Best Avalanche Beacons - Feature Image
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7 Best Avalanche Beacons of 2022

Backcountry skiing is an increasingly popular winter activity but comes with inherent risks. One of the best ways to stay safe while enjoying the backcountry is to purchase the best avalanche beacon. An avalanche beacon is a portable radio transmitter that emits a signal detected by other receivers. The transmitter makes it possible to locate someone buried in an avalanche.

Any time you venture out-of-bounds, you should always have a beacon, probe, shovel, and backpack. This is the bare minimum of safety gear you should always have with you. There are a lot of different avalanche beacons on the market, and it can be hard to choose which one is right for you.

When purchasing an avalanche beacon you should, there are several features you should take into consideration:

  1. Ease of use: You want a beacon that is easy to use, even in a stressful situation. The last thing you want to do is fumble with your beacon when time is of the essence.
  2. Battery life: Most beacons will have a battery life of around 200 hours. However, some models may have extended battery life, which can be valuable if you plan on spending a lot of time backcountry skiing.
  3. Multiple burial indicator: This feature will let you know if there are multiple beacons buried under the snow. This can be extremely helpful in rescue situations.
  4. Display: Some beacons will have an LED display showing you the distance and direction to a buried beacon.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

What Are The Best Avalanche Beacons?

Here is our ranked and reviewed list of the best avalanche beacons.

What Is The Best Avalanche Beacon?

Here is our ranked and reviewed list of the best avalanche beacons.

The 7 Best Avalanche Beacons

  1. Best Overall Avalanche Beacon – BCA Tracker4
  2. Best Avalanche Beacon For Professionals – Mammut Barryvox S
  3. Best Avalanche Beacon For Beginners – Ortovox Diract Voice
  4. Best Budget Avalanche Beacon – BCA Tracker S
  5. Best Durable Avalanche Beacon – Black Diamond Recon BT
  6. Best Small Avalanche Beacon – Pieps Micro Race BT 
  7. Best Avalanche Beacon For Ease of use – BCA Tracker3+

1) Best Overall – Avalanche Beacon – BCA Tracker4

Best Avalanche Beacon - Best Overall - BCA Tracker4
BCA Tracker4

Overview

The Backcountry Access Tracker4 is the best overall avalanche beacon. It’s easy to use and packed with tons of great features. The rubberized molded case and larger LED display offer improved durability and functionality.

The Tracker4 is a 3 antenna beacon with signal suppression and Big Picture modes for easy multiple-victim searching. It also has a motion-sensing auto revert-to-transmit mode, which is excellent for safety.

Built using the same fast and intuitive user interface of the Backcountry Access Tracker3, the Tracker4 is easy to use, even in the most challenging situations. It is upgradeable with electronics performance testing for fleet management.

The only thing missing from the Tracke4 is Bluetooth connectivity.

Specifications

  • Weight: 7.6 oz
  • Battery Life: 250 hrs
  • Max Range: 55m
  • Multiple Burial: Yes

Recommendation

The BCA Tracker4 is the best overall avalanche beacon. It’s easy to use with tons of great features, including signal suppression and Big Picture modes for easy multiple-victim searching.

Price

MSRP $399.95

2) Best Avalanche Beacon For Professionals – Mammut Barryvox S

Best Avalanche Beacon - Best For Professionals - Mammut Baryvox S
Mammut Baryvox S

Overview

The Mammut Barryvox S is the best beacon for professions. With its digital/analog mode three-antenna and 70m search strip, it is one of the best beacons on the market. The Barryvox S is also equipped with a W-Link radio which adds an additional communication channel for improved search performance.

The visual and auditory search guidance of the Barryvox S is best in class, making it the choice for professionals who demand the best performance from their equipment. The Barryvox S also features a U-turn indicator, an essential feature for search teams working in large and complex avalanche terrain.

The one negative with this beacon is that with all of the added features, there is a learning curve to be able to use this beacon properly. Many users will find this beacon overkill, but for the hardened professional looking for the most extended battery life, maximum range, and best features, the Barryvox S is the best choice.

