SNOW SPORTS

The Best Avalanche Beacon: A Life-Saving Investment

Best Avalanche beacons
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

If you are a fan of skiing or any other snow sport, you are bound to spend some time on the slopes. This is where you will need only the best avalanche beacon as a part of your three-part safety arsenal, along with a shovel and a probe as well.

Having these, along with an understanding of the terrain, planning out a safe route, and comprehending the weather conditions are all an important part of your safety. Taking extra measures to remain safe will help you enjoy your favorite winter-weather pastime, free of worry.

Important Considerations

The avalanche beacon may be what stands between you and a life and death situation, so you simply cannot compromise on the quality of the transceiver you decide to buy.

That fact being addressed, it’s important to note that even with the very best avalanche beacon in your safety gear line up, there are still the risks of hyperthermia and asphyxiation while you wait to get rescued.

However, the avalanche transceiver is an investment that increases your chances of being found by a search and rescue party.

Avalanche beacon in the hand

The beacon sends out a signal that other avalanche transceivers can detect. The radio signal pulses, and another transceiver can translate the signal into a visual layout, as well as an audible display, so it is easier to locate you under all that fresh snow.

However, it’s best to wear it on your person.If you put it into a pack it gets separated from you in an avalanche situation, you could be in some serious trouble.

Tip: When you do buy an avalanche transceiver, you need to practice using the tool and familiarize yourself with its features. The time to learn how the unit works is not when an avalanche is screaming down a mountain threatening your life.

As soon as you get it home, pull it out of the box and read the manual. Trying to figure things out during a state of panic will only make things worse.

Avalanche Beacon Types

The avalanche beacons on the market are available in two types: analog and digital. The main difference between the two types is how the units process the pulse radio signals they receive.

When choosing a receiver, you should base your selection on the features you desire and the high-quality design of the unit.

Avalanche Beacon Types

Your budget, while important, is a secondary consideration when investing in a potential tool that might very well end up saving your life in an emergency. Below is more information on the two types of beacons you can own.

  • Analog: These units send out a sound or loud beep. The closer a rescue party with a transceiver is, the louder the audible sound becomes. There are units equipped with a display that helps with visually locating the transceiver buried beneath the snow.
    If you are going to opt for the analog variety of avalanche beacon, it is far better to invest in a unit that does have a visual component. This is because the beeping sound and changes in its volume may not be immediately evident, thereby making your transceiver a bit harder to locate.
    The issue with not hearing the changes in volume can occur due to weather changes and wind conditions making the sound seem muffled or further away than it actually is and when you are waiting to for the cavalry to appear, every second counts.
  • Digital: This receiver has a microprocessor inside of it and uses antennas. It will send out a beeping sound or electronic signal and the unit will have the visual component so you’re a lot easier to find. These units usually have a LED or LCD-lit panel indicating the direction one should travel to get to you and the distance between your beacon and the transceiver pick up your signal.
    The closer the rescuer grows, the more the tone changes and the signal will become stronger. One of the main benefits is the visual display, but since the panel lights up, it is also easy to read and use in bad weather or in the dark.
  • Hybrids: There are hybrid models, which are digital avalanche beacons with some analog detection functions. These units have the ability to detect analog signals when necessary, thereby retro-activating capability between the newer digital technology which is the most prominent on today’s market, and the older analog models.

A Note on Beacon Frequency

If you are looking to replace an older avalanche beacon with a newer digital model, the frequencies are very different. From 1996 and earlier, the avalanche beacons were equipped with two frequencies: 2.275 kHz and 457 kHz.

Using Avalanche Beacon

These models are really outdated and are no longer in use because of several reasons, including the fact that their range is rather low, and the resonators in the units were made of ceramic, which would eventually lose the 457 kHz radio pulse. Today, all models are set to a 457 kHz only.

