ARVA Evo3+ Avalanche Beacon Review

Post by blogger | January 26, 2012      
Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Intro and Index

The new for 2011-12 ARVA Evo 3+ is a three-antenna beacon with basic marking/masking capability for multiple burials. Value is impressive: at $279 MSRP the Evo3+ is at least $70 less than any other marking/masking beacon on the market. This pricing seems to be part of a trend for increasing price competition among more basic yet nevertheless innovative models at less stratospheric price points, coming after the previous feature-laden competition with very high price points. This is a trend we at WildSnow encourage, as we see that many beacon users are more about acquiring something basic and affordable so long as they’re certain it matches up well with their preferences.

Overall, if you want a relatively basic beacon in terms of features and price, yet desire a modicum of marking/masking capability for multiple burials, then this could very well be the beacon for you.

Interface and Controls

To switch the Evo3+ beacon to Transmit, insert the small object (that comes tethered to the beacon) into the corner of the housing. Even though this switch seems to be mechanical, operating it really just presses a magnet near a corner of the beacon’s housing — in fact, you can turn on the beacon using a typical refrigerator magnet. (When the beacon is stowed away after skiing — either in your pack on the drive home or back in your gear closet — you must therefore be careful to wrap up the strap system in a manner that keeps the little insertion point away from that particular corner of the beacon, otherwise it’ll be sitting there transmitting till the batteries die.) Also note that all ARVA beacons take four AAA batteries, as opposed to the more typical configuration of three AAA batteries (or AA, whether one or two).

How to tell at a glance that the beacon is transmitting? If all the straps are connected to each other and to the beacon, then it should be on, i.e., you can’t wear the all-strap system (i.e., no pouch) securely without the beacon being on. For an indicator that the beacon really is transmitting though, if the beacon face is up against your chest (as it should be — even though the user manual displays otherwise), then you can’t see any confirmation, i.e., the only indication that the beacon is transmitting is a flashing LCD center arrow, which is not visible with the beacon face up against your chest (or in the dark).

To switch to Search, pull out the little knob at the top of the beacon. (This is easily a one-handed operation, as that little circular piece of the housing showing through the knob is *not* something you depress in order to pull out the knob -– which initially confused me.) To revert to Transmit, push the knob back in.

The search interface has an LCD distance readout and five LCD directional indicators, but no other buttons.

ARVA Evo3+

ARVA Evo3+ avalanche beacon

How It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Final Search Phase

Initial signal acquisition is via a combination of digitized sound, one of five directional indicators, and distance readout. The directional indicators disappear at 2.0 meters. (Distance shown is not necessarily the actual “crow flies” distance to the victim, as is the case with all beacons.) The distance readout goes down to a minimum of 0.0 meter.

How It Works: Multiple Burials

The Evo3+ displays a symbol for multiple burials. The user can mark/mask a found beacon (but only one single found at a time) by pushing in then (quickly — for reasons that should be obvious!) pulling out that same knob. The beacon will then focus on the next-strongest signal.

How Well It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Final Search Phase

The initial signal acquisition range is on the short side, yet still typical for many all-digital multiple-antenna beacons. The combination of digitized sound, five directional indicators, and distance readout is all very straightforward.

In the final search phase, the Evo3+ has a third antenna that eliminates all nulls and spikes. And the box size (i.e., the area over which the distance indicators are unable to differentiate the remaining distance to the target) is very small (essentially zero).

How Well It Works: Multiple Burials

The multiple-burial indicator symbol lets you know that any bouncing around in the distance and direction is because another person is buried. The mark/mask feature is more limited than other signal separation beacons, but in a way this is an advantage. How so? Think of the Evo3+ as more of a brain-engaged approach, as opposed to the “leave the thinking to us” approach of other sophisticated beacons. So with less going on in the beacon’s thinking, there is less to go wrong, although more is demanded from the human being’s thinking.

