Avalanche Transceiver Summary

Just as there isnít one car that is best for everyone, there isnít one avalanche transceiver that is best for everyone. And just as it isnít Consumer Reports role to tell you which car to buy, it isnít our role to tell you which transceiver to buy.

Of course, Consumer Reports can measure and compare braking distance, turning radius, fuel consumption, and storage space. More subjectively, they can compare seating comfort, driverís visibility, and the arrangement of the dashboard. Which car you ultimately choose should be based on how you prioritize these features and how you plan to use your car.

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Similarly, the avalanche transceiver you select should be based on how you prioritize its features and how you plan to use it. If you wonít spend much time practicing with your transceiver, choose a unit with minimal features and options. Are you outfitting customers for a one-day backcountry trip? Choose a unit with the most obvious controls (ďEverybody change their transceiver to Search now!").

All of the avalanche transceiver that are rated 4 stars and above are solid choices. Selecting from within that group should be based on the features that are import to you and the price.

With that said, the current avalanche transceivers can be grouped into these four categories.

Transceivers Without Three Antennas

Two transceivers are still being sold with fewer than three antennas. The lack of a third antenna means these transceivers cannot resolve "spikes." These transceivers also lack the ability to "mark" (i.e., suppress) a signal during a multiple burial search.

The Pieps Freeride is popular with racers due to its size and weight, but its single antenna can't provide crucial directional information during a search and its range is ridiculously short.

The Tracker DTS was a revolutionary breakthrough when it was introduced in 1997, but that was 1997. Within the BCA product line, all users would be better off with a Tracker2 or Tracker3.

Three-Antenna Transceivers without Multiple-Burial Marking

There are currently two transceivers in this category, the BCA Tracker2 and Ortovox Zoom+. These transceivers have three antennas which enables them to resolve "spikes," yet they lack the ability to "mark" (i.e., suppress) a signal during a multiple burial search. Some people consider the ability to mark a multiple burial relatively unimportant, because multiple burials are less-common and using the marking feature does require practice. If you don't want the "marking" feature, these transceivers are worth considering. 

Three-Antenna Transceivers with Multiple-Burial Marking

There are currently five transceivers in this category. All have three antennas to resolve "spikes" and all have the ability to "mark" (i.e., suppress) a signal during a multiple burial search.

Toward the basic end of this category, the ARVA Evo3+ can suppress only one signal at a time. The BCA Tracker3 takes a similar approach by ignoring the strongest signal and directing you to the second strongest signal (this mode only lasts one minute).

The ARVA Neo, Mammut Element, Ortovox 3+, and Pieps DSP Sport (and the recently discontinued Pieps Tour) have very similar features, including the ability to suppress more than one signal. They differ in how well they perform the core functions and in variations in their displays, controls, harnesses, prices, etc. These beacons are targeted toward the ďmiddle market.Ē 

Transceivers with Additional Features

There are currently four avalanche transceivers that include three antennas and support the marking of transmitters during a multiple burial, but which also include one or more additional features. The value of these additional features depends on your needs.

  • The Pieps DSP Pro is the most traditional avalanche transceiver in this category. It starts with the features of a DSP Sport and adds an increased reception range, the longest battery life of any modern transceiver, and the abilities to test the frequency of another beacon, to measure slope angles, to scan for nearby beacons, and to search for a Pieps TX600 dog transmitter. And the Pro adds these features without complicating the basic searching functionality.
  • The Mammut Pulse has two modes. In the "basic" mode the Pulse is very similar to the Mammut Element. The "advanced" mode adds numerous customizable options—too many to summarize here. The Pulse also has a unique direction indicator that floats freely like a compass needle and can point behind you.
  • The ARVA Pro W (previously named the "Link") is similar in many ways to the Pulse.
  • The Ortovox S1+ (and the recently discontinued S1) has a radically different flip-phone-style housing, a radically different grid-like search display, and many additional features—once again too extensive to summarize.

Bottom Line

The model of the transceiver you select is far less important than your ability to use it and your decisions while traveling in avalanche terrain. It's also important that you take a formal avalanche safety course, engage in continuing education, read your avalanche bulletin every day, pay attention to natureís clues in the field, and communicate openly with your partners.

Brighton Ski Area Boundary Sign
This sign "beeps" as you walk past it to show that your transceiver is transmitting. It is too bad it can't sound an alarm if you are not wearing a beacon.
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