’t Facecramp or Instawank or Snaptok, sis/bro! Seriously, one of the priceless things about WildSnow is its vibe and culture of happy/passionate disagreement, without the usual online snark. Good job, Team, and thanks to Lou/Manass/Doug for establishing that tradition…and all of the rest of us for maintaining it!
I was once on a body recovery here in Colorado where the guy’s pants were slightly pulled down. But, he was only in his socks. His snowboard had been stripped off of him. We later found the board with the boots still in the bindings. That alone should tell you how big of forces are involved in an avalanche.
Harness or pocket? Its your choice,just dial in your system and think about all the “What if’s.”
Pocket. Zippered, screen-side in, always the right-hand pocket, leash girth hitched to a belt loop or a sewn-in leash clip inside the pocket (thank you OR Skyward 2 pants…). Cell is is airplane mode in chest pocket, radio in pack with mic clipped high on the left shoulder strap of my pack. Absolutely nothing else goes in the pocket with the beacon.
Thankfully I’ve never had to test this setup in anger (other than practicing companion rescue) but this is my standard practice.
I’m with you — happy to say I’ve not had to deploy any of this stuff in a real situation. Teaching it, though, dozens of times, one thing a previous alluded to was ease of in/out with the beacon. When team-searching, one of the earliest steps is removing the beacon and switching to search, but with a practiced team, that step is often followed by several teammates putting the beacon back in its harness or pocket, while they build probes/shovels in anticipation of later steps. People with lots of layers and huge gloves tend to waste a bunch of time on these steps…..beacon in the pocket seems way faster, especially on putting it away. This practice (repocketing the beacon once on search) is what highlighted the problems with the BCA Tracker2 switch — it was very easy to put the beacon back into send when repocketing the beacon, which tended to really trip up less experienced teams….just an aside, but repeated practice is great to reveal glitches in our systems and teams…….
A friendly gent wrote in to share an experience he had down south in the faraway isles of New Zealand. I’ll paste his article below — well worth a read and without spoiling the conclusions … he is no longer a pocketeer. Check out the images and you’ll see why.
His article starts on page 22 of the journal — https://issuu.com/nzad/docs/nzad_issue_one__may-june_2020___4_
Worth a read.
I’ll do both, and it mostly depends on the pants I’m wearing. My OR shells have a pocket clip and the beacon sits in a nice spot on my hip, so I wear it in the pocket with those. Flylow grandpa pants have the beacon pocket clip in a lower thigh pocket where the beacon flops around, especially with vents open, so I use the harness. Barryvox harness is nice, easy to use, but still not as easy and fast as the pocket. But overall, I prefer the pocket.
I think you meant to say “from send” in this sentence.
“The Barryvox case prevents the transceiver from switching to send when in the harness”
In the harness it is sending out rather than receiving.
I like the harness, but put on “backwards” so the beacon sits just behind my backpackstrap on the side out of the way. my phone far away in legg pocket. If radio its in chestpocket oposite side of beacon so ok far away. only consern might be the beacon closer to the shovel. Reaching under layers maby takes a few seconds longer but the beacon is supersafe and warm and not a bump i legg pocket. I guide and do avalanche forcast and i use leggpockets for lots of things i want accessible, beacon only groupcheck in the morning and in case of real search.
my friend was draged throu a forrest in an avalanche and her beacon was riped completly out of hear legg pocket, but it was not a designed beaconpocket. but the beacon would have been safer behind the backpackstrap on the torso.
The argument thats its faster to reach in a real search, you still need to get the probe and showel and no one would suggest to have the probe or shovel on the outside of the backpack for faster access? But a good designated pocket sounds fine alsow.
Tryggve, that sounds really interesting! Mostly because it would solve the issue of spring time, where your baselayer is your only layer, thus exposing a harnessed beacon to completely.
I tried it. When I put the beacon on, I thought it would never fit, but when I put my sock on, it was quite comfy, spun around to be over my kidney, just above the waistbelt of the pack!
That will be bay far the most protected spot, both from loss or impact, and as you mentioned, easiest location to keep other electronics away.
Thanks! I had never thought of that!
Anyone here who can think of ‘cons’ to that?
Regarding the accident report from New Zealand – sobering indeed, but it seems to me that the odds of taking the same impact against your chest and smashing a beacon carried in a harness are about the same as taking that kind of blow to your pocket area.
Probably but try the swedish backwards harness-way, the beacon is well protected on the side almost between the backpack and back. low risk of damage in a fall.