Specifications

  • Weight: 7.4 oz
  • Battery Life: 300 hrs
  • Max Range: 70m
  • Multiple Burial: Yes

Recommendation

For professionals, the Mammut Barryvox S is the best beacon on the market. With a digital mode and analog mode combo three-antenna, 70m search strip, and best-in-class visual and acoustical search guidance, it is the choice for those who demand the best performance from their equipment.

Price

MSRP $ 549.95

3) Best Avalanche Beacon For Beginners – Ortovox Diract Voice

Best Avalanche Beacon - Best For Beginners - Ortovox Diract Voice
Ortovox Diract Voice

Overview

The Ortovox Diract Voice is one of the best for beginners. An avalanche burial is an intense situation that challenges even the most experienced guides. When seconds matter, you want an intuitive beacon design that is easy to use.

The Diract combines a simple-to-use design with innovative voice technology. When in search mode, the device gives verbal commands to perform the search. This is an important feature, especially for beginners, as it reduces stress in an emergency and helps speed up the search.

The three antenna device also comes equipped with Smart-Antenna Technology. This technology analyzes the beacon’s location in the avalanche and automatically switches to the best transmitting antenna. As a result, you reach double the range and will be found more quickly.

Specifications

  • Weight: 8.8 oz
  • Battery Life: 200+ hrs
  • Max Range: 50m
  • Multiple Burial: Yes

Recommendation

The Ortovox Diract Voice is best for beginners with its easy-to-use one-button design and voice command features. The beacon

has a rugged build quality that will withstand the wear and tear of backcountry adventures.

Price

MSRP $330.00

4) Best Budget Avalanche Beacon – BCA Tracker S

Best Avalanche Beacon - Best Budget - BCA Tracker S
BCA Tracker S

Overview

The Backcountry Access Tracker S is the best budget avalanche beacon. The Tracker S is a simplified version of the Tracker 3, with a few features removed to make it more affordable. The most significant difference is that the Tracker S does not have a motion sensor, which automatically puts the beacon in “send” mode if the beacon doesn’t move for a minute. While this is a safety feature, it’s not essential for recreational users.

The Tracker S also can’t upgrade the firmware, but this is not a big deal for most people. Despite these few differences, the Tracker S has all the basic features you need in an avalanche beacon, and it performs just as well as the more expensive models.

Specifications

  • Weight: 5.8 oz
  • Battery Life: 250 hrs
  • Max Range: 55m
  • Multiple Burial: Yes

Recommendation

The Backcountry Access Tracker S is the best option if you’re looking for a budget-friendly avalanche beacon that doesn’t sacrifice performance.

Price

MSRP $299.99

5) Best Durable Avalanche Beacon – Black Diamond Recon BT

Best Avalanche Beacon - Best Durable Beacon - Black Diamond Recon BT
Black Diamond Recon BT

Overview

The Blackdiamond Recon BT, also sold as the Peips Powder BT, is a durable, good-quality avalanche beacon best suited for backcountry travelers. With a 60-meter circular range, three antennas, and Bluetooth functionality, the Recon BT excels in both performance and convenience. The Recon BT has an extended, symmetrical search area with pinpoint accuracy. The updateable software via Bluetooth or USB and harness-style carrying pouch make this beacon an excellent choice for everyday backcountry travelers. It’s a feature-rich yet easy-to-operate beacon that covers the bases for intermediate users.

Specifications

  • Weight: 7.4 oz
  • Battery Life: 200 hrs
  • Max Range: 60m
  • Multiple Burial: Yes

Recommendation

The Blackdiamond Recon BT is best suited for backcountry travelers who want a durable, feature-rich avalanche beacon. For intermediate users, the Recon BT should be a go-to choice.

Price

MSRP $349.95

6) Best Small Avalanche Beacon – Pieps Micro Beacon Race BT 

Best Avalanche Beacon - Best Small Beacon - Pieps Micro BT Race
Pieps Micro BT Race

Overview

The PIEPS MICRO BT Race is the best small avalanche beacon. With its large display and easy-to-use controls, the PIEPS MICRO BT is our favorite beacon for those who count their grams. Skimo and mountaineering racers will love this beacon, as will anyone who wants a small, lightweight option.