Specifically, Evo3+ doesn’t quickly lock onto the strongest signal, so first off you have to decide which signal to choose. Once you’re close to the beacon you choose, the bouncing around essentially disappears.

The “blocking” terminology employed by ARVA is actually quite apt, since when the top switch is quickly pulled up and then pressed back in, the Evo3+ then *temporarily* ignores the first signal, and allows any other signals to become prominent again. The Evo3+ reliably led me to all three beacons in my test layout. However, once the third beacon was marked/masked, the Evo3+ had by then lost its mark/mask for the first beacon, which was as expected given the user manual’s depiction of that function as temporary. (By contrast, competing models will indicate three marked/masked beacons at this stage, with the exception that no signal separation beacon will work perfectly in all scenarios.)

Combined with the lack of a beacon count (as opposed to just a multiple-burial symbol), my conclusion is that the Evo3+ will work reliably when the number of victims is known, but will be more confusing if the number of victims is unknown. That said, with a far more simple user interface and fewer controls, the Evo3+ is potentially less confusing for a single burial — and the vast majority of avalanche burials are singles — let’s keep that in mind as the industry does their multiple-burial feature wars.

Furthermore, the Evo3+ performs so well in my “5-25/5-20 Walk-the-Line Test” (see my test notes for details) that it doesn’t even seem like a test at all. Specifically, this search configuration examines whether a searching beacon is so fixated on the first close-by signal that it subsequently has trouble (to various extents) finding the next, further-away signal. But not the Evo3+, which after marking the first signal almost immediately displays the direction and distance to the next, further-away signal. Well done.

Overall: To What Kind of Person Does This Beacon Appeal?

If you’re potentially attracted to the simpler beacons on the market, but want more than just an indicator for the presence of a multiple burial, then the Evo 3+’s combination of basic user interface with a simplified marking/masking may be exactly what you seek. And at only $279 as of press time, the Evo3+’s functionality is quite the bargain.

Overall: What Thoughts Go Through My Mind If a Partner Has This Beacon

“My partner has a somewhat shorter initial acquisition range, but once locked in, the signal should be very easy to follow, with a minimum of distractions on the user interface…the blocking feature will greatly help my partner at solving a close-proximity multiple burial, especially if only two victims are buried…my partner saved so much money on this beacon that post-avalanche beverages are being paid for by my partner!”

ARVA Evo 3+ Manual

Shop for ARVA Evo3+ avalanche beacon.

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.)


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17 Responses to “ARVA Evo3+ Avalanche Beacon Review”

  1. Lou January 26th, 2012 9:47 am

    Regarding the “super featured” expensive beacons: I know a few users who really wring those out and utilize, and I admire that. Louie does that with his Pieps. But most users barely practice enough, let along memorizing features, hence the exciting trend to some highly functional units with lower prices.

  2. Jernej January 26th, 2012 11:10 am

    Last weekend I was at an avalanche seminar and I got to try out a number of different beacons in a 4 victim scenario (two within 3m of each other, two further away in opposite directions). I tried using them without any instructions at all, just pick up and go since I wanted to see which one fits me best (looking to buy one).

    Of the more popular ones, hands down the most intuitive was Ortovox 3+ while Mammut Pulse was totally confusing. Didn’t have an Arva available but reading about it and from the photo provided I’d say it’s not the most idiot proof device out there. For me personally I want something simple with as little information on the screen as possible. Direction, distance & multiple victim icon is all I want. Mammut kept asking me to stop and wait, asking whether I want to mark a signal etc. Just too much stuff at once interfering with the job it’s supposed to do. Without a manual you’re screwed and it took me twice as long as with some old analog beacon.

  3. xav January 27th, 2012 2:51 am

    I’ve recently came across quite an interesting and informative test of several avy beacons focusing on comparing their official vs real life range parameters.