Avalanche Beacon Features

  • Antennas: The more antennas the unit is equipped with, the better, as the feature makes search and find missions more successful. Signals are simple to send and detect, and many digital beacons have three antennas, allowing the transceiver to switch back and forth between the antennas to detect the best signal.
  • Audio reinforcement: Some of the avalanche transceivers on the market include an acoustic sound that helps in the search along with the visual display feature, thereby maximizing the effectiveness of the unit.
  • Automatic-Revert to Send: This feature switches the beacon back to sending a signal when it does not notice any movement or it may switch to sending a signal after a predetermined amount of time. The Auto-revert function is for keeping search party participants safe just in case there is more than one avalanche occurring.
  • Battery Operation: Each model uses specific batteries for operation. Make sure the batteries are fresh and in good working order every time you use the unit.
  • Directional Arrows: Digital beacons often host a distance number and directional arrow. With the arrow, the searcher can keep tuned to the flux line with greater efficiency. Distance numbers run backward from large to small so the closer you get to the target, the smaller the distance number becomes.
  • Display screen: This is the LCD or LED panel presenting information related to distance and direction.
  • Multiple victims: If more than one person is under the snow, a unit with the appropriate functions will allow the user to mark the different rescue sites so the most efficiently planned rescue can occur.
  • Range: The range is the maximum distance of the signal/antenna alignment. The distance between the sending transceiver and the unit detecting the signal influences the maximum range the avalanche beacon has and the orientation of the devices make a difference as well.
  • Scan: This is an excellent feature if you want to survey a 5-10-20 unit radius for any potential active beacons.

Top Eight Avalanche Beacon Reviews

Below are the top eight avalanche beacons for sale. The units vary in terms of price, features, brand, and function.

With the price fluctuations, it makes it a competitive market where you can locate your best beacon for your personal needs and still stay within your budget. Some of the brands listed below have proprietary features that make the units stand out from the rest.

MAMMUT PULSE Barryvox Europe

MAMMUT PULSE Barryvox Europe

Weight: 7.4 ounces

Dimensions: 15.8 x 4.7 x 9.8 inches

Color: Red and Gray

Specifications: Digital/analog signals; 3 antennas; 457 kHz frequency. MapView; 50-meter search strip and distance indicator. Digital range of 60 meters. LCD panel. Long battery life.

Alkaline batteries sold separately. A 360° real-time direction indicator included. The product comes with a five-year warranty from the manufacturer.

Best Uses: Professional and Enthusiast safety gear and search equipment. Backcountry skiing.

Description: The MAMMUT PULSE Barryvox Europe Avalanche Beacon is priced at $346.95. The model number of the device is 2710-00030-1015-1 and three AAA batteries power it. The beacon has three superb antennas making the detection and sending of a signal optimal.

It tunes to the standard 457 kHz transmitting frequency. With the ability to detect analog signals as well as digital, the transceiver is one that is backwards-compatible with models before 1996.

The unit has a 50-meter search strip and indicates the distance between the transceiver and the subjects being searched for at the time. The visual aid of MapView makes a search and rescue mission efficient. The LCD panel allows for ease of viewing all vital location information.

On three AAA batteries, the unit will transmit up to 200 hours and detect for as many as 15 hours.

Related: The Mammut Unisex Element Barryvox Transceiver is an exceptional and far more affordable option if you are looking to save a couple hundred dollars on buying an avalanche beacon.

The price is more affordable than the MAMMUT PULSE Barryvox Europe too, with a price right around $278.00.

Ortovox S1 Avalanche Transceiver

Ortovox S1 Avalanche Transceiver

Weight: 230 grams including the case and battery

Dimensions: 120mm x 80mm x 30mm

Color: Blue, Yellow, White

Specifications: Digital receiver; tri-axis antenna; deep burial mode, auto-revert to send; backlight display, flagging feature and flagging for multiple burials. Inclinometer feature for measuring slopes.

Adjustable contrast and speaker configuration; exceptional search acoustics. Maximum range of 55 meters. Search strip width is less than 50m. Burial position overview; powerful internal microprocessor; Smart-Antenna-Technology and Recco reflector included. Comes with a five-year warranty.

Best Use: Enthusiast or Professional use, backcountry skiing. For multiple snow burials.

Description: The Ortovox S1 Avalanche Transceiver is a tough one to keep in stock because of its exceptional design and because it was chosen as the winner of the Editor’s Choice Outdoor Gear Lab Award in 2010. When it is available, it costs around $489.00.

