Avalanche beacons, also known as transceivers, are an essential tool in the backcountry; yet, simply purchasing a beacon will not ensure your safety. An avalanche beacon is responsible for transmitting your location and search of buried victims. Having a functional and competent beacon is critical for staying alive in case of a slide, whether you're a skier, a snowboarder, snowshoer, or snowmobiler.
Now it's time for some tech geekiness. Over the last decade, avalanche beacons have made great strides. Each year, technology improves, and the user interface becomes more immersive.
Here, we break down the year's best avalanche beacons for 2022. They range from simple entry-level transceivers, intermediate-friendly models, and feature-rich options for guides and patrollers.
Best Avalanche Beacons
Best Overall Avalanche Beacon: Black Diamond Guide BT
The "BT" in Black Diamond's name stands for "Black Diamond Technology." The Guide BT uses your smartphone's Bluetooth capability. It has a competitive price point and a range of features, including a processing capacity.
The Guide BT is a major revamp, with the most notable changes being the "BT" or Bluetooth-enabled software updates and feature/option customizations. All this makes the beacon's status one of our absolute favorites. It has good features and performance, as well as a user-friendly interface.
It helps to keep the user on the flux line. The Guide BT uses five directional arrows that display two at a time. Users of all abilities will have an easy time with this beacon when approaching the fine search.
If the transmitting antenna gets impacted by external interference, the beacon will automatically turn to the other antenna to send the best signal possible.
The Guide BT performs well in a variety of burial scenarios. It distinguishes between beacons buried close together.
The directing arrows on the Guide BT fade away after two meters. This leaves just an auditory tone and distance values. Because of the precision, an assistant searching out in front is more likely to get a probe strike. Due to the precision and smaller bracket, there is less area to probe after you conclude your bracket.
The Guide BT has an effective range of 60 meters and a search strip width of 60 meters.
On startup, a self-check confirms that all antennas are working properly. The Guide BT may do a regular and prolonged group check. For older beacons, an extended group check is advised.
Best for Advanced Users: Mammut Barryvox S
The Mammut Barryvox S has many great features. Mainly, it boasts great speed when moving closer than 10 meters and the fine search while bracketing. This is one of the most capable beacons on the market, and it outperformed all other models for multiple burials.
The Barryvox S is similar to a manual camera; with skill, it can accomplish considerably more than your usual. We have granted the Barryvox S our high rating since it is for pros and advanced users because of its many unique features.
The competition is blown away by this model. In digital mode, it offers a maximum range of 70 meters. While in analog mode, up to 95 meters. It has by far the best range in our evaluation, even when the beacon is turned to analog mode.
The new Barryvox S is noticeably faster during each phase of the search. It is speedy, especially under 10 meters, and during the bracketing stage of the fine search. It had a faster overall processing speed.
When you switch it to search mode, it displays where you should begin looking for the signal exhibiting the rescuer pattern. When this beacon receives the signal, it displays incredibly exact directions on an easy user interface.
It is quite swift in fine search and was one of the fastest beacons at the bracketing stage in our direct comparisons. The Barryvox S was exact with its numbers and formed tight brackets with the buried beacon in the low point in the center of the box consistently.
This beacon is difficult to defeat for intricate funerals and professional training or examinations.
It will ask you to perform a group check when you turn it on. You can choose language, user ID, search settings, and other parameters from here. A simple interface and the menu is largely intuitive and simple to manage.
Best Value for Money: Backcountry Access Tracker S
The Backcountry Access Tracker S is a less costly, slightly scaled-down version of the classic Tracker3. It is designed for backcountry hikers who want to keep their hands free. The Tracker S has a fast processor and multiple burying functions. In dealing with many beacons buried in the vicinity, this function can suppress the closest signal for one minute and has a similar reach.
Consistently rapid at identifying a single beacon, Backcountry Access Tracker S has a lightning-fast processor, easy-to-use interface, and top-tier precision. Since the software can't be updated, it is not our prime choice for guides or avalanche educators. It is, however, a very reliable and affordable beacon for the great majority of backcountry explorers.
Backcountry Access boasts a maximum range of 55 meters and suggests a 50-meter search strip. The range is generally between 40 and 45 meters.
The Tracker S is one of the fastest at finding a single victim. It has a mix of five directional arrows, The user interface is simple to operate. It also features intuitive sounds that alter as you get closer to the buried signal.
At two meters, the directional arrows disappear. The instructions for the searcher are to maintain the current direction and begin bracketing. Many users prefer this design to other beacons with directional arrows that disappear after three meters.
The Tracker S is designed to quickly move to the nearest signal while suppressing it for 60 seconds.
Easily our favorite for overall speed, price, and easy user interface. More recently, even the most basic beacons have become much more competent. But we believe this is the best of the lot in terms of performance and price.
A Competent, Lightning-Fast Model: Backcountry Access Tracker3
The Backcountry Access Tracker3 is a low-profile, elegant beacon at the top of BCA's Tracker beacon family. Said to be designed for more experienced users, such as ski guides, avalanche industry professionals, and other advanced trip leaders.
The BCA Tracker3 is simple to operate, extremely fast, and quite intuitive. It has a quick processor and assists the user in scoring well during bracketing/fine search. The big-picture option on this model was fantastic for tricky rescues.
The Tracker3 has a maximum range of roughly 40-45 meters in real life. Although having more range is always desirable, the Tracker3's range is sufficient. Many use the 40-meter search strip widths advised in most avalanche courses.
The Tracker3 is one of the fastest beacons on the market, just like the rest of the BCA Tracker series. We discovered it to be one of the fastest models available.