I’m with you, Paul, given how violent/chaotic a ride in an avalanche can be, not sure leg vs. chest is any clear advantage or disadvantage. Maybe sandwiched between a pack and your torso, it might “hide” a bit better?
i once stowed in the pocket. i have reverted to the harness. that being said i use a BarryvoxS. i must say the harness is very comfortable. it is also the manufacturer recommendation. this is for numerous reasons including proper function of the vital signs tool.
another consideration, which may have been mentioned in these thoughtful comments, is: under which layer does one wear a harnessed transceiver? when i started skiing the recommendation was UNDER THE OUTERMOST LAYER (furthest from skin). now, at least with the BarryvoxS, the recommendation is OVER THE INNERMOST LAYER (closest to skin). having the transceiver closest to skin is for the vital sign tool, but also lessens the clothing and bathroom management issue. you are only taking the harness off if you are striping to your skin.
this may beg the question of access time. im not concerned about it. i can unzip 2 or 3 zippers pretty quick. if that fails due to stuck zippers, cold fingers, pull over layers, or the like one can simply slide the hand up from the bottom of the jacket. unfortunately this does make my favorite one piece slightly less safe, cant win them all.
lots of chatting about professional vs recreational and pocket vs harness. i will say i am in the, possible, minority of a professional using a harness.
I have done both with my beacon. I am an avid BC skier, pro member of AAA, former Avalanche Education Instructor, ski patroller and cat ski guide.
The issue I have seen with keeping / carrying in a pocket is it gathers much more condensation. Make sure you dry the beacon out and open the battery compartment on a regular basis. Inspect the battery contacts. The first season I tried pocket carry, when I went to put fresh batteries in after a few weeks of use I had corrosion on the battery contact points. Luckily I discovered this before my transceiver suffered permanent damage. Additionally I use the Barryvox S and used to use the Pulse model, I do not believe the vital signs detector will work properly when carried in a pocket vs in the harness as it was designed.
Oof, haven’t heard this one, Jamie — good call. With the advent of leg vents, do you still find this if you’re unzipped? Another thing to consider!
My pants have leg vents and I do not believe this changes the moisture problem for me.
As a petite woman, I can not get the harness to wear snug enough to wear properly. The beacon dangles and flops. I am constantly trying to adjust it when out. The straps rub against my backpack straps. This makes it extremely uncomfortable. I feel like Kristina on her blog captured my sentiments exactly – https://occasionallyepic.com/2020/05/the-uncomfortable-reality-of-beacon-boob/.
I also run cold so I usually wear quite a few layers to get through to get to my beacon when wearing a harness. Due to this, I choose long ago to wear it in my pocket. Yes, I had to search high and low for pants that would work for this phenomenon and fit my needs in the backcountry and feel like my beacon felt secured. It really shouldn’t be this hard for women.
Amen to women’s pants often not having the same functionality of men’s… my daughter tried on 14 pairs of pants before we narrowed it down to two… and the winner was the one with a pocket that accommodated a beacon, without digging through layers… other pants fit, but had zero cargo/pocket space for anything
Get with it makers of performance gear… a rider is a rider is a rider… regardless of gender or sex, we all need the same tools in the BC
I hear you, Amy, and Poppa … as a buddy in the cycling industry once remarked, “It’s not enough to just ‘shrink it and pink it’ when designing women’s products.” Rab makes their excellent Khroma pants in women’s models, as does OR (Trailbreaker). These seem like ground-up designs built for women. I assume you got sorted with pants, but those are two that come to mind. Drag, indeed, not finding what you need.
As for the harness — if you live in a place with a custom sewer, I wonder if he/she could simply do a knock-off of the BCA harness shown above, just in narrower webbing and an overall smaller size?! Maybe?
I started using a pocket and actually deliberately bought a 3/4 bib with a beacon pocket for that reason. My reasoning (“login may not be the right word 🙂 )
1: I usually put my phone in my upper left chest pocket. My radio mic is usually up there, too. The beacon pocket is on the right.
2: I don’t like the location of the harness because I fall sometimes and don’t want to land on it or hit it.
3: Pocket access is so much faster than when it’s under layers and it’s raining/snowing (Pacific Northwest) and it’s at a perfect waist level for use.
4: There are a lot of really unlikely freak scenarios being drawn up here that seem statistically similar as unlikley scenarios that would damage the beacon in the harness and a lot less likely than other user-related problems or electronic interference.
I hear you, Langley, as I was talking to folks about potential beacon damage, I heard several stories about beacons sustaining severe impacts worn in the chest and the pocket — neither mode seemed more or less protected than any other. The post above about “Swedish” style, wearing it behind your bod, essentially, seems like *maybe* it would be more protected, but even that — once you’re on spin cycle in an avalanche or long fall, seems like you’re just going to get beat up everywhere!
Good to see this circle back to the issue of beacon durability. I’ve always said that the most important qualities of an avalanche beacon are range, durability, and battery life. Those are clearly not the priorities of the industry. Maybe I’m wrong, and the ability to find sixteen burials in one shot is the priority, or whether it talks to me in plain English, or German or whatever. But I don’t care. It should be durable enough to slam into a rock at a hundred kilometres an hour. Oh, and have a switch the locks in every position. Then I’ll be impressed when it still talks to me. Lou
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