Spending the colder months outdoors hiking, skiing and snowboarding is a great way to enjoy the snow. But an essential part of outdoor cold-weather sports in ensuring you have the right safety tools on hand in case disaster strikes. One item that is often overlooked until it’s too late is the avalanche beacon.
An avalanche beacon is a small transceiver that is used to broadcast your location or the location of others in the case of an avalanche. When buried under snow, an avalanche beacon can still send a signal to other transceivers, alerting rescue crews to your location.
The good news is that any avalanche beacon will track another transceiver, regardless of the brand. But for more accurate readings, groups that are heading into the snow together will likely want to use the same brand of transceiver. Most importantly, each member of the group should have their own beacon to keep on themselves at all times.
Only one model in our list comes with avalanche probes, but these are also a vital safety tool, as is a shovel that is designed to be lightweight, portable and easy to carry in case of an avalanche. Many of the brands included on our list sell these items in addition to avalanche beacons.
If you’re heading into the snow this year, make sure you have a reliable and accurate avalanche beacon with you at all times.
1. Arva Evo4 Beacon
Track three victims at once with the Arva Evo4 Beacon. The newly improved Evo4 has loud audio feedback that can be heard from a distance. The large LCD screen displays up to three victims, marking them as safe or unsafe. Those marked unsafe have their distance clearly labeled and an arrow pointing towards their burial site. The Evo4 is easy to use and toggles between send and search, marking a transceiver with an average bandwidth of 40 meters. The Evo4 comes with batteries that last up to an impressive 250 hours.
Pros: The Evo4 has a group check mode that enables all users to perform trailhead checks, ensuring that all beacons are working properly and connected.
Cons: The Evo4 is the heaviest and largest beacon on our list. The harness is restrictive and makes it difficult to use the beacon when worn under outerwear and likely must be removed during an actual search. The Evo4 offers a less precise search area than the other beacons on our list.
2. BCA Tracker 3 Avalanche Beacon
Easily view multiple burial indicators with the BCA Tracker 3 Avalanche Beacon, which comes with a harness and features a Big Picture mode. Find victims quickly with the fully digital display showing directional arrows and distance. Like the Evo4, the Tracker 3 is a three-antenna avalanche beacon that can track up to three victims at once. The Tracker 3 has a 50-meter range, 10 meters larger than the Evo4. The Tracker 3 has a Signal Suppression mode that will ignore the closet signal once that victim has been located and marked safe. The ‘pocket-friendly’ avalanche beacon is 20 percent lighter than its predecessor.
Pros: The Tracker 3 comes with its own brand of stealth avalanche probes. These help to locate an avalanche victim quickly and efficiently.
Cons: The Tracker 3 has the biggest price tag on our list and does not come with batteries.
3. Backcountry Access Tracker 2 Avalanche Beacon
For a tracker that is easy to use in stressful situations, try the Backcountry Access Tracker 2 Avalanche Beacon. The Tracker 2 has an intuitive design with a mechanical search and transmit switch that can be accessed even while wearing gloves. Three AAA batteries are included with the tracker, which also comes with a comfortable harness. Featuring a strong and accurate signal, the Tracker 2 has a 50-meter digital range and comes with multiple burial indicator lights. A real-time display means there will be no lag during a search.
Pros: The Tracker 2 has a bright-red digital display that can easily be read in any light conditions.
Cons: The Tracker 2 is larger than the Tracker 3 and the harness is not as comfortable to wear. The large lever is easy to access in stressful situations but can be accidentally turned to Transmit Mode.
4. Black Diamond Pieps DSP Sport Beacon
For an avalanche beacon you won’t even notice you’re wearing, try the Black Diamond Pieps DSP Sport Beacon. The lightweight and easy to use beacon has a one-button interface that allows customers to toggle through transmitting, receiving and marking other transceivers with send, search and flag. The beacon has increased accuracy thanks to its three antennas and one self-checking reference antenna. A smart transmitter tells users the easiest solution in a multiple burial scenarios while also providing distance and direction of multiple burials. The circular range reaches 50 meters and works with older analog beacons.
Pros: At only 6.04 ounces, the Pieps is significantly lighter and smaller than the other beacons on our list, making it less cumbersome to carry and more likely for users to take with them on long treks.
Cons: The battery display on the Pieps isn’t always accurate and the beacon can quickly eat through batteries.