One of our quickest beacons for locating a single victim is the Tracker3. Even when there were many, this model consistently produced the fastest rescue times. A Tracker3 is supported by two powerful processors and a simple user interface to reach a buried beacon.
During the fine search and bracketing stages, the Tracker3 destroys practically all other beacons and is among the best.
During this part of the search, it is faster and more accurate than other top options.
When the Tracker3 detects two beacons, it highlights two persons in red at the bottom of the screen. There's also a feature that we enjoyed. The "BP" or Big Picture mode is a feature that advanced users and guides will appreciate. By swiftly bouncing between signals, showing distance and direction for each, the model eliminates the function of locking onto the closest signal while ignoring/not presenting all available signals at once.
The Tracker3 was one of the best for Micro strip-searching and concentric circle techniques because of its capacity to bounce between signals quickly.
The BCA Tracker3 is suitable for a wide range of users. Therefore, it was picked as the fastest in our review. This is an excellent beacon for a professional.
Notable Value for Speed, Ease of Use, and a Solid Flagging Feature: Black Diamond Recon BT
The new Black Diamond Recon BT is Bluetooth compatible. This model may be updated using your smartphone's Bluetooth connection and an app. Although we prefer the Guide BT, which is a more enhanced form of this model, we believe the Recon BT is well-suited and more than adequate for the vast majority of backcountry explorers. Most will seldom use all of the capabilities in the Guide. Whereas, the Recon tends to have all the elements that beginners and experts seek.
The Recon BT is a performance-oriented mid-level beacon sold as a simplified version of the Guide BT. While the Guide has many capabilities that professionals will appreciate. The Recon offers all of the functions that most backcountry travelers require. The majority of travelers will find this beacon appealing because of its solid fine search and exact bracketing, top-tier range, trustworthy flagging functions, and an easy-to-use UI.
This beacon was initially listed as having a search strip width of 50 meters. And a maximum range with optimal coupling. But it has now been modified to 60 Meters.
The Recon operates at a high level of precision and has an above-average processing speed. It's worth noting that the slider toggle that moves this beacon from search to send to off is stiff.
In the fine search, this beacon performed admirably. To keep its user on the flux line, the Recon BT has five directional arrows that can be used two at a time. Its arrows fade away at two meters, which gives it a little advantage over models that fade away at three meters with less experienced users.
This is one of the most cost-effective beacons for complex multiple burial scenarios. Even when two buried beacons were within three meters of each other, it could distinguish between them and stay latched into one. Its marking/flagging button worked well with 2-3 hidden signals and was effective and simple to operate.
The Recon BT connects to your phone via Bluetooth and allows you to connect via an app. The majority of Recon's features are built on this foundation. The Bluetooth connection enables the user to easily configure many of the settings and options via an app.
The Recon features a "group check" factor that lets leading a function/trailhead check a lot easier than it was with the prior model. When CH appears, simply hold down the flag button to activate this function.
Even though BT's price-pointed model costs more than others, the Recon BT is a terrific beacon and a great deal. Is it necessary for everyone to have the Recon's extra features? Certainly not, but it does manage to throw in a few extras for a relatively low price.
The Recon BT from Black Diamond is billed as a more basic beacon, although it is known to be extremely competent. The Recon carries its own. While it isn't as sophisticated as some, it does have a lot of useful functions and will meet the demands of most countryside travelers.
Even if you choose a high-end product, sufficient training and practical application are required. The importance of knowing how to use a rescue beacon is highlighted in the preceding article. Backcountry aficionados and avalanche pros can identify numerous beacons in under six minutes, whereas a newbie can easily take 25 minutes or more.
While the typical rescue time is debatable, it is estimated that it takes roughly 20 minutes from the time the person is caught in the slide to the time the victim's airway is exposed on the surface. But would it not be nice if you and your friends were on the speedier part of that estimate?
We advise getting an avalanche course recommended by the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), the American Avalanche Institute (AAI), or the American Avalanche Association (AAA).
Avalanches claim the lives of 36 people in North America each year, and 185 people globally. Across North America, trauma is the cause for one-third of these deaths, while asphyxiation causes the other two-thirds.
How To Wear An Avalanche Beacon
Your avalanche beacon should be worn in two places. The first is hidden inside your beacon's harness, where it is not visible to the outside world; this place it in the most important "target area" on your body and protects it from impact. The beacon must be worn under at least one layer of clothing while in its harness, if not the chances of it being pulled off your body are too great.
It is not acceptable to leave the beacon uncovered, regardless of how hot it is or how cool you believe it makes you appear. Another option is to keep it in a zippered jeans pocket. An internal, zipped sewn-in pocket for the pants is required.Author's note: Traveling in avalanche terrain carries inherent hazards, and we do not recommend using a beacon—or any other avalanche safety tool—without first receiving sufficient training. Learn more and sign up for a Level 1 avalanche class at the American Avalanche Association's website.
The Dos and Don’ts
Keep your mobile phone, radio, GoPro, or any other signal-generating equipment at least 30 centimeters away from your avalanche beacon. In the previous three years, at least two high-profile deaths have occurred as a result of a cell phone interfering with the wearer's beacon. At least one of these phones was switched off. Heated gloves and boots have also been reported to cause interference as well.
This list will allow you to understand the distinctions between the various avalanche beacons currently available. The brands in this review will increase safety in case you or someone close to you is caught in an avalanche and buried.
When it is about safety, making a decision can be challenging. Keep in mind that you're buying this beacon for your companions, friends, and backcountry partners, not for yourself. With so many methods to save money, an avalanche beacon is not where you should cut corners.