  4. Jonathan Shefftz January 27th, 2012 10:48 am

    @Jernej, confused by your statement of “from the photo provided I’d say it’s not the most idiot proof device out there” re the ARVA Evo 3+. As my review stated, the controls consist of a little clip that is inserted to turn the beacon on, and then a TransmitSearch, which is as simple as it gets. And as also stated in the review, the search display has the combination of typical direction indicators (one of five), distance readout, and multiple burial symbol (if merited of course). The picture I used is just a stock photo that simultaneously shows all of that plus the five directional indicators, the battery symbol and percent symbol, plus the graphic for searching without an acquired signal — all of that is never shown simultaneously (other than in that stock photo).

  5. Lou January 27th, 2012 11:12 am

    Pretty funny they’d do that with the stock photos. It does look majorly cluttered. Marketing faux paus 367.

    Of course, there was a time not long ago when beacons were marketing based on how many dozens of features they had…

    BTW, what they all lack is this:

    When you’re done with fine search and shove your probe in, the beacon starts talking, with reminders about how to probe quickly, and how to shovel. It then has a verbal reminder on CPR basics. I’m serious. How about using the speaker for this? I’m begging for something practical, instead of how to find four buried people, most of whom you’ll never dig out in time no matter how much marking and masking you fiddle around with.


  6. Jonathan Shefftz January 27th, 2012 11:17 am

    @xav, thanks for bringing that test to my attention. They clearly put lots of effort into the testing and the comprehensive write-up. Some of thoughts are (quickly):
    – Including all of those older beacons is kind of overwhelming. I think they should present the results again for just the triple-antenna beacons plus a single analog model.
    – Comparing the actual range results to the claimed range is kind of fun I suppose, although personally I never pay attention to the latter.
    – Some beacons dropped off from optional coupling by very similar amounts for both perpendicular and vertical, which is what I expected. But some beacons dropped off significantly for perpendicular yet not vertical, whereas others were the other way around. Very surprising! (For example, this means that the transmission shift on the 3+ and S1+ could actually reduce the range for a search with a VS68 or F1.)
    – Love those graphs that simultaneously show three different range results for each beacon!
    – The direction measurements could be interpreted as following a more efficient path (as the report conveys it), or just sloppiness in following the flux line. (I have noticed differences in my testing among different beacons in this regard, but I’m not sure how to interpret it.)
    – The “accuracy” test is kind of tricky, since any distance readout is just an approximation as it so dependent on orientation. Nevertheless, the graphs are very helpful at demonstrating where spikes occur for one- and two-antenna beacons (although I was surprised to see that also for the ARVA models).
    – Hard to tell from the multiple burial write-up how many trials they had, since so much depends on signal overlap. Also, they need to color code the little faces! And four victims is kind of a pointless torture test. But quantifying the distance of the search path is a neat measurement focus.
    – For interference, my focus has been ghosting, rather than distance variations, but that is also interesting.

    Overall, this is a very helpful study for those of us interested in such details (and conveyed in a very neutral manner, wisely avoiding overall rankings or recommendations), and I’m glad they took the time to translate it into English (albeit not perfectly, but still much better than my Polish, Czech, or Slovak language skills).

  7. Lou January 27th, 2012 11:37 am

    Jonathan, indeed, comparing published range with test range sounds pointless, unless there were huge discrepancies. Moreover, “range” is one of the things inexperienced consumers tend to home in on as a shopping criteria, when it’s really not an issue in comparison to a bunch of other things.

  8. Jernej January 27th, 2012 12:57 pm

    I got confused about the search/transmit knob. Reading the text again cleared things up a bit.

    PS the test was published by Slovakian Mountain Rescue Service (.sk is the hint) 🙂

  9. Jonathan Shefftz January 27th, 2012 7:01 pm

    Lou, it’s the huge discrepancies that make comparisons so meaningless. Copied below is the excess of the actual search strip width (based upon this past fall’s testing) as compared to the spec for nine different models:
    19, -7, -11, 34, 38, 29, 17, 5, 36

  10. Lou January 27th, 2012 7:41 pm

    Huh, if you say so… seems like the huge discrepancies would raise a red flag at least about how the things are tested. Or is it just that they’re using a variety of different testing methods? Is there a standardized/legal range test they have in Europe?

