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6 Best Avalanche Beacons 2021

Best Avalanche Beacons

Backcountry winter sports are the most thrilling yet highly risky pastime engagements, especially when it snows heavily. Avalanches mostly take place on 30-45-degree slopes killing an estimated 28 people every winter in the United States according to government statistics. It is important to stay safe by:

  • Learning how to identify risky areas and conditions
  • Having and learning how to use safety equipment
  • Signing up for avalanche updates
  • Wearing protective gear
  • Having a friend or a group of friends around
  • Using gadgets that facilitate speedy rescue like an avalanche beacon also known as an avalanche transceiver.
  Price Name Our score
ACR ResQLink PLB-400 – Buoyant GPS Personal Locator Beacon 4.4
PIEPS Micro Avalanche Beacon 4.6
McMurdo FAST FIND 220 Personal Locator Beacon 4.4
PIEPS Pro BT Avalanche Beacon 4.9
Backcountry Access Tracker 3 Avalanche Beacon 4.8
Black Diamond Pieps DSP Sport Beacon 4.5

Jump straight to the Reviews Section

 

There are two types of avalanche beacons:

Digital beacon

This beacon comes with several antennas. It comes with a microprocessor which converts an electronic signal into an audio signal and visual signal on an LED or LCD panel. An important advantage with the digital beacons is that they will show the distance and direction towards the beacon buried in an avalanche. As the signal in the receiving transceiver strengthens, the beeping tone in the buried transceiver changes to indicate the closeness of the distance between the two.

Analog beacon

This was the first beacon to be used before their digital counterparts came into the scene. These beacons operate by producing a beeping sound which becomes louder as it approaches the buried transceiver. An advantage with these beacons is that they operate at a greater distance.

 

What should you consider when buying an avalanche beacon?

Your level of experience

Ultimately, you need to consider having a beacon whose operation you are most familiar with. This will help you locate a victim faster and save them in time. Avalanche beacons are designed with different experience levels in mind. Some simple designs will work well for recreational users who go out occasionally but will not be effective for professional snowboarders or skiers. Secondly, consider taking a course to help you familiarize with different models available in the market. This will help you select one that is best suited for you.

Range

The highest signal range that a beacon can operate in is within 60 m. Considering the maximum range when purchasing a beacon is important. However, the range must not be considered solely when purchasing a beacon. In essence, a greater range only increases the space within which you can search a buried victim unless the transmitting and receiving beacons are well oriented to each other. Practically speaking, the 30-40 meter range is the more common.

 

Number of antennas

The more the antennas in a beacon the better. This is because these devices are designed to operate with the antenna with the best-optimized orientation in the situation for a faster search. Consider a beacon with at least three antennas.

 

Multiple burials

Most transceivers operate the same way when searching for a single victim. In the event of multiple victims, some transceivers will flag victims by displaying icons for each of the victims or display a number. They also let you mark an icon of the victim you have already located. Operating the multiple burials function in a transceiver is usually a little complicated so you will need some training and practice do this effectively.

 

Display

A good screen will display both the direction and the distance of the victim from the receiving transceiver.

 

Batteries

Always use the batteries recommended by the manufacturer. In any case, go for the alkaline batteries and carry spare ones just in case you will need them. Never use rechargeable or lithium-ion batteries.

 

How should you wear your beacon?

It is recommended that the transceiver is worn under one layer of clothing so that in the event of an avalanche, it will not be pulled from your body. If a harness system is not included in its package during purchase, consider buying one separately. The harness helps you secure it in place. Secondly, ensure that you wear your beacon with the controls facing your body. Also be sure to place it in an easily accessible position.


 

Best Avalanche Beacons

Below, we analyze 6 top avalanche beacons that you need to consider when making your selection.

 

1. ACR ResQLink PLB-400 – Buoyant GPS Personal Locator Beacon

The ACR ResQLink 400 beacon is a great emergency preparedness device to include in your checklist if you intend to go out on an adventure. It is light, small size, and durable. It comes with three signal levels which are GPS, 406 MHz, and the 121.5 MHz homing signals. It is also compatible with Galileo GNSS; the global navigation satellite system and MEOSAR (Medium Earth Orbiting Search and Rescue) satellites and thus able to detect nearby and global signals.   

This GPS personal locator is designed for convenience and optimized functionality. It features a built-in buoyancy mechanism. In an emergency situation, simply deploy the antenna, press the ‘ON’ button, and the beacon will send a distress signal of your location within 100 M, which will go on for up to five minutes. Before heading out on an adventure, set it on the GPS/GNSS test modes to ensure that it is working properly. 

It is powered by a non-hazmat battery with 24 hours runtime. It is also designed with both regular LED and infrared strobes to provide illumination at night or during low visibility conditions. With the versatile clipping system, you can attach it just anywhere on your body and you are good to go.

 

2. PIEPS Micro Avalanche Beacon One

Aside from being one of the smallest and lightest at merely 150 g (5.3 oz), the PIEPS Micro avalanche beacon model by Black Diamond has much more going for it. This avalanche beacon presents a good deal for back and side-country skiing, downhill skiing, and snowboarding. It is designed with three antennas with the shorter antenna coming in as an alternative when the primary antenna is damaged or its signal is interfered with. Information on which antenna is in use will usually be shown on the large, easy-read display. The display also shows changes in direction of the directional indicator, the search or transmit mode, as well as the battery status.  

