Best Avalanche Beacons for 2021

Best Avalanche Beacons for 2021

Published: Jan 04, 2021

An avalanche beacon, or avalanche transceiver, is an electronic device that is tasked with emitting a steady radio signal to be able to locate and search for buried victims in an avalanche aftermath. This piece of equipment is important when you are to explore the backcountry. But before you go ahead with your expedition, it is important that you have enough knowledge on the situations you might face, and the equipment you must bring.


**Brief disclaimer:
This article only serves as a guide for comparison of avalanche beacons or transceivers, and does not promote the use of an avalanche beacon without proper knowledge. Thus, if you are a beginner backcountry enthusiast, we encourage you to take an AIARE Level 1 avalanche course. Furthermore, Lanceview.com, its associates, affiliates, and partners will not be held responsible for any harm or injury that arises from the use of these products.

Best Avalanche Beacons: Our Quick Answer

 

Go to Comparison Table

Best overall

1. Backcountry Access Tracker 3

Backcountry Access Tracker 3

Click to view on amazon.com.

Max. Range: 70-95 meters

Weight: 7.4 oz

No. of Antennae: 3

The Backcountry Access Tracker 3 is one of BCA's popular, low-profile beacons that is geared towards the more advanced users.

What we like about the Backcountry Access Tracker 3 is that it is user-friendly, and very intuitive. Its range is adequate, and it is one of the faster beacons out on the market because of its use of two processors and a user-friendly interface. Plus, it makes use of five directional arrows to help you stay on the flux line, and has audible sounds. The Tracker 3 is among the best beacons when it comes to fine search and bracketing stages. Its directional arrows disappear at 2 meters, which indicates the searcher should start bracketing. We also found that it was easier to come in directly above a buried victim. The Tracker3 is very precise, and has the ability to center the buried signal and easily jump between signals. It also works well even if two beacons are close together.

Furthermore, it features a USB port located in the battery compartment, which can facilitate a software update, as well as a blinking light that is visible enough to help you identify that your beacon is on. It has the smallest triple antenna, and it feels small, so you can wear it comfortably in your chest pocket. Finally, it has a coiled spring leash, so that you can carry it in your pants pocket.

What we do not like about the Backcountry Access Tracker 3 is that its multiple burial function may lead to confusion and waste of time, because it un-suppresses the last marked beacon in only a minute. All in all, this is one of our top choices when it comes to the best avalanche transceiver or beacon. It has a very fast processor, it's easy to use, and it's compact and light.

 


Best for beginners

2. Arva Neo

Arva Neo

Click to view on amazon.com.

Max. Range: 60 meters

Weight: 9.2 oz

No. of Antenna: 3

The Arva Neo is a quality all-around avalanche beacon that is suitable for beginners, and capable enough for experienced users.

What we like about the Arva Neo is that it has a fast processor and is equipped with Isotech Technology, which gives equal power to its antennas, so that it can increase the width of the search bandwidth up to 60 meters. This avalanche beacon has a very straightforward interface. It makes use of five directional arrows, along with distance units to help the user stay on the flux line. It also has an arrow icon, which tells you if you have gone too far and need to turn around. Additionally, it has one of the fastest processors compared to other beacons on our list, and it has a flagging feature that is easy to use. There is also an icon on the screen that will start to flash to let you know that you could flag the victim. Plus, it features a backlit screen for night rescues. The Arva Neo also offers an updatable software, and a group check function. It is pretty loud, which can help you during a search, and it turns on when you insert the plug that is attached to the harness. This plug is also useful for those who like to wear it in an internal zipper pants pocket.

The beacon's controls are intuitive, and easy to understand. You can easily switch from ‘send' to ‘search' modes, and its flagging function is activated by just pressing a button. There is also a neoprene harness that comes with the Neo, if you prefer wearing it in a harness.

What we do not like about the Arva Neo is that its flagging options may be confusing at first. Plus, its directional arrows disappear at 3 meter, which is why it requires more practice to get used to. Overall, the Neo is our choice for best avalanche beacon for beginners, because of its easy-to-use interface, well-labeled buttons, and excellent range.


 

Best for advanced users

3. Mammut Barryvox S

 

Mammut Barryvox S

Click to view on amazon.com.