This transceiver is made with some of the latest technologies, including a special S1 feature that is capable of scanning all signals simultaneously, particularly those that fall into an avalanche zone.

The panel reveals display and zone information and the visuals of the unit are exceptional. Search time for a victim is more efficient thanks to the inclusion of distance information presented on the display.

Three antennas pick up and aid in the translation of signals received by the unit. The beacon comes with a bag and a handle loop for ease of transport. It requires two AAA Alkaline Micro 1.5 Volt batteries to operate.

The unit has auto-revert to send features for search party safety. The unit also has the Smart-Antenna-Technology™, which will assess antenna positions, and the unit will automatically use the best of the three antennas, allowing a near doubling of the unit’s range. The Recco Reflector allows search party participants to discover buried victims quickly.

Related: The Ortovox 3+ is far less expensive than the Ortovox S1, but still possesses enough functionality to make it an acceptable alternative.

The unit comes with Smart Antenna Technology, secondary switch over features, and it can detect up to three victims and flag them. Highly portable.

Backcountry Access Tracker3 Avalanche Beacon

Backcountry Access Tracker3 Avalanche Beacon

Weight: 7.6 ounces or 215 grams; Weight of the Harness: 3.5 ounces or 100 grams

Dimensions: 4.5” x 2.8” x 0.8” inches

Color: Black with yellow trim/red lit digital display

Specifications: Industry standard frequency of 457 kHz; Range of 50m. Progressive industrial structure; tri-axis antennas; interface lists distance and direction indicators. Comes with a five year limited warranty. The unit requires three AAA Alkaline batteries to operate the device, which is sold with the beacon.

Best Uses: Backcountry touring or European Off-Piste/Out of the Area ski adventure; Professional and Enthusiast use.

Description: The Backcountry Access Tracker3 Avalanche Beacon is one of the more affordable transceiver units on the market, featuring a price tag of $290.95. The Access Tracker3 is also known as the “All Mountain” style Backcountry Avalanche Beacon.

The battery life on the device allows for about 200 to 250 hours of use if the device is set to search and transmit mode (auto-revert to send). If only in search mode, the battery life is about 50 hours of use.

The unit is with European and North American standards and is certified as proof of compliance. The Tracker3 is now more portable than its predecessor is since the unit is roughly 20% lighter and smaller than the Tracker2 of the same product line.

Tri-axis antennas on the Backcountry Access Tracker3 speed up the process of signal detection and interpretation. The user-friendly unit interface presenting information direction and distance details.

Multiple burial site indicators allow for flagging different sites and planning the best course of rescue action. The Tracker3 is a spectacular unit for tracking and searching for site burials following an avalanche in unpatrolled and unmarked ski areas and backcountry touring.

Related: If you cannot get your hands on the Tracker3 immediately because the unit is such a popular buy, consider getting the Backcountry Tracker2 Access Avalanche Beacon, which is priced, right around the same as the Tracker3.

Although 20% heavier and larger than the Tracker3, the unit has an easy to use interface, a fast processor, a LED display, and distance and direction indicators.

ARVA Neo Avalanche Beacon

ARVA Neo Avalanche Beacon

Weight: 1.4 pounds

Dimensions: 6” x 4” x 4”

Color: Black with red and white accents

Specifications: Digital interface; multiple burial site flagging; 60-meter range backed by Isotech Technology and dual, equally powered antennas.

Fine search, adjustable harness, sliding bar for switching from search to send signal; directional arrows, distance indicators, Flashing flag icons when within three to five meters of a burial site.

Auto-revert to send transmission functionality. Backlit screen for nighttime search. Loud audible sounds.

Best Uses: Occasional Novice Use; Backcountry skiing enthusiast, and professional use. Range 60 meters.

Description: The ARVA Neo Avalanche Beacon is priced right around $360 or the unit. The beacon delivers a superior range for signal detection and broadcasting. The panel features buttons, every one of which is labeled to make using the device easier.

The interface is one of the beacon’s best features. The controls of the device are intuitive and with a range of detection of 60 meters, the ARVA Neo has a better range than some of the more costly options in the market.

What’s cool about the ARVA Neo is that the manufacturers have intentionally strayed away from the usual tri-axis antenna design. This particular model is one of the first models on the market to carry two antennas versus the customary three.

