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BCA Tracker2 Avalanche Transceiver Review

Summary: The Tracker2 is a three-antenna transceiver from Backcountry Access (BCA). The Tracker2 offers several improvements over the popular Tracker DTS including an easier to use interface, a slightly longer reception range, a larger display, better spike handling, a multiple burial indicator light, and it can be upgraded with new features. It's also 18% lighter and 13% smaller than the DTS. The Tracker3, which was released in early 2014, is even lighter and smaller, and it includes the ability to suppress a signal during a multiple burial.

Searching: The Tracker2 indicates the search direction with five directional LEDs. As with its predecessor (the Tracker DTS) and sucessor (the Tracker3), the Tracker2's direction indicator is quick and accurate.

In my testing, the Tracker2's range was 4.1 meters longer than the Tracker DTS and statistically identical to the Tracker3 (I've tested the Tracker2 22 times and the Tracker3 8 times). Somewhat oddly, Tracker2 displays the distance to the transmitting beacon before it displays the direction indicator (as does the Ortovox Patroller). This adds to the perception of a longer range, but the range chart shows the actual measured distances when the direction indicator appeared. (Note that BCA increased the recommended search strip width of the Tracker2, from 40 meters to 50 meters, during 2010, a distance I think is too long for this transceiver.) And the reception range of the Tracker2 when held perpendicular to the transmitting beacon is much shorter than other avalanche transceivers. In my extensive range testing, the Tracker2 and Tracker3 remain on the low-end of the digital beacons.

As with almost all transceivers, the exceptions being some ARVAs, the Ortovox S1, and the Mammut Element and Pulse, if you are headed in the wrong direction (which can easily happen, since transceivers simply align you with the transmitting beacon's flux lines) you will need to notice that the distance is increasing and turn around.

Multiple Burials: The Tracker2 does not have the ability to suppress a transmitter. The BCA folks feel strongly that multiple burials are rare and the that the problems caused by the overlapping signals are too significant for any transceiver to consistently manage (although after singing that refrain for many years, the Tracker3 does include a form of signal suppression). BCA encourages people to learn the generic multiple burial techniques rather than rely on transceivers to sort out the multiple signals.

The Tracker2 indicates when there are multiple victims by illuminating a small not-so-intuitive light. If there are two victims within 5 meters of the Tracker2, the light blinks (likewise far from intuitive). I've frequently seen the light illuminate when searching for older analog transceivers, which confused me as I attempted to search for a second, nonexistent, transceiver. (I've seen other digitals display "phantom" multiple burials when searching for older analog transceivers, too.)

The Tracker2 has a "special mode" button that can aid in multiple burial searches. The user manual states that the special mode "is an advanced feature designed to assist expert searchers in specialized multiple burial situations." You can read about using the "special mode" in the review of the Tracker DTS. We feel the mode is of limited value.

Spikes: The Tracker2 has three antennas. In exhaustive testing, the Tracker2 resolved spikes flawlessly. The addition of a third antenna is one of the major improvements over the original Tracker (DTS).

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Backcountry Access Tracker 2
Tracker2

Controls: Backcountry Access (BCA) stuck to the core principle of the Tracker DTS when they designed the Tracker2—ease of use. The Tracker2 does not have any extra buttons, menus, or features.

The Tracker2 has an obvious on/off dial and a well-labeled, intuitive, and mitten-friendly toggle between transmit and search (you pull the triangular block on the "tail" of the transceiver). If you inadvertently bump the switch and return to transmit mode, the Tracker2 will notify you with a series of loud tones. (I've had three reports of people doing this unintentionally, but the tones seem pretty obvious.)

The Tracker2's on/off switch prevents you from turning on the unit when in search mode which ensures that you won't head into avalanche terrain while you're unknowingly searching.

As with the DTS, the Tracker2 can display only two digits which limits the information that can be communicated. For example, the Tracker2 displays "tr" after startup to indicate that it is sending (new users sometimes think this indicates an error) rather than displaying a transmitting icon, it displays "SE" when receiving rather than displaying a zigzagging pattern, it can't display a four-headed cross during the fine search, etc. The Tracker2 is still very easy to use, but other transceivers have more intuitive displays.

The multi-purpose "special mode" button on the front of the transceiver is smaller and much less obvious than on the Tracker DTS, which is good because it reduces the likelihood that people will press it without understanding its function:

  • If you hold the "special mode" button pressed while turning on the Tracker2, the transceiver will automatically revert to transmit after five minutes of searching without receiving a signal (and it'll make plenty of noise for 30 seconds before reverting).
  • If you hold the "special mode" button pressed while entering search mode (until "LO" is displayed), the Tracker2 will search with the speaker turned off (handy during trainings).
  • If you press the "special mode" button while in transmit mode, the battery level will be displayed.
  • If you press the "special mode" button while searching, the search area will be narrowed as explained here.
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Backcountry Access Tracker3
Tracker3

Comfort: The Tracker2 is approximately 12% smaller than the Tracker DTS and 18% lighter. The weight savings comes from a lighter harness.

Other: The Tracker2 has a larger screen that is easier to read in bright sunlight, a stronger (rubberized) case, and is upgradeable.

BCA did it right with the Tracker2. This no-frills, no-confusion beacon builds on the strengths of its predecessor.

Model:  Tracker2
Manufacture:  BCA
Retail Price:  $299.95
Score: 
Type:  Digital
Antennas:  3
Marking:  No
Updateable:  Yes
Owner's Manual:  Download

Pros: Simple controls, mitten friendly, inexpensive.
Cons: No marking, moderate range.