Every year, every skier and snowboarder will dream of going to a mountain with lots of snow. When the snow forecast predicts a heavy snowfall, all mountain goers will feel the butterflies of excitement brewing. But what many beginners don’t realize, is that heavy snow fall often comes at a price. A sunny bluebird day that follows a heavy snowfall often causes high avalanche risks, with the majority of mountain goers not owning an avalanche beacon (let alone the best avalanche beacon).
The Adventure Junkies has created an easy guide for you, to not only buying an avalanche beacon but a useful know-how to spotting key features to look for in your new piece of kit. Regardless of whether you consider yourself a backcountry touring pro, or a rookie of the mountain, we can help you choose the right kit to enjoy your snow time safely!
For more of our top snow sports gear recommendations, check out these popular articles:
Quick Answer - The Best Avalanche Beacons
- Backcountry Access Tracker 3
- Black Diamond Pieps DSP Pro
- Black Diamond Pieps DSP Sport
- Ortovox S1+
- Ortovox Zoom +
- Backcountry Access Tracker 2
- Arva Evo4
Comparison Table - The Best Avalanche Beacons
|Picture||Name||Best For||Search Strip||Can Mark Transmitters||Price||Rating|
|Backcountry Access Tracker 3||LED Search||164ft||No||$$||4.2|
|Black Diamond Pieps DSP Pro||Overall||164ft||Yes||$$$||4.8|
|Black Diamond Pieps DSP Sport||Overall||164ft||Yes||$$||4.8|
|Ortovox Zoom +||LED Search||131ft||No||$||3.9|
|Backcountry Access Tracker 2||Budget||164ft||Yes||$||4.6|
|Picture||Name||Best For||Search Strip||Can Mark Transmitters||Price||Rating|
Reviews - Avalanche Beacons
Backcountry Access Tracker 3
BEST FOR OPERATING IN REFINED SEARCHES FOR FAST SINGLE VICTIM RECOVERY
PROS: An incredibly fast beacon that proves great with advanced users
CONS: The marking function (signal suppression) only lasts for 60 seconds before automatically referring to the nearest beacon
Black Diamond Pieps DSP Pro
BEST FOR MULTIPLE BURIAL FUNCTIONS FOR COMPLEX AVALANCHE RECOVERIES
PROS: Excellent search strip range
CONS: Not easy to use with a mass of features included to learn and practice
Black Diamond Pieps DSP Sport
BEST FOR BACK TOURING RISKY AREAS FOR THE FIRST TIME WITH A HIGH FUNCTIONING DEVICE
PROS: It works just as well as it’s sister product the PIEPS DSP PRO, but with less functions for an easier use
CONS: The price has recently gone up despite the product remaining the same
BEST FOR A STYLISH FLIP TRANSCEIVER THAT FITS NEATLY INTO THE SUPPLIED HOLSTER
PROS: Self test option checks battery, transmit and recieve function at the start of the mountain day
CONS: Very expensive like it’s competitor the Mammut Pulse Barryvox
Ortovox Zoom +
BEST FOR EASE OF USE, WITH A SIMPLE DESIGN AND VERY FRIENDLY TO BUDGETS
PROS: Attractive design for the more fashion conscious ski and snowboard tour fan
CONS: No flagging/marking features are included, poor search strip range
Backcountry Access Tracker 2
BEST FOR BEGINNERS TO USING AVALANCHE BEACONS THAT NEED A STRONG AND EASY TO USE DEVICE
PROS: Despite being designed for novices, it proves extremely fast in finding single victims
CONS: Due to it’s target market of novices, it lacks a lot of the advanced features
BEST FOR EASE OF USE AND GOOD PERFORMANCE FOR BUYERS ON A BUDGET
PROS: Given its ability to mark features and transmitters it is a very low price
CONS: A somewhat bulky design and poor search strip range compared with competitors
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST AVALANCHE BEACONS
RECEPTION RANGE & ANTENNAS
As climates change mountains are getting more and more unpredictable. So when looking to buy an avalanche beacon, it is always wise to seek one that works well. Be it in multiple burials that need a fast search, or finding a beacon that is easy to understand and use in a rescue. Having a strong set of ski wear and gear can be useless if you aren’t cautious and prepared when skiing off piste. A ski helmet will only provide protection from the initial impact of an avalanche slide. It is the beacon that will rescue you from the burial.
The range of your avalanche beacon will determine how far the signal can search at any one time. The majority of high-performing beacons will feature a range of 160 ft (50 meters) or more. With some beacons being able to cover up to 190 ft (60 meters). When considering the range, it is also worth considering the search width you will be using. This is due to some widths being more effective than others in various situations. For unpracticed beginners, a long range is usually more beneficial.
Most avalanche beacons have multiple antennae. The benefit of this is that a single antenna will only be able to search a very limited reception range. Whereas two antennas or more will instead be able to perform a more effective and quick search. This is great in severe conditions where time is running out. The higher market rated beacons will often feature three antennae. This feature will allow your device to search in three directions at once. Such as left/right, up/down and forward and behind.
These will help you search the danger area faster. But the downside of doing so can result in completing your search without locating a signal. It is best to seek a device that is able to switch between a narrow and wide search strips. This option allows you to tailor your needs to suit the conditions and scenario before you. If you are a beginner with a device that can switch, practice will be necessary. Practice will always be crucial for beginners unsure of when to use narrow or wide search widths.
The opposite to a wide search strip; is a narrow strip. Narrow strip are proved far more time-consuming. Experts will argue a narrow strips is far more accurate in locating mountain signals. When buying an avalanche beacon it can be a good plan to choose a device capable of this feature. But be sure to take it out and practice! Doing so will speed up your search process and maintain a high accuracy.
MULTIPLE BURIAL FEATURES
In bad avalanche conditions, it is rare that you will be facing a single burial. As a result of this experts have designed marking features. Multiple marking systems will seek several victims at once. A rescue team can mark several locations. This allows you to dig for more than one victim at the same time. As you dig, the beacon continues to search the location for other victims.
The display of your avalanche beacon is an often overlooked aspect. But when you are in low light conditions and an emergency, this can be a vital trait of your avalanche beacon. A good beacon will have a bright and easy to read display, some featuring backlights to their screens. This way despite poor visibility, reading your beacons signal won’t be an issue. Whether you are in the dark or a blizzard!
EASE OF OPERATION
It is easy to overlook the simplest functions of an avalanche beacon. Yet these will be the most time-consuming in a crisis. One of the most common and overlooked flaws can your gloves. Many gloves are not compatible with touch screens and small buttons. Check if your beacon is operational while wearing your winter gloves. Removing your gloves during a search is time-consuming and risks the survival rates. Struggling to operate your beacons controls is dangerous in a dire avalanche scenario!
Most avalanche beacons come with a strap or harness. It is always a good idea to try these out before a sale. Most mountain equipment stores will be happy to show you not only how these fit, but how to wear them. Avoid a harness that holds your beacon in an uncomfortable position. This could be pressing on your chest or too far to the side for easy access. This is not suitable for the quick and reliable access you will need in any avalanche scenario.
SIZE & DESIGN
This goes hand in hand with the comfort of the avalanche beacon you choose. Be careful not to select a beacon that is bulky and heavy, or additionally to light and fragile. These devices are durable when made well. They shouldn’t be uncomfortable as you operate them. Find a design that is durable, whilst being a weight you can support with ease. Take the strap and harness into consideration, if these come with the beacon.