    I know with 2-way radios, any statement of “range” is just an estimate and would never be considered as an absolute. Since beacons are a transceiver as well, I’ve always figured that “range” for them was the same, so I’ve never paid much attention to it, knowing from numerous practice drills over the years that the only time “range” would be an issue is in some strange scenario in some sort of gargantuan avalanche when you’re staring at a solo search down some 1/2 mile wide slide path.

  11. Jonathan Shefftz January 27th, 2012 7:47 pm

    Some beacon manuals list a “range” but unclear what kind of scenario they’re measuring.
    All beacons list (and often have prominently imprinted on the back) a search strip width, which is supposed to be based on 2x the absolute minimum initial signal acquisition range that you can count on reliably.
    As those nine figures imply, some beacons are excessively conservative in their recommended search strip width. Some are reasonably conservative, but a couple are actually overly optimistic. Then again, few potential searchers ever attempt to become accustomed to what 30 or 40 or 50 meters really equates to in the field, so it’s all somewhat moot…

  12. Lou January 27th, 2012 8:55 pm

    When one starts really digging into all this stuff, it becomes clearer and clearer why so many avalanche burials end in tragedy. In the case of range, to be the best beacon searcher and be able to search a large avalanche, somehow you’d have to memorize the absolute minimal initial signal acquisition distance, then be able to apply that to a field situation, by sight alone, perhaps in a storm or even at night, perhaps by yourself, while stumbling over blocks of avalanche debris the size of your Prius. I mean, what are you going to do, carry a tape measure and stop to measure your search pattern in relation to width of avalanche? Sure, some beacons are trying to help you search completely (such as Pieps using GPS), but they don’t know how wide the deposition is, especially if the width of the deposition keeps changing as your search progresses. It’s all somewhat depressing. I like the idea of an airbag much better (grin).

  13. Robert Lee February 6th, 2012 11:22 am

    Will be travelling to Paris end of this month,
    I have the opportunity to purchase a couple of new beacons for me and my wife from Telemark-Pyreneese and have them sent to my hotel.

    Have decided to get Arva, they seem to have the best cost ratio, especially as they are French.

    just cant decide between the Evo3 + or the Axis .

    any thoughts ?

  14. Jonathan Shefftz February 6th, 2012 11:33 am

    Robert, the Axis review is in the queue, but the very quick summary is that it’s kind of similar to Barryvox Element as well as the Basic profile of the Barryvox Pulse, but with controls that would be a problem for anyone with cold fingers in not very dexterous winter handwear, along with a noticeably shorter receive range. But it has many other attributes that will appeal to many users. I think it’s definitely a beacon though that you have to try first to make sure it’s the right one for you. (Which of course is a good caution for any beacon too.)

  15. Robert Lee February 6th, 2012 11:44 am

    thanks Jonathan,
    thats the problem, i havent got the chance to test,

    so im just going on what reviews i can find, Im not an advanced user. in fact this will be my first beacon, although i played around a bit with an old analouge device in my younger days while in a rescue team,

    guess the evo3+ might be a better bet, then i would have some money spare for an avalung 🙂

    ive only found good reviews on the evo

  16. Jonathan Shefftz February 6th, 2012 11:46 am

    Robert, yes, for a newcomer, in the ARVA line, I’d say the Evo3+ is the risk-averse choice.

  17. Robert Lee February 16th, 2012 7:29 am

    change of plan

    Telemark Pyrennees just dropped the price of the Tracker 2 by 70 Eur, 23% decrease ( nearly down to the level of Evo 3), so ive just ordered 2 of those,

    will pick them up in paris in about 10 days 🙂

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