Best avalanche beacon

Snow Sports

A better name for an avalanche beacon is an avalanche transceiver because it has two modes: It can transmit a signal and it can receive a signal.

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WHAT AVALANCHE BEACON IS BEST? 

If you engage in any type of activity that puts you at risk for being caught in an avalanche, wearing an avalanche beacon can make the difference between surviving and not being found in time. This tiny device is not optional — something to save up for and get later — you need it the first time and every time you set out on an adventure.

Our top choice, the Mammut Barryvox S Beacon, is lightweight and has an impressive array of features. If you’d like to learn more about avalanche beacons, keep reading.

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU BUY AN AVALANCHE BEACON

Compatibility

The one item you don’t need to worry about is compatibility. As of 1996, all avalanche beacons function at 457kHz and are fully compatible between brands.

Digital vs. analog

Avalanche beacons are not like vinyl — you want to go digital, not analog, for the best performance.

Range

While the average range of an avalanche beacon is 50 meters, a few models feature a 60- or even a 70-meter range. The longer the range, the better, but it costs more.

Design

You need an avalanche beacon that’s durable enough to withstand an avalanche. If it can’t handle hard hits, none of the other features matter. Most people prefer their unit to be lightweight and compact so it’s easy to carry, but not so small that it’s difficult to operate while wearing gloves.

Ease of use

An avalanche beacon has two modes: send and search. You don’t need to do anything in send mode — the unit simply sends out a signal so others can find you. If you need to use your avalanche beacon in search mode, however, you’ll likely be under a great deal of stress, pressure, and very real time constraints. You don’t want to waste valuable seconds trying to remember how to access certain features or struggling with what the images on the display mean.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A QUALITY AVALANCHE BEACON

Antennae

While you might stumble upon an older model that only features two antennae, it’s not sufficient. Only consider models with three antennae, as this allows you to more quickly and more precisely locate a victim.

Display

A large, easy-to-read, easy-to-see (high contrast) display is your best option.

Multiple burial markers

If you find yourself in a situation where you must locate several individuals, this feature allows you to flag someone’s position so you can continue to search for others.

Auto revert-to-send

This feature automatically switches an avalanche beacon to send mode after certain conditions have been met. The purpose is to make sure the avalanche beacon is always in send mode when needed. The most common use for this is if you’re searching for victims, but get caught in an avalanche and never have a chance to switch the unit to send mode so people can find you.

Audio signal

To facilitate searching, most avalanche beacons have an audio alert that lets you know when you’re getting close to a victim.

HOW MUCH YOU CAN EXPECT TO SPEND ON AN AVALANCHE BEACON

Most avalanche beacons fall within a $250-$350 (and up) price range. The difference in price can be the result of a number of factors, such as a greater range, lightweight design, more intuitive display or features such as multiple burial markers. Be sure you know what’s included on the model you’re considering so you know if it’s a better value or just a higher price.

AVALANCHE BEACONS FAQ

Q. Where do I wear an avalanche beacon?

A. The best place to wear an avalanche beacon is firmly secured but quickly accessible, just below your outer layer of clothing. Anything outside of your outer layer can be lost in an avalanche.

Q. When do I turn on my avalanche beacon?

A. In transmit mode, an avalanche beacon barely drains your battery — most last at least 200 hours with a fresh battery. When you put the avalanche beacon on, you should turn it on; when you take it off, you should turn it off. Also, if you have any other electronic devices on you, those should be turned off, because they can interfere with the signal.

WHAT AVALANCHE BEACON IS BEST TO BUY?

Top avalanche beacon

Mammut Barryvox S Beacon

Mammut Barryvox S Beacon

Our take: An easy-to-use, intuitive and reliable device.

What we like: The battery lasts for up to 350 hours and is easy to operate even while wearing gloves.

What to consider: It is expensive, but definitely worth it.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

Top avalanche beacon for the money

Backcountry Access Tracker 3 Avalanche Beacon

Backcountry Access Tracker 3 Avalanche Beacon

Our take: A solid transmitting and receiving device with an impressive range and battery life.

What we like: This model functions on three AAA alkaline batteries. It can transmit for as much as 250 hours in transmit-only mode. It’s lightweight and has a maximum range of 50 meters.

What to consider: The unit scratches easily, but this is only a cosmetic concern and doesn’t diminish its functionality.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

Worth checking out

Black Diamond Guide BT Avalanche Beacon

Black Diamond Guide BT Avalanche Beacon

Our take: A feature-packed avalanche beacon that has an impressive amount to offer at a more affordable price.

What we like: The 60-meter range of this unit extends in a circular pattern for symmetrical searches and it uses three antennae to help pinpoint precise locations. The material on the exterior makes it easy to handle.

What to consider: Some users find it a bit too big.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

 

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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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