The PIEPS MICRO BT has an excellent display. The large numbers are easy to read, and the signal strength bars are clear. The controls are also straightforward to use. It is one of the easiest beacons to use, with only three buttons. The PIEPS MICRO BT also has an iPROBE support feature. Despite its small size, it boasts one of the fastest processors and excellent precision during the bracketing stage.

Specifications

  • Weight: 5.3oz
  • Battery Life: 200 hrs
  • Max Range: 50m
  • Multiple Burial: Yes

Recommendation

The PIEPS MICRO BT Race is the best small avalanche beacon. With its large display and easy-to-use controls, the PIEPS MICRO BT is our favorite beacon for those who count their grams. Skimo and mountaineering racers will love this beacon, as will anyone who wants a small, lightweight option.

Price

MSRP $389.95

7) Best Avalanche Beacon For Ease of use – BCA Tracker3+

Bast Avalanche Beacon - Best For Ease Of Use - BCA Tracker 3+
BCA Tracker 3+

Overview

The easiest beacon to use is the Backcountry Access Tracker3+. The tracker3+ features an easy-to-use interface with an OLED screen that is easy to read in all lighting conditions and motion-sensing auto revert-to-transmit mode.

The marking feature is simple to use and very effective. You can mark a buried victim, and the tracker will ignore that signal for one minute, allowing you to focus on other buried beacons.

The Backcountry Access Tracker3+ also features an optional fleet management system that allows you to keep track of your beacons and their performance over time.

Specifications

  • Weight: 7.6 oz
  • Battery Life: 250 hrs
  • Max Range: 55m
  • Multiple Burial: Yes

Recommendation

The Backcountry Access Tracker3+ is the best for ease of use. It features an easy-to-use interface, a simple marking feature, and an optional fleet management system.

Price

MSRP $349.95

Avalanche Beacon Buying Guide

What is an Avalanche Beacon?

An avalanche beacon is a device that emits a radio signal that can be detected by other avalanche beacons. This allows rescuers to find buried victims in an avalanche.

Beacons come in different shapes and sizes but have three essential components: a transmitter, receiver, and antenna. The transmitter sends a radio signal picked up by the receiver. The antenna helps to amplify the signal and makes it easier to detect.

Send and Receive Modes

An avalanche beacon has 2 primary functions; send and receive. To rescue someone, you have to be able to do both.

Sending Mode

All beacons can send a signal that other beacons can pick up. This is important because it allows rescuers to find buried victims. When in the backcountry, your beacon should be set to send at all times. If an avalanche occurs, your beacon will continuously transmit your location.

Search Mode

The second function of a beacon is the receive or search mode. You must put your beacon into search mode to find someone buried in an avalanche. The beacon will identify the location of all buried beacons using the transmitted signal.

Digital vs. Analog Beacons

Most modern avalanche beacons are digital. They offer several advantages over analog mode beacons. Digital beacons have better range, are more precise, and have easier-to-use control panels. In addition, digital beacons can be set to automatically go into receive mode when turned on and may automatically switch to send mode in a secondary avalanche scenario. Some beacons are hybrid digital/analog, meaning they have digital and analog modes.

Range

One of the most essential features of an avalanche beacon is range. The range is the distance the beacon can pick up a signal from another. In search mode, most beacons have a max range of 50-60 meters.

Weight and Dimensions

Beacon size and weight vary depending on the model. Some beacons are small and lightweight, while others are larger and heavier. The size and weight of a beacon are something you should consider when making your purchase. Smaller, lighter beacons are easier to carry but may have a shorter range or be less durable. Larger, heavier beacons may be more difficult to carry but offer a more extended range and better durability.

Avalanche Beacon Functions

Along with the basic send and receive functions, beacons also have additional features that can be very helpful in an avalanche situation.

Multiple Burial Indicator

When multiple beacons are buried, it can be challenging to find all the victims. A multiple burial indicator (MBI) is a feature that helps rescuers find multiple victims.