Max. Range: 70-95 meters

Weight: 7.4 oz

No. of Antenna: 3

The Mammut Barryvox S is one of the most capable beacons on the market. That is why it is best for the more advanced users.

What we like about the Mammut Barryvox S is that it is a high-performing beacon. It has a 70-meter maximum range in digital mode, and a 95-meter range in analog mode. This range is impressive for how far away it could pick up another beacon. It is quick in every phase of the search, and has a very fast processor speed. When in search mode, the beacon will show you a very clear graphic while searching for the signal. And once obtained, it will show you precise directional arrows on the screen, which are easy to understand and follow. The Barryvox S is quite fast in the fine search and bracketing stage. It is also precise, and flags beacons in multiple burial situations. One unique and useful feature is its ability to go back and select a beacon that you might want to resume looking for. It also has an excellent signal lock that prevents it from jumping from one beacon to another. The Barryvox S is compatible with lithium batteries, which have the advantage of causing less leakages, and being more stable, even in low temperatures. This beacon also utilizes a secondary W-Link frequency to create an additional communication channel for other options and information. It also has an analog mode for more complex scenarios. Plus, it has an easy-to-navigate interface with the use of the up-down buttons and flag button to select, and it can be fine-tuned to your preference. It also has a thinner design, and is more comfortable when worn in an internal zippered pants pocket.

What we do not like about the Mammut Barryvox S, on the other hand, is that it is more complicated than others, but it's enough for the more advanced users. Overall, this avalanche beacon has a super fast processor, and tons of features and options. It may not be for everyone, but it is also okay for the users with less practice.


 

Best budget avalanche beacons

4. Backcountry Access Tracker S

Backcountry Access Tracker S

Click to view on amazon.com.

Max. Range: 55 meters

Weight: 5.8 oz

No. of Antenna: 3

The Backcountry Access Tracker S is less expensive than the Tracker 3, but also has a fast processor and the multiple burial function.

What we like about the Backcountry Access Tracker S is that it has a super fast processor, and easy-to-use interface with top-tier precision during the bracketing stage. It has a maximum range of 55 meters, and meets AIARE and AAI's recommendations of a 40-meter search strip width. It has the ability to find a single victim really quick. It uses two speedy processors, and a combination of five directional arrows, as well as intuitive sounds that change as you move toward the signal. Its directional arrows disappear at 2 meters, making it easier to stop directly above the buried signal, and indicating that you should start bracketing. It has excellent precision in the fine search, and is consistent at putting the buried signal at the center of the bracket, leading to a quicker probe strike, and increasing the chances of finding the buried signal longer. Beginners and users with less practice may find this beacon easier at bracketing. It shares the same processor as the Tracker 3, which is one of the quickest, and manages to keep up with the fin search most of the time. It is built to easily jump to the signal, which is great for micro-strip searching. It also does a very good job at differentiating beacons, and not blinding other buried signals by mistake. One unique feature of the Tracker S is the big picture mode, which is extremely helpful to obtain a good overview of the scene. The Tracker S also has a slim profile, and is comfortable to wear, even in a zippered pants pocket.

What we do not like about the Backcountry Access Tracker S is that it does not give you an option to update. Plus, when two signals are buried very close to each other, you won't be able to bracket the second beacon very quickly, as it disengages the flag after a minute. Overall, this is still one of the best value options that will suit most backcountry enthusiasts' needs thanks to its fast processor, and effectiveness at differentiating close proximity burials.


 

5. Ortovox Zoom

 

Ortovox Zoom

Click to view on amazon.com.

Max. Range: 40 meters

Weight: 7.0 oz

No. of Antenna: 3

The Ortovox Zoom is another value option for an entry-level avalanche beacon that suits newer users best.

What we like about the Ortovox Zoom is its basic design and ease to use. It features very few controls and switches, making it less confusing to use. Most users will find the design fantastic, as it does a good job at finding a single buried signal, and will decrease the enormous stress one may feel when trying to save a life. The Zoom also makes use of five directional arrows for you to stay on the flux line, and goes away at 2 meters to remind you to start bracketing. It also has light signals to indicate that it is picking up more signal, and will automatically bring you to the closest one. It is equipped with a RECCO reflector to search for the beacon faster, in the event that it runs out of batteries, or when you are lost in an area where nobody can pick up your beacon's signal. Finally, the smart antenna technology in the Zoom helps increase the beacon's range, so it can be easily picked up, and it uses gravity to figure out which antenna to transmit on best.