The manufacturer has integrated what it calls Isotech Technology, where both of the antennas get equal amounts of power and this allows for a wider width to the search bandwidth. The Isotech Technology is what allows the unit to have the widest digital beacon available at 60 meters.

Related:   If you can’t get your hands on the AVRA Neo, consider investing in the AVRA Evo4 at a price of around $290.00. The Evo4 is a model that improves upon when compared to the Evo3 predecessor from the same line.

Improvements have been made in terms of processor speed and the ease of use and intuitive interface parallel the simple operation of the AVRA Neo.

Mammut Unisex Element Barryvox Transceiver

Mammut Unisex Element Barryvox Transceiver

Weight: 10.9 ounces

Dimensions: 19.7 x 19.7 x 19.7 inches

Color: Gray, Green, and Black

Specifications: User-friendly design; Tri-axis antenna; Comprehensive recovery guidance; button for operating the device; clean control panel; fast signal identification and isolation options for more than one signal coming in at a time.

Marking abilities. Direction and distance indicators. Audio feedback functionality. Self-testing unit.

Best Uses: Enthusiast or professional use; can handle multiple burial sites following an avalanche.

Description: The Mammut Unisex Element Barryvox Transceiver is decently priced at $267.95. This unit is among the most popular avalanche beacons on the market.

The tri-axis antenna allows for close range accurate pinpointing of received and translated signal. The triple antenna set up makes for easier discovery of deep burial sites too.

The unit handles multiple burial situations with signal isolator functions and the ability to mark multiple sites. The comprehensive recovery set of instructions makes mastering the functions of the unit a breeze, and you just cannot beat the ease of single button operation.

The panel is an intuitive operation and well-structured panel, and the unit is capable of making precise and expeditious signal locations.

The display panel will let you know the direction to travel toward a detected flux line and the distance between you and the avalanche victim. Self-testing functionality allows the unit to test itself and make sure it is in perfect working order before using it. Auto-revert to send feature keeps the search party safer should there be a secondary avalanche following the first.

Related: If you are in the market for a higher end model and you want the same excellence you get from the Mammut branding, you can opt for the Mammut Pulse Barryvox Europe priced at $346.95.

The hybrid unit brings together the best of analog and digital detection all in one unit. The display is user-friendly, and the interface intuitive.

ARVA Pro W Avalanche Beacon

ARVA Pro W Avalanche Beacon

Weight: 6” x 4” x 4” 

Dimensions: 1 pound

Color: Red, White, and Black

Specifications: Hybrid analog and digital modes; motion sensor integration; standby mode; auto-revert to send; updatable via software; programmable unit. Capable of searching for five victim sites and marking them.

Sold with a holster. The unit comes with a five-year warranty. Range of 50m. Digital unit features screen with back lighting. Distance and direction icons. Number of burial sites indicated. U-turn visual indicator.

Audio Alarm and sound. Self-testing unit. Scrollable list of sites. W-link connects with other devices featuring W-link. Audio assisted search.

Best Uses: Professional use, backcountry skiing, backcountry touring.

Description: The ARVA Pro W Avalanche Beacon sports and upper-end price tag of $449.95. This beacon features an audio alarm and sound to help in locating victims. The unit can mark five sites, and predict if there are more than five sites.

The panel is easy on the eyes, thanks to the backlit display. The display indicates the direction a signal is in and the distance from it. The unit brings together a digital and analog function, creating the perfect hybrid beacon.

The unit has motion sensor to help in detecting potential movement, and a list of sites can be viewed on the display and scrolled through for ease of access. The unit tests itself when you turn it on to make sure it is working. The unit comes with a five-year warranty.

Related:  Another option available to you is the ARVA Axio Beacon priced at $469.95. The unit is exceptional for professional use, has a 60m range, and brings together digital and analog signal detection.

It is equipped with an alarm, U-turn indicators if you move too far from a signal and dynamic interface controls.