Distance Reading

Most beacons include a distance reading that gives you the distance to the buried victim. This is beneficial because it allows you to zero in on the victim’s location.

Motion-Sensing Auto Revert-to-Transmit Mode

This is a newer feature that is becoming more common on digital beacons. With this feature, a beacon will automatically go into transmit mode if it fails to detect motion. This is meant to protect the user in the case of a secondary avalanche scenario. The beacon will switch to send mode if a rescuer is buried during a secondary avalanche.

Marking Function

In multiple burial scenarios, the marking function allows you to mark the location of any beacons buried. This is helpful because it will enable you to track where beacons are buried and prevent signals from interfering when you are trying to find multiple victims.

Audible Signaling

Most beacons also include an audible signal to help you find a buried victim. The audible signal gets louder as you get closer to the victim, making it easier to locate them.

Durability

Beacons are designed to withstand the rigors of backcountry travel, but they are not indestructible. Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and inspect your beacon before each use.

Battery Type and Battery Life

Beacons have either an internal battery or use AA batteries. Beacons with an internal battery can be recharged, while those with AA batteries need to have the batteries replaced when they run out of power. Both have their benefits and drawbacks. With replaceable batteries, you can always carry an extra set with you. An internal battery creates less waste and is better for the environment. Beacon battery life varies depending on the model, but most will last for several hundred hours in transmit mode.

Connectivity/Bluetooth

Most beacons have an external connection port to allow you to upgrade the software. This is helpful because it means you can keep your beacon up to date with the latest features and improvements. Some beacons also have Bluetooth connectivity, which allows you to connect the beacon to your phone or other devices. Pieps beacons, for example, have a companion app that gives you additional information about your beacon and the search area.

Carrying Case and Strap

Most beacons come with a carrying case and strap. The carrying case helps protect the beacon from damage, and the strap keeps it securely attached to your body.

Software Updates

Beacons need to be updated with the latest software to function correctly. Most manufacturers offer free software updates, and some even have a companion app that allows you to update your beacon wirelessly.

Avalanche Safety

When it comes to avalanche safety, you can never be too prepared. In addition to carrying the proper equipment, you should also know how to use it. Carrying a beacon will not save your life, but carrying a beacon and knowing how to use it might. Before venturing into avalanche terrain, be sure you know how to use your equipment and practice.

Avalanche Safety Course

Taking an avalanche safety course is an excellent idea if you are new to the backcountry or want to brush up on your avalanche safety skills. In these courses, you will learn about avalanches, how to avoid them, and what to do if caught in one.

Several organizations offer avalanche safety training, but the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) is the most popular in the US.

Avalanche Safety Equipment

In addition to taking a safety course, carrying the proper equipment is essential for staying safe in the backcountry. In avalanche terrain, you should always have a shovel, probe, transceiver, and backpack.

FAQ

How successful are avalanche beacons?

While avalanche beacons can significantly improve your chances of survival if buried in an avalanche, they are not foolproof. Beacons can malfunction, and batteries can die. It is essential to always carry extra batteries and to practice using your beacon before venturing into avalanche terrain.

Do all avalanche beacons work together?

No, not all avalanche beacons work together. Different manufacturers use different frequencies and protocols. However, most newer beacons are compatible with each other. Digital and analog beacons are not compatible with each other.

Always perform a group beacon and check your equipment before heading into avalanche terrain.

What is the difference between Barryvox and Barryvox s?

The Barryvox S is the latest beacon version and includes several improvements over the original Barryvox. The Baryvox S has a larger screen, provides audio signals, and has an improved user interface.

When should I retire an avalanche beacon?

A beacon should be retired after 5-10 years or if the battery no longer holds a charge. At a bare minimum, your beacon should have 3 antennas and be digital compatible.

Final Thoughts

Avalanche beacons are essential equipment for anyone venturing into avalanche terrain. Be sure to purchase a beacon compatible with other devices, has an external connection port, and comes with a carrying case and strap. Most importantly, take a safety course and practice using your beacon before heading into the backcountry.

See you in the mountains!

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