What we do not like about the Ortovox Zoom is that it lacks more complex functions, which is why it is most suitable for a novice or occasional user. All in all, if you do not want to spend a lot of money on a beacon, this is a good deal, as it functions well and is easy to use.


 

Best of the rest

6. Ortovox 3

Ortovox 3+

Click to view on amazon.com.

Max. Range: 40 meters

Weight: 7.0 oz

No. of Antenna: 3

The Ortovox 3 is a great option for backcountry enthusiasts of all experience levels.

What we like about the Ortovox 3 is that it is simple, and has an intuitive design. It features signal suppression, which marks a victim in the event of multiple burials. It also has fine search visuals. In addition, it has straightforward controls, and easy-to-understand displays, which show one to three victims, and puts a mark around each signal as flagged. It has a maximum range of 40 meters, and you can update its software, so that it can run more smoothly. You can update it at some retailers, or by mailing your beacon directly to Ortovox. This beacon also has a group function feature, and switches from ‘search' to ‘send' mode after two minutes without any movement. Before it switches back, it beeps loudly for 10 seconds to alert the searcher. It is also equipped with Smart Antenna Technology to help the beacon realize how it is oriented on the buried victim. With the use of gravity, the beacon picks the antenna that is best orientated to be able to broadcast its signal, and maximize the range that the searcher may pick up.

What we do not like about the Ortovox 3 is that it is below average when it comes to its maximum range. Plus, its flagging function often gets confused with more than three close-range signals. All in all, this beacon keeps it simple, and does a very good job at a fine search. It is also comfortable to wear in an internal zippered pants pocket, is very light, and has a thin profile.


 

7. PIEPS Micro

PIEPS Micro

Click to view on amazon.com.

Max. Range: 50 meters

Weight: 5.2 oz

No. of Antenna: 3

The Pieps Micro may be the lightest and smallest triple antenna beacon that is currently in production.

What we like about the Pieps Micro is that it has a maximum range of 45-50 meters, and does a very good job at finding a single beacon, which is above average at assisting a rescuer. It uses five directional arrows, occasionally used in pairs, to help you stay on the flux line. The Micro has a very intuitive design, and best suits novices and as well as experienced users. It has a speedier than average processor, and could move as quickly as other higher-end beacons. It is quicker in fine search, and its directional arrows disappear at two meters, which is useful for the less experienced users, because it will help them get closer to the buried victim. The Pieps Micro works well in multiple burials situations. It easily jumps in between signals, and it differentiates signals averagely well. It features an on and off switch and a flagging button, which helps accessing the beacon's functions. It auto-turns to send, and then vibrates to assure you when it is stowed. It can also be set up to revert to transmitting after one to two minutes of inactivity. It also has a group check mode, and its window time of accessibility is shorter than that of most beacons.

The Pieps Micro is the smallest beacon on the market, which makes it very comfortable to carry. Plus, it comes with a lightweight harness.

What we do not like about the Pieps Micro is that it is not easy to manually switch from search to send, and the overall learning curve with this beacon is longer. Overall, this it is in the medium range pricewise. And it has quick and easy-to-follow search functions.


 

8. Black Diamond Recon BT

Black Diamond Recon BT

Click to view on amazon.com.

Max. Range: 60 meters

Weight: 7.9 oz

No. of Antenna: 3

The Black Diamond Recon BT will suit beginners to advanced users best, due to its functionality and easy-to-use design.

What we like about the Black Diamond Recon BT is that it is Bluetooth-compatible, meaning it can be kept up to date, and you may configure its settings and options with just the use of the Bluetooth connection and an app on your phone. It has a 60-meter overall maximum range, which is already long for its price, and has an above-average speed processor that operates with high precision. It works excellently well in fine search, and makes use of five directional arrows, which can be used in pair to help you stay on the flux line. These arrows disappear at 2 meters, which provides more precision, especially for the less experienced users, and will allow them to find themselves over the top of the buried signal. It also proves to have a decent precision during the bracketing stage of the fine search. It also has a group check function, as well as the ability to differentiate close proximity burial victims that are within 3 meters of each other. Plus, its marking button was effective enough and easy to use. And it performs well with two to three buried signals.