The PIEPS avalanche beacon covers a 40-meter circular signal reception range on 457 kHz frequency and is also designed with a flagging feature for marking multiple burials. Further, PIEPS had a good reason for designing this avalanche beacon without an on/off switch. Taking it out of its harness or your pocket automatically sets it on the search mode. At the first signal detection, the Micro will alert you with a vibration. The auto-revert function lets it revert automatically to transmitting from searching after one minute although you can set it to 90 or 120 seconds. These two features let you concentrate on the situation at hand and not spend precious time trying to manipulate the gadget.  

The PIEPS Micro is powered by a AA alkaline battery which will take you through more than 200 hours in the transmitting mode. Other impressive features include the versatile group check function and the ability to perform self-test via the Bluetooth apps for iOS and Android.

 

3. McMurdo FAST FIND 220 Personal Locator Beacon

McMurdo’s Fast Find 220 personal locator beacon comes in a small compact size and best suits a backpacking venture. It comes with a built-in 50-channel GPS with a ceramic patch antenna and is compatible with the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system on 406 MHz frequency over a 3-meter distance, to send distress signals and location information to the appropriate search rescue team anywhere in the world. It also transmits a 121.5 MHz homing signal. To transmit a distress signal, Fast Find 220 will emit a long flash and 3 quick flashes after every 50 seconds. If it is important to you, register with NOAA to have your family contacts data available to your search rescue team. 

Activation is manual and simple with an easy pull, unwrap, and press the “ON” button. To prevent accidental activation, the “ON” button is concealed, and the antenna is covered by a breakaway panel. The Fast Find 220 features a waterproof seal to let it sink 10 m underwater for up to 5 minutes without getting damaged. A buoyancy pouch is included which helps it float. It is also designed with LED SOS blinking light that needs to be turned on for fast visibility in an emergency. It is powered by a lithium manganese battery. 

It is important to note that this personal locator beacon is designed for use only in emergency situations after all other rescue options have been exhausted.

 

4. PIEPS Pro BT Avalanche Beacon

The Pro BT is another model in the PIEPS line of avalanche beacons that have been designed for backcountry adventures. Built with three auto-switch antennas for accurate signal transmission over an impressive 60-m circular range at 457 kHz frequency. Additionally, it is integrated with capabilities for marking and scanning multiple burials as well as an incline function for assessing the slope angle of a location. This avalanche beacon is designed to switch automatically from receive to send mode when it detects a stationary position which is important when you are caught in an avalanche and need your signal to be discovered by rescue operations. 

It is compatible with the beacon’s app that enables you to configure settings and firmware updates via BlueTooth connection. An intuitive display for easy handling and a harness style pouch will keep the beacon safely attached to you in a way that you can easily activate and operate it in any situation. It is powered by three AAA batteries.

 

5. Backcountry Access Tracker 3 Avalanche Beacon

This ultramodern avalanche beacon comes as the best avalanche transceiver to have for several reasons. Tracker 3 transmits signals on the standard 457 kHz frequency. It comes with three receptive antennas for precision during searches and operates within a 50 m range. It features an LED screen that displays real-time data and is powered by three AAA alkaline batteries. The batteries are rated to take you through 50 hours of search or 250 hours of transmission which is quite remarkable if compared to other models. It comes with a multiple burials function allowing you to search more than one victim along with an option to suppress the signals of the victims you have located as you proceed with your search.

It is pretty light weighing a mere 215 g (7.6 oz) without the harness. The harness will add in just 100 g (3.5 oz) which should not make much of a difference. A North American and European norms compliance means that this transceiver is built not only for use in different locations but also for the professional.

 

6. Black Diamond Pieps DSP Sport Beacon

The peaks of snow-capped mountains may appear tempting but they also come with obscured danger. The Pieps DSP Sports Beacon is a great addition for any sportsperson intending to venture into the risky backcountry trails during winter. It features three antennas for guaranteed precision during your search and a smart transmitter which comes in handy during a multiple burial search. The smart transmitter incredibly auto-aligns its signal to others within a 50-meter all-round range. It also comes with a mark function that lets you mark a beacon which you have already located to let you continue searching the rest.

This digital beacon also features a drift adjustment that identifies beacons that transmit drifted signals. It comes with a classic harness style carrying pouch with a buckle closure to secure your beacon safely in place and for fast and easy access when the need arises and operates on three AAA alkaline batteries that will give you up to 200 hours on the transmit-mode.

 

Conclusion

While avalanche beacons come with different functions and features, the best beacon for you is the one that you know how to operate very well. How well you can operate a beacon is, in fact, the determining factor of how effective you will be when caught up in an avalanche situation. Most importantly, however, is taking up an avalanche course if you haven’t already done so. Courses are in levels depending on your level of experience but the most fundamental is level 1.

Secondly, these gadgets are delicate and therefore need utmost care. Leaving them out in the cold will cause them to de-tune while careless handling will most likely damage their antennas. Remember that they will need replacing after around seven years or earlier if used more frequently. However, their range needs a check-up on a yearly basis just to be sure that they are in a good working condition.

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