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Winter is here! It finally arrived, with its promises of nice ski rides among beautiful mountains covered with fresh snow… and its risk of avalanches.
Are you looking for the absolute best avalanche beacon for your mountain skiing and hiking adventures – we’ve got you covered. We’ve reviewed the best beacons on the market – to lay down the key pros and cons of each.
Our guide is based on user review during testing. Buy an avalanche beacon at your own discretion after thorough research. No beacon is guaranteed to work 100%, it can only assist you and should be used as an excuse to take unnecessary risk on the mountain.
What Is An Avalanche Beacon And When To Use It?
An avalanche beacon is a highly recommend piece of equipment for anyone who wants to enjoy winter sports out of the protected spaces of a ski resort. And actually, they can prove useful even on the ski slopes of a well-protected area.
Often named ARVA or DVA in the Alps, this piece of equipment saves lives in case of an avalanche by helping rescuers to accurately locate the victim. As a transceiver it emits a signal at a given frequency, that is picked up by another dispositive working as a receptor.
Avalanche beacons have two positions: emission, which is the default mode used when you are skiing, and reception, used after an avalanche to find the exact position of the victims. Together with a probe and a shovel, they form the basic avalanche safety set for those who want to improve their chances of survival during an avalanche.
In the following lines, we will talk about different models and see how to wisely choose your avalanche beacon.
Avalanche Beacons= Reviews
1. Black Diamond Pieps DSP Beacon
- Three antennas Plus self-checking reference antenna
- Smart transmitter adjusts signal to allow for the easiest solution in a multiple burial scenario
- Circular range for extended, Symmetrical search area
- Mark function for multiple burial scenarios
- Beacon drift adjustment to pick up beacons transmitting drifted signals
Black Diamond’s Pieps DSP avalanche beacon comes with a range of 3 antennas as well as a reference antenna that can check itself. This beacons strong signals increase the chances of being detected under snow.
Moreover, the beacon has a beacon drift adjustment function. This is an excellent feature that works to detect other beacons that are experiencing signals that have drifted.
In addition to this, we liked how the beacon uses a circular range when it comes to establishing the search area. This is because it’s more symmetrical and accurate within a range of 50m.
When it comes to dealing with multiple burial scenarios, users have noted the benefit of being able to use the mark function easily.
As far as using this beacon goes, users have found that all of the functions are relatively easy to use. This combined with its signal strength makes this a top pick.
One of the main reasons as to why this beacon is so easy to use is because it has a single-button system. By using this single button, you’re able to quickly choose between the 3 options that are available which include Search, Send, and Flag.
Furthermore, the display has been made with a design that’s super clear and easy to read which makes it great for tougher environments.
- Strong signal
- Super easy to use
- Great display
- Some aren’t fans of the sliding function design
2. Arva Evo4 Beacon
Arva’s Evo4 Beacon has been made with a design that makes it very easy to use. Therefore, you can be sure to have an easy time using the available functions in emergencies without complications to increase your chances of being rescued or letting people know where you are.
We liked how they’ve fitted 3 antennas as they work effectively to provide the beacon with plenty of signal strength.
In addition to this, we were impressed with how the beacons have a high-quality digital LCD display. It’s remarkably clear and provides you with the ability to see important information with no problems.
In particular, the LCD display is super helpful for enabling you to see multiple people who may have become buried under snow. Not only are you able to clearly see multiple people who have been buried, but you can also mark each of their locations while scanning the area so that you know exactly where they are.
Customers have been liking how this beacon can be used along with other beacons from people in your group. This is a fantastic way to make sure that you and everyone in your group can keep tabs on each other’s location and find out where people are in the case that you get split up.
A clip system has also been included which provides the beacon with more security as you can easily connect it to the holster that’s included. By ensuring that the beacon is securely attached to you, you’re able to grab it to use during times of emergencies.
We also liked how batteries for the beacon are included. They can last for up to an impressive 250 hours before they require replacing.
- Long battery life
- Great for groups
- Clear LCD display t
3. Ortovox S1+ Beacon
Best Depth Range
The Ortovox S1+ Beacon has a screen that’s clear and very easy to read. Therefore, you can be sure to read it properly during harsh weather conditions.
We also liked how you’re able to use the marking system to mark where different people are. This marking system is accurate and can be done very quickly which makes this beacon reliable during emergencies.
Moreover, if you wanted an avalanche beacon that could help you find multiple people at once, this beacon would be a great choice. This is because it comes with a 4+ mode that works incredibly well to help you find multiple people who may have become buried under snow.
As a result, you may want to consider using this beacon if you’re planning on going out skiing with a larger group of people.
We were impressed with how they’ve included a mode that has been made specifically for finding people who have become buried under especially deep snow. Therefore, this beacon can be super helpful for helping you to find people in larger avalanche situations.