What we do not like about the Black Diamond Recon BT is that it comes a little chunky when worn in a side pant pocket, its slider toggle is stiffer than most beacons. Overall, this beacon is excellent and basic enough, even for those who have signed up for their first ever AIARE Level 1 course. It is easy to use, and will enable you to practice using it.


 

9. Arva Evo 5

 

Arva Evo 5

Click to view on amazon.com.

Max. Range: 40 meters

Weight: 5.2 oz

No. of Antenna: 3

The Arva Evo 5 is also amongst the lowest profile models out on the market today, and features an easy-to-use interface.

What we like about the Arva Evo 5 is that switching from send to search is very easy, and it does an excellent job at coarse search, which will keep you on the flux line efficiently due to its audible sounds and directional arrows. It also has a turn around icon that lights up whenever the rescuer has gone too far, and it flashes in the lower right corner of the screen if you are ever in the wrong direction. These directional arrows and audible sounds are intuitive and easy to follow, and the directional arrows disappear at 3 meters. That is why you have to move between 3-5 meters with caution. When the Evo 5 picks up multiple burial victims, it displays it at the bottom of the screen, using people-like icons. And once you want to flag the signal that is closest to you, you simply have to press the button. Then, it will display '”OK,” and will give you the distance to the next closest signal. The Evo 5, and BCA Tracker 3 and S have the ability to easily jump between signals in the event of a multiple burial. They also have a group check mode to allow you to efficiently do a function check, which is recommended every time you head out into the backcountry.

What we do not like about the Arva Evo 5 is that it has a longer learning curve when it comes to the bracketing stage, and it stays on if you don't press the flag button to turn it off. Overall, this is still one of the best avalanche transceivers. It is intuitive and simple to use. It is also faster, and more precise in the bracketing stage.


 

10. Backcountry Access Tracker 4

Backcountry Access Tracker 4

Click to view on amazon.com.

Max. Range: 55 meters

Weight: 7.6 oz

No. of Antenna: 3

The Backcountry Access Tracker 4 is the latest iteration of the Tracker models, and comes with new key updates.

What we like about the Backcountry Access Tracker 4 is that it has an easy-to-learn and simple-to-use interface. This model is a combination of the Tracker 2 and 3, and its most notable difference is the beacon's industrial design, which is very durable. It has a very sturdy feel, and has a grippy rubber overmolded casing. It also offers a real time and ultrafast processor, and a straightforward multiple burial search. To add another layer of protection, it also comes equipped with a recessed screen, which boasts a brighter resolution. It also has a louder speaker than the previous models, and it is the only beacon to date that uses a full LED display, which works much better in cold weather by maintaining a bright, real-time display. It is very intuitive. Plus, its power switch clicks smoothly into send mode, locks into that position, and then clicks again into its search mode. If the beacon is in search mode, it will quickly alert the user by loudly beeping. Finally, its multidirectional arrows and range are simple to understand on the LED screen, and will give you easy feedback in search mode.

What we do not like about the Backcountry Access Tracker 4, however, is that it is a little bit pricey for its improvement. But all in all, it is even more robust and easy to use than previous models. It also is a solid all-around choice, especially for those who often damages their gear.


Best Avalanche Beacons Comparison Table

Foto Avalanche Beacons Max. Range Weight No. of Antenna
Backcountry Access Tracker 3

1. Backcountry Access Tracker 3

70-95 meters7.4 oz3
Arva Neo

2. Arva Neo

60 meters9.2 oz3
Mammut Barryvox S

3. Mammut Barryvox S

70-95 meters7.4 oz3
Backcountry Access Tracker S

4. Backcountry Access Tracker S

55 meters5.8 oz3
Ortovox Zoom

5. Ortovox Zoom

40 meters7.0 oz3
Ortovox 3+

6. Ortovox 3+

40 meters7.0 oz3
PIEPS Micro

7. PIEPS Micro

50 meters5.2 oz3
Black Diamond Recon BT

8. Black Diamond Recon BT

60 meters7.9 oz3
Arva Evo 5

9. Arva Evo 5

40 meters5.2 oz3
Backcountry Access Tracker 4

10. Backcountry Access Tracker 4

55 meters7.6 oz3

 

FAQs

Are all avalanche beacons compatible?

