Ever notice how the names “G3” and “K2” are siblings? G comes before K, but 2 comes before 3. You tell me what all that means, but know that both companies make nice beefy avalanche rescue probes. A couple of their offerings recently faced off on the WildSnow playa, six-shooters boomed, both…well, read on. (Clarity: This review is for 2011/12 models.)
G3 Speed Tech (top) and K2 Backside Carbon avalanche probes. (Note the color of our G3 tester is the lady's 'Elle' version)
G3 Speed Tech weighs 8.5 oz, (242 gr) at 2.48 meter length. K2 weighs 10.4 oz, (296 gr) at 3 meter length. You could say these two probes are in different classes of weight and bulk, but they’re really quite similar in those areas (we evaluated the shorter version of the G3, at 2.48 meters, while G3 also makes a 3.28 meter version at 10.4 ounces, thus matching weight of K2 but being slightly longer). Also note that the price difference between these two guys is substantial, around $50 street for the G3, around $90 for the K2.
While the longer lengths of both these probes can be useful, we feel that for exclusive use as a companion rescue probe about 2 meters length is adequate. Others disagree, and yes, using a longer probe is more ergonomic as you don’t have to bend over to get closer to the snow surface, as you do to go deeper with a 2 meter stick. Thus, we hear quite a bit of talk these days about 3 meters being the desirable length but 2.48 in our view is plenty long as well.
In their stuffsacks, G3 at top. Heard during the shootout: 'My sack is prettier than your sack.' According to onlookers, that one goes to G3 Elle, as it should.
Avy probe flex test. Clear winner, K2 Backside. Both probes in our view are rigid enough. Added rigidity of K2 is most certainly a plus and it's said to be quite strong as well, but larger diameter of K2 may add effort to probing dense snow. Note that the G3 in longer length weighs the same as the K2, while not being as stiff but being thinner diameter which could make it easier to probe with. G3 is constructed with 7000 series tubing aluminum, 12.5 mm outer diameter. K2 is constructed with 13.2 mm outer diameter carbon fiber tube. Both actuate with interior cable, and we assume both use stainless cable (G3 says yes) -- that's important as anything but stainless will corrode due to constant moisture. Using a magnet, I could grab either cable so if they're stainless, it's the type that's still got quite a bit of iron content so I'm not sure just how corrosion resistant it really is. One season usually tells the tale on that one.
Deployment of the K2 Backside probe is interesting and effective. You pull on the handle which slides a smaller diameter section of alu tube out of the probe-proper while also pulling on the interior cable, the alu shaft section eventually slides past a stop button that keeps it from sliding back. If you need more tension, you twist a threaded black knob just below the button (both knob and button visible in photo above). We liked this system. It adds useful length to the probe, has a super positive feel, and nice to have easily adjustable tension. More, gripping a probe can be difficult if you don't have gorilla hands or in the case of wet snow slicking things up. Thus, having a grip such as that of K2 is a plus.
G3 Speed Tech handle and tension mechanism are simple and effective. You pull on the cable handle, when proper tension is reached a swage on the cable drops into a keyhole slot. In a word, elegant. We'd say G3 has the edge here in simplicity and resistance to any sort of icing or mechanical failure, though we like the K2 external tension system. I'd call this one a draw.
Worth mentioning that the K2 handle is designed to nest the probe sections during storage. I found this a bit fiddly, but it works and does reduce bulk if you get it all fit together.
One more issue. We feel avy probe tips need not be sharp, but rather should be somewhat blunt. This to prevent injury to a buried avalanche victim. I'd take a file and blunt both of these, but the K2 needs such modding more than the G3.
Well, there you go. The boys slapped leather, dodged bullets, and they’re both still standing. My take? If you want a markedly rigid and strong probe, perhaps for glacier crevasse probe use or plain old peace of mind, consider K2 Backside. If you want something we feel is still effective, a bit lighter, though definitely more flexy and slightly less strong, go G3 Speed Tech in the shorter length. Either way, they’ll work.
(Please note other companies make beefy probes as well, most notably Backcountry Access, Pieps, and Ortovox. Reviews in the works for selected items from those guys.)
Shop for G3 Speed Tech
Shop for G3 Speed Tech 2.48 meter
Shop for K2 Backside probe
Shop for Backcountry Access Carbon 260 avalanche probe
Shop for Black Diamond Quick Draw avalanche probe.
Shop for Ortovox 240 Plus avalanche probe.
Shop for Pieps iProbe (I added this one in as it’s got a built-in beacon receiver, kinda cool.)