Customers have also discussed how they’re able to make use out of the parallel team search option. It’s an awesome feature that allows you and others to work together better while searching for people.
Sounds have also been implemented to the beacon that enables you to have a visual aid when it comes to searching for people.
- Great marking system
- Clear display
- Deep burial victim mode
4. Mammut Barryvox Beacon
Best for Range
Mammut’s Barryvox Beacon comes with a clear display that provides you with information on the battery life in percentages. This is a great way for you to be able to conveniently see the amount of battery that you have left while you’re out skiing.
The display has been fitted with background lighting features that work well to let you read it easily. Therefore, you can feel confident in being able to see the screen clearly when you’re out in rough conditions.
We also found that the display allows you to see the direction and how far away the responder is.
A digital search system has been included which provides you with the ability to have a receiving range of up to 70 meters.
Users have noted that they like how this beacon comes with an acoustic search function. This function works to give you guidance that you can hear which can make it easier to use and find where people are during rescues.
In addition to this, the Barryvox Beacon has been designed to be super simple to use. Therefore, you can be sure to access and use all of the features without any hassle. This is excellent for enabling you to waste less time trying to figure out how to use the device so that you can focus on using it to help find people in avalanche situations.
To make sure that you’re able to keep the beacon close and secure at all times, it comes in a case that you can keep on you without any hassle.
- Acoustic search system
- Very simple to use
- 3 antennas for strong signal
5. Pieps Pro Avalanche Beacon
Best for Reliability
This is the Pro version of the Pieps Avalance beacon that the company has to offer. It comes with 3 antennas that work effectively to provide you with a more accurate kind of beacon. Moreover, the antennas can work within a range of up to 60 meters.
Therefore, you have plenty of distance to be able to use the beacon when it comes to tracking people who are further away from you.
We were impressed with how the Pro Pieps avalanche beacon has a function that allows you to find multiple people who may have become buried underneath the snow. In addition to finding where people are, you’re able to easily mark them. This is an excellent feature that lets you clearly located and find people in emergencies.
You can also feel confident in knowing that this beacon can be used to help you be found in the case you get lost or stuck somewhere. Even if you have the beacon in the receive mode, it can automatically switch itself back to the send mode after a certain duration of time with inactivity.
Therefore, the beacon can have its signal picked up by other beacons to increase your likelihood of being rescued.
We found that the Pro beacon has a function where it’s able to check itself to make sure that all of the internal hardware and software are up to date and working how it’s supposed to. This provides you with the peace of mind in knowing that you can rely on this beacon while you’re out skiing.
Furthermore, you’re even able to use this beacon to measure the transmissions of other people’s beacons. This is awesome for making sure that everyone’s beacons are working properly before you head out.
- Long 60-meter range
- Can flag & clearly mark victims
- Runs automatic checks
6. KLIM BCA Tracker 3 Avalanche Beacon
Best Compact Beacon
The KLIM BCA Tracker 3 Avalanche Beacon is known for being an incredibly easy beacon to use. Therefore, it could be a great option worth considering for people who are looking for a beacon that’s simple to use. This could make it great for those who are beginners in using avalanche beacons while out skiing.
We liked how they’ve designed the beacon with a more compact and lightweight design. This ensures that you’re able to have an easy time carrying it around with you. It’s one of the slimmest avalanche beacons available which means that it’s not a hassle to keep on you at all times while skiing for emergencies.
To make sure that you’re able to effectively find multiple victims, this beacon comes with a big picture mode. This mode provides you with the opportunity to clearly see where multiple people are at the same time.
In addition to this, the beacon comes with a harness. Therefore, you can be sure that you can keep the beacon on you at all times while you’re out skiing. Using the harness is an easy way to make sure that you can keep a strong beacon signal on you at all times for increased safety.
- Compact & lightweight design
- Can find multiple victims
- Comes with a secure harness
Avalanche Beacon Buyers Guide
How To Choose Your Avalanche Beacon
There are plenty of models available and it might be difficult to take an informed decision when you want to buy your avalanche beacon. Let’s go through some of their features.
Digital or Analog?
An analog transceiver is a simple device that beeps when it gets a signal and gets louder when you get closer to the source of the signal. They were the only option available until 1998.
A digital transceiver will pick up a signal in the same way, but it will then be processed by a mini-computer giving crucial information on a screen: the direction and the distance to the emitting beacon.
This is easy to understand why digital transceivers are now the only ones you should consider buying, as they give you far more accurate information and increases chance of survival.
Range of the transceiver
The range of an avalanche beacon is the distance at which it will pick up a signal. Most of the recent models offer a 25m range, while the best ones go up to 35m.