If you have older beacons that make use of the 2.275kHz frequency, you should no longer use them. If you have modern beacons, then yes, these are designed to be compatible with one another, regardless of what brand or model you have. These modern beacons utilize the international standard 457 kHz frequency.

 

How long do avalanche beacons last?

It is best to check your avalanche beacon before every start of the season. You can also choose to send it to the manufacturer, so they can thoroughly check if it needs to be updated or replaced.

Avalanche beacons may last more than 10 years, but that depends on the frequency of use, and how it is cared for. If your beacon, ore transceiver, is more than 10 years old, you may want to consider to upgrade.

 

How do I wear an avalanche beacon?

Beacons can be worn under at least one layer of clothing. Just make sure it is not pulled off easily from your body in the event of a slide. Some beacons also have a harness system to allow you to wear the beacon underneath your jacket, or over your base layers. Some may prefer to put their beacon in a secure pants or jacket pocket. If you do this, you have to make sure that the pocket is designed for this purpose, and has something to clip the beacon to. With or without a harness, the beacon's controls must be placed facing your body, and in a place that is convenient to reach, if you ever need to pull it out for a search.

 

Buying guide

Avalanche beacons emit a radio signal that can be picked up by other beacons in the area. They are worn close to the body, and companions with beacons can switch them to search mode to locate a buried victim's signal, with the help of a probe to pinpoint exactly where to dig. All beacons to date operate on the same international standard, which is 457 kHz. That is why you don't need to get the same brand or model as other people in your group for compatibility. You also do not need to pay an excessive price unless you want more advanced features.

 

Features

Number of antennas

Most beacons today utilize a three-antenna design that will allow you to search more efficiently, and pinpoint the location of the victim no matter what the orientation of the buried person's transceiver is. This is a must-have feature that you have to look for.

 

Display screen

A display screen has the ability to provide the direction and distance of a buried victim. User interfaces may vary depending on your model and brand, but almost all of them are intuitive.


Range

A higher range distance may allow your beacon to pick up a signal from a farther distance. However, the stated range vs. the actual range is usually shorter, due to the orientation of the different units. Note that no matter the range stated, it does not affect the actual performance, but you still should be aware of this feature.

 

Multiple burials

This feature is important to use in a slide that has several victims. It lets you flag the location of each buried victim, so that you can move on and search for additional party members. After that, you can go back and do a fine search and locate one and another.

 

Audio

A lot of models also have the ability to emit an audible tone that will help the searchers know if they are getting closer to a victim.

 

Auto-revert to send

This feature automatically switches a beacon to send mode, if it is ever left accidentally in search mode and has been inactive for a specified amount of time. This feature varies between models, and different scenarios may make it more or less useful.

 

Batteries

Most beacons need replaceable alkaline batteries. However, alkaline batteries may drain more quickly in cold weather than lithium batteries. Alkaline batteries gradually drain, as opposed to lithium batteries, that are able to maintain a high charge level until it drops abruptly. Alkaline batteries provide a reliable battery level readout on a beacon. This is critical, because you don't want your batteries to suddenly weaken during a search. Some beacons have the technology that can provide a reliable battery level display with lithium batteries; and if this is the case, the manual will specify lithium batteries.

It is best to always use the type of batteries that is recommended in the beacon's user manual. In addition, cold temperatures can compromise battery performance, which is why you have to store replacement batteries somewhere close to your body for warmth. When off-season, remove the batteries, and store them in a cool and dry area.

 

RECCO Reflectors

These are passive reflectors that can be worn, and which are sewn into clothes or ski packs. These are not beacons, but wearing them will help patrols and rescue groups locate you by using a large and sophisticated RECCO detector unit. This detector has the ability to send a signal that bounces off the reflector where no transmission is required from the buried victim. RECCO detection is mostly more practical in a confined area, such as a ski resort.


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