Backcountry Access Tracker2 Avalanche Beacon

Backcountry Access Tracker2 Avalanche Beacon

Weight: 5.2 x 3.2 x 1.1 inches

Dimensions: 9 ounces

Color: Black, Red, and Orange

Specifications: 457 kHz industry standard frequency compliance; a range of 55 meters, and a 50-meter search strip width. Three AAA Alkaline batteries required. Battery life is about 200 to 250 hours depending on the mode when it is in use.

This model beacon is made in the USA. Compliant with European and American standards: certified as such. Small size, and lightweight.

Tri-axis antenna. Improved accuracy. Strong signal detection. Auto revert to send functionality. Five-year limited warranty.

Best Uses: Backcountry touring; Professional use.

Description: The Backcountry Access Tracker2 Avalanche Beacon is reasonably priced at $299.95. The unit is compatible with all model transceivers made after 1996.

A wide range detection feature allows for the Backcountry Access Tracker2 to pick upon multiple flux lines and track them.

The range of the unit is generous at 55 meters. The tri-axis antenna ensures exceptional signal detection and translation into direction and distance on the digital panel for viewing.

Auto-revert to send switches out the detect to send signal to protect rescuers in the event a secondary avalanche should occur.

Related: If you want something a bit less expensive from the same line, you can opt for the Backcountry Access Tracker DTS Avalanche Beacon at a cost of $209.99.

The unit has a digital display with real-time information on an intuitive interface. The LED lighting makes the unit easy read.

Ortovox 3+

Ortovox 3+

Weight: 1 pound

Dimensions: 8” x 6” x 4”

Color: Blue

Specifications: Small, lightweight unit; 40-meter range; lower end pricing; Smart Antenna Technology™, Recco Reflector inside; tri-axis antenna; detects three snowed in/burial sites; simple operation, flagging options, detects up to three sites for multiple rescues. Operates with one AAA battery.

Best Uses: Recreational, Enthusiast skiing. Calm slopes, regular ski area.

Description: The Ortovox 3+ is priced at around $256.95, so it is on the lower end of the scale as far as beacon prices. The avalanche beacon has Smart Antenna Technology™ and a Recco Reflector inside features, both of which are proprietary functions.

The unit comes with a tri-axis antenna to maximize signal detection and output. The only downside to the Ortovox is that it is a model with a range of only 40 meters, when compared to the meters put out by many other transceivers similarly priced and directly flying in the face of the industry standard of about 50 to 55 meters range.

Detects three victims, flagging features, and needs 1 AAA battery to operate.

Related: The Ortovox Zoom+ Avalanche Transceiver is available for $288.95, which is an investment of about $30 more where you can get self-checking features, and the inclusion of the Smart Antenna Technology. The unit features a three-microprocessor controller inside.

You Can’t Put A Price on Your Safety

To head to the slopes is exciting enough, and you certainly don’t need to send yourself on a risk-taking adventure to top it off.

When you go skiing or you enjoy your snow sport, make sure you have all the protective gear you require, including one of the leading avalanche beacons, along with a probe and shovel.

Choose your Avalanche beacons

In the event of an avalanche the signal the beacon sends out might be the only thing between you and a deadly, unnecessary tragedy.

Be sure to leave a comment down below, telling us what you think of any of these products, or suggesting any transceivers you’ve had great experiences with.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

  • Shanna Allain

    Backcountry Access beacon is so easy to use. It has the option to revert automatically to be able to transmit and it readily clicks into receiving mode when you need to. The harness it comes with works well, you won’t notice it’s there all day . Highly recommended product!

  • Daniel Carraway

    These are lifesaving devices that we can’t do without. The Backcountry Access beacon is an excellent product and the most affordable one in the market. It’s one of the most popular ones among its counterparts and I’m surprised but pleased you were able to get a hold of one.

  • Stefan Sanga

    Hopefully I’ll never have to use it but I went for the Backcountry Access Tracker3. I’m no expert and, of course, any beacon is better than no beacon, but the Tracker3 performed well in my Avalanche safety class. The most important thing, by far, is practice. Get yourself to a class/course and read up on what to do in avalanche situations. It may cost a bit more but you don’t want to scrimp on your safety!

  • Daniel Carraway

    That’s right. Being proactive about safety is the best thing that you can do for yourself. Also, getting a reliable gear is your best bet to safety.

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