The range is not to be confused with the search width, which is the diameter of the area in which it can pick up a signal. Let me explain: if you have a range of 25m, it means that it can pick up a signal at 25m on your left, at 25m on your right, meaning that you are covering an area which is 50m wide.
Be careful not to confuse range and width when you check the specs of an avalanche beacon. If you see more than 40m, this is most likely the width, not the range.
Most of the avalanche beacons have a battery life between 200 and 400 hours, so there is no real risk of running out of batteries even during a multi-day skiing trip… as long as you charged it before!
Just like all the other electronic devices, the longer battery life, the better. But in the case of a life-saving device like an avalanche beacon, it is even more important.
Ease of Use
You obviously need to learn how to use your avalanche beacon before taking it with you to the mountains and practice with it in a safe area before going to the wilderness.
But keep in mind that a transceiver is used in a case of avalanche with buried victims. This is a very stressful situation for which nobody can really be prepared, and at this moment time is critical: you do not want to have to fumble through options, trying to remember how to do the correct settings struggling to put it in reception mode.
When it comes to choosing your avalanche beacon, go for the easiest one to use.
Imagine an avalanche just happened, your friend is buried somewhere. You kept your calm, switched your beacon to reception and started your search. You hear a beep, you know that he is not far and you check your screen to know exactly where to look for.
But this damn screen is so small, and the contrast is so bad under the sunlight, you struggle to see in which direction to go, losing precious seconds, knowing that your friend is not far…
You got it: when it comes to the screen, choose one that is big enough and easily readable in any light condition.
Size of the beacon
This is already a less important feature, as when it comes to safety gear saving weight shouldn’t be on top of the list. But let’s face it, who wants to carry a big bulky beacon for just a small plough? Come on, there’s no need, we’re just going close by.
Well, avalanches can happen anywhere, anytime as soon as you leave the groomed piste. And the best transceiver in the world is utterly useless if left on the kitchen table when you are under 60cm of snow.
And if having a smaller, lighter one, makes it easier for you not to “forget” it at home, then this is an important factor to consider before buying.
Most of the actual avalanche beacons have 3 antennas, so there shouldn’t be much hesitation there. But just in case, let’s understand how they work.
The first antenna has the longest range and indicates the distance to the victim. It is also the one emitting.
The second antenna is coupled to the first one and allows the processor to calculate the direction of the victim.
The third antenna allows locating the victim in 3D when you are close.
Multiple Buried Victims
This is a very useful option when you have more than one victim, allowing you to mark the position of the first victim before starting to look for the next one. Professional rescuers use this kind of model, as it is more efficient in the case of multiple victims.
But it is also more complicated to use and maybe not necessary for the vast majority of recreational skiers. Remember that ease of use is an important criteria, and this option might be confusing.
Here, the choice will clearly depend on your activities and your skills with an avalanche beacon.
Nowadays most of the transceivers available in the market do the job pretty well and all of the devices in our line-up have the potential to save your or your buddies life on your next ski trip.
There is a last point that needs to be mentioned and this might be the most important one: know how to use your avalanche beacon! Read the instruction manual, play with the functions, practice with your friends in safe conditions, and do it regularly.
Faulty transceivers are rarely heard of, but it is unfortunately common to hear about people who died because they were skiing with their beacon on reception instead of transmission, or because their friends tried to figure out how to search for someone while they were already buried in an avalanche.
Avalanche beacons are an important piece of safety gear of any responsible skier and winter mountaineer skiing in the backcountry that do save many lives every year. Make sure that you, and all your friends, have one every time you go skiing: in case of an avalanche, it can potentially be the difference between life and death.
- Digital transceivers are the standard now; analog beacons are not used anymore.
- Rather than having many options, it is wiser to choose a beacon that is easy to use when you need it.
- Range and visual screen are important deciding factors.
- An avalanche beacon is useless if left at home, turned off to save battery, or if you don’t know how to use it.
- Test and get familiar with your beacons before it is needed in a life or death scenario.
I have an old analog transceiver that still works, should I change it?
YES, no question about it! Digital transceivers work better and faster, and time is key in case of an avalanche if you want to find the victim alive (or be found, in case you are the one under the snow)
Am I sure to be safe if I have an avalanche beacon with me?
Sadly, NO. Unfortunately, an avalanche beacon doesn’t guarantee that you will not be taken by an avalanche, neither does it guarantee that you will be rescued on time. But it greatly increases your chances of survival compared with not having a transponder on you.
Does my transceiver work with other brands?
Most likely, YES. All beacons made after 1992 are using the same frequency (457 kHz) and they can communicate together independently of the make or model.
Do I really need to have an avalanche beacon?
Avalanche beacons are recommended for skiers and hikers who go to high risk areas or venture off-piste. They can also be used to locate you if you fall down a tree-well.